- By Alexander Bratersky
- Sep. 09 2012 21:00
Population: 1 million
Mayor: Alexei Kostusev
Main Industries: seaport, tourism, heavy machinery
Founded in 1794
Interesting Fact No. 1: The paving stones in the famous Deribasovskaya street were made out of lava from Italy's Mt. Vesuvius two centuries ago.
Interesting Fact No. 2: Red Army Marshal Georgy Zhukov, credited with liberating the Soviet Union from Nazi occupation and conquering Berlin, commanded local military forces and played a lead role in cracking down on criminal gangs in the city.
Helpful Contact: Svetlana Boyeva, head of the foreign relations department in the city council (+380-48-725-3297).
Sister Cities: Varna (Bulgaria), Baltimore (U.S.), Rostov-on-Don (Russia), Split (Croatia), Marseille (France)
ODESSA, Ukraine — "The air conditioner is broken, but you're very welcome to come in," an attractive restaurant hostess says with a charming smile. "Here in Odessa, you cannot feel let down."
Situated on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, the nation's fourth-largest city is as renowned for its warm water seaport as for its humor.
Native son Mikhail Zhvanetsky, a beloved satirist, once wrote: "In Odessa they joke without end, but this is not humor, it's a condition caused by heat and audacity."
Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov, who co-authored two of the Soviet Union's most-famous comedies, "The Twelve Chairs" and its sequel, "The Little Golden Calf," grew up in Odessa. Many of their works poke fun at the Soviet system.
Isaak Babel, heralded as one of the greatest writers of Russian prose, was also born in Odessa. His collections of short stories, including the acclaimed "Red Cavalry" and "Tales of Odessa," are considered masterworks of Russian literature.
Krayan Holding Company (2 Kosovskaya Ulitsa; +380-48-738-0831;
LUKoil Refinery Plant (1/1 Shkodovaya Gora; +380-48-236-6003;
Odeskabel (144 Nikolayevskaya Doroga; +380-48-716-1123;
Odessa Champaign Factory (36 Frantsuzsky Bulvar;
Zhvanetsky, Ilf, Petrov and Babel were all members of the city's once-prominent Jewish population, which at the turn of the 20th century made up nearly 40 percent of the populace.
Although pogroms and emigration have left the Jewish community a shadow of its former self, its influence remains clearly palpable in the city's cultural identity.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many Jews moved to New York's Brighton Beach, settling in an area now called "Little Odessa."
Russian director Leonid Gaidai noted the similarity in his 1992 comedy, "Weather Is Good on Deribasovskaya, It Rains Again on Brighton Beach." The title refers to a pedestrian walkway in central Odessa, named after Jose de Ribas, a Spanish nobleman who founded the city while serving as an admiral in the Russian imperial navy.
Odessa's population is predominantly Russian-speaking. And with a diverse demography including Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Romanians and Turks, many here consider themselves as being of one ethnicity, Odessian.
In a tribute to the city's uniqueness, street vendors hawk "Russian-Odessian" dictionaries, featuring comical scenarios. In one, a recently widowed Odessian inquires at a funeral home: "How much would a funeral cost? … Oh, and without a body?"
Q: What possibilities do you see for the development of Odessa as a tourist destination?
A: We believe the development of tourism potential lies within the development of tourism infrastructure. This means adding more foreign-language signs in historical parts of Odessa and opening new tourism information centers, part of the city's long-term rebranding.
During the past year and a half, we have made breakthroughs in the development of Odessa's tourism potential. We opened a tourist information center and launched a 24-hour hot line in four languages. We also started running sightseeing shuttle buses in the downtown and founded an official city logo. We are developing cultural tours, which have already received high marks from tourists from Germany and Switzerland. And soon, we will surprise guests with interesting gastronomic tours: Odessa is a multicultural city, and this is reflected in our culinary traditions.
Q: What steps are planned for attracting foreign tourists to Odessa?
A: Cultural and gastronomic tours, as stated above, and we are working with some of the largest cruise operators. Starting in April 2014, Royal Caribbean, one of the world's leading cruise lines, will make Odessa the key destination on its Black Sea tours.
