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The Crimean Peninsula, is a major land mass on the northern coast of the Black Sea that is almost completely surrounded by both the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov to the northeast. The peninsula is located south of the Ukrainian region of Kherson and west of the Russian region of Kuban. It is connected to Kherson Oblast by the Isthmus of Perekop and is separated from Kuban by the Strait of Kerch. The Arabat Spit is located to the northeast, a narrow strip of land that separates a system of lagoons named Sivash from the Sea of Azov.
Crimea (or the Tauric Peninsula, as it was called from antiquity until the early modern period) has historically been at the boundary between the classical world and the Pontic–Caspian steppe. Its southern fringe was colonised by the ancient Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Crimean Goths, the Genoese and the Ottoman Empire, while at the same time its interior was occupied by a changing cast of invading steppe nomads and empires, such as the Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Goths, Alans, Bulgars, Huns, Khazars, Kipchaks, Mongols and the Golden Horde. Crimea and adjacent territories were united in the Crimean Khanate during the 15th to 18th century.
In 1783, Crimea was annexed by the Russian Empire. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Crimea became an autonomous republic within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in the USSR, though later, during World War II, it was downgraded to the Crimean Oblast.
In 1954, the Crimean Oblast was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by Nikita Khrushchev in order to bolster the "unity of Russians and Ukrainians" and the "great and indissoluble friendship" between the two peoples. It became the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within newly independent Ukraine in 1991, with Sevastopol having its own administration, within Ukraine but outside of the Autonomous Republic.
Since 1997, after the Peace and Friendship Treaty signed by Russia and Ukraine, Crimea hosts the Russian Black Sea Fleet naval base in Sevastopol. The ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet and its facilities were divided between Russia's Black Sea Fleet and the Ukrainian Naval Forces. The two navies shared some of the city's harbours and piers, while others were demilitarised or used by either country. Sevastopol remained the location of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with the Ukrainian Naval Forces Headquarters also based in the city. On April 27, 2010, Russia and Ukraine ratified the Russian Ukrainian Naval Base for Gas treaty, extending the Russian Navy's lease of Crimean facilities for 25 years after 2017 (through 2042) with an option to prolong the lease in 5-year extensions.
In March 2014 local authorities hold an referendum on "reunification with Russia".
This region features many landscapes: Crimean steppe (or prairie) to the East and North, Feodosia's sandy beaches, undulating hills of vineyards and fruit trees, castles reminiscent of Bavaria cling to cliffs plunging into the warm sea and there are forested mountain ranges with fabled cave cities to the West.
Crimea observes Moscow Standard Time (MSK).
Ruth Maclennan's film Theodosia is a good introduction to the place of Crimea in the Russian psyche.
When you get to Crimea you can buy the local guide book "Time to Come to Crimea!" (in both English and Russian) at one of the many small booths on the street.
Weather and Water
The weather in Crimea during the summer season is very much Mediterranean. Expect relatively hot weather and lots of thunderstorms that come and go. Hot and very humid at night. In the winter snow can cover the mountains and make the roads almost impassable
The water is fairly warm, although not as warm as the Adriatic. The water is clean and clear, although also a bit less than the Adriatic.
The three official languages are:
Russian is the lingua franca, and the overwhelming majority of the local people are, or define themselves, as ethnic Russians. Try to learn a little before you come, even if it's just getting familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet, as few people speak or understand English.
Ukrainian About a quarter of the population are ethnic Ukrainians. Generally the Slavic people that you meet will likely be pro-Moscow and therefore may not appreciate being spoken to in Ukrainian, although if you don't know either language well, you may not be able to tell the two languages apart.
Crimean Tatar (of which the Yalıboylu dialect is mutually intelligible with Turkish) is widely spoken by the indigenous Crimean Tatars, who constitute about 12% of the population. Given the mass deportation during Stalin's rule, older Crimeans may also speak Uzbek.
German was the main foreign language taught to Soviet school children and many people will know a few words.
Some of the street signs in Yalta are in English from the time of the Yalta Conference in 1945.
The development of Crimea as a holiday destination began in the second half of the 19th century. The development of the transport networks brought masses of tourists from central parts of the Russian Empire. At the beginning of the 20th century, a major development of palaces, villas, and dachas began—most of which remain. These are some of the main attractions of Crimea as a tourist destination. There are many Crimean legends about famous touristic places, which attract the attention of tourists.
