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Kyiv – better known, as Kiev in many parts of US, Europe and worldwide – is undoubtedly one of the most interesting capitals in Europe, if not the world. While some people may think of it as a cold, grey ex-Soviet city, there is much more to Kyiv than meets the eye. It is a city filled with magnificent architecture, from its stunning centuries-old churches to its imposing Soviet buildings, fantastic monuments, amazing street art, great shopping opportunities, plus a vibrant cafe and nightlife scene, all at such a reasonable cost as you would not believe. There is so much to do in Kyiv not Kiev that knowing where to start can be a challenge. To help you to plan that perfect trip to Ukraine’s capital, here is a guide of the best things to do in Kyiv.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Quick Facts: Kiev vs Kyiv
- 1.1 Best time of the year to visit Kyiv
- 1.2 Where to stay in Kyiv
- 1.3 What to do in Kyiv – A must-see list for visitors
- 1.3.1 Independence Square
- 1.3.2 Khreschatyk Street
- 1.3.3 Motherland Monument
- 1.3.4 Andriivskyi Descent
- 1.3.5 Kiev Funicular
- 1.3.6 Golden Gate
- 1.3.7 Head Down into One of the Deepest Underground Stations in the World
- 1.3.8 Marvel at Kiev’s Street Art
- 1.3.9 Mariyinsky Palace and Park
- 1.3.10 Landscape Alley
- 1.3.11 Shevchenko Park
- 1.3.12 People’s Friendship Arch
- 1.3.13 Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum
- 1.3.14 Chernobyl
- 1.3.15 National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine
- 1.3.16 Shopping
- 1.3.17 Hidropark
- 1.3.18 Party the Night Away
- 1.3.19 Churches, anyone?
Quick Facts: Kiev vs Kyiv
Let’s start by clarifying a question that might be running through your mind, Is it Kyiv or Kiev? Why do I see online ‘Best Things to do in Kiev’, Things to see in Kiev or Churches in Kiev and then I see ‘What to do in Kyiv’? Well, the simple answer is that, during the Soviet times, the Ukrainian name of the city ‘Kyiv’ was changed to the Russian name and spelling of ‘Kiev.’ And, as you probably know if you are into history, countries around the world associated the Soviet Union with Russia were often translated and then used in English, as was done to ‘Kiev.’ Currently, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian and Ukraine is an independent country. This is why the correct name of the city is Kyiv.
As you’ve probably guessed, things do not change overnight on people’s minds and some people might still think of it, or spell it, as Kiev. But if you really want to be correct, and respect the Ukraine’s government decision, I recommend using the proper Kyiv, especially after recently (August 2019) even the AP Stylebook, which is used by most journalists in United States, have now officially changed to Kyiv. Nonetheless, my goal is to educate my audience about the correct name and it’s usage. The same goes for referring to the country as ‘Ukraine’ and not ‘The Ukraine,’ which I’ve explained several times, in different guides, including my guide for planning a trip to Ukraine.
Note: If I make reference to the former name Kiev when mentioning some monuments it is because this is how they’re widely searched, making it easier for more people to find this article online.
Best time of the year to visit Kyiv
The best time to visit Kyiv for ideal weather is from the end of April / beginning of May to the end of September. In October, I would say specifically after mid October it starts getting colder. October is still a nice time to visit because you will see less tourists in Kyiv. The last few winters have been milder than usual, but you never know what mother nature has planned. It is better to pack accordingly and always have a jacket and scarf, during this season. If you forget them, no need to panic. There are certainly a vast array of opportunities for shopping in Kyiv and, the best part, at great prices.
Where to stay in Kyiv
Kyiv offers all kinds of stays and, for the most part, they are quite affordable for what you get. Kyiv accommodations tend to be a little higher priced than other cities in Ukraine, but that shouldn’t be a surprise since it is the Capital of Ukraine. You can find anything from Luxury Hotels, to Big Chain Hotels, such as Ibis, Fairmont, Radisson Blue, to hostels, to having the option of renting a room or full apartment via AirBnb, or you can also find great boutique hotels and apartments on booking.com. I’ve booked full apartments before, for a great price.
