Kiev Revisited – It’s Beautiful, Emerging & You Need to Visit Now
Travel inspiration comes from all over. I don’t really know why I looked up flights to Kiev (Kyiv) one random evening this winter, but it happened – and I’m glad I did! It may have been from binge-watching The Americans on Netflix and a mounting curiosity about the Cold War. It could also be the fact that I am mildly obsessed with visiting locations that were closed off to the West during my lifetime. It could have just been flights under $100, but without a lot of debate we were booked for Kiev and convinced our friend, Uffe, to join us.
From the airport we took a sky bus into central Kiev. Tip: you can buy tickets in line, but need local currency. The approach to the city was almost intimidating – massive, concrete, high-rise apartments surrounded the highway in an imposing way. The term “concrete jungle” doesn’t do it justice, but soon we were over the Dnieper (Dnipro) River and were dropped off at Kiev Central Station and navigated to our hotel. We struggled to get tickets using only English, but managed.
Kiev has some incredible sites and we were prepared to see the highlights in our long weekend trip. Armed with the Lonely Planet research we did the night before, we took it to the streets. I was overruled, so we did not venture out to see Chernobyl but a tip: the tours are usually cheaper during the week and prices are more on the weekends. Whatever tour you’re looking for, I have long relied on GetYourGuide.
St. Sophia’s Cathedral
The oldest standing church in Kyiv is stunning in person. We climbed the bell tower which gave the best views of the exterior and across the city to St. Michael’s Monastery. The interior of the cathedral has 11th century mosaics and frescoes and is open from 10am-6pm. You can purchase tickets separately or a joint ticket for both the bell tower and Cathedral.
Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Maidan Square)
Our hotel was just uphill from this popular meeting place and site of Ukrainian revolution and protest. Today it host peaceful assemblies and makeshift memorials to commemorate the strife of Euromaiden – a violent protest and overthrow of the pro-Russian government in 2014.
Saint Michaels Monastery
From St. Sophia’s we walked to the blue church with shiny gold copulas – St. Michael’s Monastery. It’s named after the patron saint of Kiev and was rebuilt in 2001 after the Soviets destroyed it in 1937. The original was constructed in 1108, but the modern structure is tremendous. The foundation of the original is still visible from inside. Behind the monastery you can take a funicular down to Podil, a lively neighborhood below.
Saint Andrew’s Church
This bright and brilliant Baroque church was built in the mid-1700’s by Russian Empress Elizabeth. She built a summer residence in Kiev and constructed a church as part of this project. She never lived to see its completion, but the impressive structure lives on. We admired it from the outside and took to St. Andrew’s Descent.
Saint Andrew’s Descent
From St. Andrew’s Church you can walk the beautiful cobblestone streets downhill. There are plenty of food and drink options as you make the descent to Podil, but the highlight of St. Andrew’s Descent is the open air shops. There are plenty of stands for picking up souvenirs and flea market finds.
I mentioned that Elizabeth of Russia built Saint Andrew’s church and a summer residence. Well Maryinsky Palace is that residence which is now the home of the Ukrainian President. The resemblance is immediately noticeable and is being restored today.
The food scene in Kiev was fantastic and your money went a long way. It was more than just Chicken Kiev, although Mike and Uffe both had that dish. We ate like kings and never spent more than $25 for 3 courses at every restaurant we tried. Here are links to our favorite restaurants that weekend:
Ostannya Barykada (The Last Barricade) They don’t take reservations, but if you make your way to this gem you can have a craft beer while waiting to be seated. The food was amazing and reasonable (a ribeye steak was $12) and the service level was high. We saw them on several websites and videos and they lived up to the hype!
Shoti This Georgian cuisine restaurant was a delight. You can reserve a table and the ambiance is just as perfect as the food. We were recommended to alter our order because it was a lot of cheese and we did not heed the advice of our server, but it was all delicious and reasonably priced.
Kanapa We ate here as we walked down St. Andrew’s Descent and were not disappointed. The cuisine is New Ukrainian – traditional Ukrainian recipes with modern cooking techniques. The food was very good, but we waited a long time for our meals so keep that in mind while you plan your day.
No one told me that Ukraine has such a cool cocktail scene. We found a lot of run of the mill pubs and bars to pop into for a beer, but two nights we set out for after-dinner cocktails and found some top-level mixology.
Pink Freud You can reserve a table here and I definitely recommend doing so because it was limited seating shortly after they opened their doors. Once inside I understood why. They have a creative menu with all kinds of drinks and make it very easy to pick your poison and match a drink to your tastes and liquor preference. We even sat at the bar for a drink and watched the friendly staff work their craft – it was truly art!
Alchemist Bar With live music every night, there are plenty of reasons to make a stop at Alchemist Bar. We passed through for after-dinner night caps and were pleased to also take in some jazz while we enjoyed our drinks. Very cool atmosphere and ambiance with a substantial cocktail list.
Kiev is simply gorgeous and the mix of architectural stylings makes the city incredibly unique. There are imposing Soviet buildings and monuments as well as modern high-rise buildings mixed into the older Ukrainian Baroque style and buildings from the late-1800’s.
The feeling in Kiev is electric. It’s a young city in a country that has only a short history of independence and a culture that is both rich in history, but still developing a modern identity. The Ukrainian people were incredibly welcoming to tourists and it made our time there really special. I am eager to return and see more of the country.
With all of the wonderful reasons to visit Kyiv, my personal recommendation comes from the value. In this brilliant city, your money goes a long way and you can really make the most of your time sightseeing, eating and drinking around this hip, vibrant, and culturally unique city. Tip: while we started off using the trains and metro, Uber is available in Ukraine and very reasonable. In fact, when we returned to the airport, it was cheaper for 3 of us to use Uber.
Kiev is a city with a lot to offer to anyone who makes the effort to veer off the beaten trail of European destinations.