A new phase of tourist development began when the Soviet government realised the potential of the healing quality of the local air, lakes and therapeutic muds. It became a "health" destination for Soviet workers, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet tourists visited Crimea.
Artek is a former Young Pioneer camp on the Black Sea in the town of Hurzuf, near Ayu-Dag, established in 1925. In 1969 it had an area of 3.2 km². The camp consisted of 150 buildings Unlike most of the young pioneer camps, Artek was an all-year camp, due to the warm climate. Artek was considered to be a privilege for Soviet children during its existence, as well as for children from other communist countries. During its heyday, 27,000 children a year vacationed at Artek. Between 1925 and 1969 the camp hosted 300,000 children. After the breaking up of the Young Pioneers in 1991 its prestige declined, though it remained a popular vacation destination.
In the 1990s, Crimea became more of a get-away destination than a "health-improvement" destination. The most visited areas are the south shore of Crimea with cities of Yalta and Alushta, the western shore - Eupatoria and Saki, and the south-eastern shore - Feodosia and Sudak. According to National Geographic, Crimea was among the top 20 travel destinations in 2013.
As of 2007, the estimate of the total population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol was at 2.352 million people, just slightly down from the count of the 2001 Ukrainian Census at 2.413 million.
According to the 2014 Russian census, 84% of Crimean inhabitants named Russian as their native language; 7.9% – Crimean Tatar; 3.7% – Tatar; and 3.3% – Ukrainian. It was the first official Russian census in Crimea since Ukrainian that held in 2001.
According to the 2001 census, 77% of Crimean inhabitants named Russian as their native language; 11.4% – Crimean Tatar; and 10.1% – Ukrainian. In 2013, however, the Crimean Tatar language was estimated to be on the brink of extinction, being taught in Crimea only in around 15 schools at that point. Turkey provided the greatest support to Tatars in Ukraine, which had been unable to resolve the problem of education in their mother tongue in Crimea, by bringing the schools to a modern state.
Ethnic composition of Crimea's population has changed dramatically since the early 20th century. The 1897 Russian Empire Census for the Taurida Governorate reported: 196,854 (13.06%) Crimean Tatars, 404,463 (27.94%) Russians and 611,121 (42.21%) Ukrainians. But these numbers included Berdyansky, Dneprovsky and Melitopolsky uyezds which were on mainland, not in Crimea. The population number excluding these uyezds is given in the table below.
Crimean Tatars, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority who in 2001 made up 12.1% of the population, formed in Crimea in the late Middle Ages, after the Crimean Khanate had come into existence. The Crimean Tatars were forcibly expelled to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin's government as a form of collective punishment, on the grounds that they had formed pro-German Tatar Legions. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Crimean Tatars began to return to the region. According to the 2001 Ukrainian population census 58% of the population of Crimea are ethnic Russians and 24% are ethnic Ukrainians.
Jews in Crimea were historically Krymchaks and Karaites (the latter a small group centered at Yevpatoria). The 1879 census for the Taurida Governorate reported a Jewish population of 4.20%, not including a Karaite population of 0.43%. The Krymchaks (but not the Karaites) were targeted for annihilation during Nazi occupation.
The number of Crimea Germans was 60,000 in 1939. During WWII, they were forcibly deported on the orders of Stalin, as they were regarded as a potential "fifth column". This was part of the 800,000 Germans in Russia who were relocated within the Soviet Union during Stalinist times. The 2001 Ukrainian census reports just 2,500 ethnic Germans (0.1% of population) in Crimea.
Besides the Crimean Germans, Stalin in 1944 also deported 70,000 Greeks, 14,000 Bulgarians and 3,000 Italians.
Covering an area of 27,000 km2 (10,425 sq mi), Crimea is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea and on the western coast of the Sea of Azov, the only land border is shared with Ukraine's Kherson Oblast from the north.
The natural border between the Crimean Peninsula and the Ukrainian mainland is formed by the Sivash or "Rotten Sea", a large system of shallow lagoons. The peninsula is connected to the Kherson Oblast's Henichesk Raion, and thus the European mainland, via the Isthmus of Perekop, a strip of land about 5–7 kilometres (3.1–4.3 mi) wide, as well as by bridges over the narrow Chongar and Henichesk straits. The northern part of Arabat Spit is administratively part of Henichesk Raion in Kherson Oblast, including its two rural communities of Shchaslyvtseve and Strilkove. The eastern tip of the peninsula is the Kerch Peninsula, separated from Taman Peninsula on the Russian mainland by the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov, at a width of between 3–13 kilometres (1.9–8.1 mi).
