Three things distinguish Ukraine’s capital Kiev, from other major European cities: its superb location on the Mighty Dnieper River, its large scale communist heritage from soviet times and the outstanding churches and monasteries with their characteristic golden domes. By far the largest and richest city in the country Kiev is probably the only place that has somehow managed to keep in track with the rest of the world. Since gaining independence in 1991, the Ukraine has witnessed mayor civil unrest and important shifts of power, but luckily Kiev remains safe and welcoming to international travelers.
The 2000km long Dnieper River divides the city in two parts: the city center with the historical core on the west and to the east the communist type superblocks built during the Soviet Union. Several superblocks to the north and west complete the gray image of Kiev’s residential neighborhoods. The city center is quite the opposite: more heterogenic, with neoclassical colorful façades, shiny churches and monumental government buildings. A pretty big green hill with outstanding views separates the centre from the river bank. The large Khreshchatyk Street divides the city’s two central districts Pecherskyi and Shevchenkivskyi. Near the northern end of the street, the unattractive Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) is Kiev’s main square. Do not forget to visit the other part of Historical Kiev, walking down the hill through beautiful Andriyivsky Uzviz in the Podilskyi District.
The most interesting site is the famous Kiev Pecherska Lavra, the historic Orthodox monastery of the Caves. It was the centre of Orthodox Christianity since its foundation in the 11th century. The monastery is located some 3km southeast from the main square. Back to the city centre St. Sophia’s Cathedral is Kiev’s oldest remaining church. Its beautiful frescos and mosaics date back to the 11th century and are among the worlds largest from that period. Unlike St. Sophia the St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery across the Volodymyrs’kyi Passage still functions as a monastery. Originally built in the 12th century it was destroyed during the Soviet times and rebuilt in 1999. Across the Maidan Nezalezhnosti through Mykhaila Нrushevs’kogo Street we reach Kiev’s most elegant neighborhood: Lypky. Most governmental buildings done in a typical Soviet neo classical style are here, including the Ukrainian parliament Verkhovna Rada. Next to it Mariyinsky Palace is the official ceremonial residence of the President of Ukraine. In the same neighborhood, at the end of the Bankova Street we find the Presidential Administration and the Presidential residence housed in the House with Chimaeras or Gorodetsky House, Kiev’s most elegant Art Nouveau villa. A 10 minutes walk towards the southern tip of Khreshchatyk brings us to Bessarabskiy Rynok, the city’s main covered market. Another 10 minutes west through Tarasa Shevchenko Boulevard and Volodymyrska Street brings us to the National Opera of Ukraine, one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in all Ukraine.
Most hotels in Kiev are located around the Khreshchatyk Avenue, near the main churches and the Opera House. The area near the main square is packed with all hotel ranges. This is the most central area, with good connections to the rest of the city, but it is not the quietest. If location matters the most to you, you should stay here. Another beautiful area to stay is Podil, down the hill, with good connections, but a bit away from the action.
Kiev is a fairly large city, but soulless communist style residential blocks occupy over ¾ of its area. It’s interesting to visit Kiev to see these neighborhoods so take the metro just cross the Dnieper and you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer size of the structures. The historical area is considerably smaller and can be walked about easily. The only landmark a bit further away is Pecherska Lavra and can partially be reached by metro and then taking a taxi or walking. Kiev’s public transport is not easy to use, except for the metro, so use it whenever possible. There are only three lines, which cover most of the important sites. Biking is not very common and bike rentals are rare. Taxis are cheap and relatively reliable, but their price should be agreed beforehand.
The main tourist destination of Ukraine, Kiev is yet to be discovered by tourists. You can wander around its cobbled streets, admire its elegant churches with golden domes and explore the weird caves of Pecherska Lavra. You can get to know its recent past by visiting one of its residential neighborhoods or its geography by taking a boat over the beautiful Dnieper River. You can watch the locals have fun in the closed streets during the weekend or smoke Hookah in one of Kiev’s elegant bars. You can get to know the authentic Ukrainian mentality which won’t let you indifferent. You can fall in love with Kiev if you just let yourself go.
Kiev Travel Guide
- Stay near the Maidan Nezhalezhnosti. Happy Frog recommends Hotel Ukraine
- Kiev Monastery of the Caves Pecherska Lavra;
- Sophia’s Cathedral and St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery;
- Verkhovna Rada and Mariyinsky Palace;
- House with Chimaeras.
- Have lunch or dinner in Puzata Hata.
- On foot, by taxi (prearranging the price) and metro.
- Go on an excursion to Chernihiv.
DO NOT MISS:
- Walk about the Andriyivsky Uzviz and visit Podil;
- Spend a weekend in Kiev and watch how the city centre turns into a pedestrian heaven;
- Watch an opera in the National Opera of Ukraine;
- Spend some time in the fun park next to the Friendship of Nations Arch;
- Shop at the Bessarabskiy Rynok.