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11 of the best things to do in Kiev, Ukraine

Ukraine's capital Kiev has many sights to explore, beyond its Chernobyl day trips: quirky art, panoramic views, nature walks in the city, and multi-coloured churches and cathedrals to admire...

St Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine (Dreamstime)

Kiev is an unusual city. Vast and busy, but surprisingly quiet. A bit aloof. It feels a million miles away from other great capitals of Europe, and you won't see many visitors. Still, there’s a bit of a London Underground vibe when it comes to getting around on public transport. 

Much of the country is religious, so the grand cathedrals and churches that brighten Kiev’s grey streets and squares are not just for travellers to gawk at (though they are undeniably gawk-worthy). The city is full of history, too; it’s Soviet past and the recent present. Eastern Ukraine is, as of early 2019, still at war with Russia – in late 2018, the presence of soldiers in uniform was noticeable in parks, and in busier areas (where you may be asked for a donation or two).

Kiev has plenty to offer travellers, as there’s plenty of things to do, and majestic landmarks to see. In fact, you could easily spend four or five days in Kiev, and still find there’s more to explore.

Here are the 11 best things to do while in Kiev, Ukraine…

1. See Rodina Mat, aka The Motherland Monument

The Motherland Monument in Kiev, Ukraine (Dreamstime)

The Motherland Monument in Kiev, Ukraine (Dreamstime)

The Motherland Monument, also known as Rodina Mat Statue, is something to look at. 102m tall, pure stainless steel, and if you’re lucky, glistening in the sun, her shield and sword held high and proud. 

Oddly, you can climb inside her head and look out of her eyes, for a bit of extra cash – though this option isn’t always available.

You don’t really need to, though. The view from the ground in the park of the Museum of The History of Ukraine in World War II, where she stands, is impressive enough. You can see over the Dnieper river, and more residential area of the city.

The park also houses many army tanks, planes, war memorials, and several soviet buildings – a must for anyone with any interest in Ukraine's Soviet Union past.

2. Play in Pejzazna Alley

The mosaic wall art at Pejzazna Alley, Kiev (Dreamstime)

The mosaic wall art at Pejzazna Alley, Kiev (Dreamstime)

Also known as Landscape Alley or Park Landscape, take a walk along a street of delightfully weird and quirky mosaic walls and sculptures.

There are children’s parks along the way, but plenty for grown-up visitors to see, too. The big blue cats with open mouths along the walls of the park are particularly fun, and are wide enough to stand in for that memorable photograph.

If quirky is not really your thing, there are killer panoramic views from the nearby grassy area (a little obscured by trees, but still…), and a long maze-like staircase to take you further down into the city.

3. Wander down (not up) Andriyivskyy Descent 

Andriyivskyy Descent, approaching St Andrew's Church, Kiev (Dreamstime)

Andriyivskyy Descent, approaching St Andrew's Church, Kiev (Dreamstime)

Close by to Pejzazna Alley is the Andriyivskyy Descent, a famous hill known for it’s arty stores, flea markets, occasional bursts of street art, and the stunning, turquoise St Andrew's church.

For an experienced hiker, this hill won’t present much of a challenge. For a traveller better accustomed to flat ground, you’ll definitely want to walk down the Descent, and not up it.

4. Admire St Sophia's Cathedral

St Sophia's Cathedral Square, in Kiev, Ukraine (Dreamstime)

St Sophia's Cathedral Square, in Kiev, Ukraine (Dreamstime)

St Sophia's is a majestic cathedral and bell tower, built in the 11th century, and rightfully placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

It’s worth the (very reasonable) entry price alone just to get away from trekking through the city for a few minutes, to sit and enjoy the peaceful cathedral gardens.

Especially stunning in pretty autumnal weather, as the grounds fill with red, yellow and orange leaves, and during sunnier moments.

5. Descend Arsenalna Metro

Deep down the deepest rabbit hole in the world, aka Arsenalna Metro, Kiev (Dreamstime)

Deep down the deepest rabbit hole in the world, aka Arsenalna Metro, Kiev (Dreamstime)

Many of Kiev’s metros (incredibly cheap, and the easiest way to get around) have long, long, long descents to take you to the platform.