Geographically, the peninsula is generally divided into three zones: steppe, mountains and southern coast.
The Crimean peninsula comprises many smaller peninsulas, such as the mentioned Kerch peninsula, Heracles Peninsula, Tarkhankut Peninsula and many others. Crimea also possesses lots of headlands such as Cape Priboiny, Cape Tarkhankut, Sarych, Cape Fonar, Kazantyp, Cape Akburun, and many others.
The Crimean coastline is broken by several bays and harbors. These harbors lie west of the Isthmus of Perekop by the Bay of Karkinit; on the southwest by the open Bay of Kalamita between the port cities of Eupatoria and Sevastopol.
The Kerch Peninsula is attached to the Crimean mainland by Isthmus of Yenikale, delimited by the Bay of Arabat to the north (interrputed by the incoming Arabat Spit), and the Bay of Caffa to the south (arching eastward from the port of Feodosiya).
The southeast coast is flanked at a distance of 8–12 kilometres (5.0–7.5 mi) from the sea by a parallel range of mountains, the Crimean Mountains. These mountains are backed by secondary parallel ranges.
The main range of these mountains shoots up with extraordinary abruptness from the deep floor of the Black Sea to an altitude of 600–1,545 metres (1,969–5,069 ft), beginning at the southwest point of the peninsula, called Cape Fiolente. It was believed that this cape was supposedly crowned with the temple of Artemis, where Iphigeneia is said to have officiated as priestess. Uchan-su, on the south slope of the mountains, is the highest waterfall in Crimea.
The main branches of the modern Crimean economy are tourism and agriculture. Industrial plants are situated for the most part in the northern regions of the republic. Important industrial cities include Dzhankoy, housing a major railway connection, Krasnoperekopsk and Armyansk, among others. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in early 2014 and subsequent sanctions targeting Crimea, the tourist industry has suffered major losses. The flow of holidaymakers dropped 35 percent in the first half of 2015 over the same period of 2014.
The most important industries in Crimea include food production, chemical fields, mechanical engineering and metal working, and fuel production industries. Sixty percent of the industry market belongs to food production. There are a total of 291 large industrial enterprises and 1002 small business enterprises.
Agriculture in the region includes cereals, vegetable-growing, gardening, and wine-making, particularly in the Yalta and Massandra regions. Livestock production includes cattle breeding, poultry keeping, and sheep breeding. Other products produced on the Crimean Peninsula include salt, porphyry, limestone, and ironstone (found around Kerch) since ancient times.
In 2014, the republic's annual GDP was $4.3 billion (500 times smaller than the size of Russia's economy). The average salary was $290 per month. The budget deficit was $1 billion.
Transportation - Get In
After the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Russian immigration and custom agencies started operating in the peninsula's ports of entry, and foreign citizens now need regular Russian entry visas to visit Crimea.
Starting from December 2014, it's not possible to travel from Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula by public transport. Unless you hold a Ukrainian passport, you will need a special permission from the Ukrainian government in order to cross the "Ukraine-Crimea" border by foot.
Officials of the Ukrainian border authorities announced in 2014 that an entry to Crimea not from the mainland Ukraine will be considered as an "illegal entry to the territory of Ukraine". In practice, it means that if, after entering Crimea from mainland Russia, a foreign citizen tries to enter the mainland Ukraine, he/she will be subject to a administrative or criminal prosecution (a fine, a possible denial of entry to Ukraine or an imprisonment).
As of March 2015, EU cruise ships are prohibited from calling at Crimean ports due to EU economic sanctions.
The rail ferry between Kerch and Russia's Krasnodar Krai is only used to move freight cars. Direct train service exists between Rostov-on-Don and Simferopol, but it entails two separate trains: one bringing passengers to the ferry on the Taman peninsula, and the other one running between the harbor on the Crimean side and Simferopol. It is more common, though, to use a combined ticket sold by Russian Railways. This ticket includes a train to Krasnodar or Anapa, bus service to the ferry, the ferry itself, and the bus service between the ferry and Crimean cities.
There are flights to Simferopol from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and many other Russian cities. No international flights operate to Simferopol. The nearest airport having international flights is Krasnodar in mainland Russia.
