I thought spending four days in Kyiv might be too much, but it turns out, there’s a lot more to do in Kyiv than I anticipated. From historical walking tours to art and theater, Kyiv has plenty of activities to keep you entertained even on a long visit.
Take a free walking tour (or five of them)
Kyiv is much bigger than I anticipated and has quite a complex history dating back from ancient times to as recently as the last decade. City walking tours take advantage of this by offering a variety of different routes that have a different neighborhood or historical focus. One popular company that runs tours every day of the year is Kiev Free Tours. They offer tours about ancient Kyiv, the Ukrainian revolution, the downtown area of Kyiv, among others. We intended to take the revolution tour but couldn’t find the meeting spot. If you Google the meeting point (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), it will send you to the arch of St. Michael the Archangel, which is at the end of the square next to the glass Globus dome. However, the meeting point is in front of the tall monument with a globe on top of it in front of the central post office. I wish someone had clarified that for us and the couple that was waiting with us for 15 minutes in the cold.
We ended up taking an afternoon Soviet walking tour of Kyiv with Kiev Walking Tours. They also offer an ancient Kyiv tour, a tour of Podil, and a mysterious Kyiv tour that runs in the evenings in addition to other paid walking tours of the city or the surrounding area. Each of these tours allows you to see a different side of Kyiv and learn a little bit about its history. On our Soviet tour, we were able to get some background on some Kyiv’s nicest buildings that aren’t exactly open to tourists like Mariyinsky Palace and the House with Chimaeras, which is an official presidential residence.
Visit the beautiful churches
Kyiv has a huge number of gorgeous religious buildings, many of which are surrounded by sprawling grounds that serve as parks. They don’t call Kyiv the City of Domes for nothing. If you don’t want to get churched out, I will recommend two of the best churches to visit in the city, one of which is free to enter and the second of which is one of the most important and the most bang for your buck. Down the boulevard from St. Sophia’s Cathedral, you will spot a blue gold-domed complex. That is St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. Unlike St. Sophia’s it is free to enter and the interior is beautiful so I highly recommend it.
Outside of that, the best religious complex in Kyiv is the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (shown above), an important monastic complex where you can visit the bell tower, catacombs, and various exhibits. The basic entrance fee (80 UAH) gives you access to some of the exhibits and interiors and the bell tower, from which you can see the river as well as the Motherland Monument from the nearby park. Despite the fact that we paid a basic entrance, we were also given access to the printing exhibition for free. The entire complex is huge and there aren’t really clear directions or signs about where to go, so I recommend you try every door to see if they’ll let you in. There are some great hidden gems around the grounds.
Go to an art museum
Right across from the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, you’ll find the Mystetskyi Arsenal National Art and Culture Museum. It was inexplicably closed to visitors when we went, which is a shame because the exhibits and museum space both look amazing. If you find that they’re open, you could easily spend the majority of the day in this area of Kyiv between a visit to the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra and the art museum with a stop for lunch in between. You can find a variety of other art museums closer to city center including the PinchukArtCenter, which is free to visit and is one of the largest contemporary art centers in Ukraine.
Check out the lavish metro stations
Russia is famous for its stunningly ornate metro stations, but when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, the Kyiv metro was the third system to be designed after St. Petersburg and Moscow. So riding the metro can be a bit of a treat if you like subway platforms that look like they belong in a palace. Though I don’t recommend going out of your way to ride the busy metro system just to see a station, if your sightseeing takes you to any of these areas of the city, you might want to stop and take a look around underground. Some of the best stations are: Zoloti vorota, Universytet, Olimpiiska, Lybidska, and Kreschatyk.
See Park Landscape Alley
Park Landscape Alley is a long walkway overlooking a park where you’ll find tons of colorful mosaic sculptures, including entire playgrounds in the unique style. Indicated on Google Maps as a tourist attraction, the location shown is entirely the wrong place. You can find the true walking route on the map labeled Peizazhna Alley. If you’re looking for the Petit Prince statue that is part of Park Landscape Alley, I will simplify your life by giving you the coordinates: 50.456496, 30.515521. You can also get close to the spot by visiting the Children Landscape Park, which does appear on Google Maps. From there, you can take the walkway west to see the rest of the sculptures.
Take the funicular
The historic Kyiv funicular connects Uppertown to the lower neighborhood of Podil. It costs the same as a metro ride and if you already have a Smart Card with rides loaded, you can use it to get on funicular. The funicular gives you a brief bird’s eye view of the lower neighborhood and the river, but it will save you a lot of uphill walking, and will take you up to Volodymyrska Hill, where great views are all around you. This is a great spot to see the Volodymyr the Great Monument which overlooks the pedestrian bridge over the Dnieper River. From this spot, you can also walk to the Friendship of Nations Arch, which commemorated the friendship between Russia and Ukraine. Since the annexation of Crimea, the massive arch has been modified with a crack in it.
Eat. Eat a lot
Ukrainian food is nice and hearty, and your craving for a good bowl of borscht will probably stay with you long after you leave Kyiv. We found some of the best Ukrainian food and an unbelievable atmosphere at Pervak, a huge restaurant that consists of several themed rooms including a library and an Old Lviv hall. Though it sounds corny and touristy, we were surprised by the number of locals having lunch there until we tried the food. If you want your dinner with a show, try the Ukrainian fare at Korchma Taras Bulba, where they have traditional dance and a menu catered to tourists.
Outside of Ukrainian cuisine, I highly recommend getting some Georgian food while you’re in Ukraine. The best we had was at Sanatrelo, though the wine there was pricier than most of our meals. For breakfast, we had some spectacular coffee and pancakes at the Blue Cup Coffee Shop. This trendy spot is full of people even late into the night, so you can also stop here for cake as a nightcap.
Go to the opera
If you like theater, visiting Kyiv is a good way to catch a show without breaking the bank. Even if you bought the cheapest tickets at the National Opera of Ukraine, the interior of the building alone is worth the price of admission. The seats are uncomfortable and the view can be highly obscured but I can’t think of any other place in the world where I could see The Nutcracker from box seats. Bring cash for snacks and drinks at the bar and treat yourself.
Take advantage of the nightlife
Not the cold, rain, or snow stops Ukrainians from enjoying a good night out. We arrived in Kyiv on a Friday night and the number of people out drunk was almost overwhelming. Buying a forty at a convenience store and drinking it on the street just off Independence Square isn’t really my scene, but Kyiv has something for everyone.
One of the most exciting aspects of Kyiv nightlife is the number of craft cocktail and speakeasy bars. The Last Barricade is one such highly recommended destination. It’s also a restaurant that often has live music. Because of its location in an old revolution-era barricade, sometimes visitors get behind-the-scenes tours of the place. The rest of us are just lucky enough to get in. You can find it by hitting the 0b floor on the Globus mall elevator, but you need a password to get into the place (If we fight, we will win). You’re welcome. Another hidden speakeasy is Paravoz Speakeasy, which is in the cellar of the cinema building where you can find a Prohibition-era atmosphere and stiff drinks to match.
The Podil area is also buzzing with nightlife choices whether your poison is liquor (Pink Freud), beer (Drunken Monkey) or wine (Win Bar). Pubs and lounges are everywhere within a short few blocks in Podil. Most are affordable and have a comfortable unique vibe to them. The business owners of Kyiv don’t skimp on vibe when they design a place. Do note that many of the best places to get a drink don’t open until the afternoon or evening, so if you like to get a buzz going before the sun sets, you’ll have to day drink at a regular restaurant.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Kyiv guides on GPSmyCity here.