Crimea, the ultimate travel guide

Crimea, the ultimate travel guide

Boats on the Black Sea at the Cape Fiolent in Sebastopol in Crimea

For centuries Crimea has been a coveted prize for conquerors and empires, from the Mongols to the Russians. The peninsula was part of Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union and annexed Russia in March 2014.

The mountains of southern Crimea are the homeland of Crimean Tatars, a Turkic minority deported by Stalin in the 1930’s. They have lived alongside Karaites Jews for centuries.
With its ancient Greek ruins, Byzantine cities, Genoese fortresses, Russian summer palaces, rugged mountains, cristal clear water beaches, and a rich and diverse history, Crimea is a gem waiting to be rediscovered.

I have been wanting to visit it for years and finally did in the summer 2022. What was supposed to be a ten-day stay turned out to be a month and a half journey across this fascinating semi-island.

This is the most complete and up-to-date Crimea travel guide available on the internet. It contains everything you need to know for travelling to the peninsula, from how to get there, where to sleep, must-try food, safety and more!

Disclaimer : All opinion are my own. Everything written in this post is for informational purposes only.
Если вы из России, please, оставьте комментарий ))

Last updated : 19/02/2024

Boats on the port of Balaklava in Crimea
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General informations

Status of Crimea : Even though it’s not recognise by most of the world, Crimea has been annexed by Russia in 2014. The russian authorities fully control the peninsula since then.

Sevastopol has the status of Federal city just like Moscow and Saint – Petersburg. Locals makes a difference between Crimea and Sevastopol.

Capital : Simferopol (Симферополь)

Population : 1 915 000 inhabitants according to russian sources

Minorities : Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians, Karaite Jews

Languages : russian is the language spoken by all in Crimea, but there are also tatar, karaim and ukrainian languages

A surpringly high amount of people, especially young ones, spoke english.

If you speak russian even a little you might notice quite a lot of locals using the ukrainian word “sho” instead of the russian “chto” (what) when talking.

Religions : Orthodox Christianity, Sunni Islam, Karaite Judaism

Dress code : None but cover up when visiting a church, mosque or synagogue

Best time to travel : Summer. But Crimea is a year round destination really

The Monument to the Sunken Ships in the Sebastopol Bay in Crimea

Sevastopol or Sebastopol ? In russian or ukrainian it is spelled Sevastopol “Севастополь” and it is often incorrectly spelled Sebastopol by foreign medias.

Visa

Crimea and Sevastopol are under russian control. The only way to get in is from Russia mainland via the Crimean bridge from the Krasnodar Krai. Depending on your nationality you may need a russian visa.

Note : Ukraine and the international community consider the entrance to Crimea from Russia illegal. To make it legal you should have a special permit delivered by the ukrainian authorities, which they likely will refuse to give you.

A russian flag in a blue sky on a sunny day
There are tones of russian flags everywhere as a reminder

Border

The border between Ukraine and Crimea is closed and right now in a active armed conflict zone. Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past year, you surely know that the Kherson region isn’t suitable for travelling at the moment, nor anytime soon I believe.

The only way to get into Crimea is from the Krasnodar Krai, by bus, train or car via the Crimean bridge.

There is no border crossing post as the russian authorities consider Crimea theirs. However there is some sort of police post/customs on each side of the bridge, they may stop people from time to time, including buses.

My bus got stopped on my way out of Crimea. Every passenger had to take their luggage, go through a scanner but nobody checked IDs.

You have nothing to worry about from the russian authorities. In their eyes you are totally allowed and legal to be in Crimea.

The Crimean Bridge linking Russia to Crimea

Money

The russian ruble is the currency in Crimea. All prices are in rubles, not ukrainian hryvnia. Visa, Mastercard, American Express do not work in Crimea.

If you have euros or dollars to exchange you can do so at any local bank. There’s a tiny currency exchange office at Simferopol bus station (see the map).

The man working there gave me the black market rate. Don’t expect a receipt.

I couldn’t find any exchange office in Sevastopol and changed mostly with locals.

Currency in Crimea, russian ruble bills

Banks

There are no Ukrainian or foreign banks nor the major russian banks in Crimea. However, rumor has it that Sberbank is about to open offices (info from January 2023). There are no VTB, no Alfa bank and no Tinkoff ATMs either.

The following banks can be find in Crimea : RNKB (РНКБ Банк), Genbank (Генбанк), Bank “Rossiya” (Банк Россия) and a few others.

If you own a russian bank card, you can use it just like in Russia mainland (any ATM, shops, bus etc).

Tinkoff : as said previously, there are no Tinkoff ATMs in Crimea. I topped up my card at the RNKB bank a couple of times, it worked just the same and I didn’t get charged anything extra.

