Few foreign travelers make the trip from Kiev to Vinnytsia, Ukraine, a medium-sized town with a typical Ukrainian vibe and a rather unusual history. Those who do make the journey discover a city without the crowds of “The Big Three” (Kiev, Lviv and Odessa), but with enough tourist attractions to keep a visitor occupied for days.
I visited Vinnytsia in the summer of 2018, as I was traveling between Odessa and Kiev. Rather than take a direct train or bus between Kiev and Odessa, I chose to meander across central Ukraine for five days, stopping in lesser-known towns and cities to have a more authentic Ukrainian experience.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Vinnytsia, but over the next two days I was pleasantly surprised by everything that the city had to offer. For example, I learned that during the 1950s, the Soviet KGB had reconstructed an entire American town inside Vinnytsia so that their spies could train for eventual infiltration into American neighborhoods. “The Americans”, anyone? I also learned that Vinnytsia was home to one of the country’s biggest chocolate manufacturing plants, and was also the birthplace of the man who invented Peeps!
It wasn’t just the city’s interesting history, though. My hotel in Vinnytsia was fantastic, and made for a super-comfortable home base as I explored the city. I ate at some great restaurants in Vinntysia, including Georgian and Italian restaurants with delicious vegetarian options. And, of course, I saw things that you simply can’t find in any other cities, like Vinnytsia’s famous Roshen Multimedia Fountain show…
The Best Hotels in Vinnytsia Ukraine
It was a scorching hot afternoon when I arrived in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, and Hotel France offered a welcome reprieve from the temperatures outside. Situated on the main street running through the city center, and within easy walking distance of nearly all of Vinnytsia’s tourist attractions, Hotel France Vinnytsia delivered on its promise of an upscale hotel experience at a budget-friendly price point. I enjoyed my stay so much that I extended my visit for an extra night!
As soon as I stepped into Hotel France’s polished (and air-conditioned!) lobby, I knew that I’d chosen the right hotel. Staff at the front desk were friendly, explaining the hotel’s policies, giving me all the details about the included breakfast, and organizing a porter to help carry my bags to my room.
My double room was spacious and equipped with everything that I could possibly need, including lots of power outlets to charge my electronics, air conditioning, a television, a work station and a safe in the large closet. The bathroom was clean and modern, with a heated towel rack that helped my hand-washed laundry dry quickly. Considering that my private double room at Hotel France cost less than a bunk bed in my shared, four-bed dorm room in Milan, it was a great deal!
Hotel France is located at Soborna Street #34, in the city center.
If Hotel France is not available during your travel dates, there are some alternatives. Hotel Aristokrat is located on the opposite side of the river, very close to the bus station and the illuminated fountain show (see below). Much like Hotel France, it offers luxurious accommodations at inexpensive prices. A little bit further away, across from the Central City Park, Hotel Feride is a new business hotel with a striking glass facade, modern design and free on-site parking.
The Most Delicious Restaurants in Vinnytsia Ukraine
T’Amero Pasta Bar
T’Amero is a loose translation of “I love you” in Italian, and I loved my meal at T’Amero Pasta Bar in Vinnytsia. I checked it out on my first night in the city, but they were extremely busy and had a line all the way out the door. On my second night I decided to return fairly early in the evening, and was able to score one the coveted outside terrace tables. T’Amero has a wide menu including starters, salads, pasta, risotto, meat-based main dishes and desserts. Vegetarian options are clearly labeled on the Ukrainian menu. Because I didn’t eat lunch that day, I splurged on a three-course meal of bruschetta, stuffed pasta and tiramisu. The total cost for my three-course dinner was under $5 USD / € 4.25! (Drinks are equally affordable, I just can’t remember what I ordered.)
T’Amero is at Teatralna 24, an just a few blocks away from Hotel France and the city center. Reservations recommended for dinner between 19:00 and 21:00, or for large groups.