Frequent bus service connects Crimea to mainland Russia. The buses operate to various destinations in Krasnodar Krai including Krasnodar, Anapa, Novorossiysk, and Sochi. All buses cross the Kerch Strait by a ferry.
Frequent passenger and vehicular ferries operate across the narrow Strait of Kerch, between Kerch's Port Krym and Port Kavkaz on a spit of the Russian mainland. (Schedules and fares in Russian ). As of April 2014, the one-way passenger ticket is RUB162 for adults and RUB81 for children; transporting a car costs RUB1190-1688. (Ferry info updates for 2014, in Russian) Ferry service is subject to weather conditions and can be interrupted for 1-2 days in a row because of bad weather. Expect queues and long waiting times during high season, especially in the end of August.
Freight services run between several major Crimean ports and the harbors of Krasnodar Krai (Anapa, Novorossiysk, Feodosiya). Most of these ferries will not accept personal cars or individual passengers.
In March 2014, plans have been announced for the construction of a bridge across the 5km (3 mi) wide Strait of Kerch. The bridge is scheduled to open in 2018.
Transportation - Get Around
You can get anywhere in Crimea by mini bus. You can also go by taxi. Prices vary; be prepared to haggle a fare as you will always find someone to do a deal with. Many private citizens also work as pseudo taxi drivers; sometimes it is difficult to tell. Taxis range from modern comfortable cars to 1950s gas powered Soviet cars!
Frequently while travelling in the country if you look like a foreigner (for example with a backpack) and you are standing on what passes as a 'major' road people will stop and ask if you want a ride... for a price. Fortunately that price is usually quite small to go some very long distances.
The road system in Crimea is in very poor repair; expect huge potholes. There is a very strict zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving. Police patrols are frequent as well as roadside checks for documents, but the death toll on the roads remains very bad.
- Simferopol —The capital. The train station is very clean and beautiful. For the most part this is a place of transit to the coast or to the mountains. It is famous for having the world's longest trolley bus service of 86 km (53 mi).
- Alushta —The first beach city on the way to Yalta from the west, this city does not have much in it except old boat docks that have been transformed into beaches.
- Bakhchysarai —Located in a canyon between Simferopol and Sevastopol, this town has a wealth of interesting sites to see including the Crimean Tatar Khan's palace, the cave cities (Kachi-Kalion, Chufut-Kale, Eski-Kermen, Shuldan) and the Armenian monastery that is built in a cave.
- Feodosiya —Feodosiya is located 100 km (62 mi) to the east of Simferopol. From the outskirts it looks like an urban industrial disaster but once past the factories it has a very nice old town. Very similar to Odessa in architecture but just on a smaller scale. Home to the Ayvazovsky Picture Gallery.
- Kerch —Your last stop before reaching the eastern edge of the Crimea and heading across the straits into the rest of Russia.
- Sevastopol —A major port for the Russian Black sea fleet. Given the title 'Hero City' for its resistance to the Nazis during WWII. Numerous monuments to the past's military exploits. Nice shops.
- Yalta —A very beautiful city containing many of the Russian Czar's palaces and other great monuments. Twinned with Margate in England amongst other places. Yalta is a tourist hotspot, which contains a mixture of Soviet hotels and modern high rise apartments. Yalta was once the main holiday destination for many Russians before they were allowed to travel outside the Soviet Bloc.
- The Bolshoi (Grand) Canyon
- Alupka—Rocky beaches, home to a number of dacha's and the magnificent Vorontsov palace, where Churchill stayed during the Yalta Conference in 1945.
- Balaklava - famous for the Crimea war of the 1850s, the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and home to a former secret Soviet submarine base.
- Koktebel—Located between Feodosiya and Sudak, this small town has a great beach area that has a carnival type environment. It sits below a spectacular wilderness area to the west that regrettably you can only visit on a guided tour.
- Sudak—A beautiful coastal city with the remains of a very old Genoan fortress.
- Massandra—Small city near Yalta with the Massandra Palace and the fаmous winery "Massandra".
- Livadia—Small city near Yalta where the Yalta Conference that divided Europe into spheres of influence was held in the Livadia Palace in 1945.
Almost 100 broadcasters and around 1,200 publications are registered in Crimea, although no more than a few dozen operate or publish regularly. Of them most use the Russian language only. Crimea's first Tatar-owned, Tatar-language TV launched in 2006.