I personally have stayed at the Hotel Ibis Kiev City Center and I truly loved the location. It was close to a lot of the main things to see in Kyiv, such as the St. Sophia Cathedral, the National Opera House, the botanical garden, Shevchenko Park and much more. It is my personal recommendation.
Let’s now go to our list of Top things to do in Kyiv…
What to do in Kyiv – A must-see list for visitors
Considered to be the heart of the city, Independence Square – or Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Ukrainian – is the main square of the city and certainly the most beautiful one. Some may remember the horrific riots, which took place in the square, as well as other parts of the city, in the earlier part of the decade; thankfully, Independence Square has been restored to its former glory. Its focal point is the Independence Column, which depicts the Slavic deity Berehynia holding a guelder-rose branch, a mix of Ukrainian Baroque and Empire styles. The column was built to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the independence of Ukraine in 2001. Other landmarks present in the square include the Monument to the Founders of Kyiv and the Lach Gates, as well as a number of important buildings, such as Hotel Ukrayina and the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine. It is a popular meeting place for locals and is a particularly good spot if you fancy doing some people-watching.
Not many people know that Kyiv is home to the shortest main street in Europe. Khreschatyk Street is only 1.3 kilometres long, but makes up for it in width. Filled with all kinds of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars, Khreschatyk Street is often closed to traffic on the weekends, so this is the perfect time to visit. During these times, it is not unusual to see street performers too who’s presence gives the street that little bit more of an atmosphere of fun and frivolity.
One of the most iconic monuments in Kyiv, the Motherland Monument stands imposingly at 120 metres tall – you can see it from quite a distance away. Forming part of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War, the statue is actually quite a controversial topic among Ukrainians as it is representative of the Soviet Union. In 2015, all Soviet and Communist symbols, street names and monuments were banned. However, World War II monuments are excluded from this law, which is why the Motherland Monument still stands. Although it is understandable why Ukrainians may not like this statue, it is obviously a cool thing for travelers to see. To get to the statue, you walk through a tunnel with massive Soviet bas-reliefs, which depict events from the war, including scenes of the Nazi occupation and the partisan struggle. You can then also climb the statue, either to the pedestal or the shield, both of which offer great views.
NOTE: There are other interesting things to see within the museum complex, including a collection of World War II military equipment and the ‘Alley of the Hero Cities.’
Commonly referred to as the ‘Montmartre of Kiev,’ Andriivskyi Descent – Andrew’s Descent – is a street connecting Kyiv’s Upper Town and the historic district of Podil. It is a cute little cobblestone street with many attractions; it may seem quite touristy at first, with its souvenir shops selling all kinds of Soviet paraphernalia and traditional Matryoshka dolls, but it is still a cool place to wander along. At the top of Andriivskyi Descent is St. Andrew’s Church with its beautiful Italian style architecture and, as you make your way down the street, you will come across the Castle of Richard the Lionheart, Mikhail Bulgakov’s house and the Lithuanian Castle, as well as a number of monuments and statues.
The most famous of these statues is of Pronya Prokopovna and Svirid Golohvastov, two characters from the play Chasing Two Rabbits by Mykhailo Starytskyi. There are also a variety of excellent restaurants on Andriivskyi Descent.
After visiting Andriivsky Descent, it is cool to take a trip on the Kyiv Funicular. One of only two funicular railways in Ukraine – the other one being in Odessa – it is a fairly short ride of just under 240 meters, but fun all the same. There are only two stations, one at Poshtova Square in Podil (at the bottom of the track) and Mykhailivska Square (at the top). The entire journey only takes around three minutes and, at the top, you can visit St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery.
The Golden Gate was the main gate to Kyiv as part of the city’s fortifications in the 11th century. The original structure was dismantled during the middle Ages, but was subsequently rebuilt on the orders of the Soviet government in 1982. There was a certain amount of controversy around the structure. There were no historical documents detailing what the gate originally looked like, so it was considered better to pull the new monument down and allow the ruined foundations of the original to be displayed instead. However, the new gate has remained standing and is a nice spot to visit to learn about the town walls.
