Last month I was a bit absent. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I was traveling through China for a couple weeks (check my Instagram for the photos). But now I’m back and ready to continue where we left off. So Ukraine. In my last post I told you about Lviv, one of the most beautiful cities in Ukraine. But I also managed to visit some other Ukrainian cities. One I could not miss is Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. A city I had heard a lot about during my studies. From a Russian point of view Kiev is the cultural birthplace of the Russian nation. In the ninth century this city was the capital of the Kiev empire, the predecessor of current Russia. On top of that Kiev is the place where you can find the roots of the Russian orthodox church. Because of this history the Russians have always felt a deep sense of a Russian-Ukrainian friendship. A term the Ukrainians interpret slightly different these days. Like one of my fellow Ukrainian volunteers said it: “It’s a friendship with a whip behind the back.”
On my first day in Kiev I immediately noticed that this city was different than Lviv. It’s bigger, higher and it definitely has more hills. And maybe it’s skyscrapers, but this city really looks like a capital. I only spent two days in Kiev. Just enough to get a good feel of the city. And just enough to see some great places this city has to offer. In this article I will tell you about my top 5 favorite places in Kiev.
1. Wandering around Podil
The area of Podil is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Kiev. This part almost feels more like a village than as a part of a big city. The houses are painted in cute pastel colors and the streets are full with fun souvenir and vintage markets. The appearance is almost the same as I’ve seen in Lviv, only Podil has more hills and descents. The most well-known descent is the Andreas Descent that crawls its way to Kontraktova square in the heart of Podil. The biggest attraction of the Podil area is the Zamkova Hora hill where you can find the Saint Andrew’s church. A building that is wrapped up like a fancy Christmas present. It’s also a building with a story. According to legend the bells are missing in this church because people believed that the sound of the bells would wake up the river Dnieper and would flood Kiev.
2. Humor in Landscape Alley
One of the most fun things to do in Kiev is visiting Landscape Alley. This a city park full with crazy gigantic animals made out of mosaic. For instance, take a seat on the bunny bench, walk along the 3D cat wall and spot the many zebra heads all around you. Obviously this park is designed for children, but in reality I saw more grown-ups than children playing here. It’s definitely something you wouldn’t expect when visiting Kiev. Pretty cool, right?
3. Impressive Maidan Nezaleznosti
Maidan Nezalezhnosti (translation: Independence square, ofter referred to as Maidan) is the centre of Kiev and with the recent history in mind this is one of the most interesting places in Kiev, and therefore earns a place on this list. Most people remember Maidan from the Euromaidan protests in 2013 and 2014. These were pro-European protests that ended tragically with the deaths of more than 100 people. One of the most tragic places is ‘Sniper Hill’ on the left side of Maidan. Here you can still see the bullet holes of the snipers who had the orders to shoot on the protesters from the roofs. People never saw the bullets coming.
4. Silence in the Pechersk Lavra
A citytrip Kiev is not complete without a visit to the Pechersk Lavra monastery. It’s a bit located outside the city centre, but you can easily go there by metro. The Pechersk Lavra is the centre of the Russian Orthodox church in Ukraine and is therefore one of the most holiest places for many believers. When visiting the Pechersk Lavra you can really feel this deep respect. People are shuffling around with their heads down, whispering prayers and kissing the hands of the priests. It’s impressive to see this kind of religious rituals from up close. I was especially impressed when I made my way through the 30-kilometer long underground prayer halls where believers come to honor the many monks who have died in the past. A truly special experience.
5. Counting golden domes in ancient Kiev
Churches can be found all over Kiev. Some are small, others are enormous. One of the biggest (and oldest) is the Saint Sophia cathedral, built in the eleventh century with the intention to compete with the Saint Sophia cathedral in Constantinople (current Istanbul). The Saint Sophia in Kiev was more than a church alone. It also had a library and was the place for the court to meet their international guests. Visiting this cathedral is surprisingly cheap, it will cost you 50 UAH which is a little over 2 US dollars. Right across the Saint Sophia cathedral there is a second cathedral: the Saint Michael monastery. This church is fairly new (it’s only 16 years old), because the original eighteenth-century church had been demolished by the Soviets. I’m a real fan of the Saint Michael monastery. The blue color was so gorgeous and the frescos at the entrance just pulls you in. On top of that, there’s no entrance fee, so no reason not to look inside. And you should, the interior is filled with gold leaves and beautiful icons and frescos.
Tip: if you want to visit these five places in Kiev, then you might want to consider taking a Free Walking Tour. It’s free, they speak good English and it covers four of the places mentioned in this article (with the exception of the Pechersk Lavra). The tours run every day at 12.00 (noon) and 16.00. If these tours don’t fit your schedule, then you can always take the metro. It’s super cheap (4 UAH = 0,18 US dollar) and most signs are in English. And some stations are even beautifully decorated.
Have you been to Kiev? What are your favorite places?