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Our first foray into the former Soviet bloc, we visited Ukraine’s capital during a balmy October weekend and were pleasantly surprised by how many things there were to do there. Incredible architecture and churches, ample open space and very few other tourists (Kiev definitely feels like an emerging tourist destination).
Also did we mention how damn cheap Kiev is? We eat, drank and used public transport all weekend long and still spent less than £100 (115 Euros) over three days BETWEEN US!
One of our most memorable European trips, here is our guide to making the most out of a long weekend in Kiev, one of Eastern Europe’s oldest cities:
Table of Contents
Things to do in Kiev
1. Independence Square
We arrived into Kiev late one Friday afternoon and the first thing we did after checking into our hotel was to hop onto a Metro and visit Independence Square to join the Friday night revellers and marvel at the massive Independence Column.
Once the site of political upheaval and protestations, you’re now more likely to come across music stages or various souvenir stalls.
We also discovered that the main road that dissects Independence Square was closed to traffic on Saturday and Sunday evenings, meaning you can wander freely without fear of being run over by a Lada.
2. St Sophia’s Cathedral
Kiev’s oldest standing (and arguably most beautiful) church dates back to around 1031. Avoid the guys outside dressed as teddy-bears who try to hug you for money (really!) and instead pay the 2 Euro fee to walk up the several flights of stairs in the bell-tower for views of the city.
The bell tower is an 18th century addition, along with all the gloriously golden domes you can see from the top.
The staircase up to the top is quite narrow and you use the same one up and down so try to avoid peak busy periods when you’ll be climbing with lots of others, waiting your turn to pass them.
3. Golden Gate
Dating back to 1037 but restored to its former glory in 1982 as part of the region’s 1500th creation anniversary, this marks the site of the city’s former walls.
Looking like a curious mishmash of styles upon first inspection, the site that await you today is an amalgam of the original Golden Gate stone remnants, along with the modern wooden structures and pavilions put up in recent years.
You can also climb to the top for a small fee to take in views of the CBD and listen to all the musicians below that have set up home in and around the gate.
4. Funicular to Volodymyrskya Hill
This quick, quirky ride to the top of the Volodymyrskya Hill certainly puts the ‘fun’ into funicular (a bit like a cable car but running on a track as opposed to being suspended by wires).
We’d read of huge queues but on the Sunday morning we visited, we managed to get on the funicular straight away and got a window seat for our 3-minute journey up.
Opened just over a century ago in 1905, the journey is ridiculously cheap (8UAH one way – the equivalent of 25p GBP, 0.30 Euros, $0.32 USD!). We’d recommend you start at the lower Poshtova station, take the funicular uphill, then explore the park and Friendship Arch, before making the short walk into town (or head back down via Andriyivskyy Descent).
5. People’s Friendship Arch
Opened in 1982 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the USSR, the huge 50 metre rainbow shaped arch drapes over a bronze statue depicting Ukrainian and Russian figures working together (although there has been recent talk of the arch being taken down, due to its historical connotations).
We approached the People’s Friendship Arch after taking the cable car up to Volodymyrskya Hill, so arrived there via the glass viewing deck – glass panels built into the walk way allowing you to see the huge drop below (local kids seemingly loved to jump up and down on this glass with such gusto!)
We couldn’t use our EU mobile phone data in Ukraine, so we marked everywhere we wanted to go on the Google Maps app and made sure we downloaded the map of Kiev to our phone so it would work offline.
6. St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
Beautiful and oh so blue – upon first glimpse, it appears quite new and this is because what you are seeing is a reconstruction (that was completed in 2000) of a former 12th century monastery destroyed by the Soviets in the 1930s.
As you exit, you’ll see a monument and wall of names dedicated to the victims of the awful famine that Ukraine experienced in the 1930s.
7. St Andrew’s Church
‘Baroque’ and roll! Although we’ve mentioned a cluster of Kiev’s churches already, this one sitting atop of a hill in the historic Podil district is breath-taking with its gold and blue domes dominating the skyline.
