All eyes on Kiev! One of Europe’s best kept secrets

From centuries-old monasteries to giant Soviet-monuments and chic hidden gems – Kiev is such a fascinating and eclectic city that is just waiting to be explored

Enjoying the sunset from Trukhaniv Island

Enjoying the sunset from Trukhaniv Island

Category Cities

Date 4th May 2017

Kiev is shaped by a mix of political ideologies, Orthodox Christianity and recent revolutions. It’s also Ukraine’s capital and cultural center, a city of three millions souls – spread across green hills and wild river islands, all interlinked by bridges and metro lines.

There’s definitely no shortage of things to see and do in Kiev. We’ve teamed up with local resident, Ross Rusakov, who guides us to his favorite spots in the city.

Find peace at Lavra – Kiev’s pious epicentre

Lavra’s golden domes aren’t easily overlooked
Lavra’s golden domes aren’t easily overlooked

Kiev-Pecherska Lavra is a huge monastery complex inside one of the central neighborhoods (Pechersk).  This monastery, populated by monks and pilgrims, is one of the holiest places according to Orthodox Christianity. The area is a car free zone with peaceful atmosphere and incredible architecture, well preserved by UNESCO and protected by local administrations. The bell tower is one of the highest viewpoints in Kiev.

Lavra offers more than great views, golden domes and spiritual food. The canteen in the center of the monastery is open every day for the public, and here visitors can join the monks and pilgrims for cheap and simple dishes.

If tranquility is what you are looking for, then pay Lavra a visit after 6 pm when most of the tour groups have left and the monastery is nice and calm.

Be awe-struck by Mother Motherland

Big mother is watching you!
Big mother is watching you!

Outside the monastery walls is the massive and much disputed Soviet-monument, Mother Motherland. The 203 foot ‘Mother’-statue holds a 52 foot long sword in one hand and a shield in the other protecting – or threatening –  the people of Kiev. Either or, it’s definitely built to impress!

The statue was inaugurated in 1981 as part of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 honouring Soviet victory in World War II. Since then Ukraine has gained its independence and new political winds are blowing over the country, and in 2015 the parliament outlawed references to the term “Great Patriotic war” as well as Communist symbols, street names and monuments. In the wake of these amendments the museum was renamed National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War

Walk the Landscape Alley

Walk the Landscape Alley and see many of Kiev's landmarks on the way
Walk the Landscape Alley and see many of Kiev’s landmarks on the way

The Landscape Alley is a lovely walking trail along Kiev Hills, and it gets especially busy on sunny days. Start at the National History Museum and walk the curvy half mile alley which passes the baroque St. Andrew’s Church and lots of contemporary art objects. Relax on the grass with a bottle of wine and enjoy some people-watching.

Not far from the alley is one of the oldest walking streets of Kiev, the steep and paved Andrew’s Descent, which is full of souvenirs stalls, shops and restaurants. Another way to get down from the historic upper city to the lower neighborhood of Podil is by taking the old funicular located right next to the unique and sacral Mikhailovsky Cathedral.

Be allured by Podil

Chilling in Podil
Chilling in Podil

Situated along the banks of the Dnieper River and one of Kiev’s oldest neighborhoods, Podil never loses its allure, which especially attracts the city’s youngsters. Podil is classy, has its own historical landmarks and features beautiful old architecture. Still, it’s young at heart and sees new shops, bars and art places popping up constantly. Old meets new in Podil, and it’s a beautiful match!

Mingle in Taras Shevchenko Park

Hanging out in Taras Shevchenko Park outside the university
Hanging out in Taras Shevchenko Park outside the dark red university building

The very central and comfy Taras Shevchenko Park is a fascinating intersection of all types of city dwellers. Take a break from the bustling city center and hide in the shadow of one of the century-old trees, while watching the many different characters who come around.

The park, as well as the neighboring university, is named after Taras Shevchenko – the greatest Ukrainian poet and painter, who worked at the university in the middle of the 19th century.

Take a tour to Chernobyl

Utter eeriness in Pripyat
Utter eeriness in Pripyat

Believe it or not, but Chernobyl — which was once considered one of the most lethal spots on earth, an absolutely no-go zone – is now a popular tourist attraction which attracts thousands of visitors a year. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter the Exclusion Zone on their own, so book at day tour from one of the many tour operators, such as Deinde, who run tours to Chernobyl. Walk around the abandoned Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the empty streets of the eerie ghost town of Pripyat, and you might feel you’re in a post-apocalyptic world.

Visit all of Ukraine in Pyrohiv

Pyrohiv_things_to_do_in_kiev
Giant mushrooms? No, it’s folk architecture displayed in Pyrohiv

Getting tired of city rush, smoke … and maybe Chernobyl,  then take a day tour to Pyrohiv. This neighborhood in the southern outskirts of Kiev houses the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine, which is a huge park where folk architecture from all regions of Ukraine is represented. Don’t forget to bring your picnic basket.

Eat modern Ukrainian at Ostannya Barikada

Inside the hidden and ultra Ukrainian restaurant
Inside the hidden and ultra Ukrainian restaurant

This place is a must if you want to try a proud Ukrainian meal! Ostannya Barikada serves a modern and organic Ukranian cuisine accompanied with beverages from all corners of the country. The restaurant is secretly located in the Globus Mall under Maidan Nezalezhnosti – the central square of Kiev, which attracted the world’s attention both during the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Revolution of Dignity (Euromaidan) in 2014.