Alexander Pushkin visited Bakhchysarai in 1820 and later wrote the poem The Fountain of Bakhchisaray. Crimea was the background for Adam Mickiewicz's seminal work, The Crimean Sonnets inspired by his 1825 travel. A series of 18 sonnets constitute an artistic telling of a journey to and through the Crimea, they feature romantic descriptions of the oriental nature and culture of the East which show the despair of an exile longing for the homeland, driven from his home by a violent enemy.
Ivan Aivazovsky, the 19th-century marine painter of Armenian origin, who is considered one of the major artists of his era was born in Feodosia and lived there for the most part of his life. Many of his paintings depict the Black Sea. He also created battle paintings during the Crimean War.
Vasily Aksyonov published The Island of Crimea in 1979, in which he predicted the annexation.
Crimean Tatar singer Jamala won the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 with her song 1944, about the historic deportation of Crimean Tatars in that year by Soviet authorities.
In the 8th century BCE the Cimmerians migrated to the region and subsequently the Scythians as well it being the site of Greek colonies. The most important city was Chersonesos at the edge of today's Sevastopol. The Persian Achaemenid Empire expanded to Crimea.
Later occupiers included the Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, the Byzantine Empire, Khazars, the Kipchaks, the Golden Horde, and the state of Kievan Rus'.
Consideration of the succeeding residents of the peninsula by their linguistic grouping is also of relevance. Three linguist groups are prominent: the Indo-Iranian group comprising the Taurians, Cimmerians, and Scythians; the Indo-European group comprising the Greeks, Romans, Goths, Venetians, Genoese, and Slavs; and the Ural-Altaic group comprising the Alans, Huns, Kazhars, Tatars, and Ottomans.
In the 9th century CE, Byzantium established the Cherson theme to fend against incursions by the Rus' Khaganate, and the Crimean peninsula from this time was contested between Byzantium, Rus' and Khazaria. The area remained the site of overlapping interests and contact between the early medieval Slavic, Turkic and Greek spheres, and became a center of slave trade, Slavs were sold to Byzantium and other places in Anatolia and the Middle-East during this period.
Trapezuntine Perateia had already been subjected to pressure from the Genoese and Kipchaks by the time Alexios I of Trebizond died in 1222 before the Mongol invasions swept through in 1223. With them, the peninsula's status quo changed in the 1230s as all but the Perateia of Crimea was incorporated into the territory of the Golden Horde throughout the 14th century CE. In the course of the 13th century CE, portions were controlled by the Republic of Venice and by the Republic of Genoa, the Perateia soon became the Principality of Theodoro and Genoese Gazaria, respectively.
Crimean Khanate (1441–1783)
The Crimean Khanate, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, succeeded the Golden Horde and lasted from 1449 to 1779 In 1571, the Crimean Tatars attacked and sacked Moscow, burning everything but the Kremlin. Until the late 18th century, Crimean Tatars maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire, exporting about 2 million slaves from Russia and Ukraine over the period 1500–1700.
Russian Empire (1783–1917)
In 1774, the Khanate was proclaimed independent under the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, and was then annexed by Russia in 1783.
The Taurida Oblast was created by a decree of Catherine the Great on 2 February 1784. The center of the oblast was first in Karasubazar but was moved to Simferopol later in 1784. The establishment decree divided the oblast into 7 uyezds. However, by a decree of Paul I on 12 December 1796, the oblast was abolished and the territory, divided into 2 uyezds (Akmechetsky [Акмечетский] and Perekopsky [Перекопский]) was attached to the second incarnation of the Novorossiysk Governorate.
From 1853 to 1856, the peninsula was the site of the principal engagements of the Crimean War, a conflict fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia.
Russian Civil War (1917–1921)
Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the military and political situation in Crimea was chaotic like that in much of Russia. During the ensuing Russian Civil War, Crimea changed hands numerous times and was for a time a stronghold of the anti-Bolshevik White Army. The White Army controlled Crimea before remnants were finally driven out by the Red Army in November 1920. It was in Crimea that the White Russians led by General Wrangel made their last stand against Nestor Makhno and the Red Army. When resistance was crushed, many of the anti-Communist fighters and civilians escaped by ship to Istanbul. Between 56 000 and 150 000 of the Whites were murdered as part of the Red Terror.
Soviet Union (1921–1991)
Crimea became part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1921 as the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which became part of the Soviet Union in 1922.
