Presumably Yalta was founded by the Greeks around first century AD. It was a part of Roman, then Byzantine Empires. In the Medieval period it belonged to the local Theodoro kingdom, been a colony of Republic of Genoa. The existence of Yalta was first recorded in the 12th century by an Arab geographer, who described it as a Byzantine port and fishing settlement. Later Crimea was captured by the Ottoman Empire in 1475, which made it a semi-independent subject territory under the rule of the Crimean Khanate. Yalta was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1783, along with the rest of Crimea.

In the 19th century, the town became a fashionable resort for the Russian aristocracy and gentry. Leo Tolstoy spent summers there and Anton Chekhov in 1898 bought a house (the White Dacha) here, where he lived till 1902; Yalta is the setting for Chekhov\'s short story, The Lady with the Dog, and such prominent plays as The Three Sisters were written in Yalta. The town was also closely associated with royalty. In 1889 Tsar Alexander III finished construction of Massandra Palace a short distance to the north of Yalta and Nicholas II built the Livadia Palace south-west of the town in 1911.

During the 20th century Yalta was the principal holiday resort of the Soviet Union. The town came to worldwide attention in 1945 when the Yalta Conference between the \"Big Three\" powers - the Soviet Union, the United States and the United Kingdom - was held at the Livadia Palace.