Ukraine is one of my favorite travel countries in Eastern Europe. My love for this country started in 2015. I traveled solo to Ukraine and participated in an international volunteering project. For two weeks I worked side by side with young people from South Korea, Finland, Turkey, Mexico, and Ukraine in a UNESCO listed city park in Lviv. When I got back to the Netherlands, I said to my boyfriend: “Someday I’m going to show you beautiful Ukraine.” That day had now arrived. This blog post is a summary of my first and second time in Kyiv and sums up the best things to do in Kyiv. On top of that, I end the post with a practical tip for all first-time visitors.
Is it Kiev or Kyiv?
A lot of people don’t know that the official name for the city is not Kiev, but Kyiv. This is the result of a campaign in 2018 to adjust the spelling to the Ukrainian alphabet. Kyiv resembles the Ukrainian city name Київ, Kyiv follows the Russian pronunciation of the city (Киев). As everyone knows: the Ukrainian-Russian relationship is pretty problematic. In this blog post I will use the correct name from now on: Kyiv.
20 things to do in Kyiv + tips
This blog post is a comprehensive city guide with some well-known and new things to do in Kyiv. It is written with a traveler in mind who has a little more time than just a weekend. Hopefully this guide is a source of inspiration for you. This is certainly not everything you can do in Kyiv as this city offers much more. Without further ado, these are the best things to do in Kyiv.
1. Spot the blue church: St. Michael’s Monastery
Kyiv is the city of domes. The Ukrainian capital has more than 900 churches and cathedrals. One of the most photographed churches is the blue St. Michael’s Cathedral (full name: St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery). It is an active church, so don’t be amazed if you find yourself stuck in an Orthodox celebration (as we did).
You can find the St. Michael’s Monastery at Triokhsviatytelska St 8, free entrance.
2. Take a Sunday walk on Khreschatyk
Sunday is one of the best days to be in Kyiv. Khreschatyk street, the lifeline of the city, is closed to cars on this day. It is quite strange to see this big road empty. Khreschatyk Street is near the Maidan, so you will probably walk past it on the way to the central city square.
Warning: avoid the men with the monkeys on their shoulders. They surprise tourists by quickly putting the animal on your shoulder and tell you to take a picture. That photo will cost you a lot of money. Please do not participate in animal entertainment. Keep saying no and demand that they take the monkey off your shoulder.
3. Feel the revolution on Maidan Nezalezhnosti
Maidan Nezalezhnosti means Independence Square. It is also known as the square of revolutions. The most recent revolution was the Euromaidan protest of 2013 and 2014. You can still see the dramatic course of these demonstrations at the square. Around the long pillar with the angel there is a permanent photo exhibition and under the flower clock you can find the portraits of people who were killed during the protests.
4. Go on a street art hunt
Are you a fan of street art? Then you are in the right place in Kyiv. This city is one of the best destinations in Eastern Europe to see street art. Kyiv has experienced a growth in murals in recent years. We dedicated an afternoon to a street art hunt and saw so many good pieces. I wrote a separate blog post about this because I took way too many photos.
5. Chilling at Saint Vladimir Hill Park
Remember that blue church I talked about earlier? There is a large hilly city park behind it. From this park you have a beautiful view of the Podil district and the Dnieper river. During my trips, I like going to parks to watch local life. My favorite game: spot the young couples. In Eastern Europe, young people often live with their parents (and grandparents) until they get married. This means that the house is packed, so parks function as an alternative meeting location for young couples.
Other good parks: Mariyinsky Park and Taras Shevchenko Park.
6. Golden domes & mummies: Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra
If you only have time to visit one church, then you must go to the Kyiv-Pecherska Lavra monastery complex. Make sure you have a few hours because this complex is huge. In addition to five churches and a bell tower, the most special sight is the underground cave system with more than 100 mummified monks. Pechersk Lavra also means Cave Monastery.
You can find the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra on Lavrska St 15, entrance fee is 80 UAH.
7. Dive into Arsenalna, the world’s deepest metro station
Traveling by metro in Kyiv is fast and super cheap. The city has three metro lines (red, blue, and green) and the metro ticket is a green coin. One coin costs 8 UAH (€ 0.27) and you can travel as far as the metro as you want. Note: you can only buy one coin per person. In 2015 it was still possible to buy multiple coins at once. This was handy because then you did not have to go to the counter every time.
Kyiv has an interesting subway record. You can find here the deepest subway station in the world. Station Arsenalna is situated about 100 meters depth below the surface. Feel the depth and step on the escalator (two of them) for a long four-minute ride.
8. Stare at the Steel Lady: Motherland Monument
Done at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra? Visit the Motherland Monument nearby. This is a bizarre large statue of a steel lady with a sword and shield in her hands. She has the nickname ‘Mother of Brezhnev’ because Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev opened this monument in 1981. The monument is part of the memorial park ‘National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War’. You can find many more heroic statues here, for example in the ‘Alley of Hero Cities’.
On the way to the Motherland Monument you will pass the Park of Eternal Glory. Here you can find an interesting sculpture in memory of the pre-organized famine caused by Soviet policy. It is said that between two and seven million Ukrainians died during this tragedy. The famine is called ‘Holodomor’ in Ukrainian, which means death by hunger.
9. Spot the green church: St. Sophia’s Cathedral
The St. Sophia’s Cathedral is Kyiv ‘s oldest church and it is located opposite the blue St. Michael’s Monastery. Confession: after two visits to Kyiv I still did not manage to go inside the St. Sophia’s Cathedral. I always postponed the visit because there is so much to see in Kyiv. The goal for next time in Kyiv: finally see the green church.