Try Georgian at Mama Manana

Digging into a Khachapuri
Digging into a Khachapuri

The classy Mama Manana is without doubt the best Georgian restaurant in town. Try their Khinkali (dumplings) and Khachapuri (cheese-filled bread), and you’ll agree! Needless to say that this is a very popular restaurant, so book a table well ahead!

Dine like a Tatar at Sofra

Sofra's classy coffee serving
Sofra’s classy coffee serving

Restaurant Sofra is owned by a Tatarian family from Crimea. Here you’ll get incredible Plov (a rice and lamb dish), Shurpa (soup), Shashlik (shish kebab), and probably the classiest serving of Turkish coffee in town. Sofra also has a sister branch in the neighborhood of Podil, basically is a small kiosk baking only Chebureki (deep-fried turnover) – the most delicious food in the world. Just sayin!

Watch, listen and dance at Closer

It gets hot and busy at Closer
It gets hot and busy at Closer

This building houses an art-center and is the main techno spot in town. There are several club nights under the same roof. Most famous is probably Closer featuring an international line-up almost every weekend. If you’re lucky you might get a chance to take part in the secret events hosted by Shoom Studio – a temple of music where you are only allowed in if you’ve taken off your shoes. The annual electronic festival – Strichka is also held on the location. One floor up you have Mezzanine where many Ukrainian indie artists perform.

Hangout at Kosatka

Another busy night at Kosatka
Another busy night at Kosatka

Kosatka has a 70’s style interior, serves delicious food and welcomes all types of people – no wonder the bar is always loud and crowded. It is the perfect hangout and a great spot to meet up with friends.

Sip drinks with man’s best friend at N::B Cocktails

N::B Cocktails is ready to welcome two and four legged guests
N::B Cocktails is ready to welcome two and four legged guests

This place serves great cocktails and organizes cozy events and stylish pre-parties. Don’t forget to bring your dog – man’s best friend is welcome at N::B Cocktails.

Be hedonistic on Trukhaniv Island

Days are hot and nights are long on Trukhaniv Island during summer
Days are hot and nights are long on Trukhaniv Island during summer

Trukhaniv Island in the Dnieper River is the place to enjoy a hot day chilling in the sun and long nights of music. Here you’ll find UBK beach, the biggest summer club in Kiev, which offers its own classy spirit and a variety of weekly events. It includes four bars, a food court, an open-air cinema and plenty rest zones attracting a mixed crowd. Every year in July Ukraine’s main festival of independent music, the Hedonism Festival, brings even more rhythm and sound to Trukhaniv Island.

Look at picturesque decay from River PORT

River PORT offers underground parties and urban decay
River PORT offers underground parties and urban decay

At River PORT your sundowner is accompanied with fantastic urban views. This bar is located in the old river port overlooking rusty Soviet docks, industrial harbor constructions and a half-destroyed bridge. The place organizes electronic parties and has an underground spirit.

Feel like a president at CHI

The interior at CHI is colourful and anything but minimalistic
The interior at CHI is colourful and anything but minimalistic

This was once the private helicopter ground of previous president, Viktor Janukovitj. Today it houses a high-profiled club popular for showing off and flaunting your status. At CHI you are guaranteed a good sound system, lounge music and the chance to rub shoulders with local socialites.

Sleep and mingle at Dream House Hostel

Dream House Hostel's cosy yard
Dream House Hostel’s cosy yard

The Dream House Hostel is probably the best and most social hostel in Ukraine, and in the same building you’ll find the great food joint, the Druzi Cafe. It’s located on the main street, Andrew’s Descent, just a few steps from the (overpriced) flea market and the central square of Podil. Book well ahead if you’re looking to stay here in peak season.

Book a room at Dream House Hostel

Have a fancy stay at 11 Mirrors Design Hotel

Lounging in 11 Mirror Design Hotel's lobby
Lounging in 11 Mirror Design Hotel’s lobby

This is the only real boutique hotel in the center of Kiev. The 11 Mirrors Design Hotel is all about excellent service and chic design. It’s very centrally located in the old city close to the Golden Gates and the National Opera, and owned by famous boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko.

Book a room at 11 Mirrors Design Hotel

Go for luxury at Fairmont Grand Hotel

After dark Fairmont Grand Hotel lights up the heart of Kiev
After dark Fairmont Grand Hotel lights up the heart of Kiev

The Fairmont Grand Hotel oozes splendor and is without doubt one of the best hotels in Kiev. It’s an elegant luxury hotel with an amazing location in the heart of Podil that overlooks the river, Trukhaniv Island and the city’s hills.

Book a room at Fairmont Grand Hotel

Getting to/from both international airports

Most flights to Kiev arrive at the main airport Kiev-Boryspil. To get from the airport to the city, you can take Sky Bus shuttle, which will bring you to the main railway station (Pivdennyi terminal). The bus passes by the green metro line M3. Consider getting off the bus at the metro station of “Kharkivska”, where you can jump on the metro to the city center. This is quicker than going all the way by bus.

From the second airport, Kiev-Zhulyany, which is located much closer to the city, you can take shuttle buses and a trolleybus directly to city center.

All the major car rental companies are represented in the arrival halls of both airports.

Find a flight to Kiev

Curious about other fantastic cities? Check out our city guide to Beirut and find out about great things to do in Madrid for free

Originally published

4th May 2017