I wasn’t expecting to find outstanding Georgian cuisine in Vinnytsia Ukraine, but Tiflis Restaurant absolutely exceeded my expectations. Don’t let the facade of this restaurant fool you – this place is huge! It must have seating for 300 people among the dark wooden decor inside, and 300 more on the multi-level outdoor terrace behind the restaurant. Having visited many parts of Georgia last year (including Tbilisi and many small towns around the capital) I already knew my favorite Georgian dishes, and I was pleased to find all of them on the English menu at Tiflis (I tried to navigate the Ukrainian menu, but it was written in a fancy font that I had trouble deciphering). With exceptionally low prices I was able to order three different dishes: lobio (bean soup), chvishtari (corn bread stuffed with cheese) and nigvziani badrijani (eggplant rolls stuffed with cheese). I may have also had a glass (or two…) of their house red wine, which was – like all my favorite Georgian wines – sweet and easy to drink.
Tiflis Restaurant is located on the same street at T’Amero, at Teatralna 20. Reservations are only necessary if you’re more than four people, or if you’re picky about where you sit.
After my dinner at T’Amero, I had a few hours to kill before Vinnytsia’s famous multimedia light and sound show would start, so I headed to the riverfront and checked out the evening entertainment. Finding that it was mostly catering to families with small children, I stopped at River Pub in Vinnytsia for a bit of beer, a clean toilet and WiFi (a traveler’s best friends, right?). Although I didn’t eat here, I was really impressed with how friendly the staff were, and I noticed that their menu actually had several vegetarian options among the traditional pub fare. Even better, there were English translations for every dish! If I’d stayed a third night, it would have been my final choice for dinner.
River Pub is located at Karmelyuka 3, along the busy river promenade.
Vinnytsia Coffee Shops
At the southeast corner of Central City Park, Imbir Showroom & Coffee Point is a cute, independent cafe and gift shop. This is a great place to grab a coffee, especially if you like your cappuccino with a plant-based milk. Their gift shop features lots of vegan-friendly bath and body products, as well as trendy housewares and decor. Khlibna Street, 3.
On the facade of the Univermag Shopping Center, Black Cat White Cat is another popular coffee shop in Vinnytsia. They serve espresso-based coffees, herbal teas and lots of sweet treats like cakes and cookies. Gagarina Square.
For an even quicker coffee, Aroma Kava is a popular chain of mostly-takeaway coffees that you can find all across Ukraine. They have three locations in Vinnytsia, including one coffee shops a few doors away from Hotel France. Soborna Street 26.
Warning! Bad service alert!
I actually went to Maklaud Pub before I went to River Pub. It seems to have a bunch of different spellings – online it’s usually Maklaud Pub, but on the sign it’s written as Mc Laud Pub, and I’ve also seen it written as MacLeod Pub. Either way, it’s all the same place, and I can’t recommend that you visit. I’ve never been to a pub as unfriendly as Maklaud Pub – I walked in and was promptly ignored by the all the staff, who were standing around talking to one another. I sat at a table and was ignored for another five minutes before I walked out. On the plus side, they seemed to be ignoring everyone, not just me. On the down side, I didn’t ever get to the see the menu, so I can’t comment on the food or drinks.
Maklaud Pub is close to the Museum of Retro Technology, on Kniaziv Koriatovychiv Street.
Seeing the Vinnytsia Fountain Roshen Light Show
For Ukrainians, Vinnytsia is synonymous with Roshen, the national chocolate company run by Ukraine’s current president. Although Roshen is headquartered in Kiev, one of its largest manufacturing facilities is beside the river in Vinnytsia, and the chocolatier gives back to the community by putting on a nightly multimedia show on the river during the summer months.
Every summer night, the show begins shortly before sunset. The early hours of the show are fairly lackluster, with simple fountains illuminated by lights that change color. At the start of the show’s final hour (check the Roshen website for current schedules – it was 21:00 during my visit) things pick up a little bit, with the addition of some quiet music.
