Yalta is a kitschy place, with heritage going back to the 19th century and its use as an exclusive sanatorium and also to communist-era mass tourism. Today mass tourism still sustains the city, which is understandable given its beautiful surroundings and proximity to many of Crimea's major sights.
Summer sees the city inundated with mainly Russian and tourists. However, consider a visit at any time of year: average temperatures are always above freezing (though it can and does occasionally freeze). Spring and autumn see some positively pleasant weather that can reach into high the 20s °C. Winters are not as cold as elsewhere in the region. Protected from the North by the mountains and warmed by the Black Sea, there is never a lot of snow in the winter, but beware of the winds as they can be bitingly cold.
Russian is the main language - getting by without a basic grasp will be difficult but not impossible. Ukrainian is also spoken. Crimean Tatar, which has a dialect that is very closely related to Turkish, is spoken by the predominantly Muslim Crimean Tatar people: if you speak Crimean Tatar (and even if you don't!), you will be warmly welcomed by the Crimean Tatars. English is not widely spoken, but try your luck with younger people if you have to speak in English.
People are generally friendly and crime in this city of over 80,000 people is low. Tourists are safe as long as they stay sensible: don't flash your cash, avoid unlit pathways at night (if only to avoid the drunks), and try to judge whether a strangers buying you drinks is being hospitable (most likely) or sinister (less likely, but possible).
Crimea is not a rich region and many of the services are not up to Western standards. Be patient and appreciate the good side of Yalta.
Simferopol is Crimea's main transport hub. From Simferopol the world's longest trolleybus route wends a scenic way to Yalta via Alushta for around 3 hours. The quality of the trolley buses varies. While the old Soviet ones may look retro-cool, consider waiting for one of the more modern, less characterful but more comfortable ones. Minibuses are faster but a bit more expensive (€2). A taxi will typically cost €10-20 and it will take just over an hour.
Buses also run to Sevastopol and other cities throughout Crimea and beyond.
A decent network of cheap minibuses connects the centre of town and the outlying areas. Pay either when you board or when you get off: this can be slightly confusing at times! Taxis are everywhere; some are genuine, and some are just people offering you a ride for a fare. Speaking English means the fare goes up, but it is still very reasonable, so learn to haggle - if the price is too high walk away as there will always be someone else to bargain with.
Yalta is a city that is spread out over a large area (Greater Yalta). The centre and harbor is a great place to walk around, but just beware of the local drivers as they tend not to give way for pedestrians. Traffic in the city in the summer months is heavy and you can be stuck in a jam if you go by a motor vehicle. Sometimes you may find it is much quicker to walk. The locals always dress up and walk around the harbor front at night - it's a great way to pass the evening away, or you can watch the people go by enjoying a drink at one of many cafes. The waterfront is well over a mile long - from McDonald's on the east end to the Hotel Oreanda on the west. Walk the length to choose your beach, which will be somewhat "rocky".
Ferries connect the central ferry port (on Ulitsa Ruzvjelta) to nearby beaches and towns and the Swallow's Nest (famous folly perched on a cliff and now an Italian restaurant). Sum luxury cruise ships visited Yalta during the summer, on their way around the Black Sea, which is certainly a nice way to travel, but all ships from EU destinations have stopped.
Useful bus numbers
Minibuses to the palaces sometimes, but not always, have "Дворец" (meaning palace) mentioned on their route listings.
- 11 - runs from the main bus station and calls at stops on Ulitsa Kievskaya and at the top of Ulitsa Pushkinskaya before going on to end at the Livadia Palace.
- 32 - runs from the minibus stand in central Yalta to Livadia Palace, the Gaspra Sanatorium (next to the Swallow's Nest), Miskhor (next to the lowest station of the Ai-Petri cablecar), and finally the Vorontsov Palace in Alupka.
- Minibus 27 and bus 102 - run a similar route to the 32 but go from Yalta bus station, not the city centre.
In Livadia, the 27, 32 and 102 use a stop on the Sevastopolskoye Shosse main road, which is uphill from the palace; the number 11 ends up on a smaller road on the same level as the palace.
- 5 and 100 - run between Livadia Palace and Massandra Palace via central Yalta.
- Trolleybus 2, minibus 34 and bus 29 - run from the stop on Ulitsa Moscovskaya to Verkniy Massandrovskiy Park, from where it's a long walk uphill to the Massandra Palace - the 34 continues on to the Nikita Botanical Gardens.
