Ukraine: 11 best places to visit
It's one of the biggest countries in Europe, but even when it isn't hosting the annual song spectacle that is the Eurovision Song Contest or European soccer finals, Ukraine struggles to attract visitors.
Recent political, territorial and economic difficulties have done little to burnish the image of a former Soviet nation struggling to find its identity between Russian and western European influences.
Nevertheless, Ukraine is home to a host of beautiful places with a great range of tourist activities. And while some regions are advised as off-limits due to separatist clashes, most of this vast country is open for business.
Vibrant cities, ancient castles, stunning countryside, diversity of landscapes and a welcoming attitude all help make it a special destination, regardless of its troubles.
The lack of mass tourism lends Ukraine a charm and authenticity often missing elsewhere.
Here are 11 places that will make you fall in love with this eastern European country.
Seen as Ukraine's cultural capital, Lviv has the most western architecture of all the country's cities.
It boasts a splendid UNESCO-protected Old Town renowned for beautiful narrow streets, magnificent churches, fascinating museums and charming atmosphere.
It's cozy and welcoming, offering a wide range of themed restaurants, cool bars and great nightlife.
No matter the season, it's popular with Ukrainians who come here for a weekend to feel the Old Town vibes.
Ukraine extra: Lviv is famous for its knaipas -- local pubs that serve drinks and food. One of the most curious ones is Gasova Lampa (Gas Lamp) -- a museum-restaurant with one of the biggest collection of gas lamps in Europe. (Gasova Lampa, 20 Virmenska St, Lviv; Ukraine; +380 50 371 0908).
As a day trip from Lviv, visitors can follow the Golden Horseshoe route: a tourist trail around the most prominent regional castles -- Olesko Castle, Zolochiv Castle and Pidhirtsi Castle.
Nicknamed Little Vienna for the rich Austro-Hungarian architectural heritage, Chernivtsi is one of the gems of western Ukraine.
There's the stunning UNESCO-protected building of Chernivtsi University, romantic walks and charming Vienna-style cafes.
Lovers of Art Nouveau architecture can explore the elegant frescoes and beautiful interiors of the Chernivtsi Museum of Art (Teatralna Square, 10, Chernivtsi; +380 3722 26071).
With a history of multiculturalism and constantly changing jurisdictions, the city is one of the most interesting destinations in the country.
Ukraine extra: One of the best coffee shops in the city is the charming Chashka (Stepana Bandery St, 9, Chernivtsi, Ukraine; +380 50 972 8888).
Sofiyivsky Park in Uman
One of the most prominent examples of European gardening design dating back to the early 19th century, Sofiyivsky Park is a unique Ukrainian natural attraction.
It was founded by Polish noble Stanisław Potocki as a birthday gift to his wife Sofia.
The extensive park is home to waterfalls, lakes, statues, fountains, antique grottoes and artificial ruins, and is a perfect place to enjoy a relaxing walk surrounded by natural beauty.
Ukraine extra: Another picturesque example of 18th-century landscape design is Olexandriya Park in Bila Tserkva, a small town near Kiev.