Constructed in 1754, the interior is unfortunately no longer open (due to foundation problems) but you can pay a small fee to explore the grounds and get beautiful views overlooking the Dnipro River.
8. Andriyivskyy Descent
One of our favourite things to do in Kiev (we ‘lucked’ out with clear blue skies and red autumnal leaves), this is wonderful walk along cobbled streets, past various street-stall sellers (mainly artists) and historic buildings.
Described in some quarters as the ‘Montmartre’ of Kiev, the descent runs from Kiev’s Upper Town to the lower Podil District – it can be quite ‘wobbly’ to walk on in parts so make sure you take some sensible shoes (high heels are not recommended!)
9. Peizahna Alley
Peizazhna (or landscape sculpture) alley can be found in the upper town and is home to numerous sculptures and statues created by various Ukrainian artists, many of which you can sit or lie on (make sure you get a photo posing in the giant cat mouth!)
A bit like a miniature version of Parc Guell in Barcelona (but better maintained), this is a fun diversion for all ages.
10. Kiev beaches
Like a scene from Ukrainian Baywatch, the banks of the Kiev are lined with around 75km of golden (seemingly man-made) beaches (the lifeguard huts look like they are straight out of Malibu).
We took the Metro to Hidropark station, the most accessible and easy way to reach the better beaches from the city. Despite a brisk but sunny Sunday morning in October, there was still the occasional swimmer and bather.
Be careful if taking pictures as there are several nude beaches in the area (some of the local residents didn’t seem to be so ‘cock-a-hoop’ when they saw we had cameras so we beat a hasty retreat).
11. St Volodymyr’s Cathedral
Our visit to St Volodymr’s colourful cathedral (unintentionally) coincided with sunset so the glorious yellow colours of the exterior walls were enhanced by early evening light. We sat on one of the benches in the cathedral garden looking up at the golden domes admiringly before heading indoors to what we think is Kiev’s prettiest church interior.
Many locals were inside worshipping when we visited – it is free to visit for tourists, but women must wear headscarves.
12. Besarabsky Market
A short walk from Independence Square, Besarabsky Market is an indoor market selling all manner of local, fresh and pickled produce, with a smattering of small bars and dining options located on the periphery.
Quite small in scale and not that particularly impressive compared to other indoor markets we’ve visited (we’d recently been to Riga’s epic indoor market – so were a little disappointed in comparison), it is actually much better looking from the outside and not really worth of your time unless you want to try some pickled goods at the source.
13. Kiev Street art
Searching for street art is one of our favourite things to do, and Kiev is an amazing city for this, with huge murals located in many neighbourhoods.
There are over 150 pieces of public art produced by local and international artists. Download the Kiev street art app Murals to find the best pieces – note it only works online so you’ll need to be using a Ukraine SIM card, or just note down the street art spots in advance.
14. Chernobyl day trip from Kiev
A Chernobyl tour is something that we have both wanted to do for years (waaaaaay before the HBO series came out), but unfortunately we just didn’t have time to squeeze it into our schedule.
Below are some of the day trips you can book online to visit Chernobyl – the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. This will be one of our top things to do in Kiev when we next return!
Eating and drinking in Kiev
How to get to Kiev
We flew to Kiev from London Stansted Airport after finding 50 Euro return fares with Ryanair. We booked two nights in the city – leaving London on a Saturday at 9am and flying back at 2.25pm on a Monday afternoon.
However because of the time difference we didn’t arrive to our hotel at Kiev until 4pm on Saturday and left our hotel on Monday at 11.30am, so only really had one full day to explore.
We would recommend staying in Kiev a bit longer when flying from the UK if you want to explore the city at leisure.
We arrived at Boryspil Airport Terminal F and there were the three options to get into town:
A taxi should take around 30 minutes to reach Kiev city centre and the average rate charged is about 0.40-0.50 Euro (7-10 UAH) per kilometre (it should cost no more than 20 Euros).
