Eastern Europe has many underrated parts, yet to be discovered by travellers. Kiev is one of the most important cities in the history of the Russian Empire, the Eastern architecture, and it was on the commercial road to the South. If you’re wondering why you should visit Kiev or what to do in Kiev, this is your source of inspiration.
My title was “Things to do in Kiev in 5 days when you are not climbing a hill”. If you love sports, running, walking, hiking even, then you will have no problem with this beautiful city. But consider yourself warned: This city requires a lot of walking and it’s located on some reasonable hills. There are many cool places in Kiev, but you have to walk a lot to find them.
Here are my travel tips regarding Kiev and Ukraine in general. What to do in Kiev, where to stay in Kiev and other travel recommendations.
They said, “Don’t go to Ukraine, you will die”. But I didn’t die. I actually enjoyed my stay in Kiev and I cannot wait to go back, at least to Odessa, which is a beautiful port by the Black Sea.
It’s not that people don’t visit Ukraine, because they do. Probably they don’t get as many foreign tourists as most European countries, but they have a lot of internal tourism going on, and I also met some international travellers in Kiev.
It is hard to notice them, but if you will look for the touristic daily tours, you will spot them.
What is Kiev all about?
Most of its history is connected to the Soviet times because Ukraine part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and there are still many remains in the cities and in its society to prove it. I also come from a former communist country, and I understand the changes their society is undergoing now. Although it was not all good, the Soviets did some good things too. I am fascinated by their imposing architecture, the social view (not the most famous and extreme ones) and I believe there is something to learn from each different society.
Mankind has not reached to live in a perfect society, but most of us cannot complain. This is the result of many trials and error stages. Ukraine has been there and I believe good things are going to happen for them.
Although the imposing buildings with their communist architecture will strike you at first, remember that you are in the real world, not in George Orwell ‘s novel. Keep that feeling for when you get to Russia. You will remember my words. And read the book before you get there.
History and culture in Kiev
Expect a huge amount of history and culture if you are planning a trip to Kiev. And a touch of capitalist fever. They are still beginning to experiment with it. Fair prices. Some fancy, hipster places, but no too much. Rember that most people don’t speak English. 70% of the population haven’t been abroad. Ever. I feel I have to visit them again, maybe explain a thing or two about the advantages of travelling.
I believe many awesome and fascinating things will happen in Ukraine in the following years. They will get used to the tourists and travellers and the youth will have the opportunity to develop more.
What I recommend for your first visit to Kiev
The history of this city is something nobody really remembers. Literally, this city is so old, nobody really knows when it was first established as a city. But most historians agree that is one of the oldest in Europe, as the old commercial road, connecting Scandinavians to the Constantinople.
Many buildings were demolished during the ages. Some because of accidents like fires and some because of the political regime. But if you really want to know and see what an old city looks today, you must visit Kiev.
There are 2 companies offering 2 daily free walking tours: in the morning is the spiritual/churches tour.
You will get to admire and discover the churches of Kiev. The tour starts at 10 or 11 am (depends on which of the companies you choose to go with) It takes around 2h 30′ and you will find out about the most famous churches, get to visit St. Michael’s Cathedrale (free entrance) and admire Saint Sophia Cathedral and St. Andrew’s Church.
In the afternoon (3 or 4 pm) is the Soviet tour. It is on the other half of the centre and you explore and will find out about political history, see the soviet buildings trying to blend into today’s scenery and take interesting photos, especially if you are an architecture enthusiast.
I enjoyed both tours, but I feel more interested in their social transformation, and I really loved the Soviet tour. I recommend Alex from Kiev Free Walking Tours (the founder of the company). He is extremely passionate about history and many other topics. Alex is the local you want to talk to if you are looking for one.
Day trips to take from Kiev
The “love tunnel” is one cool option. it is organized by the tour companies, and it will give you insights on the rural scene of Kiev. And once you get there, you will have the perfect Instagram photo. I had no time for this trip. Because there are so many things to see and do, 5 days were almost not enough.
The ex-president’s house. Or how others call it “his mansion”. After the orange revolution in 2014, he fled the country and found refuge in Russia. But Ukrainians were amazed by what he left behind, his house. So they turned it into a museum. Mezhyhirya Residence Museum. And the surrounding garden is now a park and many locals visit it during the weekend. They use bikes or golf carts to get around. As impressive as this sounds, I had to skip this one too, because 5 days in Kiev are just not enough to do all this.
