I went to Khotyn and Kamyanets on a day trip from Chernivtsi by public bus. I had an early start (at 07.50) and it was a long day, but I felt I had enough time for both places. I returned from Kamyanets on a bus which was due to leave at 17.30, actually left around 18.00, and which got me back to Chernivtsi around 19.20-19.30.
Going to Khotyn first was the best option, because it allowed me to book as much as possible in advance, using the excellent booking tool http://ticket.bus.com.ua . For more details about online booking for bus and train travel in Ukraine, see:
Online advance booking gives you certainty and avoids the language problem for non-Ukrainian speakers. The website is in English, and when you get to the bus station you just hand the printed sheet to the person in the ticket office and exchange it for a ticket. There is also the huge advantage that online booking guarantees you a seat. Ukrainian buses are very crowded, and carry many standing passengers. (Some crews place stools in the gangway- I saw this on the Odessa-Chisinau run). When you book online, you get a seat number- number 1 at the front of the bus if you book far enough ahead! The time frame for booking varies from one bus company to another, most likely booking a week or so in advance will give you the best choice of departures, but there will probably still be plenty of availability the day before.
The system allows advance bookings Chernivtsi-Khotyn, but not the reverse, and Chernivtsi-Kamyanets in both directions. It does not allow Khotyn-Kamyanets in either direction. So by going to Khotyn first, the only part which I couldn’t book was the short leg from Khotyn to Kamyanets.
When travelling by bus from Chernivtsi to Khotyn, make sure the driver knows you want to go to Khotyn Castle. The Lonely Planet guide gives some directions, but I went a slightly different way, because of confusion as to where I wanted to get off. However, the route I took is relatively straightforward if you can explain what you want to do. You carry on from Khotyn bus station for a couple of km and then get off the bus at a junction with a minor road coming into the main road from the right. This minor road leads to Khotyn Castle and there is a sign at the junction, although this is easier to see when coming from the Kamyanets direction. Walk down this minor road. You will pass a church on your left a few minutes from the junction. After about 10-15 minutes, you will see a big yellow sign to the castle, pointing left. Follow this until you reach another turn to the left, with another big sign. It’s quite easy and the signage is good.
Khotyn Castle- souvenirs
If you like souvenirs- and my particular fixation is mugs, which I’ve collected from all over Europe- then Khotyn is a good place to buy them. There are several souvenir stalls once you’ve passed the ticket office. There is a little shop within the ticket office itself, but the stuff here is of poorer quality.
Getting to Kamyanets from Khotyn and vice versa
One option to get from Khotyn to Kamyanets is to try to hitch. This is quite common in Ukraine and the understanding is that you give money, roughly equivalent to the bus fare, so have small notes ready- 15 grivny for Khotyn-Kamyanets is about right- I took the bus and the fare was 12. There are cars leaving the castle all the time. It’s best to start walking back towards the junction with the main road, and try to flag a car down on your way. If you’re not successful, you will have better chances when you reach the main road.
If hitching fails, or you’re reluctant, you can pick up a bus once you reach the main road. There are no buses from the castle itself. You will have to flag one down- there is no official stop. Be prepared to stand! You can take a guess at the possible times when a bus might appear, by looking at the Chernivtsi-Kamyanets departures on http://ticket.bus.com.ua most of which should pass the junction around an hour and a quarter after leaving Chernivtsi. However, there are probably other buses besides these. I picked one up after waiting around 10-15 minutes, having tried unsuccessfully to hitch (though my efforts had been rather feeble, as I hadn’t tried flagging anything down between the castle and the junction).
For those starting in Kamyanets, there are plenty of buses to Khotyn, but you can’t book in advance. For an idea of times, look up the Kamyanets-Chernivtsi buses on http://ticket.bus.com.ua .
Kamyanets arrival, orientation and departure.
Kamyanets bus station is about 1km from the New Bridge, which crosses the gorge into the old town. The bus I arrived on stopped on a main road outside the bus station. At the time, I was completely disorientated, and with no street names visible and having no Ukrainian to ask directions, I had to resort to jumping into a taxi and asking to be taken to the historic centre. The initially agreed price was 20 grivny, but the first driver asked his colleague to take me instead, who asked for 25 when we reached the Peter and Paul Cathedral. I couldn’t be bothered to argue. The real cost should probably have been about 10, but it was still very cheap.
Later (when I walked back to the bus station at the end of my sightseeing) I worked out that the bus had stopped on Hrushevskovo, just before the right turn, which would have gone to the bus station. So for those who want to orientate themselves and walk into town, if the bus leaves you on a main street, walk forward in the same direction the bus has come, until you reach the first junction. This should be Knyaziv Koriatorychiv and if you turn left, you should reach the New Bridge after about 1 km. But it’s probably a good idea to make sure you’re in the right place first. So if you cross Knyaziv Koriatorychiv and continue down Hrushevskovo for about 50m, you should see the Central Market on your right. You can then happily return to Knyaziv Koriatorychiv, turn right and head into town. Having said that, it’s quite a hike, so the taxi isn’t a bad option to save your legs.
Kamyanets bus station and online bookings
Although I’d made an online booking for a 17.40 bus to Chernivtsi, which was shown as “100% reliable” on the Ukrainian buses website, when I turned up to try to exchange my ticket, there was some confusion. The language barrier meant that I didn’t understand what was going on, but the lady in the ticket office took one look at my printout and told me to stand on one side while she sold tickets to Chernivtsi to a lot of other people behind me in the queue. As the minutes ticked by, I calculated the cost of a taxi back to Chernivtsi- the 17.40 was the last bus- and thought about my dinner. But after lengthy discussion between the ticket lady and her colleague in the back office, as well as a conversation with somebody on the phone, the colleague eventually came outside into the booking hall and then showed me to an empty waiting minibus. It turned out that this was the 17.30 service, which finally left around 18.00. I never did work out what the problem had been, or what had happened to the 17.40, but it might be a good idea to allow plenty of time to collect tickets.
One last tip
The toilets at Kamyanets bus station are hard to find, but they do exist! You have to cross from the ticket hall over the tarmac and past all the waiting buses to a little hut on the opposite side of the bus station. They are clean!