I’ve just returned from yet another trip to Kiev, Ukraine. I honestly can’t count now how many times I’ve been there – recently it became one of my most frequently visited cities in Europe. And I really don’t mind that at all as every time I visit Kiev it’s a treat!
Table of contents
- 1 Reasons to visit Kiev, Ukraine
- 1.1 Long and interesting history
- 1.2 Beautiful golden dome churches
- 1.3 Impressive Soviet architecture
- 1.4 The Motherland Monument
- 1.5 Beautiful architecture
- 1.6 Street art
- 1.7 Food and cafe scene
- 1.8 Diverse city
- 1.9 Vibrant atmosphere
- 1.10 Relax in the park
- 1.11 Alternative, quirky Kiev
- 1.12 The deepest metro station in the world
- 1.13 Kiev is safe
- 1.14 Kiev is really affordable
- 1.15 Getaway to Chernobyl and the rest of Ukraine
- 2 Visit Kiev – practical information
Reasons to visit Kiev, Ukraine
If you’re wondering if Kiev is worth visiting there’s a simple answer to that question – definitely yes! There are so many reasons to visit Kiev, from amazing architecture to interesting history and vibrant atmosphere and each of them is already a good excuse to plan the trip to the capital of Ukraine.
I remember how, before my first trip in 2012, I knew next to nothing about the place and how quickly I fell for it. The city really has it all and now more than ever is a good time to visit Kiev.
Long and interesting history
You might remember disturbing pictures from the center of Kiev few years ago when the revolution took over the streets and the president Viktor Yanukovych resigned. You can still see remnants of these tragic events on the streets of Kiev, especially around Maidan Nezalezhnosti area where the pictures of those who lost their lives are displayed.
But Kiev has much, much longer history! In fact this is one of the oldest and most important cities in Eastern Europe that had a huge impact on the area. It was founded at the beginning of the 5th century and over four centuries later it became the center of Kievan Rus – the federation of East Slavic tribes that is considered the cultural ancestor of modern Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
From the year 1363 on Kiev was part of Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossack Hetmanate, Russian Empire, Ukrainian People’s Republic, Soviet Union and finally, in 1991 it became the capital of the independent state. Over the centuries it always played the important role and you can see the remnants of the great times all over the city. It’s fascinating to track down the history when you visit Kiev!
Beautiful golden dome churches
Golden dome churches are somehow the symbol of Eastern Europe and there is no better place to admire them than Kiev. There are so many beautiful churches in the capital of Ukraine it’s hard to pick the most amazing one.
Pechersk Lavra complex, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, since the foundation in 11th century has been one of the most important places for the Orthodox Christians. Another UNESCO place – Saint Sophia Cathedral – and especially its interior takes a breath away (when you’re there be sure to climb to the bell tower for one of the best views of Kiev!).
But my three favorite churches, all looking like straight from the fairy-tale, are St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, St Andrew’s Church and St Volodymyr’s Cathedral. If you like shiny places you’re in for a treat!
If you have time I definitely recommend taking a tour at Pechersk Lavra as this place is really fascinating! Click here for more details and current prices!
Impressive Soviet architecture
Everyone knows I’m a big fan of Soviet architecture so Kiev is like a huge playground for me (and, with almost 3 million inhabitants, I mean really huge!). Most of the visitors will admire Khreschatyk street – the main avenue in the center that over the weekends turns into pedestrian zone. But Kiev has so much more to offer when it comes to the Soviet architecture.
If you’re into it too jump into the blue metro line and go to Expo center (Vystavkovyi tsentr) – I was literally walking around with jaw dropped, that’s how many awesomeness I’ve seen around! On the other side of the street you will find part of the university that you’d like to check out too for the concrete bas-reliefs.
There’s a Soviet Kiev tour that you might be interested in joining – click here for more details!
The Motherland Monument
This itself is a very solid reason to visit Kiev and one of the best things to see in the city! An enormous Motherland Monument gives me a “wtf?” reaction every single time I see it. The first time I visited the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War (until 2015 known as Museum of the Great Patriotic War) it was even crazier – the old war songs were played loud from the speakers around, giving the place even more surreal feel.
