I have to be honest, the thought of visiting Kyiv (formerly known as Kiev), the capital of Ukraine, didn’t immediately jump out at me.
I’ve seen my fair share of ex-communist capitals and while I admire their architecture and find them culturally fascinating, seeing what I expected to be a grey, drab and dull ex-Soviet capital didn’t immediately appeal… funny that!
However I honestly could not have been more wrong.
Far from visiting what I expected to be a sea of concrete, Kyiv feels way more elegant, sophisticated and ornamental that I ever could have imagined.
From its green leafy parks to its clean metro, its glittering cathedrals to its grand statues, Kyiv has more finesse and sense of glamour than many other eastern European capitals I’ve visited, which came as a huge surprise.
And if you’re surprised to hear this about Kyiv too, then maybe it’s time you planned a trip there too.
It is, after all, incredibly well-priced too! In a kind of ridiculous way.
Here’s 13 amazing things to do in Kyiv, Ukraine to inspire your wanderlust…
- 25 Unforgettable Things to do in Lviv, Ukraine
- 10 Common Mistakes Every Traveller Visiting Ukraine Makes
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#1 Visit the Cathedrals
Coming in at number one on my list of the top 13 things to do in Kyiv, it has to be visiting some of this city’s spellbinding cathedrals.
Built in the Russian Orthodox style, there are several grand examples that dot the centre of downtown Kyiv and marvelling at their rich gold domes and gorgeous architecture is a must.
Top of the list is St Sophia’s Cathedral – the city’s main religious building and adorned inside with some great frescos.
Then there’s St Andrew’s Church, which sits on a hill and offers spectacular views over Kyiv.
St Michael’s is the third biggest and most famous.
#2 Check out the Young Designer Stores
One thing you’ll quickly notice in Kyiv is how impeccably dressed everyone here is.
It’s obvious that the people of Kyiv take a real pride in their appearance and this city is great for fashion-spotting, particularly if you’re into a more quirky European kinda style.
It’s perhaps no surprise therefore, to learn that Kyiv has many great young designers and that there are several stores dedicated to showcasing and selling their artistic creations.
The best example of these has to be Bci Cboi, which is situated on the main street in central Kyiv, known as Khreshchatyk.
In fact, visiting this street to shop, eat and people-watch, is one of the best things to do in Kyiv anyway – particularly on summer weekends when the whole street is made car-free and local buskers come out in their droves to entertain the crowds.
Walking down here at this time, you’ll quickly realise how wide many of the streets are in Kyiv and coupled with a lack of high rise buildings, this definitely lends a very open and expansive feel to the city that I loved.
#3 Walk to the Golden Gate
One of the original gates to the old city of Kyiv, wandering to the Golden Gate is one of those things to do in Kyiv you need to tick off your list.
The structure is impressive and there’s lots of nice eateries and coffee spots around here, including the cute café called Tres Branché which has a great lunch menu.
#4 Explore Podil
This area of Kyiv is a little out of the main centre but is a delightful place to explore with its arty vibe, heritage buildings, great cafes and traditional feel.
I’m not 100% sure, but I imagine this used to be a working-class area of the city and has now been regenerated with an artsy, modern vibe.
There’s also some great markets here, funky galleries and hidden treats to discover around every corner.
With cafes a go-go, it’s coffee heaven too and my pick of the bunch was Holy Beans.
#5 Take a History Lesson at Independence Square
There’s no denying poor old Ukraine has had a rough political history, especially in recent times.
In fact, since the year 2000, there’s been no less than 2 revolutions and often the action of these uprisings have centered around the main square in Kyiv known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti aka Independence Square.
Head here now to check out the Independence Monument, as well as watch the crowds and pose with the obligatory “I Love Kyiv” sign.
#6 Peruse the Markets
Ukraine is an incredibly fertile country – another fact I didn’t realise until I travelled here and they grow a huge amount of food products, as well as flowers.
As such, there’s tons of amazing markets across the country and it goes without saying that the capital has some of the best.
One of the best things you should definitely do in Kyiv, therefore, is to explore some of the great markets here.
One of my favourites was the Bessarabsky Market, which is located close to central Kyiv.
Otherwise, there’s lots of informal stalls on the street here too selling local in-season produce.
When I was there, there were tons of walnuts on offer and they were absolutely delicious.
#7 Scale the Deepest Metro Station in the World
But if you are looking to experience a bit of Soviet Ukraine, then weirdly one of the best places you can head is to Arsenalna Metro Station.
This is actually the deepest station in the world at a whopping 105.5m deep.
Opened in 1960, it doesn’t actually seem that deep when you step off the train and begin the steep elevator ride up to ground level.
However, even with the elevator moving at a good speed you quickly realise it’s going to take you a significant amount of time to reach the top of the first level before you realise that there’s then a whole other level to go as well!
#8 Wander to Hydropark Island
I’m not sure if it’s because of the Soviet Era in Ukraine or in spite of it, but there’s no denying that this is a city with a heck of a lot of green spaces.
And perhaps coming in on top has to be one of the islands lying in the River Dnipro that divides the city.
Coming here for a swim in the river with locals or to relax away on some of the island’s beaches is one of the best things to do in Kyiv for sure.
Ignore the awful fairgrounds when you get off at the metro station and keep walking – it’s easy to find a patch of peace and solitude away from the cheap and tacky parts.
So fitting with this city’s very classical and sophisticated ambience, is the fact that Kyiv has some utterly amazing places to eat.
And this is something the locals definitely like to do.
But it’s not just all about airs and graces here, because Kyiv also has a very authentic and down to earth feel that is represented in its culinary offerings too.