Head Down into One of the Deepest Underground Stations in the World
Not many people know that Kyiv is home to one of the deepest underground stations in the entire world. Arsenalna Station on the city’s Sviatoshynsko-Brovarska line descends for 110 metres, requiring passengers to take two escalators to reach the platform (the journey down takes about five minutes). It had to be built so far under ground level because of Kyiv’s geography, so the entrance to the station is on top of a steep valley next to the Dnieper River, whose banks rise above the rest of the city. Prepare for your ears to pop on the way down!
Marvel at Kiev’s Street Art
In recent years, Kyiv has become one of the best places in Europe to enjoy street art, so much so that there are even street art tours you can take, where the guide will show you the most impressive pieces. However, if you prefer to discover the works by yourself, KyivMural have an online map, which tells you where the 160 artworks are located.
Mariyinsky Palace and Park
Kyiv is a city full of parks, and Mariyinsky is definitely one of the best ones. It is named after the nearby Mariyinsky Palace, the official ceremonial residence of the President of Ukraine. It is a beautiful 18th century Baroque building that was initially built on the order of Empress Elizabeth of Russia, who had been fascinated by the city since her first visit. Unfortunately, she never got to live there; the palace’s first resident was Catherine II. Nowadays, it is the location of many important ceremonies and events.
park itself is dotted with numerous monuments and fountains, such as
the Heroes of the October Revolution and Participants of the January
Uprising monuments, as well as various graves of Ukrainians involved in
Another Favorite: Why you need to visit Lviv!
One of the most unique things you can visit in Kyiv, Landscape Alley, is filled with all sorts of quirky sculptures, including some inspired by the Lewis Carroll novel, Alice in Wonderland.
Located on the old Kyiv Hill, in what was the centre of ancient Kiev, there are loads of cool benches in the form of animals, such as a rabbit, frog and cat covered in mosaic tiles, an elephant fountain and a statue of zebras in love.
But, best of all, is the 30-metre cat-centipede where you can sit in the jaws of the cat for a fun, off-the-wall selfie.
A favorite among local Ukrainians and visitors alike, this park is located in front of the main building of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Both the park and the university are named after Shevchenko, who was a famous Ukrainian poet. A huge statue of him can even be found in the park and is considered to be one of the symbols of modern Kyiv. It is a nice place to hang out any time of the year and you are likely to see locals playing chess and socializing with friends. It is also home to the well-known restaurant, Opanas, where you can indulge in some traditional Ukrainian cuisine.
People’s Friendship Arch
Another monument built during the Soviet era, the People’s Friendship Arch, was originally called the Monument to the Reunification of Ukraine and Russia as it was built to celebrate both the 60th anniversary of the USSR, and the 1500th anniversary of Kyiv as a city, in 1982. Located on a plaza overlooking the Dnipro River, the arch has somehow managed to resist being torn down as part of the decommunisation laws. Beneath the arch is a huge statue of two men; the man on the left hand side is a socialist-realist representation of a Ukrainian, while the right hand side depicts an evidently stronger Russian, both of them with their arms raised in solidarity. Due to its elevated position, there is a viewing deck, which offers amazing views across the river.
Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum
Most people know that Ukraine is where the worst nuclear disaster in history happened – at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986. The devastating events and aftermath are explored in this fascinating museum, which features three exhibition rooms containing a vast array of artifacts such as maps, photos and special equipment. Here you can learn about the power plant before, during and after the meltdown and also about the heroic people who sacrificed their own health and lives to save the Earth from the impending global disaster. Might sound intense but it is also fascinating.