The show really kicked into gear during its final thirty minutes (starting at 21:30 during my visit). As the sky turned dark, the show’s engineers cranked up the volume on the music and brought out the big guns: the laser beams. As the music alternated between bizarre Ukrainian techno-folk and soothing classical favorites, the lights and lasers worked together to wow the crowd. It wasn’t the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, but I did get a good laugh from the techno-folk music and it was a nice slice of typical Ukrainian life.
Although the Roshen fountain show draws a pretty large crowd, there is ample seating along the river and you don’t need to arrive early to secure a seat. Standing along the fence above the seats also gives you a great, unobstructed view, although it gets a little crowded (keep your hand over your purse or wallet). Admission to the Roshen light show is free, and vendors walk back and forth along the water selling food, drinks and trinkets. The final thirty minutes of the show really are the best part, so don’t rush to arrive before 21:00, or even 21:30.
Other Things to Do in Vinnytsia Ukraine
Museum of Retro Technology
I’m not a hoarder, I’m an amateur curator.
Or so I’d like to tell my mother after I visited the Museum of Retro Technology (sometimes referred to as the Auto Retro Museum or even the AutoMotoVeloPhotoTeleRadio Museum). Located in a hexagonal building in the center of Vinnytsia, the Museum of Retro Technology is full of old technology, including multimedia systems, space suits and antique cars.
Did you ever notice how similar scuba diving suits are to nuclear disaster protective gear?
Do you long for the days when televisions were giant cubes and maps still showed the USSR?
Do you love sitting behind the wheel of classic cars (even if they’re not going anywhere)?
Then you’ll love this museum! Seriously, it’s like poking around at a really clean, really well-organized junk yard, with only the very best Soviet junk on view.
The price of admission to the museum recently increased to 20 UAH, which is slightly less than $1 USD. The museum is typically open daily from 11:00 until 19:00, and you’ll want somewhere between forty-five and ninety minutes to take in the exhibits (depending on how much you like looking at old stuff).
The museum is located at Soborna Street #1, on the same side of the river as the city center and the opposite side of the street from Hotel France. The oddly-shaped building is pretty hard to miss!
Every Eastern European city has a pedestrian-friendly, multi-use square at its heart, and Vinnytsia Ukraine is no different. Just two hundred meters from Hotel France, European Square draws a crowd of locals each day. They come to sit on the park benches, cool off in the shade of the leafy trees, grab an ice cream or waffle, or check out one of the monuments that dot the plaza.
In addition to the memorials to the fallen soldiers of the Second World War, there is a flame-shaped monument to the “Heavenly Hundred”: Ukrainians who died during the Euromaidan protests of 2013 and 2014. As well, the southern edge of the park is lined with billboards explaining the city’s history in both Ukrainian and English.
At the very center of Vinnytsia’s European Square, the city’s famous water tower rises almost one hundred feet above the square below. Now, visitors can climb to the top for panoramic views of the city, or check out the War Veterans’ Museum inside.
One of my favorite memories from my time in Vinnytsia will always be the scene I stumbled upon in European Square’s fountain: a young boy who staunchly refused to emerge from the cold water, despite his mother’s desperate pleas and the angry shouts of at least a dozen bystanders. I got the impression that the crowds were more upset by the boy’s disobedience towards his mother than his actual actions, and after watching him laughingly wriggle away from his mother every time she tried to reach into the fountain to grab him, I could see both sides of the situation. I watched the scene unfold for more than ten minutes before leaving – it’s entirely possible the boy is still in that fountain, three months later…
The Churches of Vinnytsia
If you arrive in Vinnytsia by bus, this striking blue church is one of the first things you’ll notice. Directly across from the bus stop, along the edge of the river, is Vinnytsia’s own blue church. Painted a shade of periwinkle that outshines even the famous Blue Church in Bratislava, this is a Greek Catholic church with a surprisingly simple, minimalistic white interior.
