We haven’t met too many people who place Kyiv (Ukrainian pronunciation) or Kiev (Russian pronunciation and what most visitors refer to it as), Ukraine at the top of their travel wish list. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the fact that I grew up in the city (although many years back, 1986-2000 to be precise) and that I still have a lot of family living in the city, I’m not really sure that we would’ve made our way to Kiev either. But we are so glad that we did!
Kiev has always played an important cultural role not only as a capital of Ukraine but for all of Eastern Europe. But many decades under the Soviet government rule left a significant mark on the architectural and cultural condition of the city. Combine that with news of unrest and political instability that not so long ago was blanketing the newspapers all over the world and you may be left with a feeling of doubt when it comes to a trip to Kiev.
Let us take a minute to debunk the myths:
- Kiev is safe: potentially safer now than before the tragic events in February of 2014 with the increased number of police patrolling the streets 24/7.
- Kiev is easy to navigate: Thanks to the UEFA Euro Cup which took place in Kiev in 2012, signs with English translation or at the very minimum Latin transliterations are present in the metro and at most sights and attractions in the city centre
- Kiev is tourist-friendly: While you won’t find too many older citizens able to converse with you in English, the younger generation, and certainly lots of those working in the service/hospitality industry will have some knowledge of English to be able to assist you when needed.
Kiev is an awesome destination for budget travelers looking to get off the beaten path and explore a destination that isn’t teeming with tourists (yet!). It’s cheap, it’s beautiful, it’s fascinating, it’s rich in culture, and is a great place for those looking for a crazy party!
Not a ton of travelers make it to Kiev, but those that do, really love it!
Best Time to Visit Kiev
As with many other Eastern European capitals, the best time to visit Kiev is in the summer, when the sun is shining, the locals are on holidays, and the entire city seems to come alive with activities and entertainment.
But avoid visiting Kiev in July and August, as according to the Best Time To Go website, those two months see the most rainfall compared to the rest of the year.
Shoulder season, April and September, are great alternatives. The temperatures hover around 20C, offering very pleasant conditions for walking around the city.
Top Things to Do in Kiev
Kiev’s main attractions are primarily those of architectural and historical significance. Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, St Andrew’s Church, St Volodymyr’s Cathedral, and St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery are just a few of many cathedrals and churches you can admire in Kiev. Each one is beautiful in their own way and, if time permits, deserves a visit. This list of Kiev’s Churches & Cathedrals on Best of Ukraine, can serve as a great guide. The website provides a brief description of Kiev’s main churches and plots each one of them on the map, making it possible for you to go on your own tour of Kiev’s Churches.
One of our favourite things to do in Kiev, was exploring Andriyivsky Uzviz (Andriyivsky Descent), also known as Kiev’s Montmartre. This is one of the oldest and most beautiful places in the city. The street is lined with art and craft vendors, vintage stalls, quaint shops and small bars/restaurants. It’s super touristy (you won’t find too many locals there), but it’s a great place to pick up some souvenirs and admire local artists in action.
From there, we recommend that you head to the heart of the city, the famous Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), located on Khreshchatyk Street. Maidan is a regular site for events, festivals and celebrations, however it has over the years served as the heart of the political demonstrations, like the Orange Revolution back in 2004 and the more recent Euromaidan protests that led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.
The next attraction that we recommend you visit, is the Rodina Mat (Mother of the Fatherland), a giant 62 meter / 203 ft statue that towers over the Kiev. In his article about Kiev, Johnny from One Step 4Ward, says that the 62m metallic Rodina Mat will blow your mind. Although, its impressiveness is somewhat lost on me (The apartment where I grew up in Kiev offered unobstructed views of the statue)
If museums are your thing, there are over 60 to check out in Kiev. National Art Museum of Ukraine, Ukrainian Museum of Historical Treasures and the Ukrainian State of Aviation Museum are the most significant ones, but you can follow this guide to Kiev’s museums for a larger list of the museums worth visiting.
Where to Stay in Kiev
When it comes to finding accommodation in Kiev, we suggest basing yourself as close to the city centre (i.e. Khreshchatyk Street) as possible. This area is known as Shevchenkivskyi district. This will allow you to have easy access to the major sights in Kiev, and a variety of afés, bars, restaurants, and shops. Area to Stay also suggests Pechersk as good districts to consider for your stay.
You can find accommodation in the city centre for as little as $5-10/night in a hostel or $15/20 a night in a hotel. But don’t be surprised to find some steeply priced accommodation in this part of the city as well. Luxury hotels targeting well-off business travelers are all the rave in Kiev these days.
Airbnb is starting to gain popularity in Kiev and offers a great alternative for budget travelers. You can find over 300 accommodation options to choose from all conveniently located right in the heart of the city. There is everything from a lovely basic apartment for as little as $30 to a luxurious New York style glamour studio for as little as $100/night.
Don’t have an Airbnb account yet? Sign up now and receive USD $20 to put towards your first Airbnb stay!
Where to Eat & Drink in Kiev
Ukrainian cuisine is pretty darn delicious, so don’t forget to eat your heart out while in Kiev. When it came to eating out in Kiev during our visit, we always followed local’s advice. Start with this list of Top 10 Restaurants in Kiev as Recommended by Locals and the Culture Trip’s The 10 Best Restaurants in Kiev, but don’t be afraid to explore beyond.
If you ask the locals where to eat on a budget, many of them will mention Puzata Hata (literally translated as Chubby Home), the largest chain of colorful Ukrainian cuisine restaurants found in Kiev and in Ukraine’s other major cities. Some will tell you it’s great food, others will say that it depends on location. There are 9 restaurants across the city, so there is bound to be one in close proximity to your hotel. It’s a bit of an institution in Kiev at the moment, so try it and judge for yourself.
Eating out in Kiev is incredibly cheap. A meal at a mid-tier restaurant like Puzata Hata might cost you $2-3/person. And even if you choose to dine at the most highly rated establishments, your meal will most likely only set you back by $20.
When night falls, there are no shortage of places to carry on night-time entertainment. Drinks are cheap, the crowd is hip and modern and not to mention very beautiful! To quote the author of the Culture Trip’s article The 10 Best Bars in Kiev, “…as a huge city with a young population, it is rife with trendy bars, from art-centric locales to high-end cocktail lounges…”. And it’s absolutely true. If there is one city in Ukraine that knows how to party – it’s Kiev. You’ll find everything from Asian-style glitz and glamour bar like “Buddha Bar”, to Russian army military bunker-themed dive bar “The Bunker”. Kiev4Tourists has the full list.
How Much Time Do You Need in Kiev
You don’t need to spend a long time in Kiev to see a lot of its major sights and get a taste for the Ukrainian culture. In our opinion, Kiev is a perfect city to visit for a long weekend, because 3-4 days here is really all you need.
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