Archeological digs in the area reveal it had already been inhabited in 17th–15th centuries BC. The city's history began in the 7th century BC, when Greek colonists from Miletus founded the city-state Panticapaeum on Mount Mithridates, near the mouth of the Melek-Chesme river. Panticapaeum subdued nearby cities and by 480 BC became a capital of the Kingdom of Bosporus. Later, during the rule of Mithradates VI Eupator, Panticapaeum for a short period of time became the capital of the much more powerful and extensive Kingdom of Pontus.
Located at the intersection of trade routes between the steppe and Europe, the city grew rapidly. Panticapaeum minted its own coins and exported grain, salted fish and wine. The Melek-Chesme River, now small and shallow, was navigable in Bosporan times, and sea galleys were able to enter the river. Panticapaeum and the Kingdom of Bosporus suffered from Ostrogoth raids in the 1st century AD, and were devastated by the Huns in AD 375.
From the 6th century the city was under the control of the Byzantine Empire. By order of Emperor Justinian I, a citadel named Bospor was built there. The center of a diocese, it grew under the influence of Greek Christianity. In the 7th century, the Turkic Khazars took control of Bospor, and the city was renamed Karcha (from Turkic "karşı" meaning 'opposite, facing'). In the late 10th century, Khazaria fell to Kievan Rus' and Kerch became the center of a successor-state. From the 10th century, the city was known as Korchev, a center of trade between Rus', Crimea, the Caucasus, and the East.
In the 13th century, Crimea including Korchev was invaded by Mongols. After that, the city became a Genoese colony named Cerco (Cherkio) in 1318. Townspeople fished and worked at salt-works.
In 1475, city was passed to the Ottoman Empire. During the Turkish rule Kerch fell into decay and served as a slave-market. It repeatedly suffered from raids of Zaporizhian Cossacks.
By the times of Peter the Great, Russian military forces were reinforcing in the Azov sea area, and as a response, the Turks built the fortress Yenikale, near Kerch, on the shore of Kerch Strait. The fortress was completed by 1706. In 1771 the Imperial Russian Army, commanded by Grigorii Potemkin, invaded Crimea and approached Yenikale. The Turks decided to abandon the fortress. By the Peace Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji in 1774, Kerch and Yenikale were ceded to Russia.
Because of its location, from 1821 Kerch developed into an important trade and fishing port. An ironwork factory was built in 1846, based on a huge iron ore deposit found on Kerch Peninsula.
During the Crimean War the city was devastated by British forces in 1855.
From 1941 to 1945, Kerch was the site of heavy fighting between Soviet Army and Axis forces. After fierce fighting, the city was taken by the Germans in November 1941. On 30 December 1941, the Soviets recaptured Kerch in a naval landing operation. In 1942 the Nazis occupied the city again. The Red Army lost more than 160,000 men, either killed or taken prisoner at the Battle of the Kerch Peninsula. On 31 October 1943, another Soviet amphibious operation was launched, returning Kerch to Soviet control on 11 April 1944.
There are long-distance sleeper trains from Moscow (24–28 hours).
Also Kerch has regional train connections with Simferopol and Dzhankoy. Though these regional trains are cheap they are also slow.
The main airport of Crimea is in Simferopol (220 km west of Kerch). If you prefer air travel you can get to Kerch via Simferopol, follow these steps:
- Arrive at Simferopol International Airport. Now you should get to Simferopol Central Intercity Bus Station (Avtovokzal), there are two options:
- Taxi. There are plenty of private cabs in front of the airport, but prices are usually not reasonable and many of the drivers are dishonest. You should always negotiate a price before you board a cab and make sure that this price is for the entire route (not for each kilometer)
- Public transport. Take marshrutka bus #49 (bus stop is in the middle of the square in front of the airport). Price is written on paper sheets inside the bus. There are no tickets; just pass money to your driver. Usually it takes 25–35 minutes to get to Avtovokzal. Avtovokzal is just an intermediate stop for marshrutka #49; don't miss this stop! Ask the driver or passengers if you are not sure where to exit (most of the locals do not speak English, but they should understand what Avtovokzal means). If you have a GPS device you can locate Avtovokzal by coordinates (44°56'55"N, 34° 7'34"E)
- Inside Avtovokzal's terminal buy a ticket to the nearest bus to Kerch. During the day, intercity buses to Kerch depart every 30–45 minutes. There is a small fee if you have lots of luggage and need to use the bus's luggage compartment. Departure time, platform number, bus number and seat are printed on the ticket.
- Find your bus (it comes to the platform 15 minutes before departure)
- It takes about 4 hours to get to Kerch from Simferopol, usually with an intermediate 5-minute stop at Feodosia.
