Kharkiv is the second largest city of Ukraine with a population nearing the 1.5 million. Still, it is probably the greatest mystery of all 8 host cities. It lies far off the tourist trail (with only 30 kilometres separating it from Russia), it has few spectacular attractions or museums, and does not have a great football team to boast for. That said, those visiting the city during the Euros will probably be in for a pleasant surprise.

As its location suggests, Kharkiv is and feels very Russian. The Russian language is ubiquitous, everyone speaks it, and if it were up to the local population they’d soon be part of Russia again.

Kharkiv’s look might confirm the stereotypes many have about Ukrainian cities, and the influence of Soviet era architecture can indeed hardly be denied. Which does not mean that there aren’t any architectural gems to find in the centre. It’s a spacious city too, of large avenues and squares, but most of all very green with large parks and tree-lined streets.

Kharkiv is not as dynamic or chaotic as a Kiev, but still has everything a city of its size should offer. And what helps, it has a large student population that gives the city a young and vibrant feel.

The heart of the city is without a doubt the massive Freedom Square (Svobody Square), one of the largest squares in Europe. Freedom Square consists of a circular and rectangular part, and is lined by the University of Kharkiv, the characteristic Gosprom building, and Shevchenko Park. Naturally, Freedom Square is where the Kharkiv Fan Zone will be located. It will be able to seat about 45,000 people.

Kharkiv’s city centre stretches out south of Freedom Square with Sumskaya Avenue the main axis of the centre. Most of Kharkiv’s buildings of interest are located on Sumskaya Avenue. About a kilometre-and-a-half further south Sumskaya Avenue runs into Constitution Square, the city’s second major square. Overall it is rather easy to keep track of the centre as it is bordered on three sides by the Kharkiv and Lopan rivers.

The stadium

Metalist Stadium – 38,633 seats

Metalist Stadium is the second-smallest stadium of the tournament. It is not a newly built stadium, but a heavily renovated version of the stadium that got inaugurated in 1925.

The stadium is bowl-shaped, with its most characteristic feature probably the newly installed roof sustained by 24 iron legs, resembling a spider. Unfortunately, the stadium also has running tracks, which increases the distance between the stands and the pitch.

Metalist Stadium is located toward the east of the city, but not too far from the city centre, about 3 kilometres from Constitution Square. While the distance is easily walkable, you can also get there by metro. More details in our transport section.

The area around the stadium is primarily residential. There is no reason to be around the stadium apart from attending the match.

Who’s coming?

Kharkiv is going to colour orange, as it are the Dutch who will play all of their group matches at the Metalist Stadium. They will first kick off against the Danish, play next against the Germans, and finally receive the Portuguese. There are no matches beyond the group phase for Kharkiv.

None of the teams have set up camp in or around Kharkiv. Whereas it could have made sense for the Dutch to do so, they have instead chosen to base themselves in Polish Krakow.

How to get there and around

One of the biggest drawbacks of Kharkiv is its location. Perhaps the Russians might have been glad to be sent to Kharkiv, but for most European countries it is a long travel to get there. Though there is the consolation that other host city Donetsk is still a bit further away.

Kharkiv has, of course, an international airport, though it is mainly served by domestic flights coming from Kiev. There is the odd flight from Moscow too, and a direct flight from Vienna, but there are few other options for those not coming in with a charter flight.

The airport lies on the southern edge of the city, about 10 kilometres from the city centre. It has a remarkable terminal building, almost resembling a church. However, with the perspective of the Euros most of the passenger movements have been moved to a newly built adjacent terminal.

To get into town from the airport it is easiest to catch trolleybus 5. It will drop you off on Universitetskaya street in the southern part of the city centre. It also passes metro station Prospekt Gagarina, which is not that far away from Metalist Stadium.

Another way to get into Kharkiv is by train. If you happen to fly into Kiev, you can catch a train to Kharkiv that will bring you to the city in just under 8 hours. There are several trains that run during the day, but a better solution will likely be to take one of the reasonably comfortable overnight trains, which will also save you a night at a hotel.