They’re all noteworthy, but Arsenalna is the deepest metro station in the world. Fortunately, it’s fairly central – so you may well see it by accident while you’re exploring Kiev.

6. Marvel at St Volodymyr’s Cathedral

St Volodymyr's Cathedral, in Kiev, Ukraine (Dreamstime)

St Volodymyr's Cathedral, in Kiev, Ukraine (Dreamstime)

A little out of the way, by Teatralna metro station, is St Volodymyr’s cathedral: an unmissable yellow amongst greyer surroundings.

When the bells are running, and a service is underway, make sure to be respectful as you’re exploring the grounds, or taking photos.

7. Unearth hidden gems at Petrovka Flea Market

A flea market in Kiev, Ukraine (Dreamstime)

A flea market in Kiev, Ukraine (Dreamstime)

If you’re looking to go beyond the city’s tick list of cathedrals and monuments, head further out towards Obolon metro station, where you'll find a not-so-noteworthy retail district with petrol stations, supermarkets and a typical mall.

That's during weekdays. On weekends, you'll find market stalls filled with books, magazines, and a few other gems – plus a flea market that stretches across a road, and contains everything from knick knacks and clothes, to Soviet memorabilia, and more.

8. Explore Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square)

A view of Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine, from a height  (Dreamstime)

A view of Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine, from a height (Dreamstime)

Sometimes referred to as Maidan, Independence Square is Kiev's main square, located on its main shopping street. It was given its name in 1991, to celebrate Ukraine's independence from the USSR in August of the same year.

Independence Square is a lively centre point for the city, and where you're most likely to see other visitors. There have also been many political protests here.

For travellers, there are several monuments to see, including statues of Kiev's founders.

9. Shop like the locals on Khreschatyk

Khreschatyk in the rain, Kiev (Dreamstime)

Khreschatyk in the rain, Kiev (Dreamstime)

Shopping probably won’t be the first thing on your mind while visiting Kiev. But Khreschatyk is likely Kiev’s equivalent to Oxford Street, and you'll already be there if you go to Independence Square. So, definitely worth a peek.

Expect a few familiar shop names, but also a few cheap-and-easy places to eat, that locals frequent: Puzata Hata, a buffet-style restaurant, and famous hot dog stand Kyivska Perepichka. The further you walk, you may even come across more market-style stands and the locals’ food market, on certain days.

(The downside of Khreschatyk, to be aware of, is the possibility that men on the street may try to encourage you to take photos with animals, birds of prey or even monkeys. Keep your head down to avoid encouraging them, as they’re a bit pushy.) 

10. Stroll through Mariinsky Park and Lover’s Bridge 

An autumn walk through Mariinsky Park, Kiev (Elizabeth Atkin)

An autumn walk through Mariinsky Park, Kiev (Elizabeth Atkin)

Ahh, Lover’s Bridge. A maroon-red padlock bridge, hidden between a winding and sprawling park.

There are several lovely statues to admire, and benches to sit on and watch the world go by. On the bridge floor, there are messages about love in many different language. An ideal place for couples travelling together.

Follow Mariinsky Park through and you’ll find your way back to Independence Square, but not before coming across the magnificent Arch of Diversity, and spotting the golden Kiev Elephant near another – and in our opinion, one of the loveliest – views over the city.

11. Experience the Chernobyl and Pripyat Exclusion Zone

The view of abandoned Pripyat from the roof of an empty apartment block (Elizabeth Atkin)

The view of abandoned Pripyat from the roof of an empty apartment block (Elizabeth Atkin)

An obvious one, but a must-do day tour if you have a few days in Kiev. About 2 hours away from city via bus, wake up early and gear yourself up for some walking.

The impact of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in 1986 was catastrophic, and there’s a lot of abandoned ground in the exclusion zone to cover.

You'll need an organised tour to take you beyond the barriers, but most tours will follow the same stops. You'll be taken into the town of Chernobyl – where surprisingly, a fair few people still live and work.

You’ll eat there, and move to visit Pripyat, parts of which are still incredibly high radiation zones. You’ll also visit the nuclear plant, which is still in use today. If you like, you can stay in a Chernobyl hotel overnight.

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