For vegetarians, choices can be somewhat limited, but taking one of the many salads that seem to be offered everywhere, along with some vegetable-stuffed varenyky is a great option across the city.
And needless to say, Kyiv being Kyiv, it’s incredibly cheap to eat out here too.
One of the best options around, although not necessarily the cheapest, is a restaurant called Kanapa that does traditional Ukrainian food with a twist.
Otherwise, when it comes to more relaxed places with a great vibe – it’s hard to beat local favourite Milk Bar.
And of course, you can’t have eating without drinking, and in Kyiv there’s plenty to drink to!
From amazing coffee outlets on every street to homemade vodka in just about every restaurant – pretty much whatever you want to drink they’ve got it!
In fact, the food and drink, along with cultural and outdoor spaces of Kyiv make this one of the most livable cities I’ve been to in Eastern Europe.
#11 Day Trip to Pirogovo Park
And if you are spending a decent amount of time in Kyiv, then you may well be able to day trip out of the city too.
While you can head to Chernobyl – it’s a long day trip that involves at least 2 hours+ driving in each direction, which I just wasn’t up for during my time in Kyiv.
Instead, I opted to go to Pirogovo Park – which was the perfect outing for a sunny Sunday, given I was visiting there with a local family.
This large open space is essentially a huge outdoor museum of folk architecture.
Sounds a bit weird, but the life-sized model houses here show the diversity of Ukrainian culture across the country’s many regions, which is actually fascinating.
There’s also plenty of opportunities to just stroll in the sunshine, walk through forests, eat local food and generally get involved in a very authentic activity that Kyiv residents seem to revel in!
#12 Hang in a Park
But don’t worry if you can’t make it as far as this, as I’ve said multiple times, Kyiv has more green and outdoor public spaces than you can shake a stick at and the hard thing isn’t going to be finding one, but deciding between them.
Most popular and with some great views across the river, Mariinskiy Park is an eternal favourite and heading here is certainly one of the best things to do in Kyiv.
Otherwise, the quirky Children’s Landscape Park along Peizazhna Alley is nice for a stroll and again has some great views.
#13 Marvel at Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra
And last, but not least on my list of the 13 most amazing things to do in Kyiv, Ukraine is to head to Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra.
The holiest site for Orthodox Christians in the Slavic countries of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, any visit here will be accompanied by hundreds of pilgrims, who seem to outnumber the tourists.
This gives an amazing feel to the whole place, which is spectacular enough anyway with its gold-domed roofs, hilltop setting and river views.
I’d suggest visiting this spot at sunset when the crowds are much thinner, you can then experience the evening mass and the golden light of the fading day illuminating the monastery like something out of a fairytale.
And if you want to take a guided tour to get the most out of your trip to this Kyiv highlight, then this excellent tour comes highly recommended.
How to Get to Kyiv?
Kyiv is situated in the east of Ukraine and, as such, is quite far from the other capitals of neighbouring countries.
Given this, it’s likely you’ll be flying into Ukraine, which has 2 large international airports.
As always, I recommend checking Skyscanner when it comes to bagging yourself the best flight deal.
Alternatively, if you’re arriving into Kyiv from elsewhere in Ukraine, then this country’s train network is excellent, cheap and efficient.
How Long to Spend in Ukraine?
Which brings me to my next point – namely how long should you spend in Kyiv?
Well, given the size of this city, as well as the amount of things there are to do in Kyiv, I suggest allowing at least 3-4 days for your itinerary here.
And when it comes to visiting, there’s no doubt that summer is the peak time, but with things getting crazy hot here and many of the city residents fleeing, I’d actually suggest autumn as a great time to visit Kyiv.
I spent 5 days in this city in October and with beautiful blue skies and not a cloud in the sky the whole time, it was an epic time to visit.
Best Budget Accommodation in Kyiv
Without a doubt, the best budget accommodation in Kyiv can be found at Hostel Factory.
As the name suggests, this place is a quirky, low-key joint – but the staff here are so friendly and accommodating that it totally makes it a great choice!
My private room was also very comfortable and the price exceptional, plus the guest kitchen and lounge space are a welcome find!
If you would like something with more space and privacy however, then check out this great apartment in the city centre which offers incredible value for money.
4 Essential Packing Items for Ukraine
#1 Good Camera – You will be pretty much snapping non-stop during your time in Kyiv and will need a good camera to do this gorgeous city justice. I highly recommend the Sony A6000, which I use for all my travels and love, not least because it’s light, compact and robust!
#2 Good Walking Shoes – There will be a lot of walking in Lviv, it’s as simple as that! Make sure your feet are comfortable therefore with a pair of New Balance Trainers. Perfect for stylish city strolling as much as monastery mounting, I love mine.
#3 Good Guidebook – I’m still a massive fan of the Lonely Planet Guidebooks and do think their Ukraine edition is well put together. Able to save you a lot of money if you want to learn about the history of this part of the world, but not continually pay for a guide, getting the eBook is a great way to keep your luggage weight down too!<
#4 Good Backpack – And to carry your camera and guidebook, you’re going to need a decent backpack that will help you balance the weight as you walk and sightsee. In my opinion, you can’t go past the Bobby Anti Theft Backpack, which is also perfect for helping you avoid pickpockets.
Travel Insurance for Ukraine
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
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So there you have it, the 13 most amazing things to do in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
One of the most authentic and surprising in cities I’ve ever visited, I’d definitely recommend getting this capital on your bucket list soon, especially if the prices are a major factor for you.
Honestly, I think I’ve never been to a cheaper European country in my life… and I’ve been to a few!
Have you been to Kyiv?
Let me know about your experience in the comments box below…