You walk through the tunnel with enormous Soviet bas-reliefs and at the end you are greeted by even more enormous statue – try to beat that! Well, with the height of 102 meters you can see the statue from far away but combined with the tunnel it makes your jaw drop. You can go up the statue, either to the pedestal or to the shield – either option offers great views but the second one is definitely more thrilling!
So yes, the churches in Kiev are spectacular, the Soviet buildings are pretty amazing. But that’s not all the architectonic wonders you can find in the Ukrainian capital! There’s so much beauty in the center of Kiev, so many random houses that catch the eye!
But of them all I’ve found the prettiest buildings in the back of Khreschatyk, along Arkhitektora Horodetskoho street or to Yaroslaviv Val street close to Zoloty Vorota. The most famous one is definitely House with Chimeras – too bad these days you can’t get very close as it’s such a beauty!
Recently Kiev has become the capital of street art in Eastern Europe. It’s impossible to see all the amazing works there over the weekend only, there’re so many of them. But you can try to find some and a great online map will definitely help you with that – you can check it here.
The biggest influence on Kiev’s street art have recent politic events and the Ukrainian identity. You can see works by some of the world famous artists on the walls of Kiev, including Fintan Magee, ROA or Vhils. Be sure to check my friends Kirsty and Mark’s post about street art in Kiev too!
You might also want to join the street art tour in Kiev – click here for more details!
Food and cafe scene
Ukrainian food, even if a bit heavy, is really delicious. I can live on various kinds of vareniki, sirinki and just salads for a week and still enjoy every meal (been there, done that!). But in Kiev not only you will find Ukrainian food, there are also numerous international restaurants that are really affordable and with good quality of dishes. If you’re looking for Georgian, Italian or just about any other kind of food – you can easily find it in Kiev!
As I’m really into cafes Kiev wins my heart on this field too. There are so many of them, they are so cool and the prices are extremely cheap! By now I even have loyalty card to some of them. If I ever decide to become a digital nomad (which I highly doubt) Kiev will be very high on the list of places I’d like as a base and that’s mostly because of the cafes. If you’d like to find the best places check out the list of best cafes in Kiev by my friend and fellow blogger Megan!
Speaking of food – there’s one more reason why Kiev is amazing and that’s markets. While most of the people go to Besarabsky Market I prefer Zhitniy Market in Podil area. It’s much more authentic, so much is going on there, you can buy so many amazing products there and the building itself is another gem.
If you’d like to learn more about Ukrainian cuisine you should join the gastro tour! Click here for more details!
One of the reasons why I enjoy Kiev so much is its diversity. You literally have everything in there and the city never gets boring. After so many visits I still have lots of areas and angles to discover in Kiev and each new trip there makes me super excited.
I don’t think I know any other capital that has so much to offer! Before my first visit I’ve thought weekend will be enough to get to know Kiev, now I can see how naive I was. Kiev really has it all!
Kiev is diverse not only when it comes to architecture but also in vibe. You can feel the good, old times only to enter few minutes later the very much hip and trendy place: that happens for example when you go to Artzavod Platform and need to go through Lisova market.
Another place with the old-fashioned atmosphere is Hidropark with amusement park that could as well has been in the 1990s or the seniors having an open-air dance classes with the old school music.
No matter which season I’m in Kiev the atmosphere is always vibrant, making the city inviting. People are out on the streets, enjoying the outdoor attractions (there always seems to be something happening, especially between St. Sophia’s and St. Michael’s churches).
In the warm weekend evenings Khreschatyk is buzzing with life and is just the best place for people watching. And all over the city you will find numerous outdoor bars, restaurants and cafes bursting at the seams. People of Kiev love to spend their time outside and this vibe is definitely addictive!
Relax in the park
For such a huge city Kiev can be relaxing too. You can take a rest at the sandy beaches at the shore of Dnieper river (fun fact: you can take the zip line across the river!) – I don’t know many European capitals where you can do that, actually now that I think of it only Warsaw comes to my mind.
