Kiev doesn’t sound like a top touristic destination, right? I mean, it’s the capital and largest city of Ukraine, a former Soviet Union country, still at war with Russia over its southeastern regions. Not many Ukrainians speak English, while most of the street signs are written only in Cyrillic, so you won’t understand much. Despite all the setbacks, Kiev is a beautiful city, as I discovered recently during my latest business trip, and there are many reasons to visit it. Here’s one cool fact: Kiev’s metro is one of the deepest in the world, the Arsenalna station being located at 105.5 meters below the surface!
Kiev has a long and tumultuous history behind. Past documents show that a Slavic settlement was established in the 5th century, in the same spot where the city stands today. The importance of Kiev grew significantly until the 11th century, when it reached its Golden Age, as the capital of the Kievan Rus’ (a federation covering the territory of modern Belarus, Ukraine and the European part of Russia). But following the Mongol invasion, Kiev was almost completely destroyed, and till the late 19th century, when the Russian industrial revolution occurred, it was just a city of provincial importance.
From certain aspects, the city feels European. I mean, it’s home to architectural masterpieces and modern, stylish restaurants. But then you see the imposing Soviet architecture, the tall apartment blocks, and realize that Kiev is actually a mix of styles, a place where east meets west. Nonetheless, this mixture is pretty common in most of the former communist countries from Eastern Europe, including in my home country, Romania.
How to reach the city from the airport
Kiev’s main airport, Boryspil International, is located roughly at 30 km to the east. The easiest way to reach the city center, especially if you’re not traveling alone, is with an Uber, which is more than affordable. Such a trip will cost you around ₴400 (Ukrainian hryvnia, approximately €12). There is also a bus service from Skybus, which connects the city and the airport. But the bus will drop you at Kharkivsʹka metro station, located at the outskirts of the city, so you’ll need to take the metro as well (the good news is that one trip is super cheap, just ₴8).
I’ve spent the three nights at BonApart Hotel (Druzhby Narodiv Blvd. 16), 3 km south from downtown Kiev. There was not much to complain about. The hotel was modern, had a comfy bed and, for an extra cost of ₴200, I was able to enjoy a pretty good breakfast. I disliked the combination of white and purple, used for most of the interior, which was quite kitschy. The location is fine, despite the fact that it’s a bit far from the center. The area around might feel busy and chaotic at some points, but Kiev is a safe city, so there’s no need to worry.
Guide to Kiev
Okay… so I think I’ve already mentioned that Kiev is worth a visit. Although it’s large and busy, while wandering around you’ll realize that it’s also quite relaxed. I got to the conclusion that you can do and see a lot, in just two or three days. Let’s start walking:
→ The best thing about Kiev is that it’s packed with stunning medieval churches and golden domes. I’ve always found them fascinating and eye-catching. Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves) is the cornerstone of the Slavic Orthodox Christianity. Along with the Saint Sophia Cathedral, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both have impressive bell towers, which can be climbed by visitors, and various other buildings around. As you’ve probably guessed from the name, Pechersk Lavra features multiple catacombs, dug more than 1000 years ago and open to the public.
→ Not far from the monastery, on the picturesque hills near the Dnieper river, you’ll find the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War. It is a memorial complex that occupies a huge area and hosts several striking edifices. By far, the Motherland Monument (102 meters high, base included) dominates the entire site. Since its completion in 1981, it became one of the main symbols of Kiev. There are also several statues, a giant bowl (the Flame of Glory) and three tanks, parked right in front of the museum. The whole place is a big depiction of the communist era. But still, it’s a great location for strolling and learning some history.
→ It’s time to go to the city center. Make sure to use the metro system at least once, in order to experience the escalator trip from both ends. Although it only takes a few minutes, it will feel like an eternity, trust me. And get off at Zoloti Vorota, one of the most beautiful metro stations in the world. It features chandeliers and more than 80 distinct mosaic pieces, illustrating the history of the Kievan Rus’. I advise going there late in the evening, because there are less people around, and you can better enjoy the beauty of it.
→ Zoloti Vorota actually means the Golden Gate and refers to the main gate of the fortified city, back in the 11th century. Right outside the metro station, you will spot a replica of the gate, built by the Soviet authorities in 1982, and the statue of Yaroslav the Wise.
→ Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) is the historical heart of Kiev. Known as the traditional place for political rallies, it is surrounded by massive buildings, representative for the Soviet architecture. The idea of having an underground shopping mall, Globus, that stretches from one side of the square to the other, is brilliant. Hidden somewhere in the underground passageways, The Last Barricade restaurant is a unique concept of multiple individual rooms, with interesting décor, entertaining atmosphere and tasty, affordable food. It’s also a great place to have a few drinks, as you’ll find inside a decent variety of local craft beers and Ukrainian spirits.
→ Khreshchatyk, the shortest main street in the world (just 1.2 km in length), splits the square into two unequal parts. During weekends and public holidays, the street is closed to car traffic, thus becoming fully pedestrian. Many local and state institutions can be found along the street. But the building that caught my eye, especially in the evening, was TsUM, the Central Department Store.
→ On the opposite side of Saint Sophia Cathedral is the Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, named after the patron saint of Kiev. Unfortunately, the original monastery was demolished between the World Wars, but the authorities have done a great job and brought it back to life in the 90’s. The sky blue exterior, the impressive bell tower, plus the seven golden domes of the cathedral are really captivating at first sight.
→ Not far from the monastery there’s another gem: Saint Andrew’s Church, a major example of the Baroque style. Sitting atop a hill, in Andriyivskyy Descent, it was designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, a Russian architect of Italian origin, known for his sumptuous and majestic work. I was blown away by the design and details of the roof.
→ Besides sightseeing, I have also tested a few bars and restaurants. The Milk Bar (Shota Rustaveli St. 16) is probably the most popular place in Kiev. Usually, you have to wait some time for a table, but I was lucky and got one straight away. Thumbs up for the carrot cake, but I have to admit that the cheesecakes looked delicious as well. Pink Freud (Nyzhnii Val St. 19), located in the historic neighbourhood of Podil, is a good place for late-night cocktails. These are two of the most hyped places in Kiev, so don’t expect cheap prices.
I had a lot of fun in Kiev, over the three weekdays. I am actually thinking of returning someday, to stay over the weekend, especially since the Ukraine International Airlines company has announced the launch of low-cost flights, from Kiev to Bucharest, starting next year. It’s true that I was a bit skeptical at the beginning, as I was expecting to see a grey city, with communist buildings and unfriendly people. But I guess that probably 99% of the world’s capital cities have something spectacular to offer. And all in all, Kiev has proven me that I shouldn’t judge a place just by its recent history.
до побачення, Київ! / Do pobačennja, Kiev!
Author: Marian Bulacu
Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.