Our guide about the things to do in Kiev
Before there was Ukraine, Russia, or the Soviet Union, there was Kievan Rus’. One of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe and the birthplace of much of Slavic ancestry, Ukraine’s capital of Kiev is a fascinating whirlwind through ancient and modern history. Situated on the banks of the Dnieper River, Kiev wears its long, complex, and often fraught history on its sleeve. Cathedrals dating back to the 11th century contrast with Soviet block apartments and modern architecture that could be appropriately termed “post-communist swagger.” Old cafes decorated with wood carvings where babushki drink berry tea are neighbored by trendy Georgian restaurants frequented by start-up employees. Whimsical animal statues and colorful buildings line cobblestone streets, a quaintness and charm that would seem entirely pure if it weren’t for the persistence of politically-charged graffiti and placards.
Frequently occupied by foreign powers over the last millennium, from Mongols to Soviets to Nazis to the Kremlin, the Kiev of today is fiercely determined to prove itself as an independent and modern culture-hub. Tourists in Kiev won’t be disappointed. From a booming nightlife to modern sporting facilities to world-class theater to immersive museums, the Ukrainian capital offers dynamic experiences that make it worthy of any travel bucket list. Here is our guide about the things to do in Kiev, along with everything travelers need to know about this fascinating city:
Andriyivsky Uzviz and St Andrew’s Church
Andriyivski Uzviz, also known as Kiev’s Montmartre, is one of the oldest and most picturesque places in the city. This serpentine, cobbled slope marks the heart of arty Kiev, the place to come for art, crafts and fun as its steep descent is lined with numerous art galleries, museums, unique souvenirs shops with traditional Ukrainian goods, as well as cafes, bars and restaurants. Climb to the top of the hill and you can feast your eyes on St Andrew’s. This church is the last work of Rastrelli, the Italian architect who built the Winter Palace in Petersburg. Completed in 1762, the building is a lovely piece of Baroque fantasy.
The Motherland Monument
The height of the sculpture on the right bank of the Dnieper River reaches 102 metres (334 feet) and this monument can be seen from almost any part of the city. The sculpture of a woman holds a sword in one hand, and a large shield in the other. The monument, according to the plan of its creators, was to embody the unswerving spirit of the people, who could stand together and overcome adversity.
Also known as ‘Maidan Nezalezhnosti’ is the central square of Kiev and the place for the Orange Revolution (2004). It is located on Khreshchatyk Street in the Shevchenko Raion. It’s a huge open space with fountains, the Independence Column, the famous Hotel Ukraina and across the Khreshchatyk street, benches and some stalls together with Lyadski Gate.
Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral
St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kiev was built in honour of Prince Vladimir of Kiev, who introduced Christianity in Kievan Rus in 988AD. The cathedral is decorated in the classical Old Byzantine style and its interior was painted by such famous artists as Mikhail Vrubel and Viktor Vasnetsov. Being located in the central part of the city, it is definitely in the list of the most important sights.
St. Sophia’s Cathedral
Dating back to the glorious times of Kievan Rus, St. Sophia’s Cathedra, with its well-preserved Byzantine-style mosaics of Saints and Kings, remains an outstanding architectural landmark and tops the most-visited list of sights in Kiev. It is one of the oldest and most majestic Churches in Eastern Europe. The cathedral was originally a close copy of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, but centuries of rebuilding have left it much altered. When you visit the cathedral, be sure to see the Bell Tower, ornamented in white stucco molding and a brilliant turquoise background.
St Michael’s Monastery
St. Michael’s Monastery was built in the early 12th century dedicated to the patron saint of Kiev, Archangel Michael. It is one of the oldest monasteries in Kiev, which includes the church of Archangel Michael destroyed in 30’s of the last century and rebuilt in the middle 90’s, and the refectory church of St. Ioan Bogoslov. The temple was built in the Ukrainian Baroque style, and it was the first temple with gilded dome in Rus, whereof this unusual tradition originated. In the courtyard of St. Michael’s Monastery you will find the famous Wish Fountain.
Kiev Monastery of the Caves
Kiev Monastery of the Caves, also known as Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, was founded almost 1000 years ago and it acts as a tomb for over 100 revered monks. It comprises an entire complex of churches and other religious buildings, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is perhaps most famous for its cavernous interior, where you’ll need a candle to find your way around. Even if you’re not overly religious it is worth the experience.
One of the main streets of Kiev, Khreschatyk extends from the European Square to the Bessarabska Square, which is home to the Besarabsky Market. There are many places on this street to shop as well as cafes, and restaurants. In 2010, Khreschatyk Street was including in the top 20 most expensive streets in Europe. During the weekend they close the street for traffic and it fills with performers, artists, markets and events of all sorts.
The Golden Gates
The Golden Gates in Kiev was constructed during the Kievan Rus period, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The monument was part of this defensive structure and served as a grand entrance to the city. In 1970, a pavilion was built over the ancient ruins to not only protect the gates from decay, but also to recreate the original appearance of the monument.
Saint Nicholas Roman Catholic Cathedral
Saint Nicholas Roman Catholic Cathedral is considered a true architectural masterpiece. It attracts attention with a stylised Gothic form and spectacular exterior decoration. The facade of the building has two bell towers, 64 metres (204 feet) high. Nowadays, it functions as a concert hall for the House of Organ and Chamber Music.
This beautiful palace, formerly known as Tsarskoe, is located next to the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) building and is the ceremonial residence of the President of Ukraine. The Mariyinsky Palace was built in 1744 by the Italian Baroque architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Today, it hosts various events of national importance such as receptions, summits and awards, as well as meetings of official delegates from all over the world.
National Opera of Ukraine
The building of the National Opera of Ukraine, was built in the style of the French Neo-Renaissance and continues to be one of the most famous ballet and opera centres in Europe, on a level with the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. At the same time, all three theatres are united by a common Russian ballet school, and their specialists often collaborate with colleagues from other cities.
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone’ tour
The Chernobyl accident was one of the most disastrous nuclear incidents in history that still has negative environmental and health repercussions to this day. The 30km exclusion zone is located a 2-hour drive north of Kiev, close to the Belarusian border. Without a doubt, my two-day tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was a stand-out moment from my Ukranian travels. It is a legal requirement to obtain the correct permits, and it’s easiest to hire a private guide or join a tour to enter the exclusion zone. During the tour, you’ll explore the abandoned town of Pripyat, spot wildlife, meet original residents who have returned to live inside the zone and you can enjoy a cafeteria meal with the nuclear plant workers in the Chernobyl staff canteen. Despite the invisible radiation, as long as you follow the rules, it’s as safe as a transatlantic flight, and a completely disturbing, educational, and unforgettable experience.