But my favorite place to relax in Kiev is Shevchenko Park, located in the very center close to the main university building. I spent hours there, chilling on the funky benches, watching people, reading or napping. When I have nothing else to do in Kiev I just head to Shevchenko Park and chill there, such a pleasant place it is!
Alternative, quirky Kiev
But Kiev isn’t only this cute capital. It has the edgy, alternative and quirky side too. You already know about street art, brutalism architecture or countless cafes and bars (some of them hidden in the gates or located in the garage). But there’s more!
Besarabski Market, besides being a decent place to shop for the local produce, is also a meeting place for hipsters, dining in the local restaurants. Close to the fairy tale-alike St. Andrew’s church you will find the lane full of crazy sculptures, including clearly overdosed Alice in Wonderland.
Cross the river and you’ll be in a completely different world, the concrete jungle with enormous blocks of flats so high you lost the track when counting the floors. Among them you can find little parks, lakes or gems like Art Zavod Platforma – the biggest creative and cultural center in Ukraine.
Kiev is also home to the funky funicular that goes up from the Podil area (next to Poshtova Ploshcha metro station) to the St. Michael’s Monastery. It looks like from some futuristic movie and, even if it’s part of the public transport system, you’re encouraged to take pictures of it (such a nice change from so many of the post-Soviet countries)!
If you’d like to get to know the alternative side of Kiev you can join the pub crawl tour – click here for more details!
The deepest metro station in the world
I’m a huge fan of metro systems just about everywhere and while the one in Kiev doesn’t really make my heart beat faster (unlike metro in Kharkiv, Moscow or, recently, in Baku) there are few station that I certainly appreciate, like Zoloti Vorota.
But the most famous one is, with no doubts, Arsenalna station. With the location 105 meters underground it holds the title of the deepest metro station in the world. Once I checked how much time it takes from the moment you leave the train till the moment you make it outside – it was a bit over 6 minutes, and escalators in Kiev’s metro are crazy fast, so fast you need to jump on them when you’re still not used.
If, like me, you’re interested in metro system and its history you should join the metro tour! Click here for more details!
Kiev is safe
There’s this stereotype that Eastern Europe is unsafe. With the recent war in Ukraine Kyiv is considered by many to be a super dangerous place. Even before the recent revolution I got worried comments and looks from my closest family and friends, asking what I’m getting myself into with the idea of travelling to Kiev. Well, this couldn’t be more far from the true.
While every now and then we get news of some incidents happening in Kiev (don’t they happen just about everywhere?) I feel very safe in the city and there wasn’t even one situation when I felt something is wrong. Of course you need to be careful, like everywhere else, it’s a big city after all. But I don’t think there’re any major threats or issues you need to be aware of.
I wrote the whole article about safety in Ukraine – you can read it here!
Kiev is really affordable
Already before the revolution in 2014 Kiev was a very affordable capital but after those events the value of Ukrainian hryvnia dropped a lot, like three times. Now Kiev is among the cheapest cities in Europe and the quality you get for so little money is outstanding.
Accommodation, food, going out, cultural events and any other expenses won’t drain your budget really. Another reason why it’s worth to visit Kiev now is helping the economy, and especially local people. While it’s crazy cheap for us it’s not for the residents and by spending money you support them.
Getaway to Chernobyl and the rest of Ukraine
The most popular day trip from Kiev is the Chernobyl tour. The exclusion zone and the place of the most tragic and best known nuclear disaster in 1986 is only one hour away from Kiev. I visited Chernobyl and Pripyat and while before the trip I was slightly skeptical I really loved it and I can recommend it to everyone! It’s such a somber yet fascinating experience!
Kiev is also a great getaway to Ukraine! With numerous train connections just about everywhere it’s easy to explore this beautiful country. There are buses too but I definitely recommend trains. They are cheap, efficient, of decent standard and you can buy the ticket online in advance. You can also meet or just observe fellow passengers and get a good insight into the local life. Now that I think of it I took bus only once in Ukraine, between Kamianets-Podilsky and Chernivtsi – all my other journeys were by train.
