Spend half a day in Kyiv / Kiev and it will go straight into your top 10 favourite cities. By the end of the day it will be in your top 5.
Lots of people put Kyiv first on their list of favourite cities, and for good reason.
It’s beautiful, easy to get around, cheap, friendly, varied, and has a unique edge thanks to its Soviet past and recent revolutionary turmoils.
Don’t spend all day in the same place as the tour groups and coach loads of people all following the same Trip Advisor top 10. Don’t overdose on museums, change the pace in the parks and the hip neighbourhoods. Don’t stay with tour guides all day, tackle some of the local quirks independently.
Visit the ‘can’t miss’ iconic landmarks of Kyiv and then take advantage of local insider knowledge to get some of the off-the-radar gems that are all in easy reach of central Kyiv.
Here’s a no nonsense, no filler, no marketing, run down of the unmissable cultural sights, architectural icons, photography hotspots, the best local experiences, the most uniquely Kyivan activities and the local guides favourite tips.
Unmissable iconic Kyiv landmarks
St Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery
A photographer’s delight, and close to several other favourites like St Sophia’s, the Funicular, and Andriivs’kyi Descent. It really pays to have a wander all around here and then pay the small fee to go up the bell tower for a different perspective.
If you’re a photographer, go up the bell tower for sunset and you’ll have sensational views of the golden domes at their very best. Afterwards, head round into the park on Volodymyr’s hill for some R&R, or walk down hill to St Andrew’s church.
Kyiv Perchersk Lavra
Also know as the Monastery of the Caves this is one of Kiev’s 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the other being St Sophia’s. The golden domes are beautiful, and the underground labyrinths with mummified monks are fascinating.
It’s the most holy place in Ukraine. You can easily book private guides for a tour around here, or go by yourself. the entrance fee is tiny compared to the value you’re getting. This really is something you must do when you visit Kiev.
St Sophia's Cathedral
The other UNESCO World Heritage site in Kyiv, and conveniently close to St Michael’s. Climb the bell tower for a 360 degree view of central Kyiv, and explore the grounds for amazing photo opportunities.
The outside is spectacular, but the real prize is on the inside with mosaics and frescoes that are hundreds of years old.
St Andrew's Church
This one will really get you going if you’re a photographer. Its position on a hill-top allows for some striking backdrops if the sky is in the right mood. It’s close to the Funicular and to St Michael’s.
The interior is closed but perhaps the best part once you’ve taken your photos is the walk down the cobbled Andriivs’kyi Descent.
Independence Square - Maidan Nezalezhnosti
As Kyiv’s central square this is main focus of most tourist’s visits, and most know as the centre point of Ukraine’s independence movement. There has been a lot of violence and demonstrations in Maidan, as recently as the 2014 revolution when more than 100 died.
The cobble stones you can see in the foreground of this picture were used as projectiles by the demonstrators fighting the police and security forces.
The stacks of stones you can see alongside the pavement are memorials built from those same cobblestones to commemorate all those young men who sadly lost their lives.
You can go in the evenings when the fountains are illuminated and it’s a bustling, busy sort of place.
The Golden Gate
Another fairly central sight is this oddity. In the 11th century this was part of the main fortifications of the city, a city that now dwarfs what it was then.
You should know that this structure is not the 11th century original, but a 1980’s Soviet-era reconstruction with no real consensus on what the original really looked like.
Explore like a local
Underneath St Andrew’s Church, the cobbled Andriivs’kyi Descent is an absolute gem.
You will find all manner of independent shops, cafes, and galleries. The street is usually lined with market stalls selling crafts, clothing, and antiques including Soviet-era propaganda and militaria.
Downhill is the lively and hip Podil neighbourhood. You could easily spend a couple of hours exploring around here, and it is the place to come if you want to pick up some unique souvenirs.
The metro is very easy to do and you’ll probably make use of it anyway just to get around, but it’s worth a visit for it’s own sake because of the many beautiful stations following the Soviet style ornamented with rich mosaics and marble.
Here are the Zoloti Vorota and Respublikansky stations. Another gem is Universytet, and you can also visit the Arsenalna station which is the second deepest in the world, only slightly beaten by one in Pyongyang.
From St Michael’s there are two ways to get down towards the Podil neighbourhood. One is the walk down the Andriivs’kyi Descent, the other is to ride the Funicular.
Make sure you do both.
The funicular is fun, interesting, cheap, and you have to get a look at the 1950’s style carriage. Once down in Podil, explore for places to grab a coffee or a beer.
Kachalka Outdoor Gym
Alright, this place is weird. It’s just weird.
It looks like a cross between a prison and a scrap yard, and you will see all sorts of local hard men working out, but you will also see a load of tourists having a go and taking photos.
It’s odd, it’s definitely odd, but if you’re off to visit the Hidropark, stop by this place.
It’s made from salvaged tanks and boats all welded up and chained together. Watch the local musclemen or challenge your inner Schwarzenegger and pick up a barbell.