Trains arrive at Kharkiv’s main Passasjirski railway station, which is quite a nice building in itself with its two towers. The station lies about 2 kilometres west of the southern side of the centre. You’ll walk there in half an hour, but if you want to go directly to Freedom Square or the Metalist Stadium, you can also catch a metro (Pivdenny Vokzal).

To get to the stadium take the red line in eastern direction and get off at stop Sportyvna, which lies right next to the stadium. For the city centre get off a few stops earlier at Radianska, which is near Constitution Square. From there you can walk to Freedom Square or transfer to a metro on the blue line and travel one stop further north to Universitet.

To go from Freedom Square directly to the stadium, find stop Derzhprom, take a green line metro in south-western direction, and get off at stop Metrobudivnykiv im. H.I. Vashchenka, which lies next to stop Sportyvna.

Unfortunately, both metro stations closest to the stadium will be closed from a few hours the match. Which means that you will have to get off one stop earlier and walk for 15 minutes. If you’re in the southern part of the city centre, you can also catch trolleybus 3, 5, or 6. They run over Moskovskyi Avenue, but you’ll still have to walk a further 15 minutes to the stadium.

Most of the signs in the metro are in Russian or Ukrainian, but with a bit of common sense (and perhaps some basic knowledge of Cyrillic script) it is not that hard to make your way around. The city furthermore has a network of trams, buses, trolleybuses, minibuses, and shared taxis, but you are not likely to use them much (apart from the trip from the airport) and navigating may be hard at times.

Eating and drinking

When you’ve got a lot of students in town, you can be sure there is enough entertainment around. Most bars and restaurants are located in the city centre. Two streets to remember are Petrovskoho and Pushinskaya, which both boast a good selection of places of all types.

The triangle of the above two streets and Sumskaya (and side streets) will probably get most people sorted, but those that want to taste the more extravagant nightlife and fancy a night of clubbing may have to venture (somewhat) out of the centre. That’s not to say that there are no nightclubs in the centre, but if you want to visit such classics as Bolero and Misto, a taxi ride may be necessary.

Quite a few clubs are part of larger entertainment complexes including restaurants, karaoke and lounge bars, a casino, bowling, and other entertainment options. Do mind that Ukrainians tend to dress up a bit, which may also be necessary to get past the bouncers. So it might be a good idea to not show up in your football outfit, but change into a fresh shirt instead.

Kharkiv offers a variety of restaurants of most cuisines, so even if you’re a picky eater there is no need to worry. Still, you may get addicted to eating in one of the many Ukrainian self-service restaurants, which often offer excellent food for very reasonable prices.

What else to see and do

Kharkiv is not a city of many historic monuments, but the golden-domed Uspensky Cathedral and Pokrovsky Monastery are definitely worth checking out, as is the Blagoveshchensky Orthodox Cathedral.

You can escape the hectic Fan Zone of Freedom Square by diving into the adjacent Shevchenko Park. The favourite park of many citizens of the city who pass their time strolling around or sitting on the park benches. For a bit more action you can visit the nearby zoo, which rates as one of the best in Ukraine.

Following Sumskaya Street about 2 kilometres further north brings you to Gorky Park, a somewhat quieter alternative to Shevchenko Park. Its greatest asset is probably its old-fashioned chairlift (it starts behind the theatre). It takes you in about 15 minutes almost 1.5 kilometre further to the other side of the botanical garden. A one-way ride costs UAH 10.00.

If you decide to visit Gorky Park and you’re a stadium enthusiast, you may want to stop by the Dynamo Stadion, the home of Kharkiv’s second Premier League club FC Kharkiv. It’s an old-fashioned Eastern-European style stadium.

There are plenty of shopping opportunities in the city centre, but taking a metro to Akademika Barabashova and visiting to massive Barabashova outdoors market will be a whole different experience. Everything you can imagine is on offer. Be careful though, as it is easy to get lost.

A smaller alternative is the central farmers’ market on Tsentralniy Rynok, just on the other side of the river from Constitution Square. Great to buy fresh local produce, or just to shoot some colourful photos.

If you have a car, a drive through the Ukrainian countryside may be a fascinating peak into a different life, but for many there won’t be much reason to leave the city.


With special thanks to Eugene Sherlaimov. Follow him on Twitter @KharkovEURO2012 or Facebook for all the latest Euro 2012 Kharkiv news.