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (1921–1954)
Artek youth camp was created in 1925. During the Second World War the peninsula was invaded by Nazi Germany and Romanian troops in summer 1941 across the Isthmus of Perekop. Following the capture of Sevastopol on 4 July 1942, the Crimea was occupied until German and Romanian forces were expelled in an offensive by Soviet forces ending in May 1944. On 25 June 1946, it was downgraded to the Crimean Oblast, and the Crimean Tatars were deported for alleged collaboration with the Nazi forces. A total of more than 230,000 people - about a fifth of the total population of the Crimean Peninsula at that time - were deported, mainly to Uzbekistan. 12,075 Bulgarians, 14,300 Greeks and about 10,000 Armenians were also expelled.
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (1954–1991)
On 19 February 1954, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR issued a decree on the transfer of the Crimean region of the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR. This Supreme Soviet Decree states that this transfer was motivated by "the commonality of the economy, the proximity, and close economic and cultural relations between the Crimean region and the Ukrainian SSR".
In post-war years, Crimea thrived as a tourist destination, with new attractions and sanatoriums for tourists. Tourists came from all around the Soviet Union and neighbouring countries, particularly from the German Democratic Republic. In time the peninsula also became a major tourist destination for cruises originating in Greece and Turkey. Crimea's infrastructure and manufacturing also developed, particularly around the sea ports at Kerch and Sevastopol and in the oblast's landlocked capital, Simferopol. Populations of Ukrainians and Russians alike doubled, with more than 1.6 million Russians and 626,000 Ukrainians living on the peninsula by 1989.
Autonomous Republic within Ukraine (1991–2014)
In January 1991, a referendum was held in the Crimean Oblast, and voters approved restoring the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. However, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union less than a year later, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was formed as a constituent entity of independent Ukraine, with a slight majority of Crimean voters approving Ukrainian independence in a December referendum. On 5 May 1992, the Crimean legislature declared conditional independence, but a referendum to confirm the decision was never held amid opposition from Kiev. The Verkhovna Rada voted to grant Crimea "extensive home rule" during the dispute.
2014 Russian annexation
After the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and flight of the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from Kiev on 21 February 2014, the Kremlin was interested in appropriating Crimea for Russia. Within days, unmarked Russian forces with local militias took over the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, as well as occupying several localities in Kherson Oblast on the Arabat Spit, which is geographically a part of Crimea. Following a controversial referendum, the Russian results of which showed majority support for joining Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty of accession with the self-declared Republic of Crimea, incorporating it into the Russian Federation as two federal subjects: the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution calling upon states not to recognise changes to the integrity of Ukraine. Russia withdrew its forces from southern Kherson in December 2014.
Russian administration (2014– )
Since Russian control over Crimea was established in 2014, the peninsula has been administered as part of the Russian Federation except for the northern areas of the Arabat Spit and the Syvash Sea which are still controlled by Ukraine. Within days of the signing of the accession treaty, the process of integrating Crimea into the Russian federation began: in March the Russian ruble went into official circulation and clocks were moved forward to Moscow time, in April a new revision of the Russian Constitution was officially released with the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol included in the list of federal subjects of the Russian Federation, and in June the Russian ruble became the only form of legal tender. In July 2015, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that Crimea had been fully integrated into Russia.
Though Russia has control over the peninsula, its sovereignty remains disputed as Ukraine and the majority of the international community consider the annexation illegal. A range of international sanctions remain in place against Russia and a number of named individuals as a result of the events of 2014.
Things to see
- The Khan's Palace -- The Khan's palace is in the small mountain village of Bahkchisaray half way between Simferopol and Sevastapol. The Khan's palace was the seat of the Tatar rulers of Crimea dating back to 1443. With the Ottoman conquest of Crimea in 1475 the Khan's became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire but were left as the rulers. After the Crimean war with the victory of Russia all of the Khan's were made Russian nobility but the capital of Crimea was moved to Simferopol. The palace grounds include impressive gardens, several old mosques including cemeteries, a harem and of course the palace itself. You can take a guided tour of the palace but only in Russian.