Most of the sights are some way out of town and will require a bus, boat or taxi to reach. However, within the town you can see:
- 1 Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (where Krasnova Ulitsa and Morskaya Ulitsa meet Sadova Bulitsya). A 1902 Orthodox cathedral in the traditional style.
- 2 Armenian Church (Armyanskaya Tserkov), 3 Zagorodnaya ulitsa. Built in 1909-1919 based on the thousand year-old Saint Hripsimé Church in Vagharshapat, Armenia. Above the center of town, at the top of some mini-Potemkinesque stairs, the beautifully detailed church is well worth visiting. The elaborate stonework, arches and nooks make this a very nice place to spend a little down time in the shade. Free.
- Chekhov's house - 112 Ulitsa Kirova. Anton Chekhov wrote "The Lady with the Dog" and many of his other short stories here. The house is small and there is a museum nearby dedicated to the writer, well worth a look if you enjoy his work. Sadly, Chekhov's house is falling into disrepair, due to lack of funds. The good news is a fund has been started to raise a large sum of money to full restore the house in the future.
- Lenin's Statue - proudly guards the eastern end of the waterfront promenade, the perfect East meets West landmark.
- Waterfront promenade and beaches - the promenade (Lenina Naberzhenaya) has shops, cafes and various amusements. The beaches have smooth pebbles, not sand. Some are better than others and for a small entrance fee, you can get access to a nice beach close to the Soviet tourist monster, Hotel Yalta, which is to the east of the city centre. Summers are very hot, 32 °C or hotter, If you buy a drink from the cafe on some of the beaches, they will lend you an umbrella!
- Roosevelt Street (Russian: Улица Рузвельта Ulitsa Ruzvyelta) - not such a tourist draw but a quaint reminder of the city's important role in World War II. Try to find the plaque with Roosevelt's profile in relief and a short dedication in Russian and English.
Beyond walking distance of the centre can be found:
- 3 Nikitsky Botanical Garden. Founded in 1812, one of the world's oldest operating scientific botanical gardens. A lovely place to sit under the cherry blossoms and read Chekhov. Take minibus 34 from central Yalta.
- 4 Livadia Palace. This was Nikolai II's summer retreat, inaugurated on 11 September 1911. It was host to Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt for the Yalta Conference in 1945, in which they reportedly planned the division of Europe at the end of World War II. You can go inside and walk past the meeting hall, set up to correspond with the event's historical photos. You can also see the beautiful imperial family's private chapel. The gardens on its grounds were planted long before the Palace was built, and feature nice views of the Black Sea and Yalta. Grounds free to enter; there is a fee for the palace.
- 5 Massandra Palace. French-inspired chateau outside of town in the hills. It was a summer palace of Alexander III, and was later used by Stalin as a summer retreat. The grounds are very pretty, as is the surrounding bucolic countryside. It is a longish walk uphill from the main road, so make sure you wear appropriate footwear.
- 6 Massandra Winery. If you're into wine, this place you definitely want to visit. Guided tours take you through the winery and the cellars, which house one of the largest collections of wine in the world. When you're done with the tour, you can taste some of the wines they have to offer.
- Swallow's Nest - just visible from central Yalta (look west from the waterfront) and closer to Alupka, this famous folly is a symbol of Yalta.
- 7 Yalta Zoo, firstname.lastname@example.org. Expansive with a varied menagerie that includes all sorts from lions to bears to monkeys. Some of the cages are a bit small, but the animals appear to be well looked after. There is a small and underwhelming aquarium opposite the zoo, not worth bothering with.
Walk The Tsar's Path (Tsarskaya Tropa, Russian: Царская тропа; also called the Solnechnaya Tropa, Russian: Солнечная тропа) that runs for 6 km from the Livadia Palace to the castle-like former coastal home of Prince A. N. Golitsyn, a friend of Alexander I, now the Yasnaya Polyana resort. Minibus 26 will take you back to Yalta. The path keeps a very level course until near the end where it heads uphill to Yasnaya Polyana. However at the point where it starts to go uphill, if you head downhill on the nearby road you will end up at the Swallow's Nest. The start of the path may be hard to find - it is slightly downhill of the palace and the row of buildings next to the chapel.
Explore the region around Yalta - it is steeped in history and there are many interesting places to visit within an hour's mini bus ride from the city.
Foreign bank debit and credit cards can be tricky to use at ATMs and banks, cash will likely be needed. Exchange offices are plentiful and exchange rates are pretty good.
All areas of Crimea are famous for their red onions. It is said that they used to be much sweeter than they are now, but they are still a delicacy that are quite expensive elsewhere.