We are also actively promoting Odessa at the International Tourism Fair in Berlin. The city also hosts the Odessa International Film Festival and a tourism convention.
— Alexander Bratersky
The ideal place to learn the "Odessian" language is at a cafe or aboard one of the old-fashioned trolleys that criss-cross the town.
Conversations about politics and daily life are loud and common, and Russian, Ukrainian and even Georgian leaders are discussed with the same kind of familiarity that someone might use when discussing neighbors.
The name of the modern city of Odessa, founded in 1795, has a disputed origin. Some historians say the then-budding metropolis was renamed to honor the ancient Greek city of Odessos, erroneously thought to have been located here.
But that archaic city was in fact located near the present-day Bulgarian town of Varna, some 400 kilometers to the southwest. Others say "Odessa" is actually a derivation of "Yedisan," meaning "seven flags," the Turkish-language title of the imperial Ottoman settlement in the area.
Under the Russian Empire, Odessa became one of the nation's main ports. It received honorable awards from the tsar after withstanding unified British and French attracts during the Crimean War.
Built by many prominent Russian, Italian and French architects throughout the 19th century, downtown Odessa is essentially devoid of the Soviet architecture that permeates the nation.
A popular warm weather destination among Russians that harks back to Soviet days, the city is now becoming trendy with Moscow's bohemian crowd.
Tatler magazine's Russian edition recently called Odessa a "colossal hub of energy" in an article showcasing interviews with celebrities who said they prefer Odessa to France or Spain. In 2011, Odessa was named "best city to live" by Focus magazine.
Many Ukrainians are also moving to Odessa, which is slowly changing the city's historically mixed demographic. "The city is losing its traditional coloration," local historian Sergei Valenrod said in an interview. But, he added, aesthetically the city remains relatively unchanged.
With cheaper prices than Russia's Sochi, Odessa remains a great destination for tourists seeking a warm-weather break from Moscow. According to port authorities, 50,000 tourists arrived to Odessa by cruise ship last year.
What to see if you have two hours
If you stop in Odessa during a sea cruise or simply have a long layover on a flight to Kiev, take a stroll around the famous Deribasovskaya street in the heart of downtown Odessa. Many nice cafes dot the pedestrian walkway.
Then head over to Primorsky Bulvar, with its monument to one of the city's founding fathers, Armand-Emmanuel de Vignerot du Plessis, better-known as the duke of Richelieu.
The French aristocrat emigrated to Russia after the French Revolution and became a devoted state servant in the court of the tsar. In 1803, Alexander I appointed him governor of Odessa.
The duke earned respect from locals for facilitating trade and investing his own money in the beautification of the city. In 1814, he returned to France, where he became minister of foreign affairs.
The monument is a popular meeting place and tourist destination. Nearby is a picturesque view from atop the Potemkin Stairs.
Q: Do you see the development of Odessa as a tourist destination similar to that of Spain's Ibiza? (A parallel was drawn recently in Tatler Magazine.)
A: I'm sure the prospects and future of Odessa are much bigger and diverse than those of Ibiza or Cannes, to which our city has often been compared in recent years. Odessa is dynamically developing; the number of interesting sports, music, entertainment and business projects is growing each year. People call Odessa the city of a hundred festivals, and that's not empty flattery.
Q: What do you think attracts tourists to Odessa?
A: People come for different reasons. First, Odessa has historically had a positive image, an image of a city-state with its own traditions, legends, cuisine, sense of humor and way of thinking. Many films have been made about Odessa, and people are simply interested in seeing it for themselves. Second, Odessa is a beautiful and charming city with its magnetism, beautiful architecture, interesting attractions, sea and beaches. And third — or maybe it should be the first — women in Odessa are really very beautiful!
I'm not saying this is some distinguishing feature that makes Odessa different from other cities in Ukraine, but all of the above reasons together make Odessa a wonderful place to stay. Many of my big-city friends come to Odessa for the summer to relax, work and enjoy life without traffic jams, smog or noise.
