Poland and Ukraine will be two of the hottest city break destinations of 2012, as they’re set to co-host the UEFA Euro 2012 football championships between 8 June and 1 July 2012.
It’s not all about the great game though, as the 8 host cities, including Kiev, Lviv and Warsaw amongst others, are readying themselves for the influx of visitors and keen to show the football fans what other cultural highlights they have to offer.
Whether it’s exploring the streets of Warsaw’s Old Town, climbing the Potemkin Steps in the beautiful Black Sea port of Odessa or winding your way through the Carpathian mountains on a train, there’s plenty to do in the downtime between matches to really make the most of your trip.
Here are our top picks for the region:
The King's Castle, Warsaw – Originally built during the 16th century, and destroyed multiple times, it was repeatedly rebuilt and stood until the beginning of World War II, when the castle and much of the surrounding Old Town district were destroyed in the first days of the conflict. Work began in 1971 to fully rebuild the castle with the site being opened to the public in 1984. It‘s now a UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth the visit – don’t forget to take in the beautiful Old Town nearby, with its array of cafés, galleries and restaurants.
Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Cave Monastery) – founded in 1077 by St Anthony, it’s one of the oldest monasteries in Ukraine. The caves were dug out by hermit priests, whose mummified remains can be seen by tourists and pilgrims alike inside the underground church.
Carpathian mountains – Make a break for the country and book an excursion to the Carpathian Mountains – a hidden natural wonder with forests and idyllic hillside meadows. Travel in comfort on the narrow gauge railway which departs from Vygoda twice a week or hire bikes and hit the road - or for something a little more off the beaten track, what about taking a two-day horse riding tour? Buses for the region leave daily from Kiev.
Free walking tour of Odessa – For a budget friendly way to find your bearings in Odessa, why not join one of the free walking tours which leave from Duke Monument at 12 and 4 o'clock daily? They take in all the major sights and there’s no need to pre-book – just turn up and look for the blue flag.
And of course – the Football! The UEFA EURO 2012 matches will be played in eight stadiums, four in Poland – Gdansk, Poznan, Warsaw, Wroclaw – and four in Ukraine – Donetsk, Lviv, Kharkiv and Kiev. The final takes place on 1st July in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. You can find the match schedule here: http://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/season=2012/matches/index.html