There are dozen intercity bus routes which connect Kerch and mainland Russia via Crimean Bridge. All routes starts from the Kerch Bus Station (Avtovokzal). It takes about 2-3 hours to get from Anapa airport to Kerch, - or 4-5 hours to access Kerch from airport of Krasnodar.
Kerch has frequent intercity bus connections with other destinations in Crimea and mainland Russia.
There are also a few unofficial international bus services that connect cities of Crimea and southern Ukraine. This service violates the legislation of Ukraine, but is in demand.
The 11-km long Crimean Bridge (Крымский мост, colloquially the Kerch Bridge, Керченский мост), over Kerch strait, connecting Crimea and Krasnodar Krai, was inaugurated by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 15 May 2018, and opened for non-truck cars on 16 May and for trucks on 1 October. The rail bridge was inaugurated on 23 December 2019 and the first scheduled passenger train crossed the bridge on 25 December 2019.
Kerch ferry line
Kerch ferry line transports cars, passengers and cargo trains across Kerch Strait to mainland Russia.
The Crimean harbor is Port Krym, at eastern outskirts of Kerch. Port Krym is connected with Kerch Central Bus Station (Avtovokzal) by marshrutka bus line #1, #18.
The ferry harbor on mainland side is Port Kavkaz that has an intercity bus connection with Krasnodar. It takes about 4 hours to get to Port Kavkaz from Krasnodar.
All places near the city center are accessible by foot walk. If you need to get to a distant district or a sea beach on the outskirts then marshutka buses are your best friends. The price is usually written on a paper sheet inside the bus.
There are trolleybus lines in Kerch that connect Kerch Central Bus Station (Avtovokzal) with Kerch Train Terminal and Voykov Metal Works factory.
There are always a few cabs available at Kerch Central Bus Station.
- Taxi Kerch, ☏ , , , .
- Mega Taxi, ☏ , , .
- Church of St. John the Baptist — built in 717, it's one of the oldest churches in Eastern Europe.
- Mount Mithridates — a hill with a picturesque view on the city. The Great Mithridates Staircase with 428 footsteps leads to the top of the hill. 'The Monument of Glory' (1944, built after World War II) is on the top.
- Panticapaeum — ruins of the ancient city (5th century BC–3rd century AD), former capital of the Kingdom of Bosporus, and Tsarskiy Kurghan (4th century BC), a burial mound for one of Bosporian kings; Panticapaeum is not in the best condition, as anything of interest was removed to museums in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, London, Paris and Berlin but it's still worth a look.
- Fortress of Yenikale (18th century) built by Ottoman Turks on the shore of Kerch Strait, at the eastern outskirts of Kerch, not far from ferry line. The fortress is mostly ruined, however if you have enough time to spend in Kerch you may want to see it.
- Fortress Kerch built by the Russian military architect Totleben in the middle of 19th century, after the Crimean war, to defend the Imperial borders. It's a very interesting place on the Ak-Burun cape.
- Sites of ancient settlements Mirmecium, Tiritaka and Nimphei
- Ancient History Museum of Kerch - established at 1826.
- Golden pantry - treasures of ancient Kerch.( as part of the Museum collection )
- Lapidarium - one of the largest collections in Europe.
- Memorial of heroic guerrilla warfare in Adzhimushkay mines.
- At summer season you can take a rest on a sea sandy beaches, however most of them are at the outskirts. Also, there are a few mud-cure sources near the city.
- Climb to the top of Mount Mithridates. А torchlight procession happens on Mount Mithridates every May 8th (Victory Day).
There is a wide selection of restaurants, cafe on the high street & around, although not all of them are open until late.
You can choose from a wide range of fresh fish. Smoked gobies (bychki vyalenye) is one of the most popular dishes, particularly good with beer. At autumn & winter salted anchovy is available on the market.
Crimea region is famous for its wines. Local wine stores offer a wide range of original Crimean wines.
Most famous local wine brands: Massandra, Inkerman, Magarach, Novy Svet, Koktebel.
There are several hotels in the city. There are summer resorts in the suburbs. In summer season many of the locals offer a house, flat or a room for rent.
- [dead link] Hotel Kerch, Kirova str., 11, ☏ , email@example.com:sezon-krim.
- [dead link] Hotel Meridian, Marata str., 9, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hotel Morje, Sverdlova str. 5a, ☏ , email@example.com.
- Hotel Grafskaya Pristan, Dimitrova ,4, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ostrich farm near Kerch - excursions & cafe of exotic food.
- Chokrak Lake - a salt lake at coast of Azov Sea near Kerch.
- Generalskiye plyazhi - virgin nature, bays & beaches of Azov sea.