Odessa is a city by the sea -- but one from a novelist’s dreams: a modern, energetic, coastal boomtown with a cosmopolitan cast of characters. Its famous Potemkin Steps sweep down to the Black Sea and Ukraine’s largest commercial port facility. A relatively small city with enormous possibilities, Odessa is a charming relaxed mix of neoclassical architecture and luxury ocean view clubs known all over Europe. The impressive Opera and Ballet Theatre built in 1809 is a required visit as are the mysterious Odessa Catacombs. The Catacombs represent an elaborate system of tunnels that were built over 200 years ago and traverse 100 kilometers. A testimony to man’s improvisational instincts, during World War II, this underground network was used as shelter by the local resistance when it waged war against a Romanian occupation.
When Russia’s Catherine the Great founded Odessa in the late 18th century, she invited immigrants from all over Europe to take up shop and make their marks on the city. There was a definite mafia undertone about the new inhabitants within this duty-free Mecca, and they gave Russia’s former “southern window on the world” its current splash of panache’. Not only a duty-free port and a major mafia stronghold, modern day Odessa attracts thousands of ordinary holiday-makers to its sunny climate and sandy, self-confident beaches. Each spring, Odessa’s beaches attract locals and tourists en masse, all weary of Eastern European winters, yet still warm inside. Local writer Isaac Babel claimed Odessa had ‘more charm than any city in the Russian Empire’ and that’s probably remains true in modern-day Ukraine. This charm springs from the Odeseans themselves: a breed apart, they’re stylish, cultured, funny, savvy, lovers of the night, and not easily impressed.
Don’t forget to visit the war Memorial Museum on 411 Battery. This multi-acre park contains an army’s worth of Soviet era military equipment, all in its original state, with submarines, tanks, amphibious vehicles and more on display. Military buffs and adventurous types often even climb inside the war machines to get a first hand feel of the controls.
Odessa offers even more special sights that attract thousands from all over the world each year. Not surprisingly, some outsiders view Odessa as a place separate from the rest of Ukraine, an East European version of Miami that offers an invigorating contrast to other parts of Ukraine. Once you’ve truly tasted Odessa to the fullest, you could soon find yourself dancing till dawn in a club by the sea.