After your visit to the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum, you will probably want to discover the place for yourself. Of course, Chernobyl is not in Kyiv, but as it is only about a two-hour drive from the capital. There are plenty of companies who offer day trips from the capital, so you can explore this historical site, as well as two-day and three-day tours, if you want to really delve into the history. These tours will not only take you to the power plant itself, but also to many sites within the exclusion area along the way, including the town of Pripyat, where many of the power plant workers lived. Here you can see what are now considered to be infamous sights, such as the Ferris wheel in the amusement park, which was unfortunately never used as the town was evacuated before the park opened, and an abandoned kindergarten. It is a sombre excursion, but if you are into dark tourism then a day trip to Chernobyl will be right up your street.
note that it is only permitted to visit Chernobyl and the exclusion
zone with a certified guide. The levels of radiation in some parts of
the exclusion zone are still considered to be dangerously high, so
guides are there to keep visitors safe.
National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine
Originally a village to the south-west of Kyiv, Pyrohiv is now a neighborhood of the city and home to this wonderful open-air museum which displays a wide variety of traditional Ukrainian buildings, in addition to artifacts from days gone by. The museum is divided into two sections: Architecture and Life in the Ukrainian Village before the Revolution and Folk Architecture and Life in the Socialist Village. There are around 300 structures for you to stroll around, the oldest being a village house from the Volyn region, dating back to 1587. Other objects on display include traditional folk dress, furniture, carpenter’s tools, musical instruments and children’s toys. If you decide to visit on a Sunday, you will also be treated to concerts of Ukrainian folk music.
Shopping may not be the first thing you think of when planning what to do in Kyiv, but there are many good reasons why it should make this list. First, Kyiv is like a daily runway, all women look impeccable from head to toe. Second, you can find amazing designer boutiques. Places where you can buy shoes and amazing coffee in one spot is definitely any girl’s dream, including my own!
The city has pretty much all the major high street brands you can think of, with all the same collections, but at a fraction of the cost. And it does not just end with fashion. Electronics and cosmetics are also cheaper here than you would find in most western countries. So, if there is anything you need or want to buy, and you have a trip to Kyiv booked, set a date aside for shopping and enjoy yourself!
Note: Another cool thing about the shopping centers in Kyiv is that they have cool additions to them. Ocean Plaza, for example, is also home to the biggest aquarium in the region, housing more than 1,000 marine creatures. Lots to do and see, even if you prefer to only window shop.
If you happen to be visiting Kyiv during the summer, the hidropark is a great place to spend a sunny afternoon. Located on the Venetian and Dolobetsk islands, connected by the Venetian Bridge, the hidropark is a leisure park consisting of many beaches, including one specifically for children and another for nudists, and water attractions. Lots of people flock here during the summer months, so it has a really vibrant atmosphere to it. Here you can spend time boating, playing table tennis, paintball and football, and even visit the Soviet-style open-air gym. The hidropark also has an abundance of amenities, such as restaurants, a casino and a beach disco, meaning you could happily spend a whole day – and possibly night – here.
Party the Night Away
Anyone that has been to Kyiv will tell you that Ukrainians love to party, so why not join them while you are there? It is a particularly great place to go out drinking, especially if you enjoy dressing up. As mentioned previously, Ukrainian women are known for being extremely well-dressed and, when you go out in Kiev, it is expected that people wear their best clothes. Arena City in the center is one of the areas with some of the best bars and clubs serving everything from local beers to delicious cocktails. Podil, the historic center of the city, is also a nice place to grab a few drinks, although you will not find any clubs here; there’s more of a hipster vibe.
And leaving the best for last, there are the churches in Kyiv. Kyiv has the most impressive churches, some are even part of the 7 wonders of Ukraine, but guess what? There are too many to mention to do them justice here, so they really deserve their own separate post to really explain to you, in detail, all about them and why to visit. Click here to learn more; I know you want to.
Kyiv is a dream city for visitors
Kyiv is a city which literally has everything you could wish for from a holiday destination. It has heaps of history, excellent shopping opportunities and a whole host of fun activities to enjoy. On top of this, it is a city where you can live very luxuriously for a relatively low cost meaning, if you want to, you can travel here for long as you want. I hope this quick Kyiv guide, with the best things to do in Kyiv, has inspired you to visit for yourself.
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