On the opposite side of the river, about one block away from Hotel France, Vinnytsia’s Holy Transfiguration Cathedral is one of the town’s most iconic landmarks. Originally built in the mid-1700s, it has undergone a number of renovations and expansions in the years since, and at during the Soviet Union the builing served other purposes (including being used as a rubber factory and a sports hall!).
Ukrainian Aviation Monument of Vinnytsia
One of my favorite monuments in Vinnytsia is the Ukrainian Aviation Monument, which is located beside the Concert Hall on Avenue. Here, a classic Soviet fighter jet blasts through a ring, surrounded by gardens and situated in front of a typical Soviet-style shopping center. Look closely and you can even see a woman selling kvass, a typical Eastern European soda made from fermented rye bread, out of a green barrel.
Vinnytsia City Hall
Vinnytsia’s City Hall is an eye-catching glass building located a block away from European Square. There are some benches in the gardens in front of the park, and it’s possible to walk right into the building to and witness Eastern European bureaucracy in action. Grab a number and wait your turn… then let me know what happens in the comments!
Central City Park / Central Urban Park
About one kilometer west of the river, just outside of Vinnytsia’s touristic center, Central City Park (also known as Central Urban Park) should be a top stop for family travel in Vinnytsia. There are several kid-friendly attractions within the park, including Mini-Vinnytsia, a small-scale model of the city, the city’s Planetarium, a House of Horrors haunted house and ducks to feed at the pond in the park’s southeast corner. For history travelers, this forty-hectare park is also full of monuments to tragic events from Ukraine’s history, including the monument to soldiers killed in the Afghanistan War shown above.
When I was walking through the Central Urban Park I discovered this small building, which was filled with simple tables and chairs. Atop each table there was a game of chess, and dozens of elderly men were spending their afternoon competing against one another at Eastern Europe’s most popular game. Although most of the people inside were men, I smiled when I noticed two women in the back, playing an intense game of cards.
Vinnytsia is located on the Southern Bug River (definitely not my favorite river name), which flows from the hills near the Polish border all the way to the Black Sea. Vinnytsia’s riverfront features a pleasant promenade that makes for a nice hour-long walk. There are plenty of playgrounds along the shore, and it’s also possible to rent rowboats and peddle-boats. During the summer months, tour boats depart hourly from the city center, sailing south down the river and then looping back.
How to Get to Vinnytsia Ukraine
Personally, I arrived in Vinnytsia, Ukraine by bus. The bus station in Vinnytsia is located within relatively-easy walking distance of the city center, across from the blue church at the end of Soborna Street. I bought all of my Ukraine bus tickets on this site, and never had a problem printing my own ticket and either redeeming it in the bus station or using it to board the bus directly.
There are twelve buses daily from Vinnytsia to Kiev, with most of the departures leaving before noon. You can also travel by bus from Vinnytsia to Uman (twelve daily – morning departures are more reliable than evening departures, which are part of a longer international route) and from Vinnytsia to Zhytomir (sixteen daily, mostly in the early afternoon).
From the bus station to Hotel France, I would suggest taking a taxi. A taxi shouldn’t cost more than about 50 UAH, or $2 USD. Although the tram does pass in front of the bus station, the nearest stops are almost halfway to the hotel, and uphill.
There is also a train station in Vinnytsia, at the far east end of
From the train station, Tram #4 takes a somewhat roundabout route around the city but does eventually drop you off right in front of Hotel France (get off at the stop by McDonalds).
There is an airport near Vinnytsia that offers regular service to Kiev on Ukraine International Airlines. As well, there are seasonal charters to Tel-Aviv around Rosh Hashanah (to accommodate Hasidic pilgrims en route to Uman) and some resort destinations. The nearest major international airport is in Kiev.
For more information about Ukraine, check out my posts about vegetarian food in Kiev, preparing for a Chernoby tour, and what you’ll experience on an overnight trip to Chernobyl.
While you’re in the area, consider taking a day trip to Zhytomyr, a nearby city with a fascinating museum about the Soviet space program.
What do you think… would you stop in Vinnytsia on your trip to Ukraine? Let me know in the comments!