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Although Kiev might not be your typical holiday destination, with its rich culture, colourful history, magnificent architecture, and vibrant artistic scene, it is a place that should be on any traveller’s bucket list. In this article, find a round-up of the best things to do in Kiev.
Within its borders, Ukraine has seven World Heritage Sites, and two of them can be found in its capital.
So if you are looking for the perfect combination of good prices, friendly people and wondrous attractions, this Eastern European country is the place to be.
Top Things to do in Kiev in 2021
Independence (Maidan) Square
“Maidan” Square is the centre of Kiev close to the major shopping areas. The Square is most famous as the site of many political rallies from the start of Ukraine’s independence movement up to the recent Orange Revolution and “Euromaidan” rallies.
The square is home to the 61 metre (200 foot) Independence Monument; a large baroque style column topped with the golden statue of Slavic goddess Berehynia.
Independence Square used to host many non-political activities and markets, but these have since been moved to Sofiyifskaya Square.
Visit the Olgen Antonov State Aviation Museum
There is definitely something magical about planes. In just a few hours time, you get to be in another part of the world. If you are a fan of aeroplanes and helicopters, you will surely enjoy visiting the Olgen Antonow State Aviation Museum.
There you will find dozens of well-maintained aircraft. If you choose to buy a more expensive ticket, it is also possible to wander around some of the planes and helicopters. Perhaps it is time to live out your Top Gun fantasy?
Admire St. Sophia Cathedral
Built in the 11th century, the stunning cathedral should be on every traveller’s bucket list. The beautiful building is included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. What makes it even more remarkable is the fact it is Kiev’s oldest surviving church.
As you stroll through the cathedral, admire its grand interior and beautiful medieval frescos and mosaics. It is hard to believe they managed to survive so many years and still look as good as they do.
Don’t forget to spend a bit of time outside – enjoying the magnificent gardens of the cathedral is a must. Whether you are travelling during summer or exploring Kiev in colder months, it is a great place to soak in the beauty of nature. Plus – the entry price is quite low too.
Discover Pechersk Lavra
One of the most impressive sites in Kiev and, quite frankly, also in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Pechersk Lavra might be the most visited place in the capital of Ukraine.
The complex of towers and bells really is a site unlike any other. The whole site takes up more than 69 acres. Therefore make sure to put aside at least a few hours to get the taste of the area. It comes as no surprise that the 11th-century building is the UNESCO World Heritage site.
Every year, Pilgrims from all over the country come to Pechersk Lavra. After all – it has been named one of the seven wonders in Ukraine.
Remember to explore the mystical labyrinth of eerie catacombs. A little tip – try to arrive as early as possible to avoid crowds.
Stroll through the Hydropark and the islands of the Dnipro River
Kiev’s Hydropark is located on an island in the Dnipro River that runs through the city. Here you will find beaches, recreational areas, sports both on and off the water and cafes, bars and restaurants.
The Hydropark is the perfect place to cool off in summer and enjoy the multitude of activities on offer.
Have a stroll through the Mariyinsky Palace
The baroque-style palace currently is the official residence of the president of Ukraine. Built in 1744, it is a fantastic place to visit for those looking to learn more about the history of the beautiful country.
We suggest taking a guided tour, then you will have the chance also to explore the ceremonial hall, which is truly breathtaking. Located nearby, you will find the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) building – another impressive example of Ukrainian architecture.
Rodina Mat (Motherland Monument)
The Rodina Mat (Nation’s mother) monument stretches 62 metres above Kiev and commands attention from all around. This stainless-steel martial monument depicts a woman holding a sword and shield and is situated atop the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War (see below).
The monument is also located very close to the Pechersk Lavra and monasteries with fantastic views down to the river and across the glinting-golden onion domes of the city.
Fun fact: there is a similar monument named Kartlis Deda (Mother of Georgia) in Tbilisi.
Have a day of learning at the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War
Are you a fan of history? Visiting the gigantic museum is one of the best things to do in Kiev. As it tells the story of the Second World War from Ukraine’s (and the Soviet Union’s) point of view, you will have the chance to see this history from an entirely different perspective.
The complex that is located on the hills of Pechersk has more than 300,000 artefacts. Starting from personal photographs to real war weapons – it is a unique place to see.
