Adventures in Ukraine Getting Across Europe By Bicycle

Cycling in Ukraine. Getting Across Europe By Bicycle

Last updated January 12, 2023

We cycled 2400 kilometers from Lithuania to Greece. After 16 days, starting the trip from Vilnius, we reached Thessaloniki.

For us, it is an every-year tradition of gathering in different European places and going for a multi-day ride. Holidays on bicycles enable us to visit exciting sites, try local food and beverages, and meet people.

On the way, we visited Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria and got to Greece. 

In this article, I'm sharing my experience of cycling in Ukraine.

Important

Since our visit in 2017, geopolitical circumstances have changed. On 2022 February 24th, Russia started a full-scale, unprovoked, unjustified invasion of Ukraine. Due to the situation in the country, it is highly recommend sustaining to visit Ukraine.

Cycling in Ukraine

My assumptions about cycling conditions in Ukraine come from two bicycle tours I had in Western Ukrainian regions.

It is an enjoyable and friendly country to visit. Ukraine has a longtime history, culture, and local cuisine. Being at the crossroad between East and West, the countries’ cultures are noticeably influenced by both.

Moreover, European travelers will enjoy the cost of traveling. Food, accommodation, and service prices are still lower than in the rest of Europe.

That said, the infrastructure for bicycles is still limited.
You rarely would find dedicated cycling paths or related infrastructure. I recommend finding small local roads, but they aren’t always in good condition. Another option is sometimes to use public transport to skip some territories.

Pros: 

  • Zakarpattia province is the best place to start your introduction with Ukraine. It has many attractions for all kinds of tourists. 
  • Prices are lower than in most other European countries.
  • Fast border crossing procedures and visa-free travel for EU and US visitors.

Cons: 

  • The ongoing war in Ukraine changes everything.

First impressions in Ukraine

The first hours of cycling in Ukraine were both curious and challenging. We cycled down the empty roads between the endless fields of the grain. It was interesting to observe every farm we cycled by. To explore uncommon farming equipment, which I didn’t see before.

Soon we entered the main road to Chervonohrad. It was a complicated ride as the whole streets in town were full of potholes. The same I remember from my last trip to the Carpathian mountains. Sometimes it was too dangerous to cycle because of the road quality and you had to change the route. Not much has changed this time. We didn’t see anything interesting in Chervonohrad and decided to continue to Zhovkva.

A tip

Don’t think about cycling in Ukraine at night. The road quality is bad and it can be dangerous.

After almost 7 hours on the road, we reached Lviv. The largest city in the Western part of the country and one of the cultural centers of Ukraine. Lviv is also known as a very liberal city. The streets of the old town are full of young art, music, and craft creators. The oldest part of Lviv became a part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 1998. In other words, that Lviv is a city worth visiting and exploring for every tourist.

We decided to have a rest day and then proceed to Chernivtsi by train.

A stay in Lviv

The same evening we did a short walk tour around the old town. It was a Monday evening. The streets were full of youngsters playing and singing songs and hanging around with their friends.

Best place to eat steak

Before leaving for the trip, a friend recommended trying out Lviv restaurants. Most of them are inexpensive and serve tasty food. We went for a steak in one of the most promising places called Churrassco Gril & Beer. For the starter, we got a jar of local beer with dried fish for a starter. I’m not a seafood lover, but it was delicious. Later we received an enormous size beef steak. It was fabulous. Each of us has spent approximately 5 euros on similar combinations.

Best beer pub

After dinner, we visited the Pravda Beer Theater. It is a 3-floor brewery in the old town. The building has different areas for everyone who wants to eat, drink or spend time. You can walk through each floor, watch the beer production lines, and learn about the process. Then it is possible to order a desired glass of beer in the bar.

Pravda says they are the only Ukrainian brewery that brews beer with fresh hops, elderberry flowers, and sunflowers. So there is a lot to try. It feels more like a museum than a pub. I highly recommend visiting this place to everyone.

The next day we had our first lazy morning in Lviv. There was no need to rush to pack the stuff and get back on the road. We took a ride with a hop-on hop-off bus. Then we climbed to the Town Hall Tower for checking out the city from a bird’s view.

Craziest beer restaurant

For lunch, we stopped at a Dim Legend (House of Legends) restaurant. A weirdly superb place to visit. It is hard to describe all the surroundings and interior details you can find there. I bet you have never seen anything similar before.

Climb narrow wooden stairs until you reach the top. Once you are on the roof, there is an old Trabant from East Germany. Sit down inside and enjoy the swinging vehicle. At the same time, you can taste beer and explore the panorama through the front window. The owner must be a genius to bring up such crazy ideas. This was my favorite place to go.

Train travel experience

For the rest day, we had one more thing to do. We decided to avoid cycling tomorrow to Chernivtsi and take a train. We didn’t see a good option for cycling and wasting precious time on it. The small regional roads were in poor shape, while cycling on the main road could be dangerous.

We went to buy tickets for tomorrow’s trip. A middle-aged woman sitting at the cash desk didn’t speak English. I was fine with this as I do speak Russian. But the issue was that even though she understood us, she always replied in Ukrainian only. I got the main idea of what she was talking about but skipped the most important thing, as we found out later.

The next day, 30 minutes before leaving, we came to the same train station. Surprisingly, no one except us was there. We thought we were too early, but in 5 minutes, I decided it was worth double-checking.

The same lady from yesterday started yelling at us in fluent Russian language: “You idiots, I told you yesterday train departures from the central station, and do not stop here!”

We didn’t hear what she told us afterward. It was 15 minutes until the departure, so we jumped on our bicycles and hurried to another station. It was 4 kilometers to go. That was the fastest sprint through the town that ever we did.

We arrived there 2 minutes before departure. But the story was not over. We could not get onboard because we must have disassembled bicycles for transportation on the train.

A tip

In Ukraine you must disassemble bicycle for transportation in the train.

Efforts to explain our story to a stone-faced train conductor were worthless. She didn’t want to hear us or look for a workaround. In a few seconds, doors closed, and the train faded on the horizon. We stood alone on the platform with angry faces and confusion about what to do next.

That was the last train in today’s schedule, and the next one going to Chernivtsi would be in two days.

Our plan was so strict that we could not afford to spend one more day in Lviv.
We checked for alternative trains and buses. We also considered changing a route. None of those options were good.

In any of those scenarios, our schedule would shatter completely. It would cause a considerable risk of not reaching Greece before the flight home.

A trip to Chernivtsi

The more you travel, the more you learn. The main thing I realized in all my years of traveling is that there will always be obstacles. The most important thing is keeping calmt and not losing optimism. Even if there is no way out from the first point of view.

We started asking around locals for help. “You should go to the bazaar parking lot and look for minibus drivers. They are often shipping various goods from town to town. Someone will also go to Chernivtsi tonight.” – advised us a stocky guy with big dark glasses and a cigarette in his mouth.

And we were lucky! We found the last minibus 30 minutes before leaving. It was full already, but with driver help we freed a space lot for four bicycles.

We were still in Lviv for a while. Driver finished his dinner. Then he had to visit some customers and pick up more parcels (watering tubes, butter, bread). Lastly, he drove to an abandoned industrial place to fill the tank.

But we were not complaining because we still were on the way to Chernivtsi tonight. Sitting graciously on the backseats, we were sipping beer and chatting about recent challenge.

3AM, we arrived to Chernivtsi.

Next country – Romania.

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