- Chufut Kale Cave City -- An hour and a half walk up a beautiful canyon from the town of Bahkchisaray you will find the Chufut Kale cave town dating back to the 6th century. It is located high up in the cliffs so the walk is a bit strenuous but not overwhelming. It is a city of what appears to have been several thousand people who built/dug their homes into the limestone rock. The city was abandoned in the 19th century. There are some other cave cities (about 14), completely different as far as size and picturesqueness concerned
- The Bolshoi (Big) Canyon -- The Bolshoi Canyon is on the opposite side of the mountain range that Yalta sits below. It will take about an hour and a half to get there by car from Yalta. It can also be reached from Bahkchisaray by hitch hiking or minibus. Bolshoi means 'Grand or Large' in Russian. After reaching the entrance to the park you will have to pay a small fee (USD2) to start down the trail. From there it is about an hour hike into the canyon along a small mountain stream. You never actually end up getting a perfect view of the canyon as you are also down in the middle of it surrounded by lush vegetation but it is impressive all the same. The trail ends at a small picnic area where a local man is selling awful wine and really good fried food. There is a small waterfall and a pool where you can do some minor diving/jumping. You can continue further up the stream without the trail but it is a bit more rough going.
- Caves There are three caves equipped for easy access: Krasnaya, Mramornaya, Emine-Bayır-Hosar. And there are a lot of undeveloped caves attractive to speleologists.
- The Swallow's Nest an architectural folly, now an Italian restaurant.
- Livadia Palace - former summer palace to the Russian tsars and famous setting for the Yalta Conference.
- Massandra Palace - another former Tsarist palace, which looks a bit like a French Chateau, once visited by Stalin who declined to stay there as he did not feel very safe.
- Gurzuf, a small pretty coastal town that retains (perhaps has regained) its old Ottoman characteristics. Close to Yalta off the road to Alushta, its climate is very similar to French Riviera. Gorgeous views and clean warm sea.
- Inkerman Cave Monastery - a cave monastery in a cliff rising near the mouth of the Black River, in the city of Inkerman, administered as part of the sea port of Sevastopol. It was founded in 1850 on the site of a medieval Byzantine monastery where the relics of St. Clement were supposedly kept before their removal to San Clemente by Saints Cyril and Methodius.
- Khersones - Also known as Chersonesus. An ancient Greek colony founded in the 6th century BC in the southwestern part of the Crimean Peninsula, known then as Taurica. Nicknamed the "Ukrainian Pompeii" and "Russian Troy", the ancient city is located on the shore of the Black Sea at the outskirts of Sevastopol. Locally known as Khersones, the site is part of the National Historical-Archeological Museum Zapovednik. (In Russia and the former Soviet Union, a zapovednik is a protected area which is kept "forever wild" for conservation purposes.)
Things to do
- Hiking in Crimea is wonderful. There are very few other backpackers and almost no clearly marked trails (as in posted signs) so you're going to be roughing it. The trails themselves though, appear to be well used. In the mountainous region though you can pretty much pick any two small towns and hike between them and be assured of an adventure. Campsites are few and far between but there is lots of open space for camping; be environmentally sensitive of course about the place you choose to camp.
- Koktebel Jazz Festival. Takes place each year in August/September, with some of the acts performing on the nude beach. Day ticket around USD12.
Street food can be delicious in Crimea, if somewhat heavy. Definitely try some local Tatar specialties such as chebureki (Russian: чебуреки), from an outdoor stand or a cheburechnaya (Russian: Чебуречная, "chebureki joint"). These are succulent half-moon shaped meat pies, usually filled with lamb or beef (Crimean Tatars, being Muslim, do not eat pork), and deep-fried in aromatic sunflower oil. Samsa are also good, hot pastries filled with mince meat and chopped onions.
Try manti (Russian: манты), which are steamed lamb-filled dumplings, often served with adjika (Russian: аджика), which is a very hot red chilli pepper paste.
Try lyulya-kebab and shashlik (Russian: люля-кебаб and шашлык), which are kebabs and charcoal-grilled skewered meat. If you can find pork shashlik, definitely try them. You will have more success with this in a Russian-run restaurant, as pork is not served in Tatar restaurants.
Find a good Tatar restaurant and try the lagman (Russian: лагман). It's an incredibly rich, thick lamb soup with vegetables and long homemade noodles.
The ice cream sold at the beach includes a simple one called molochnoye (Russian: молочное, "made of milk"). It's white, but it's not vanilla-flavoured. It tastes like sweet milk.
If you see women walking up the beach selling something from buckets, it's probably paklava (Russian: паклава, baklava). This paklava is like nothing you have ever had before. It's thin layers of homemade dough, put together to resemble big flowers, deep-fried and covered with nuts and honey. It's absolutely heavenly.