Note: if using Uber, the free airport WIFI only works inside the terminal building – if you want to go back inside you will need to go through security again (bags scanned) – it is a right pain in the arse!
An express train operates from terminal D to Pasazhyrskyi Station in just 40 minutes, costing 80 UAH. If arriving at terminal F like we did, there is free shuttle bus that runs every 30 minutes between terminals.
The trains are not particularly frequent though, and we have read that they depart every half an hour if you are lucky – plus it is absolutely horrendous to board during rush hour.
This is the option we took – we boarded a Sky Bus (line 322) from outside terminal F arrivals (turn right when you exit). The fare is 100 UAH for a single journey and it takes you all the way to the main railway station- Pivdennyi in 60 minutes (with stops at airport terminal D and Kharkivska metro station).
The service operates 24 hours a day and is supposed to run every 15 minutes during the daytime, however when we arrived on a Saturday afternoon the first bus was full, so we boarded the next one which didn’t depart for another half an hour!
Tickets for this service can be purchased on board from the driver – it is cash only (there are ATM machines inside terminal F) and the driver collects the money from you when everyone has boarded and the bus is ready to go.
How to get around Kiev
These are the best ways to get around Kiev:
Kiev city is quite spread out, however a lot the popular tourist attractions are located fairly close to each other so it was quite easy to see them all by walking. However as we were trying to see as much as possible in one day it was fairly exhausting on our feet!
To reach places a bit further out (such as the beach) we used the metro which is super cheap and easy to use. Each journey costs just 8UAH and you just purchase a token for a single journey from one of the ladies in the ticket booth at the station (you can only buy one token per person at a time – we have no idea why!).
Note: the metro is really busy, and we found the trains and platforms quite crowded all weekend. The metro stations are not always particularly easy to find – some of them use the bright green ‘M’ signs whilst others do not – we spent 10 minutes searching for the one near our hotel (fail!).
Metro stops on the maps in the station are also written in English, but you can download a Kiev metro map app to help you plan your journey – click here to download.
It is worth using the metro at least once to admire some of the architecture – the prettiest is is Zoloti Vorota station (think chandeliers and gorgeous tiling). Fact: Kiev is home to the deepest station in Europe – Arsenelna station is 105 metres deep!
Taxi rides in Kiev are apparently very cheap (we never used them). You can use Uber here, or the Ukraine equivalent Uklon (this one is cash payment only to the driver).
Where to stay in Kiev
We stayed at Ibis Kiev Railway Station which was great value and located a few minutes walk from the metro station which takes you to Independence Square in just 5 minutes. It is also less than a minutes walk from the Sky Bus airport bus stop and Pivdennyi train stations. A Billa supermarket is located across the road, and many restaurants including Puzata Hata are nearby. Check out prices and availability for Ibis Kiev Railway Station.
Here are some highly rated accommodation options for all budgets:
Budget Kiev accommodation
Dream House Hostel
Fairly new hostel having opened in 2012. It is the biggest and most modern central hostel in Kiev with its own bar and cafe. Located on the beautiful Andriyivskyy Descent. Check out prices and availability for Dream House Hostel.
Friends Forever Hostel
New hostel in the centre of Kiev, dorm rooms as well as private rooms. Check out prices and availability for Friends Forever Hostel.
Mid range Kiev accommodation
Ibis Kiev City Center
Cheap and cheerful budget chain hotel in a good location. Check out prices and availability for Ibis Kiev City Center.
Luxury Kiev accommodation
11 Mirrors Design Hotel
Stylish hotel in the heart of Kiev. Check out prices and availability for 11 Mirrors Design hotel.
Premium apartments in the heart of Kiev. Check out prices and availability for Senator Maidan.
Other Europe posts
- The best cheap places to eat and drink in Kiev, Ukraine
- Top things to do in Riga, Latvia
- The best cheap eats in Riga, Latvia
- Things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria
- Things to do in Berlin, Germany
- Things to do in Madrid, Spain
- Things to do in Budapest, Hungary
- Things to do in Vienna, Austria