Vodka is very cheap and plentiful - you will be amazed at the many varieties available. Take a trip down to the souvenir shops located on the far side of the harbor, for numerous trinkets and other interesting reminders of Yalta. If you speak English that the prices tend to go up!
Honey In this region you can buy almost everywhere fresh honey from apiaries. The best prices are during the summer time.
There are several very nice little cafes at the main market (Ovoshnoi Rynok). They are not expensive, and are cleaner and serve fresher food than many in other areas. They have quite a good selection of food and it is well prepared. Best though to only eat hot food, for safety's sake.
Try shopping in the many markets for local produce. There are great bargains to be had on meat and vegetables. You might have to overlook some of the health standards, but as long as you wash and cook the food well - you should not have a problem.
- Dietstolovaya, Lenina/Krasnova 15/1 (on the right as you head up Krasnova Ulitsa from the waterfront.). 09:00-17:00. A genuine Soviet time capsule canteen untouched since the Brezhnev era. The food is cheap and hearty. Head to the back rooms for some of the cheapest sea views in Yalta. A delight for anyone interested in Soviet vernacular history and cheap food.
- There's a nice cafe just over the little bridge at the port. You need to enter a building and go to the highest floor to reach it. It's not something most people dare, but if you do it you're rewarded with a great view of the town, and nice cocktails.
To get the best Vodka, take a visit to one or two of the supermarkets outside the city centre and you will find a great selection at prices you will not believe.
Summer sees the city inundated with tourists and there is are lots of apartments and hotels available. Apartments come in all shapes and sizes but do not expect Western standards most of the time. However, do not judge an apartment by its outside: many decent places are housed in pretty shabby looking buildings.
Prices vary and are dependent upon the apartment's proximity to the sea and how much the owner think you can afford to pay! Try to avoiding "foreigner pricing" by speaking Russian, by not dressing flashily or showing wealth, and by negotiating in rubles rather than dollars or euros. Better places with all the mod cons may go for US$50-200 per night.
Apartments further away from the centre might also have their water turned off at night - this is common in Ukraine, be warned! You might also suffer power cuts, but this all adds to the local flavour. Also, keep your apartment clear of garbage in summer, otherwise you will attract giant cockroaches!
There is a hostel of the conventional type for those who are uncomfortable negotiating (and it can be tricky) but remember with a bit of effort you could get a whole private apartment for not very much more that the price of a single dorm bed!
- Sobaka Hostel, 29A Chernova St. (5 min walk from White Dacha Anton Chekhov's House-museum), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 13:00, check-out: 12:00. Modern 3-floor cottage with all the amenities, 2 dorm rooms, and 3 comfortable privates. Shared WC and shower on each floor. Wi-Fi. Fully equipped kitchen for self-catering. English speaking staff. Dorm beds from €14, private rooms from €20.
A free wifi network covers the central area and waterfront. Places with wifi abound but wifi combined with sea view, decent coffee, power outlets and toilets is surprisingly hard to find. One option is:
- Geneva Club-Cafe, 33 Ulitsa Naberezhnaya (On the waterfront promenade near the big boat-shaped restaurant), ☏ . Daily 10:00-01:00. Standard modern Russian-style coffee house (i.e. gaudy decor, smokey, loud music but othewise comfortable).
There's also a few internet cafes. Try Internet Cafe Stalker at 14 Ulitsa Kievskaya.
The main post office is next to the Lenin statue at the eastern end of the waterfront promenade.
There are several interesting places within the Greater Yalta area. Many are listed in the See section. Also nearby are:
- Alupka - (about 30 min from Yalta) home to the Vorontsovsky Palace, a fanciful mixture of Middle-Age and Moorish architecture. Also one of the longest cable car rides in Europe up Ai-Petri (St Peter's peak), the views are great.
- Gurzuf - small seaside town with a Tatar flavour.
Going beyond the Greater Yalta area may take you to:
- Alushta - the next major coastal city east of Yalta. It's on the Yalta - Simferopol trolleybus route.
- Balaklava - (about 1½ hours from Yalta) beautiful harbor town overlooked by a Genoese fortress towers and a former closed city due to its submarine base.
- Bakhchisaray - the scenic journey through the mountains and canyons makes this route an appealing alternative to the coastal road.
- Sevastopol - busy bustling city of over a half a million people. Home to the Russian navy's Black Sea fleet.
- Simferopol - gateway to Crimea. Good shopping and plenty of places to eat.