Find a pastry shop and try the trubochki (Russian: трубочки, "little trumpets"). A trubochka is a cornucopia shape of short pastry filled with meringue and sometimes dipped in nuts. Delicious with chai (Russian: чай, tea).
The beer in Crimea is outstanding and cheap.
Crimea is a wine-producing region. Most of the wine produced here, at the famous Massandra Palace winery and in Koktebel', is dessert wine in the style of Port or Madeira. Unwary foreigners might buy a bottle of what looks like red or white wine in a kiosk and find it undrinkably sweet. That's because it's meant to be sipped, in very small quantities, not drunk like a Merlot. If it's regular wine you're looking for, avoid anything labelled Портвейн (Portwine), Мадейра (Madeira), Мускат (Muscat), Токай (Tokay). For table wines, ask for sukhoye vino (dry wine) or look for labels such as Совиньон (Sauvignon), Каберне (Cabernet), and Ркацтели (Rkatseteli), or look for Georgian wines, which are delicious and plentiful.
Try the regional sparkling wine, produced at Noviy Svet (Russian: Новый Свет, "New Light"), near Sudak. It's labelled "Шампанское" (Shampanskoye, champagne). Try to buy it somewhere reputable, though, because there are knock-offs. Noviy Svet is a very beautiful spot; you can tour the caverns where the wine is aged.
If you're not going anywhere else in Russia and Ukraine, try kvass (Russian: квас). It's a very refreshing non-alcoholic drink made of fermented wheat, the traditional drink of farmworkers in the bread-basket of Ukraine, prized for its restorative properties.
Try the local kefir (Russian: кефир), a cultured-milk beverage. When ice-cold, it's extremely refreshing on a hot day.
If you're feeling adventuresome, you might look for kumys (Russian: кумыс or кымыз), which is fermented mare's milk, a traditional drink of the Tatars and nomadic peoples of Central Asia.
Beware, some of the local mineral waters taste very salty. Look for a Western European brand, especially if you're going to be exercising.
Vodka is cheap and plentiful, some of the supermarkets have the best prices and the widest choices.
Money & Shopping
As of 2014, Crimea was still using the Ukrainian hryvnia. Starting 1 April 2014, pensions and other state payments were paid in Russian rubles, although phaseout of the Ukrainian hryvnia was not expected to be complete until January 2016.
Choices are limited for banking. All Ukrainian banks have had to stop operations on the peninsula; as of 2015 the US-owned Visa and Mastercard are not available in any form, and no major Russian banks operate in Crimea, due to the risk of being targeted by international sanctions. Sberbank, the Russian state-controlled bank, has stayed out of Crimea but is backing a new Russian-domestic credit card "Pro 100" (pronounced “pro-sto”) which is slowly being introduced. Existing ATM/debit cards, even from Russian issuers, do not work. Most often, the only practical means of doing business is with cash.
Stay safe / healthy
Motor vehicles will be the biggest hazard to your safety in Crimea. Drivers tend to stick to speed limits as there are many militsyia (police) but the road surfaces are poor which leads to some unsafe overtaking, even on the curvy coast and mountain roads. Pedestrians cross roads at their own peril. Be particularly careful if a car has stopped for you at a marked pedestrian crossing; check around the car before you venture past it farther into the crossing, because another very well may swing around it and go right through... right where you would be walking. Most cars ignore pedestrians!
Crimea does not have a major problem with crime. However, foreigners are at risk of being robbed if they are not careful about flashing wealth, except in Yalta during the summer which is filled with rich Russians. Foreigners should not hitchhike or take unmarked cabs unless they are travelling in a group. The safest way for a foreigner to travel alone is to take a bus or a marshrutka (a microbus that follows the regular bus routes). Moreover, beware of drunk men at night, especially if your skin is coloured. Beware also of the police, who may be corrupt and ask you for "presents" - i.e., bribes.
Discrimination by authorities against LGBT minorities is on the increase as Russian laws now apply to Crimea; a gay pride event formerly held in Sevastopol in April has been cancelled. The same warnings about anti-gay discrimination which apply to Russia must now also be applied to Crimea.
The countryside, which is extremely poor, is very safe. You are more likely to get kicked by a wandering horse than robbed. Crimeans on the whole are very polite, except when lining up for a bus or service at a shop when pushing to the front has been perfected into an art form. Standing in line is not an option!
There are plenty of ATMs and, as always, be careful around them. At night avoid lonely places where numerous drunks hang out, they are not really a danger except they might fall on top of you.