Yalta, a city on the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula, is the resort capital of the region. For some two hundred years it has been referred to as the Nice of the Black Sea/ Russia/ Soviet Union, as thousands of summer vacationers descended on it every year from all over Russia/ USSR/ former USSR and abroad.
Though it is first and foremost a seaside holiday destination, Yalta is a full-blown, year-round city, with a population of nearly 80 thousand. It has hundreds of hotels and restaurants, dozens of stores and nightclubs, plus many more entertainment options including a zoo (run by the same awesome oligarch as this place) and a movie theater playing Hollywood’s latest. Menus are duplicated in surprisingly accurate, colloquial English. Banks accept foreign Visa and MasterCard, currency exchange bureaus are aplenty, and there is even a McDonald’s, the ultimate marker of a civilized society!
Yalta is located smack in the middle of a lot of Crimea’s natural and cultural attractions, including Vorontsov, Livadiya and Massandra palaces, Nikitsky Botanical Gardens, and the Ai-Petri mountain and Big Canyon. Yalta is an optimal place to stay for a foreigner who wants to explore Crimea but is not ready to “go native” or veer too far off the beaten path. Expect all the amenities of a modern resort community, but also bigger crowds, somewhat higher prices, and sea waters crisscrossed by hundreds of tour boats a day. It’s very lively but far less intimate and rustic than something you will find moving east along the coast.
Yalta is also home to the sight that over the last hundred years has become Crimea’s international calling card: the whimsical, Neo-Gothic Swallow’s Nest Castle. Aptly named for its location atop the Aurora Cliff, rising high above the Black Sea, this summer house was conceived by Baron von Steingel, a German oil magnate. It was subsequently sold to a wealthy Russian widow, turned into a restaurant, then into a museum and a reading house during the Soviet era, and now it is a restaurant once again. In the process it became Crimea’s best-recognized landmark — and it is certainly a sight to behold.