As you walk outside, have a look at the museum’s collection consisting of sculptures, Soviet tanks and jets, which date back to WWII and the Cold War.
Shop at Khreshchatyk Street
If you are a shopaholic, then there is no better place to explore than Khreshchatyk Street, which ties the Maidan to the rest of Kiev. On the street, you will find all the major international retailers.
Whenever hunger kicks in, stop by one of the charming cafes, restaurants or perhaps – ice cream shops. During weekends and public holidays, the colourful street comes alive even more because then road traffic is prohibited.
Hike at Lysa Hora
Whenever you are craving a good workout session, plan a day at Lysa Hora, also known as the Bald Mountain. Although its past is a bit dark, nowadays, it has become a loved hiking destination.
In Slavic folklore, the mountain is described as a place where witches and all kinds of paranormal creatures used to meet.
When wandering around the area, you might stumble upon carved statues of pagan deities. If you have the chance to discover Lysa Hora in autumn, you are in for a treat!
Enjoy the Hryshko National Botanical Garden
Those who love being in nature will find that exploring the Hyrshko National Botanical Garden is one of the best things to do in Kiev.
Wander around the beautiful gardens as you pass more than 13 000 varieties of trees, flowers and shrubs. During spring and summertime, make sure to stop by the “Lilac Alley” that houses hundreds of lilacs.
If you are curious about more exotic species, stop by the greenhouse. Another great thing to do is to have a picnic overlooking the spires of the St. Michael’s Vydubutsky Men’s Monastery.
Check out the work of young designers
As you wander around Kiev, you will notice how well dressed the locals are. Eastern Europeans take pride in looking good. Therefore it is not surprising to learn that the capital of Ukraine has many excellent young designers.
All around the city, you will find stores dedicated to their work. If you want to get your hands on one-of-a-kind items, stop by “Bci Cboi” – a shop located in Kreshchatyk street.
Visit the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum
The Chernobyl Museum is located in the historic Podil neighbourhood of Kiev and is easily reachable by metro and bus from the city centre. The museum gives a fascinating insight into the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and contains many displays, artefacts and visual representations.
Allow at least an hour to see all the exhibits and admire the artworks commemorating the tragedy. Outside the museum are vehicles used in the evacuation and clean up operation.
Stroll through Podil
If you are willing to move a bit outside the centre of Kiev, you should include Podil in your travel plans. With its artsy vibe, yummy cafes, beautiful buildings and architecture, it will be a pleasant surprise to discover.
What once used to be a working-class neighbourhood has now become a modern and loved area. On every corner, it is possible to find something unique and beautiful. Keep an eye open for funky galleries as well as markets offering local goods.
Plus – if you are a coffee addict, this is the place to find the best variations of the dark drink.
Things to in Kiev – A Little Further Afield
For those who are interested Dark Tourism, a visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone is possible. There are many day trips from Kiev, but to get the most out of a visit I would recommend a two-day tour where you will get to explore the abandoned city of Pripyat, the Duga Radar Station and have lunch at the nuclear power plant.
The Ghost City of Pripyat
Pripyat was built in 1953 to house workers for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and was considered one of the best places to live in the Soviet Union thanks to it’s modern (for the time) infrastructure and recreational activities such as the Azure swimming pool and Pripyat Amusement Park.
The city was evacuated on 27th April 1986, one day after the accident, and has been abandoned ever since. Nature is slowly reclaiming the land and trees are growing through the paved roads and onto the derelict buildings.
Duga Radar Station
The Duga Radar Station is a large radio mast (stretching 150 metres tall and 700 metres in length) that was used as an early warning system for incoming nuclear missiles during the cold war.
Tips for visiting Kiev for the first time:
● Avoid drinking tap water. Instead – purchase bottled water at the local grocery stores or use the public pumprooms (they can be found in pretty much every park).
● The most convenient way of travelling around the city is using the subway, which runs from 6 AM to 12 PM.
● In Kiev, it is not allowed to smoke in public places. However, you can find parts where it is permitted. Don’t be shy to ask for advice from locals.
When travelling around Eastern Europe, not stopping by Kiev is a true crime. The unusual vacation destination will quickly capture your heart and make you want to return for some new adventures.
About the author: Steve Rohan, originally from England, has lived in China for over six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, the ancient capital of Luoyang and now resides in the tropical paradise of Sanya on Hainan Island.
He has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.