Ukraine, and its beautiful capital Kiev, are some of the most unique and amazing places to visit in Europe.
When I first visited Ukraine in 2013 the country was in the midst of a national crisis on its Eastern border. Protests were still going on in Kiev well my girlfriend and I wandered around the tourist sites.
The last time I was in Ukraine was 2017. They were notably more tourists and the infrastructure was visibly improved. The city, Ukraine’s largest, is quickly building itself up onto the global stage.
While not as off the beaten path as it once was, Kiev is an incredible place to visit. The city has a rich history and heaps of historic/cultural attractions waiting to be discovered.
It’s unfortunately common speaking to other travelers and hearing that they’re worried about visiting Ukraine, wondering whether or not it’s safe to visit. Thankfully, the conflict in Donbas and the Eastern part of the country have little impact on tourism and life in Kiev.
Ukraine is Europe’s biggest country with all of its problems happening hundreds of kilometers away from the places most people will be visiting. Strolling through the capital I felt safer and more at ease compared to places like Paris and London.
That’s not to say there aren’t problems going on in Kiev, but you’re unlikely to experience them as a tourist or short-term visitor. It seems that everywhere you look new shops, cafes, restaurants are opening up.
People are trying their hardest to start their own businesses and make legitimate money. This has resulted in a new generation of Ukrainian entrepreneurs across the whole country.
While i’d love to keep ranting about how amazing Kiev is, I know that’s not what you’re here for. In this post let’s take a look at the top things to do in Kiev, Ukraine so that you can make the most of your time during your visit.
Don’t forget to scroll down to the bottom of this post for Kiev travel tips and my personal recommendations for accommodation.
The Best Things to do in Kiev, Ukraine
Close to the Pechersk Lavra complex is the stunning St. Sophia Cathedral. This Cathedral is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kiev.
There’s no doubting the beauty of the exterior of the cathedral. It’s jaw-droppingly beautiful and one of the most picturesque cathedrals in the city.
However, the real beauty of St. Sophia’s is found inside. As you make your way into the Cathedral you’re almost immediately presented with a series of incredible and intricately painted religious Ukrainian frescoes.
Traveling a lot, frescoes like these start to blend in with one another. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case at all with the St. Sophia frescoes in Kiev.
These have such a historic and cultural value to the people of Ukraine and need to be respected. It’s not possible to photograph or touch them to avoid any damage or early deterioration.
Tickets for the cathedral complex can be purchased at the entry gate. Consider pay the additional fee for entrance to the bell tower. The view from the top of the tower is one of the best views of Kiev!
Be respectful when you’re visiting this Cathedral. Locals are still visiting regularly for religious purposes and you don’t want to disturb or devalue their experience.
The Pechersk Lavra Complex and Cave Monastery
The Pechersk Lavra is arguably one of the most impressive and awe-inspiring Orthodox monasteries in the world. It’s also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves with the complex being a popular destination for both tourists and locals.
Speaking of the complex, the Lavra complex is one of the biggest you’ll find in this part of Europe. Entrance is ~$1.25 USD and this gives you access to all of the religious buildings, including the famous caves.
The first thing you’ll notice is the beautifully ornate entrance gate. This historic entryway has been gilded in solid gold and covered with painted religious iconography.
The Great Lavra Belltower will be the next structure to capture your attention. At one point this was the tallest bell tower in Kiev. Today, the stands at nearly 100 m in height and is typically crowded with people paying their respects.
Within the Pechersk Lavra complex are a number of historic churches. In the center is the Dormition Cathedral – one of the most historic and culturally important buildings here. This cathedral was destroyed in World War II and for the past 70 years has been painstakingly restored.
Even with all of the interesting churches and buildings in the complex, we still haven’t got to the most interesting part. The main highlight of the Pechersk Lavra complex is the labyrinthine cave monastery built into the night of the rock face adjacent to the complex.
More than 100 important Orthodox religious figures have been buried in this maze of tunnels and crypts. What’s even more unusual is that you can wander around the underground monastery and check out some of the mummified remains. Typically, these would have been priests, bishops, and other important individuals working at the complex.
This is, by far, one of the most interesting things to see in Kiev. Entrance to the monastery is free (included in your ticket) and you can pick up a candle for a small amount of local currency. The candle definitely makes the experience creepier and gives you some spooky lighting to set the tone.
Maidan Square (The Heart of Kiev)
In the center of historic Kiev is Maidan Square. This was where the majority of the Euromaidan Revolution protests were held. It’s also where the Orange Revolution in 2004 started.
It was here, back in 2013, that my girlfriend and I wandered through the square in awe of the burned-out buildings, raging fires, and protests.
This is one of the few places in Europe where such modern history was made that shaped the direction of a country. Today, Maidan Square is a calm and relaxing area full of tourists and locals having a good time.
Lining the square are a number of shops, cafe, and restaurants. There are a lot of interesting and unique places to check out in Maidan Square without having to venture too far away.
This is the meeting spot for most of the Kiev free walking tours. The square is easily accessible by public transportation and it’s within walking distance of some of the city’s best hotels.
Avoid engaging with anyone that approaches you for anything other than asking for directions. There are a lot of scams against tourists happening here that can be easily avoided by keeping to yourself.
Explore the Parks in Kiev
With so much green-space around it’s hard to avoid one of the many parks in the city when you’re looking for things to see in Kiev. There are two main parks that are worth visiting if you’re spending more than a day or two exploring the city.
The Khreschatyk Park and the Mariyinsky Park are the most impressive and they’re a great place to be if you want to spend some time relaxing away from the crowds in a quiet, peaceful and beautiful area.