The RNKB bank in a street in Crimea

Supermarkets, international stores/chains & booking platforms

There are no more international stores and chains in Crimea. No Starbucks, no Macdonalds, no Radisson hotel or else. Worldwide booking platforms such as Booking.com or Airbnb do not operate in Crimea. You must use the russian alternatives to book accomodation : Ostrovok or Yandex travel.

Don’t expect to find the popular russian supermarket chains either on the peninsula. No Pyaterochka nor Magnit in every corner there, instead they have Pud (ПУД) and Yabloko (Яблоко) supermarkets to name the two most popular. You can find all russian brands (sometimes under different names though) in those and even lots of products made in Donbass. Fancy a Donetsk icecream ?

Some shops such as Krasnoye y Beloye (Red ad White, a popular russian alcohol + first basic fresh food store chain) are under the name of Eda y Vada (food and water).

A supermarket Pud in Crimea

Phone

Crimea has its own mobile operators. You can use your russian simcard of course but unless you bought a special plan for Crimea with MTS or Megafon for example, you will get roaming charges.

Those special “Crimea 2 weeks holiday” plans by russian operators are more expensive than simply getting a local simcard.

Volna mobile and Win mobile are the most popular Crimean phone operators.

I had a Volna mobile simcard during my stay and it worked just fine.

You can easily buy a local simcard on arrival near bus/train stations. E.g : right outside Sevastopol bus station, there is a lady with a table full of Volna mobile simcards. You can’t miss her.

Note : there’s no more Ukrainian mobile operators in Crimea.

Volna mobile phone operator in Crimea

VPN

Do you need a VPN in Crimea ? Yes, absolutely and here are the three main reasons why :

1 – For your own online safety and anonymity.

2 – To bypass censorship (instagram, twitter, or whatever else that you cannot access with a russian IP address).

3 – You might be located in Ukraine from time to time, so russian booking platforms might not be accessible.

To learn more, read my Russia VPN guide here.

VPN in Crimea

Food & drinks

Classic Russian (/Ukrainian) food is served in every cafés and restaurants in Crimea : Borscht, Pelmenis, Chicken Kyiv etc. However there are some must-try dishes typically from Crimea.

Tatar Cuisine

Cheburek : the national Crimea tatar dish is a fried pie filled traditionally with beef or mutton mixed with spices, but can also be with cheese.

Yantiq : A cheburek that is grilled in a pan, not fried.

Köbete : Another traditional pie filled with a rice and chicken or other meat.

Shorba : A tatar meat and vegetables soup also popular in Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran etc

The easiest place to eat Tatar cuisine is Bakhchisarai, though Chebureks can be find everywhere.
There are plenty of quite touristy cafés in the old town. I ate lunch at Eskisehir, they have super traditional outdoor ground seating tables. Food and service were great.

Karaite cuisine

Cheer – Cheer : A Karaite version of cheburek with various filling such as minced meat, cheese or vegetables.

Kybyn : baked pie filled with minced mutton and onion.

I had a cold soup called “Suvuk Shorba” made with kefir and beetroot, kind of a Karaite okroshka.

Evpatoria’s old town is the best place to taste Karaite cuisine. I ate at the Karaman Café, my english speaking waitress was super nice and helpful. There’s an extensive menu with lots of curious sounding dish names, including “Khazar shashliks”.

National dishes in Crimea with Karait soup, rapanas seasnails, and tatar cheburek

Others

Rapanes : Sea snails from the Black Sea. They are mostly served as a stew without shells, with sauce, vegetables or pasta. I’m french, we’re very found of such gastropods as surely you know, I’ve had it about 3 times while in Crimea, not cheap but delicious every time !

Wine : Vineyards can be seen from the roadside and the alcohol aisles of supermarkets are huge. You cannot go to Crimea and not taste the wine. Notable Crimean winemakers are Massandra, Inkerman, Zolotaya Balka, Koktebel, Novyi Svet. There are plenty of wine shops if you need advice on what to taste. Many restaurants sell by the glass but it’s often as expensive as a whole bottle in a store.

Where to sleep

Before 2014, Crimea was a very touristy destination are on the Black Sea, including for international tourists. Today there are still plenty of tourists but very few foreigners, it is mostly russians coming from various corners of the Federation to enjoy the warm and cristal clear water of Crimean beaches.

There are accomodations everywhere on the peninsula and for every budget : resorts, hotels, hostels, guesthouses and homestays.

The popular booking platforms Booking.com and Airbnb do not operate in Crimea. You must use the russian alternatives such as Ostrovok, Yandex travel etc.

A nice option to meet locals is to rent a room at a Crimean babushka’s house. There are a lot of elderly people holding sign “stay with us” waiting for tourists outside bus/train stations. A good way for them to earn some extra money.