Q: What are your favorite places in Odessa?
A: I adore the historical downtown. It's very beautiful and interesting. I recommend you come to Odessa and see it for yourself!
— Alexander Bratersky
Consisting of 192 steps, this site was made famous by a scene in Sergei Eizenshtein's classic film "The Battleship Potemkin," about a mutiny against tsarist officers on the eponymous cruiser in 1905.
In the haunting scene, a baby carriage plunges down the stairs after soldiers shoot into a crowd that has gathered to support the rebel crewmen.
For some fresh snacks for the rest of your journey, be sure to visit the large Privoz market at 14 Privoznaya Ulitsa. Remember, for a good discount, it's OK to haggle.
What to do if you have two days
If you have a couple days, check out some of the city's museums.
The Museum of Western and Eastern Art (9 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa; +380 48-722-4815;
The painting was briefly stolen from Moscow's Pushkin Art Museum in 1965, but it was later recovered by the KGB. The story was featured in the well-known Soviet detective novel "The Return of the Holy Luke" in 1971.
Odessa's Military History Museum (2 Pirogovskaya Ulitsa; +380 48-29-8125) offers an overview of the battles fought in the region as well as mementos from the times. Stormed by Nazi forces during World War II, then liberated by the Red Army in 1944, the city was especially affected by the war.
"You, who have found this note, report that I died not on my knees," a Red Army soldier wrote in a chilling note displayed in the museum.
But despite the harsh times, Odessa's trademark humor pursued. To put psychological pressure on the Nazi infantry, locals altered tractors to resemble tanks and sounded ship alarms. The tractor-tanks were called Na Ispug, "for a scare."
A visit to Odessa is not complete without a trip to Arcadia Beach. Located to the west of the city, Arcadia is a place of popular nightclubs frequented by the Russian elite, including billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.
The area's private beaches are very clean with polite personnel, in contrast to the droves of Russian tourists who try to present themselves as masters of the universe.
What to do with the kids
A popular tourist destination, Odessa has plenty of family-friendly attractions. The Nemo dolphinarium (25 Lanzheron Beach; +380 48-720-7070;
Interestingly enough, Ukraine has a long tradition of working with dolphins. During the Cold War, it had a secret base for training dolphins for military operations.
With its 1,600 animals, from elephants to Amur tigers, the Odessa Zoo (25 Novoshepnoi Ryad; +380 48-722-55-89;
The zoo also allows visitors to sponsor a particular animal.
Those looking for an all-night party should visit the city's most popular nightclub, Itaka (Arcadia Beach; +380 0482-349-188;
Opera and ballet lovers will be delighted to see Odessa's national opera and ballet theater (1 Chaikovsky Pereulok +380 487-80-15-09;
Where to eat
Compote (70 Panteleimonovskaya Ulitsa; +380 482-345-145;
But the food is as eclectic as the interior, which features cozy sofas and pictures of Hollywood celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart. An average meal with wine will cost you $30.
Another local food option is Dacha (85 Frantsuzky Bulvar; +380 48-714-3119,
Where to stay
The five-star Bristol hotel (15 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa. +380 487-9655) in the heart of Odessa is one of the most elegant and stylish buildings of the city. Built a century ago, the hotel was a favorite of many prominent dignitaries, including American novelist Theodore Dreiser and Russian poet Ivan Bunin.
Rooms range in price from 150 euros for a single to 1,100 euros for the presidential suite.
Another option is the reconstructed two-story mansion (30 Rishelyevskaya Ulitsa; +380 048-785-1653;
Any Odessian would be pleased if you compliment the city and mention novels by well-known local writers. If you ask someone on the street for directions you may just find yourself immersed in a long conversation — on any subject.
How to get there
Trains to Odessa run daily from Moscow's Kievsky Station. The journey takes about a day. A roundtrip will set you back $300.
Aeroflot sells tickets to Odessa for as low as $400. But you might find a cheaper flight on Expedia.com. A nonstop flight takes a little over two hours.