The ticket system is also quite an obstacle as there are different entrance fees. For example, you pay 20 UAH for walking around the premises, for 180 UAH you can visit the Cathedral, for the Bell Tower you pay 60 UAH and there are more buildings on the property, each with its price. Why is there no all-inclusive price?
You will find the St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Volodymyrska St 24.
10. Don’t forget to look up: amazing architecture
Kyiv not only has beautiful churches and interesting monuments, it is the everyday architecture which is also worth checking out. The center has some beautiful buildings! Kyiv has existed for nearly fourteen centuries already and that long history reflects in the city. From Art Nouveau to Baroque and Gothic, the city center is a collection of more than 30 different architectural styles. Every street has something new to offer.
11. Spot the yellow church: St. Vladimir Cathedral
I promise: this is the last church in the series of rainbow churches. Kyiv also has a yellow church, the St. Vladimir’s Cathedral. This was the first church I saw on my first visit to Kyiv. It was near my hotel so I walked past it every day. The yellow color is beautiful, but I especially like the domes. They reminded me of a blue sky full of stars.
You will find the St. Vladimir Cathedral on Tarasa Shevchenko Boulevard 20. Free entrance, but to take photos you have to pay 50 UAH.
12. Relax at Hydropark
Summers are hot in Kyiv. Fortunately, this city has a recreational park located at the island Hydropark. You can find many beaches here. I have no clue on which one we ended up. What I do recommend is going here on a weekday to avoid crowds. Bring a bathing towel, soak up the sun, and chuckle at the Ukrainian seniors in unflattering swim underpants. Fun detail: you will also find an open-air gym from the 1960s with equipment built from scrap. This is the Ukrainian version of Venice Beach!
13. Discover quirky Kyiv: Landscape Alley
Landscape Alley was the biggest surprise on my first visit to Kyiv and of course I had to show this to my boyfriend. This playground is an outdoor museum with seventeen quirky mosaic artworks. The story of Alice in Wonderland was the source of inspiration, and you can see that resemblance.
14. Stare at the Golden Gate
The Golden Gate is a reconstructed city gate that was opened in 1989. It had to resemble the 11th-century city that once stood on this spot. The problem was: nobody knew what the original city gate originally looked like. Therefore the result looks a bit messy. Is it beautiful? Is it ugly? Nobody agrees on this.
Make sure to also visit the metro station under the tower (Zoloti Vorota). This is one of the most beautiful metro stations in Kyiv.
You can find the Golden Gate on Volodymyrska Street 40A.
15. Walk the Kyiv Montmartre: Andriyivski Uzviz
Without a doubt, Andriyivksi Uzviz is the most beautiful street in Kyiv. It will require some hard work for your legs though because uzviz means descent. It is a steep slope. The highlight of the street – literally because it is at the top of the hill – is St. Andrew’s Church. Unfortunately the church was under reconstruction on my last visit, so I didn’t go in.
You can find the St. Andrew’s Church at Andriyivksi Uzviz 23, entrance is 20 UAH.
16. Explore charming Podil
If you walk down on Andriyivksi Uzviz, you end up in Podil. This is a hipster neighborhood on the banks of the Dnieper River. Here you will also find the tiny Sint-Nicolas Church. It is the only church in Ukraine located on the water. Inside there is not much to see. It is the location that makes the church special.
17. Take a ride on the Funicular
Want to return from Podil to Uppertown? Catch a ride on the funky Funicular. This is a blue and white retro cart that runs up the hill every few minutes towards St. Michael’s Monastery and St. Sophia’s Cathedral.
There are two Funicular stations, near Poshtova Ploshcha metro station and in St. Vladimir Hill Park. Ticket: 8 UAH.
18. Go to the market: Besarabsky Market
The Besarabsky Market is one of the most famous markets in Kyiv. You will not only find stalls here, but there are also some cafes inside the market (I recommend Vegan Kitchen 13). Also take a look at the statue of the blue hand in front of the market building. There used to be a statue of Lenin here, but it was toppled during the Maidan protests in 2014. The replacement statue is called ‘Middle Way’. The hand symbolizes friendship and cooperation.
You will find the Besarabsky Market at Bessarabska Square 2.
19. Great vegan places to eat: Kyiv Vegan Boom & Sereda
Vegan food is popular in Kyiv. There is even an annual vegan food festival. Named after this festival, a permanent vegan food market opened up in the center called Kyiv Vegan Boom. This place is a vegan’s dream. You can order anything you want here. Go for Ukrainian borscht, order a spicy burger, or enjoy a tasty cake. My boyfriend still dreams about the chili burger that he ate at Vegano Hooligano. I also recommend B12 Candy Bar for sweets. Address: Mezhyhirska St 24.
Second tip: go to Sereda and order a cake. I had the best chocolate cake in my life here. Address: 10 Prorizna Street.
20. practical Tip: accommodation is key
Final but very important tip: pay attention to the location of your accommodation. Kyiv is huge! With almost 3 million inhabitants, it is one of the largest cities in Europe. We thought we had booked an accommodation in a good location, but it was terrible. Getting to the city center took a 1-hour metro ride. Next time I will not make this mistake and book something in Podil.
Excursion to Chernobyl?
If you are thinking now, why didn’t you mention an excursion to the abandoned Chernobyl site in this guide? That’s simple: I haven’t been there yet. So I do not know if I can recommend it or not. If you want to go, please know that you can only go there with an organized tour.
If you finished this long blog post, kudos to you! These were my 20 things to do and tips for Kyiv. Let me know what are your favorite things to do in Kyiv?