A Guesthouse in an orthodox monastery in Crimea

Getting there, around & away

  • Plane : Simferopol international airport is closed until further notice. There are no flights from/to any city in Russia, Turkey or wherever else. The closest working international airport is Alder’s (Sochi).
  • Train : There are trains from many russian cities including Moscow, Krasnodar, and Sochi. If you plan on travelling during the high season, book your ticket well in advance if possible. Trains during the summer season are fully booking months ahead.

    Trains can be booked with a local card on RZD, the national russian railway website (the link might not work without a VPN). If fully booked you can also check on Grandtrain, they might be other trains available, though a bit more pricey. To book with a foreign Visa/Mastercard I recommend Russiantrain.com.
  • Bus : The bus is the best alternative when trains are fully booked. There are long distance buses from many cities in Russia including Krasnodar, Novorossiysk and Sochi.

    The bus network in Crimea is great. There are tones of daily buses between cities, towns and villages, making it very easy to travel independently around the peninsula.

    Note : Don’t wait last minute to book a long distance bus in or out of Crimea during the summer season. A couple of days before is preferred.

    You can buy directly at the station or on Tutu.ru. They charge extra for luggage and price depends on the lengh of the bus journey.
  • Boat : In Sevastopol there are boats going from the South side (city center) to the North side of the city. They run every half hour or so, daily. 26₽ one way per passenger on foot (same as a bus ride in the city).

    There are very convenient, you can buy the ticket right before boarding. One way takes about 15 minutes VS forever if you have to drive all the way around.

    To go to Evpatoria, the bus station is located right next to Severnaya Bukhta (South bay) boat station, which isn’t Sevastopol’s main bus station.

    Note : there are no international boats in/out of Crimea, no trains nor buses from/to Ukraine.
Passengers on the ferry travelling from North to South Sebastopol in the city of Sevastopol in Crimea

Safety

Disclaimer : I’ve travelled to Crimea in the summer 2022, doing so at my own risks and being fully aware of the situation in the area. I take no responsibility for your actions, problems and safety if you decide to travel to Crimea.

Is it safe to travel to Crimea in 2024 ? Most foreign governments will say no because they do not recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea. They advice against all travel as they cannot provide any consular assistance, meaning if something happens to you there, you’re on your own.

Now, I’d say yes, it is safe to travel to Crimea. The political situation is very stable, the majority of the population being russian and people from the Donbass republics (Donetsk & Lugansk) they moved there since 2014), they are content with the current government.

There is no ongoing military conflict on the territory of Crimea (never was in fact, the russians took control of the peninsula rather “peacefully” in 2014).

However, there are military bases, and because of the proximity with Ukraine, you are most likely to hear and see rockets crossing the sky near Sevastopol, see military boats and even submarines in the bay. It’s a freaking military parade every day.

Submarine entering the Bay of Sebastopol in Crimea

If I may add, don’t believe everything you see in mainstream medias. I felt safe during my month and a half in Crimea, locals and russian tourists were very welcoming, even though quite shocked when they found out I was a Westerner. I had an awesome time overall.

My top 5 experiences in Crimea

The Monument to the Sunken Ships in the Sebastopol Bay in Crimea

#1 Explore Sevastopol, Crimea’s best city

The front of the Karaite Kenesa of Evpatoria in Crimea

#2 Roam around “Little Jerusalem” in Evpatoria’s old town

Swallows Nest castle near Yalta by the Black Sea in Crimea

#3 Wander around Yalta’s palaces

A board of the Great Sebastopol Trail in Crimea

#4 Hike the Great Sevastopol Trail

The Khan's Palace and its garden in Bakhchisaray in Crimea

#5 Discover Bakhchisaray, Crimean Tatar’s heartland

Extra tips

  • The 2013 Bradt Ukraine and 2014 Lonely Planet Ukraine are totally outdated for Crimea. There are no newley updated travel guide books since the russian annexation of the peninsula. I wrote an 18 pages travel ebook on Sevastopol (the whole municipality), available for free in the content library.
  • Use Yandex maps and Maps.me in Crimea. Google maps is useless.
  • The city of Yalta is overrated in my opinion. It’s overcrowded with tourists and expensive.
  • Simferopol is the most rainy place in Crimea, but there’re good museums and nice food places.
  • The lavender blooming season starts in July.
  • If you’re interested in Crimean Tatar’s history, read the excellent “The Crimean Tatars” by Brian Glyn Williams 
  • Last but not least, check the news before going, if there’s an excalation of the conflict and the ukrainian prepare to blow up the bridge, that might not be the right time for you to cross.
Resource library 1
The blue waters of the Black Sea from Cape Fiolent in Sevastopol in Crimea, Russia
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