Budget Vacation Guide 2012: Kiev, Ukraine

This summer, soccer fans from around the world will flock to Ukraine when the country co-hosts UEFA Euro2012 with Poland for the very first time. There’s no better time to visit the capital city of Kiev, which has spent the past few years beefing up its tourist infrastructure and recently unveiled a completely redesigned Olympic Stadium in preparation for the final match of the quadrennial European soccer tournament.

If you’re not a soccer fan, or don’t want to shell out the big bucks to ticket scalpers, Kiev offers plenty of cheap diversions. In the warmer months, the city comes alive with flora and fauna, not to mention a packed agenda of free outdoor activities. Lie on the beaches (yes, beaches) of Hidropark in the Dnieper River, or take a cultural stroll through Andriyivskyy Descent, advertised as the “Montmartre of Kiev”. You can even try scaling the Moskovskyi Bridge (but please don’t).

While Kiev has experienced inflation in recent years, it’s still a bargain compared to other European capitals. To keep things cheap during the games, try a short-term apartment rental instead of a hotel; check Airbnb or 9flats for listings. Food-wise, traditional Ukrainian cafeterias are a cultural experience as well as money-saver. Specialties like potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage, and dumplings will provide more than enough fuel for the games.

[flickr image via Matvey Andreyev]

No Europe trip this summer? Check out today’s Euro 2008 final.

Between several other vacations, high summer airline prices and the ridiculous Euro/Dollar exchange rate, I am sadly not heading to Europe this summer. But even though I haven’t been able to make it “across the pond,” I have been vicariously soaking up some European culture through this year’s Euro 2008 soccer championships. Today marks the final between Spain and Germany of what has been another tournament of surprising upsets and nail-biting finishes.

Pish-posh, what’s this about “soccer” you say? Actually, I don’t know a whole lot about European soccer either. Yes, I know a few of the popular club teams like FC Barcelona and Manchester United, but I’m fairly clueless about the day-to-day standings and players. Why then, should anyone bother watching? Because European soccer is more than just a simple sporting event – it’s a defining aspect of European cultural identity. Ask your typical European citizen to tell you about their favorite team or best soccer experience and you’re bound to get an enthusiastic answer.

So if you’re near a television today, crack open a nice cold Hefeweizen and switch over to ABC around 2:30 EST for the big event. Next summer when you’re in Munich you’ll be swapping Euro 2008 stories with the locals in no time.