Ukraine’s capital is a green metropolis on flowing hills next to the Dnieper River. In the middle ages Kiev was the capital of an enormous state occupying a big tranche of Eastern Europe, and you can enter monasteries and cathedrals stemming from this golden age.
There’s no denying that Kiev has seen some tough times, from the Mongol invasion from the east in 1240, to the Nazis attacking from the west in the Second World War. These moments are part of Kiev’s identify and remembered with colossal memorials like the Motherland Monument.
But the city has always rebounded, as it did in the 19th century when it sprouted the many Baroque churches that pierce the skyline. Today, Kiev has 21st century history to retrace at Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the site of momentous demonstrations in 2004 and again in 2014.
Let’s explore the Best things to do in Kiev:
1. Kiev Pechersk Lavra
One of the most important sites in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the World Heritage Pechersk Lavra is a marvellous complex of churches, bell towers and subterranean caves.
It can take around four hours to see everything, and you may need an English guided tour to get the most out of Pechersk Lavra.
Beginning in the 11th century, the oldest portions of this complex are underground, in two man-made cave systems, Near and Far.
If you’re planning to go below, try to arrive before the crowds as you’ll descend into a rather confined and bewildering space with a taper candle to light your way.
Canonised monks like Nestor the Chronicler used to live in cells, and are now preserved as mummified, imperishable relics.
Women have to observe a pretty strict dress code that entails covering your hair and wearing a skirt.
2.Taras Shevchenko Park
Something that bears repeating is just how green the centre of Kiev is: You can whole quarters of the city without leaving tree cover.
One of the prettiest parks is Taras Shevchenko Park, fronting the Taras Shevchenko National University and a popular hangout for students.
But they’re not the only ones who meet-up here, as older citizens gather for boisterous games of chess that can get very heated.
Little ones can take pony rides, and you can also see the statue of Taras Shevchenko surrounded by flowerbeds.
This 19th-century writer and polymath has had an enormous influence on Ukrainian culture and helped to shape the modern Ukrainian language.
2.St Cyril’s Monastery
If you want to browse one of Kiev’s exquisite churches without being jostled by tourists, this beautiful monument needs to be on your list.
St Cyril’s is a little way from the centre of the city and requires a metro and trolleybus ride.
But what greets you at the end of the journey is a monastery and church harking back to the Kievan Rus’. The church’s Ukrainian Baroque facade is from the 18th-century and conceals a 12th-centrury interior, the only one in Kiev that hasn’t required major interventions.
The many original frescos are bright and sharp after a restoration in the 1970s.
Go upstairs to the gallery for a closer look at the image of the Transfiguration on the ceiling.
3.National Opera House
It’s not often that you can visit a capital city and decide on a whim to watch Madame Butterfly, Rigoletto or Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.
But that’s exactly what you can do at the National Opera House, and compared to the rest of Europe tickets cost next to nothing.
A seat in the stalls will cost around 500 Hryvnia, €18, and it’s even less in the balcony.
The building is magnificent as well, built in the Academic style over the turn of the 20th century after its predecessor burnt down.
If you’re staying at a hotel you can ask your concierge to book tickets if there’s more than a day’s notice, or you can go to the box office on the day.
4.One Street Museum
It’s hard not to be enchanted by Andriyivskyy Descent, and all the stories associated with this famous street.
If you’re thirsty for more information there’s a museum near the bottom.
The museum has been cleverly designed to recreate the atmosphere of the street at the dawn of the 20th century.
There are more than 7,000 exhibits in the showcases, and it’s a crazy miscellany of artefacts, from vintage postcards to sketches, antique Bulgakov editions, photographs, costumes, tableware, newspaper cuttings and antique typewriters.
There are insights about the noteworthy people who have lived on the street, the history of St Andrew’s Church, and the castle built by Richard the Lionheart that once crowned the hill.
5.State Aviation Museum
Situated inside the old terminal building for Zhulyany Airport, the State Aviation Museum is a few kilometres southwest of the city centre.
Anyone with an eye for aircraft or Soviet hardware will be in heaven here.
The museum opened in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of the first manned flight.
It’s the second largest museum of its kind in former Soviet countries and has a growing fleet of aircraft, which numbered over 70 at the last count.
You can inspect Ilyushins, Antonovs, Sukhois, Tupolevs, Yakovlevs and of course, aircraft produced by the fabled Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau (MiGs). The size of some of the helicopters may catch you by surprise, like the Mi-24, which is both a gunship and a transport for eight passengers.
6.Mikhail Bulgakov Museum
One of the most acclaimed Russian writers of the 20th century was born and grew up in Kiev.
His fine late-19th-century house on Andriyivskyy Descent is now a museum about his life and novels.
What makes the house so engrossing is that it inspired the home of the Turbins in the novel the White Guard, and the play The Days of the Turbins that came after.
The house is filled with Bulgakov’s possessions, and where replicas have been used they have been painted white.
At the end of a
7.St Volodymyr’s Cathedral
Kiev has many churches, monasteries and cathedrals now run as museums, but St Volodymyr’s Cathedral is a functioning place of worship where you can observe Eastern Orthodox services.
These happen twice a day on weekdays (08:00 and 17:00) and three times on Saturday and Sunday (07:00, 10:00 and 17:00). Easy to spot for its yellow facade, St Volodymyr’s is the mother cathedral of the Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Eastern Orthodox Church.
The architecture is 19th-century Neo-Byzantine, and many of the frescoes were painted by the feted Russian Romantic Nationalist Viktor Vasnetsov.
When the St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery was pulled down in the 1930s the relics of St Barbara were moved here, where they remain today.
Kiev’s riverfront merchant’s quarter and former city centre was razed by fire at the start of the 19th century and rebuilt on a grid system.
To get there you could catch the funicular down from St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, which will drop you in a neighbourhood that was saved from major damage in the Second World War so looks jus as it did more a century ago.
Podil is a hip, cultural area, boasting Ukraine’s most prestigious university and lots of places to dine out.
Among the big sights are the spacious Poshtova Ploscha (Postal Square) next to the funicular station, and Kontraktova Ploscha (Cotracts Square), named for the Contracts House trading hall.
On this square look for the 18th-century Fountain of Samson, comprising a sculpture of Samson slaying the lion under a handsome rotunda.
A gathering point and upmarket shopping street, Khreshchatyk ties the Maidan to the rest of Kiev.
This thoroughfare was almost obliterated in the Second World War, and was rebuilt in the Soviet Neoclassical style.
One of the neat things about Khreshchatyk is that during weekends and public holidays road traffic is prohibited and the street fills with families and couples strolling along and checking out the many street performers.
All of the major international retailers are on Khreshchatyk and there’s an wide choice of cafes, restaurants and ice cream shops, with outdoor terraces where you can sit and watch everyone going about their day.
Look out for the palatial TSUM department store, a Kiev institution, as well as the Ukrainian House convention centre and the lively Kiev Passage side street.
10.Pirogovo – Kiev Museum of Folk Architecture and Life
A perfect document of Ukrainian folk culture awaits at a sprawling open-air museum on the southern outskirts of the city.
Rural architecture from six different Ukrainian regions has been moved to this site and reassembled in six distinct villages.
There are more than 300 buildings, from churches to dwellings to workshops, in a living museum where you can watch time-honoured crafts in action like forging, weaving and pottery.
The museum was founded in 1969 and over time has amassed some 70,000 artefacts.
On show in old rustic buildings are glassware, ceramics, costume, metalwork, woodwork, embroidery and carpets, all opening a window on folk crafts and culture in days gone by.