The original plan for my New Year’s break was a solo trip to Moscow. (Because what would be more fun than going from the epitome of European cold to even blisteringly colder? What could I enjoy more than getting off a ten-hour flight back from the States and jumping on a 13-hour overnight train? How could I minimize my exposure to daylight even more?) But when a friend suggested going to the Carpathians, I jumped on it. Sure, I don’t ski or snowboard, but there had to be plenty to do in Bukovel regardless if it was Ukraine’s nicest ski resort. Right?
My number one reason for going to Bukovel (besides hanging out with my friends) was to see the Carpathian Mountains in winter. Growing up in New York City, my experience with winter wonderlands was limited to Central Park – which is amazing right after a decent snowfall, but in a different way. To be honest, whenever I thought about our upcoming trip to Bukovel I lapsed into this:
So for those of us who don’t snowboard or ski, here are a few ideas of what to do in Bukovel, based off my own anti-athletic tendencies.
Score cute accommodation.
The guys in the group (the only ones who were actually snowboarding) had wanted accommodation right at the ski lifts. All I wanted was to stay in an adorable AF log cabin.
Amazingly, we both got what we wanted. We arrived after dark, when the mountains themselves were already mostly cloaked, but the hotel we were staying at twinkled merrily. So far, so good for me.
And then, the next morning, I pulled back the curtain of my window to see this. Yes, please and thank you.
I could have easily spent our three days in Bukovel wandering around, mouth agape at how stunning the Carpathians are. It was, however, the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced in my life, so my sojourns outside were generally limited to thirty minutes. I don’t know how the guys snowboarded for hours on end, because I had other, toastier plans.
Drink hot mulled wine by a fireplace.
While there was a surprising lack of fireplaces in Bukovel (seriously, so many missed fireplace opportunities), there is a variety of restaurants that can keep you caffeinated, fed, and slightly buzzed. My toes may have been cold, but my heart was warm.
Go tubing to justify schlepping all the way out to Bukovel.
Ah, tubing, a way for the nonathletic and cold-susceptible to enjoy being outside, if just for a little bit. Despite being first pointed to the kiddie tubing hill and having to go on a scavenger hunt to find the adult course, tubing was of the most fun things I did in Bukovel. We did our best to catch some air and not scream at such a high pitch that the attendees would make fun of us.
They did anyway.
Seep in a sauna.
Banyas, Ukraine’s saunas, are a big deal and general lifesaver in winter months. My friends and I have even rented private banyas in Kyiv for really affordable rates. It wouldn’t be a resort if there weren’t spas and banyas. Our accommodation included a few hours in their banya free of charge, but there was another spa that had outdoor hot tubs. Soak it all up.
Beat all my friends at cutthroat pool.
Bukovel has an ‘entertainment center,’ complete with an uber-hip bar, karaoke, and a pub with pool and billiards. We decided to play pool tournament style. Despite being knocked out in the first round, I entered the championship team event as a wildcard and ended up sinking the final ball. Bragging rights secured.
Even more fun, perhaps, was the night we bought a couple bottles of wine and holed up in one of our rooms, playing cards and listening to music. Bring the right group of friends and you don’t need to meet anyone else.
Mush on the dogsled trails.
I was really sold when I found out one of the things you can do in Bukovel is go dogsledding. Within three seconds, I had a new life goal. They only listed prices and distances in kilometers, which completely confounded me, but I didn’t care. I would go dogsledding, and be the coolest person I know.
This, unfortunately, proved to be an exercise in angst. We tried to get the information desk woman to make a reservation for us, but she was told all the time slots for the next day were full. And that to plan for the following day we should call back tomorrow. Our friend who spoke Ukrainian tried as well, with no success. We don’t know if they really were totally booked (it was the busiest week of the year) or if we were just being put off, but we never got to go dogsledding.
You can do a photo shoot with huskies, though, which may be the most Ukrainian thing I’ve ever heard of. It’s a bit pricey, but some of my friends did it and the pictures did turn out pretty adorable.
Conquer the summit the lazy way – via a chairlift.
I definitely wanted to crest the Carpathians, even if just to take a few deep breaths of chill mountain air and snap some photos. There’s one ‘pedestrian’ chairlift you can take up the mountain, with two restaurants at the top where you can recover from the 5-degree drop in temperature. One of them even has a fire pit, so eventually I did get a variation on my ‘drink glintwein by a fireplace’ goal.
A few caveats about Bukovel, to keep things fair and balanced.
The staff isn’t the most hospitable. Most of them had expressions of disinterest when you approached. I was also a bit surprised to find most employees spoke limited or no English, but probably that’s because I’ve been spoiled living in Kyiv. The exception was the restaurants, where the staff was generally positive and capable English speakers.
As in the rest of Ukraine, everyone is a bit reservation-happy. Make sure you plan out your meals so you’re not left out in the cold, hungry.
Going over the Christmas and New Year holidays is the most expensive time to go. Some of the accommodation we looked at was jacked up double or more in price. If you have any flexibility, try to avoid this time.
Bukovel is the first ski resort I’ve been to – and I didn’t even ski – so as far as the trails go I can say very little. And yes, you will probably have more impressive resorts in the Alps or Canada, but if you live in Ukraine and are looking for a stunning winter vacation, going to Bukovel is a great option.
You have a couple different options for traveling to Bukovel from Kyiv, none of them very convenient. What we ended up doing, and what I think ended up being the best option by far, was taking the train to Lviv and then hiring a taxi from Bukovel to pick us up. With five people, it ended up being rather affordable. You can also take a train or fly into Ivano-Frankivsk and get a taxi from there.
Are you a skier or snowboarder? Or are you more like me — a glintwein and fireplace kinda girl/guy?
If you’re coming to visit, make sure to check out all my Ukraine advice! From outdoor activities to city suggestions, I’ve got you covered.