Khreschatyk Park is located close to Independence Square and is well within walking distance of many of the popular landmarks. From this park you will have some incredible views of the Dnieper River and the Left Bank of the city.
There’s also the People’s Friendship Arch, an arch that was built to celebrate the healthy relationship between Ukraine and Russia and the Bridge of Love, which is a small, pedestrian bridge that people have been attaching love padlocks to.
This park is great to visit during the warmer, summer months when you can take advantage of the many outdoor cafés or just walk around in the shade of the many, older and heavily grown trees.
Mariyinsky Park is the oldest park in the city and also offers some great views over the Dnieper River. At this park there is a lovely old fountain and you can explore the stunning Mariyinsky Palace that’s located on the edge of the park.
Both parks are accessible by metro and are within walking distance of the main sights and attractions in the city.
St. Andrew’s Church
St. Andrew’s Church is another one of the more beautiful religious structures in the city. It was built during the 1750s and it’s a prime example of Baroque architecture in the region.
It’s also one of the four architectural landmarks of Ukraine, which makes it one of the most visited places in the entire country.
When you’re walking around the lower part of the city it’s hard to miss the church as it was built and currently sits high up on Andrews Hill, which overlooks much of Kiev. Both the exterior and the interior of the church are very impressive and I recommend taking about 30 minutes or so to explore the inside and take some photographs.
Today, there’s a problem with the foundation of the church and a lot of work is being done trying to stabilize the ground around the foundation and repair some of the long-term damage that the structure has sustained.
Right beside St.Andrews Church, leading down into the lower part of the city, is the Andriyisky Descent. This is a small, Steep Avenue that connects the lower and upper half of the city.
On the way down, especially if the weather is agreeable outside, you can expect to see locals selling a variety of goods from souvenirs and clothes to jams and liquor. It’s a short, but very steep walk down and along the way there is some cool street art to check out as well.
Wander Around Sculptures Alley
Built during the 1980s by Avraam Milestky, Sculptures Alley is a series of different contemporary sculptures and other quirky works of art added over the years.
It’s definitely one of the more off the beaten path things to do in Kiev but if you’re interested in art and want to see something that not too many tourists visit then I definitely recommend checking out Sculptures Alley.
If you’re travelling with children it’s also a nice place to visit because there are many play structures and interesting sculptures that children will find amusing so you’ll be able to relax while your kids run around and enjoy themselves.
The Mother Motherland Statue (Rodina Mat) and Open Air Military Museum
The Mother Motherland, known as Rodina Mat, is a monumental statue that stands more than 62m in height and towers over the entire city.
When it was finished it was the tallest statue in the entire world and now, more than 40 years later, it still dominates the Kiev skyline and is one of the most impressive monuments that I’ve ever seen.
The monument is designed after a woman, the mother of Ukraine, who is holding an enormous sword in one hand and a statue in the other. It was built as one of the many dedications to the Great Patriotic War and today it’s a very noticeable and recognizable landmark of the city.
If you’re looking for the best view of Kiev I recommend visiting this monument because there is a viewing platform on the shield that offers an incredible view of the surrounding landscape.
On the land surrounding the bottom of the monument is an open-air military museum. Here there are a collection of war machinery, tanks, weaponry, aircraft, statues and other monuments.
It’s definitely worth spending a few hours exploring and I think that this area is one of the coolest and most unique in the entire city.
Sample the Delicious Ukrainian Food
A trip to Kiev isn’t complete without loading yourself up on the delicious Ukrainian food readily available throughout the city.
Ukraine is one of those places where people are more interested in eating something local and familiar rather than rolling the dice on international cuisine.
As a Ukrainian myself, it’s easy for me to say that Ukrainian food is the best in all of Europe. All of our dishes are hearty, filling, and loaded with delicious flavors. Seriously, how can you go wrong mixing grilled meats with potatoes and sour cream?
Some of the most popular Ukrainian dishes you have to try include:
- Varenyky – This is the Ukrainian word for pierogi and you’ll find the absolute BEST perogies right here in Ukraine. If you’re not aware, it’s basically a small dump that’s a stuffed with cheese, potato, cabbage, or meat. Some places offer sweet, dessert varenyky if you’re looking for something different.
- Borscht – A classic Ukrainian staple. This is a beet-based soup made with pork and onions. It doesn’t sound that great, but toss on a spoonful of sour cream and you’re going to fall in love.
- Ukrainian BBQ – Surprisingly, they love grilled meats in Ukraine. In Kiev you’ll find a number of local grills and BBQ-type spots. If you like chicken, beef, and pork, then these are the places you have to try out!
- Deruny – these are simple and delicious potato pancakes. Deruny are available at all local restaurants and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You’ll typically find them loaded with sour cream, onions, mushrooms, or peppers.
My favorite place for Ukrainian food in Kiev was a popular local buffet called Puzata Hata. This is a self service type of restaurant that only serves traditional Ukrainian food. Expect to spend about $3 to $7 here for a full course meal.
Where to Stay in Kiev for Sightseeing and Nightlife
Visitors will have a number of options for accommodation in Kiev from luxury to budget-friendly. Compared to Western Europe and the US, prices for hotels and local accommodation are very affordable.
During my visit I stayed at the Fairmont Grand Hotel right below the historic city centre. Nightly rates were favorable at the time due to the ongoing protests.
I’d recommend checking out the Fairmont Grand Hotel in Kiev if you’re looking for something upscale and luxury during your trip. Otherwise, let’s take a look at some other options places to stay.
The best place to stay for budget hotels in Kyiv is the Sky Hostel. There are both dorms and private rooms available depending on your preferences. The location in Podil is perfect for sightseeing and the nightly rates are reasonable for a short-term stay.
Check prices, availability, reviews for the Sky Hostel here.