Ukraine trip practicalities

Departure from Bucharest at 6 a.m.

There are no direct flights to Lviv from Romania, so the train is the best option..

The train is practically the only way to get to Lviv from Bucharest other than by car, although those travelling from Western Europe are more likely to have a wider range of flight options for reasonable prices. Overland travel from Poland would work well for those originating from Western Europe, as there is a wider choice of flights to Poland, including low cost options like Wizzair. Travelling by train, the same wheel changing operation will take place at the frontier, which means that the total waiting time, including the passport and customs control, will be around 2 hours.

Trains have their wheels changed at the Ukrainian frontier, as the gauge is different.

Trains have their wheels changed at the Ukrainian frontier, as the gauge is different.

I booked the train from the railway booking office in Bucharest, Calea Grivitei, near to Gara de Nord. It’s a quieter atmosphere than in the station itself and the lady who served me was extremely helpful and friendly, persisting with a computer issue which affected the return journey. Unfortunately international rail tickets from Romania or Ukraine can’t yet be booked online.

Lviv station, after my arrival at 11.30 p.m.

Lviv station, after my arrival at 11.30 p.m.

The total cost of the ticket from Bucharest to Lviv returning from Kolomiya was around 460 RON (just over 100 euros) including berth in a 4 berth sleeping car- there are no seating coaches as the train goes from Sofia to Moscow. It’s better to pay cash than with a card, because it makes cancellation far easier. Up to the day before you go, you can surrender your ticket and get an immediate cash refund, minus a nominal administration fee of the equivalent of 3 euros.

Kolomiya station, with the Moscow-Sofia train approaching.

Kolomiya station, with the Moscow-Sofia train approaching.

Booking bus and train travel within Ukraine is easy, and can be done online. Trains can be booked via http://www.uz.gov.ua/en/ . It’s in English and the Journey Planner is on the right hand side of the page. You need to select your departure and arrival point from the drop down menu, and then hit “Search and Order.” You will then be taken to another page, which can look confusing at first, as it seems to be just the search facility again. But move down the page, and you will see the journey options and the number of places for each class of travel. You can even select your berth number in sleeping cars. Odd numbers appear to be the lower berths. When places are available for booking in more than one coach, this will be indicated above the diagram of the first coach you are directed to. For example, the system directs you to coach 6, and above the berth diagram coach 6 has a box around it and coach 8 is listed next to it. You can just click on coach 8, and the system will then show you which places are available in that coach.

Kolomiya station.

Kolomiya station.

Most Ukrainian long distance night trains have 3 classes, First, Coupe and Third. First class has two berths side by side. Coupe compartments have four berths (2 bunk beds) and this is the standard form of travel for many. Third class has open carriages with beds both horizontal and vertical to the direction of travel. Washrooms are at the end of the coach in all cases- there are no sinks in the compartments like in Western European sleepers. A berth in first class costs about 3 times more than in coupe, so for singles or couples who want to be by themselves, it is better to book a 4 place coupe compartment than a 2 berth compartment in first class. There is no gender segregation.

Once you make the booking, you receive a printout, which must then be exchanged for a ticket at a station.

At the time of writing, the Ukrainian Railways site is still accepting bookings to and from Crimea, and the times are shown throughout as Ukrainian time, even though Crimea switched to Moscow time at the end of March (one hour ahead of Ukrainian time). There is no evidence of a border control stop in the schedule.

Booking buses is equally straightforward, using http://ticket.bus.com.ua/?lang=en . Again, you select your departure and arrival point, choose the time of the bus you want to take, make your booking, print the confirmation, and exchange it at the bus station. I was informed that you can only do this at the bus station you depart from. In Lviv, my bus left from the main bus station, which is about 4 miles outside the city. I wanted to collect the ticket the day before, as I had an early start- eating breakfast first was important, so this meant I couldn’t leave too early! Unfortunately, the ticket couldn’t be collected from Lviv’s Nr 8 bus station, which is more central- only from the main bus station, which I was booked to leave from.

The bus to Kolomiya at Lviv's main bus station. Minibuses like this are the mainstay of Ukraine's inter-urban bus system.

The bus to Kolomiya at Lviv’s main bus station. Minibuses like this are the mainstay of Ukraine’s inter-urban bus system.

It doesn’t seem to be possible to book tickets online for the Lviv Opera although you can check the programme on http://opera.lviv.ua/en/ . (When I tried the “book a ticket” link, it didn’t work). The programme is only shown for the current month, and perhaps the beginning of the next month, with the full programme for the following month only appearing towards the end of the current month. I had no problem booking a ticket, although the ticket lady spoke no English- some people in the queue helped. However, the auditorium was pretty well full, and at least one person was seated on a chair in the aisle.

The opening hours of the ticket office may be unreliable. Before my trip, I established that the hours were 11.00 to 14.00 and 15.00-18.00, closed Mondays. But that information now seems to have disappeared from the site. The doors were locked when I tried to get in soon after 11 on a Friday morning, and the hotel told me they had called and there were no more tickets, but there was probably a confusion over the date. I went back an hour or two later and managed to get a ticket- the box office is to your right after the main entrance.

The Lviv opera house

The Lviv opera house

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