Visit Kiev – practical information
How to get to Kiev + how to get to the center
If you’re flying to Kiev you have two airports to choose from: Zhuliany (for low cost airlines mostly) and Borispol. I think this is the only city where low cost airport is actually much more convenient than the regular one.
Zhuliany is located in the city, you have the public transport stop 3 minutes walking from the terminal (you need to go straight from the building and shortly you will see the stop on your left side, next to the main road) and for as little as 5 UAH you can be in the center. Trolleybus no 9 takes you directly to the center (Lev Tolstoy Square), passing the train station and University metro station along the way. There’re also other mini buses and trolleys going to Shulyavska metro station from where you can easily go everywhere. If you land in the evening you can take Uber for 120 UAH (at least that’s what I paid once on Friday evening from Zhuliany to Arsenalna metro station), there is a free wifi at the airport so you can arrange everything easily. From what I’ve heard from fellow passengers taxis charge around 500 UAH… If you don’t want to deal with all the hassle after arriving just book the private transfer to the center – click here for more details!
Borispol, the main airport, is located some 40 minutes away from the city. You can get the Sky Bus for 100 UAH all the way to the main train station (the stop is on the other side of the tracks than the main hall and metro station). The buses depart every 15 minutes. You can also book the private transfer to the center and enjoy a hassle-free ride. Click here for the details!
If you arrive to Kiev by train you need to take the metro to get to the center. There’s a metro stop Vokzalna next to the train station. When you exit the main hall you need to go left to the round building some 50 meters away (or just follow the people and look for the M sign). 3 metro stops and you’re at Maydan Nezalezhnosti, the main square in Kiev.
Where to stay in Kiev, Ukraine
This is the question I get the most often – where to stay in Kiev. Personally my favorite area is around Zolote Vorota metro station as the location is just perfect and the neighborhood itself is really lovely. It’s close everywhere and you have two metro lines crossing there, and another one just short walk away at Khreschatyk/Maidan Nezalezhnosti.
Kiev (and Ukraine in general) offers a great quality/price ratio (it’s the only country where I feel stupid for paying so little for such a good service). And accommodation is no different here. You can find a place to stay for every kind of traveler and it won’t drain your pocket. Here are few of my types:
How to travel around Kiev
The core of Kiev public transport is metro system with three lines. They can easily take you to all the city’s highlights: Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Khreschatyk (stations with the same name), St. Sophia’s, St. Michael’s, Zolote Vorota (station Teatralna/Zolote Vorota), Podil area (stations Poshtova Ploschta or Kontraktova Ploschta), Lavra and Motherland Monument (Arsenalna and a bit of walking). All three lines cross in the center making it easy to change between them. One ride costs 8 hryvnia and you can get a token either in ticket office or in the machine.
There’s also a big network of buses, mini buses, trams and trolleybuses. You pay for the ride inside, either to the person who collects the money and sells ticket or directly to the driver. To figure out Kiev public transport I can recommend you the app 2GIS – a map that works offline and has all the stop and public transport routes marked. It’s been a life safer so many times!
You can also get a ticket for hop-on, hop-off bus that will easily take you to all the main spots in the city! Click here for the details!
Money in Ukraine
By now I’ve learnt I get the best deals on exchange rates when getting money directly from the ATM. And those are spread all over the city. I don’t know if it’s only my bank or it’s a general trend but it’s worth checking out. Otherwise you can change the money (mostly USD, EUR and RUB) just about everywhere as there are many exchange points around.
I never travel without the insurance as you never know what might happen on the road (I’ve learnt my lesson). I can recommend World Nomads that offer the insurance dedicated to travelers just like you and me. Check the insurance options for your trip here!
When writing this post I bought another tickets for a weekend in Kiev. This city is like a drug, it gets you addicted so quickly and makes you visit Kiev over and over again! I really hope I inspired you to visit Kiev as well! You can look for the cheapest tickets at SkyScaner or Momondo – that’s what I usually do!
I’m very well aware about the name discussion, Kiev vs. Kyiv and I know that the second one is correct but still most people know the city as Kiev and will look for this written version hence I’m using it here too.
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