A day trip to Chernobyl. As unexpected as it is, the biggest disaster ever known to mankind, which was caused by humans is in Ukraine and it is the country’s most popular attraction. I will not be a hypocrite and deny this, as I too was attracted to this place and this is the day trip from Kiev which I booked 1 week ahead.
It’s so popular, that pre-booking is required. One week before, and the only option I found was on my last day in the city. So I booked without considering if it was going to be dangerous or not.
It wasn’t. All the time.
I still have mixed feelings about this place and its story. Also confused. I didn’t want to share any pictures of the place on my social platforms. I find it inappropriate. And what makes me even sadder is the huge number of people from all over the world, usually from countries with a higher level of lifestyle, having selfies with this image. No Ukrainian would visit that place for fun.
I know I caught your interest the moment you read Chernobyl. Read all about the dark tourism of Chernobyl.
What not to miss in Kiev or what to visit if you are only for 1 day in the city
The main street Maidan Nezalezhnosti is packed with great restaurants and cafes, but my favourites were the tiny food shops. They sell everything: coffee, water, some food, and ice cream. Brilliant.
The Independence square is a place with a high importance for the Ukrainian people. Over the year, it was known under different names, but it is also the place where the most important things happened. Here you will find the Lash Gate monument, which was built in 2001. St Michael is the guard of the city and he is symbolically placed over the gate. He has wings. Angel like.
On the opposite side is the independence column/statue, called the Independence Monument. A golden angel to rescue the city. Next to it, is the fountain which takes the shape of Kiev’s founders. It is only a legend, but you can find out more about these in the church/historical tour. The morning one.
The Friendship of Nations Arch is a place you will find repulsive and intriguing at the same time. The monument was unveiled in 1982, to commemorate 60 years of URSS. Although I wouldn’t include it in the “what is popular in Kiev” list, I do believe it is a strong reminder of the last century’s history and the place also has one great sunset view over the city and the Nipru river. Some year ago, the Ukrainian government issued an anti-communist law, which enables them to get rid of all the communist symbols. So it will not take long for this piece of modern history to disappear into nowhere.
The House with Chimaeras is one famous art nouveau building, is located next to the President’s administrative house and it has been used as a presidential residence for official and diplomatic ceremonies since 2005. Unfortunately, the street leading to the building it’s closed to traffic and police guards the streets. I visited during the Soviet free walking tour. Our tour guide convinced the police to let us pass and stare at the house.
A boat ride on the Nipru river. They happen every day, at certain hours. Some rides are longer, while the shortest one is 1h long and departures every hour or so. Prices are affordable, and you are free to bring your own snacks and drinks. There is a bar on board too. They even serve beer.
The Golden Gates of Kiev. This was the main gate to the fortification of Kiev and was meant to be an imitation after the Golden Gate of Constantinople. The real gate was destroyed in the middle ages, and this was constructed by the Soviets in 1982. They had no idea of how the gate looked like, so this is what they came up with.
The Mikhail Bulgakov Museum is a very popular place in Kiev. This is a very appreciated museum, the house of this Kiev-born famous writer. This will be one great experience if you are a fan of his and his novels (The White Guard, The Master and Margarita, and Theatre Love Story). The house also includes many of Bulgakov’s belongings, (books, postcards, and photos). The address of the museum is the same as the author uses in his book, The White Guard. They have also an English speaking tour guide, as you need a guide to visit it, and sometimes it can get crowded, so get there early. They also have a tea house on the top floor, where they serve homemade sweets. Lovely house, even for a non-fan.
Where to stay in Kiev
Kiev is a big city and has more than 1 city centre so there are a few very nice and central areas. I walked down the streets in the evening and everything was just fine. Hotels and hostels are affordable. It all depends on your standards and budget. Some apartments were listed both on Booking and on Airbnb. If you have never used Airbnb until now, use this link to get €34 in travel credit when you sign up.
Start planning your trip and find cute and cheap accommodations in Kiev.
I booked an entire apartment because it is more affordable to cook some meals, not just eat out all the time. Also, I needed a washing machine. I used Booking.com, as it was more affordable.
I loved it! I loved Kiev and 5 days were not enough. If I have the opportunity to go back, I will not hesitate. The best time for travelling would be late spring or early autumn, as a lot of exploring will be done. Kiev is a big city and a lot of walking will be necessary.
The food in Ukraine is great. As everywhere in Eastern Europe. There are even some vegan places I loved. Even some fresh produce markets which reminded me of Italy.
Where to next? Travelling to Odessa? You should if you want to discover more of Ukraine.