Kiev is an amazing European capital. It’s full of life and vibrant culture that you just have to experience for yourself. The youthful spirit of Ukraine, and the history, architecture, cuisine and low prices, make Kiev a perfect city break. Here’s our guide on what to do in Kiev. We cover Kiev hotels, restaurants, tours, nightlife, sightseeing and tours. Use this guide to plan a trip and explore the emerging brilliance of Kiev (Kyiv).
Why Should I go to Kiev?
Well, that’s what we asked ourselves. Still, 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!
Maybe it was from binge-watching The Americans on Netflix and a mounting curiosity about the Cold War. Another reason is the fact that I am mildly obsessed with visiting locations that were once closed off to the West. 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.
Getting to Kiev Airport
We flew direct from Copenhagen and found those cheap flights on Skyscanner. As mentioned, they were under $100. We use Skyscanner for all of our short flights around Europe and find great deals whenever we need a city break. Click HERE to start searching Skyscanner for flights.
Ukraine is not part of the Schengen travel zone. However, for Americans and Danes, Ukraine offers visa-free travel. This means we didn’t need anything other than our passports to enter Ukraine and we could stay up to 90 days. We only needed to stay for 4 days.
First Impressions of Kyiv (Kiev)
From Kiev airport, we took a sky bus to the city center. Important to note, you can buy tickets in line, but need local currency. Make sure to take out cash at the airport.
The approach to the city was almost intimidating. Kiev is massive and has concrete, high-rise apartments surrounded the highway in an imposing way. The term “concrete jungle” doesn’t do it justice.
Soon we were over the Dnieper (Dnipro) River and were dropped off at Kiev Central Station and navigated to our hotel. At the station, we struggled to get tickets using only English but we managed.
If you’re looking for a Kiev hotel, the city center is where to start. A 4-star or 5-star hotel is easy to find for a low price. We paid under $80 USD to stay in the historic Hotel Ukraine overlooking Maidan Square. It was designed by Stalin, which isn’t the kind of history we necessarily were after but was the hotel was renamed and its legacy reclaimed after the fall of the USSR.
The staff was helpful, friendly and spoke perfect English. The rooms were a little dated but somehow seemed right. It was like staying in a Cold War-era time capsule with modern amenities. Breakfast was included and the dining room was gorgeous with amazing views of Maiden Square.
Highlights of Kyiv (Kiev)
Kiev has some incredible sites and we were prepared to see the highlights in our long weekend trip. We did some research and picked out the tours we wanted to jump on. Here are some tours you should consider and the links to book them. There are some tours that we highly recommend you book in advance when possible.
Kiev Hop on Hop off Tour
Okay, I don’t always love hop on hop off tours, but they make it easy to get around and the price is right for the Kiev tour. It’s only $16 USD and there are 10 stops around the city where you can get off and snap pictures of the best sightseeing spots in Kiev. Scroll through our photos below to see what you can capture on the Hop on Hop off bus tour of Kiev.
Book the Kiev Hop on Hop off tour HERE.
Illuminated Kiev by Night Tour
This tour is REALLY cool and gives you the chance to see Kiev at night. The city lights of Kiev make it great for sightseeing at night. Kiev’s Illuminated Night Tour includes hotel pick-up, a local guide offering a 2-hour tour by a local. The tour is on foot in areas but you drive from spot to spot and cover a lot of ground around Kiev.
It’s under $40 USD, highly recommended and can be booked HERE.
Kiev Chernobyl Tour
I really wanted to see Chernobyl. The poll I put on my Instagram story even showed that readers wanted us to go as well. Unfortunately, we were overruled, so we did not venture out to see Chernobyl. This was more a matter of timing and fitting it into our schedule. When we go back to Kiev, and we will, this will be on our list. I did, however, do the research and you should go if you have the time.
Robe Trotting Tip: If you want to see Chernobyl, use this link to book the Chernobyl Tour online. It’s important that you book the tour online in advance. If you wait and book a Chernobyl tour through your hotel or a local company, they raise the prices on the weekends.
Whatever tour you’re looking for, I recommend using GetYourGuide. Do a search below for some cool options:
Things to do in Kiev – Sightseeing
When it comes to Kiev sightseeing, there’s just so much to do. The city is crawling with beautiful buildings and most Kiev tours will get you to all the highlights. If you ask us what to do in Kiev, these are the best things to do and see. Also, consider booking the hop on hop off bus to make getting around from sight to sight even easier.
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 10 am-6 pm. You can purchase tickets separately or a joint ticket for both the bell tower and Cathedral.
Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Kiev’s Maidan Square)
Our hotel was just uphill from this popular meeting place and site of Ukrainian revolutions and protests. Today it hosts 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 St. Michael’s Monastery, a blue church with shiny gold copulas. 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
Built in the mid-1700s by Russian Empress Elizabeth, this Baroque church is a bright and brilliant sight. Elizabeth built a summer residence in Kiev and constructed a church as part of this project. Although she never lived to see its completion, 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. While there are plenty of food and drink options as you descend to Podil, the highlight of St. Andrew’s Descent is the open-air shops. Here you’ll find a lot of stands for picking up souvenirs and flea market finds.
Maryinsky Palace, Kyiv
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.
Kiev Restaurants you need to try
The food scene in Kiev was fantastic and money goes a long way. The cuisine is more than just Chicken Kiev, although Mike and Uffe both had that dish. In Kiev, we ate like kings and never spent more than $25 for 3 courses at every restaurant we tried. Here are links to our favorite Kiev 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 about Kiev restaurants and they lived up to the hype!
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. This was my favorite of the restaurants we tried in Kiev.
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.
Check out our post comparing American dining service to European dining service.
Kiev Nightlife and Cocktail Bars
Like anywhere we visit, we were eager to check out the nightlife in Kiev. No one told me that Kiev has such a cool cocktail scene. We found many run of the mill pubs and bars to pop into for a beer. We also checked out the LGBT bar and enjoyed gay Kiev nightlife. The best drinks we had were when we set out for after-dinner cocktails and found some top-level mixology.
I recommend reserving a table 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!
With live music every night, there are plenty of reasons to make a stop at Alchemist Bar. We passed through for after-dinner nightcaps and were pleased to also take in some jazz while we enjoyed our drinks. The bar has a cool atmosphere and ambiance with a substantial cocktail list. This is a place to make sure you include in your Kiev nightlife experience.
What’s the Architecture Like in Kyiv (Kiev)?
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 attitude in Kyiv (Kiev)
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.
How Expensive is Kyiv (Kiev)?
There are so many wonderful reasons to visit Kyiv. Overall, my personal favorite reason is because of 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. Also, 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.
Have you been to Kiev yet? If so, what did you think? If not, what are you waiting for?
Read more on Travel here: Travel