Local’s Insights About Kiev for Tourists Attractions: Architecture, Shopping, Activities, Bars and Nightlife, Flea Markets, and So Much More
I remember distinctly the very first time I realized that Kiev is the place where I want to live. I was 18, a Donetsk native studying journalism at the university of my hometown. During one of the summers, together with two of my best buddies, we were looking for good internship opportunities. This is when we decided that the time has come to pay Kiev a visit. Mind you, it was more than a decade ago, so no Kiev for tourists (or, in our case, for desperate students) guides. Nothing. We had to rely on some old forums and, well, intuition.
So, we booked and internship for June packed our bags, hopped on a train, arrived in the city, and…
…and we were stunned.
Kiev Is Bursting with Life
Lots of lights, bursting nightlife of Kreschatik in the evening, one of the central avenues with its four lanes running in both directions – that’s eight in total, twice the size of any avenue in my hometown. The city lived. It was filled with opportunities and promises. Mesmerized by its size and energy, I decided – no matter what happens, as soon as I graduate, I will move here.
And so I did, and it worked out for the best.
I often compare Kiev to a romance, a relationship with its ups and downs. Sometimes we’re bickering. Then there are days when I remind myself that acceptance is the key to understanding. Sometimes I just have to complain about how annoying the experience can be. But most of the time – it is love.
This love is hidden in the old streets of Pechersky Lipky area near governmental quarters. It is poured into a cup of good coffee in a hipster Podol area, echoes among the picturesque and secluded Vozdvizhenska hills, and is always there, in each and every one of the friends that I have found while living here.
I know that when compared to many iconic megalopolis cities that star in movies, Kiev for tourists may seem smaller and less ambitious. In many ways, it is, but just because it has its very own charm, which I would love for everyone visiting Kyiv to see and experience.
If you are wondering what is the most convenient season to come to the capital of Ukraine, we have a convenient seasonal guide on the best things to do in Kiev in winter, spring, summer, and fall – month by month.
Kiev of Kyiv?
Kyiv is how you would say Kiev in Ukrainian. Many tourists and the international community regard it as a novelty. For us, locals, this is quite a logical way to refer to the city, and not only because of the language.
The word Kyiv comes from the word, or to be more specific, the name – Kyi. He was the founder of the city, the ambitious warlord. The legend also says that Kyi had two brothers – Shek and Horyv, and the sister Lybid. But while there are Shekavica and Horyvitsa hills, as well as the river Lybid in this city, historians did not find any proof that Kyi had siblings.
This fact-checking, however, was not a reason enough not to erect a monument to all four – Kyi, Shek, Horyv and Lybid. It is quite a beautiful one, by the way. Located on the bank of the Dnipro river, it is one of the famous places to see in Kiev.
Reason #1: To Admire Authentic Kiev Architecture
Modern Kiev city is a slightly bizarre, but at the same time a very unique mix of authentic Ukrainian, Byzantine, and Soviet architecture. When in the city center, somewhere around Khreschatyk area, you will see how unusually Ukrainian baroque is combined with a somewhat sentimental touch of the Soviet architecture of the Stalin era (and let the record show that there aren’t any elements of the Soviet symbols like stars, hammers, etc).
Kiev for Tourists: Soviet Heritage
For those of you interested in Soviet architecture in its full glory, welcome to the National Expo Center. It is famous for its massive columns, big stars, and statues of farmers carrying an iconic and at the same time tragic symbol of Ukraine – reaps of wheat ears. And we can not move on to the next topic without mentioning the Motherland Monument.
Overseeing the city, this gigantic homage to those protecting the Union in World War II is 102 meters high. It means that it is taller than both the Statue of Liberty in New York and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
The Motherland has a viewpoint hidden in its shield. To get to it, you’ll need to go through the museum located inside its pedestal. Then you ride an elevator and walk several flights of steps. At its top, you will put on the special climbing equipment due to the safety rules. Then you will enter the second elevator. Oh, and we forgot to mention vertical stairs though the arm of the statue.
But the view…
…that view of Kiev at your fingertips is so well worth it!
Before the Soviet Era
Closer to the Zoloty Vorota metro station is where the Byzantine architecture is at its glory. It is embodied in the buildings of the St. Sophia Cathedral with its beautiful bell tower and its stunning view over the city. Speaking of metro station Zoloty Vorota. Right at its entrance, you will find the remains of an ancient wall and gates that led to the city of Kievan Rus.
And if you hop on a bus or a taxi and go just slightly outside Kiev, you will find yourself in the Pirogovo Museum – a unique location. Here, traditional Ukrainian-style huts and houses, as well as churches and windmills from all regions of Ukraine are assembled in an open-air museum of history. This is one of my personal favorites and a definite Kiev must-see place.
Reason #2: To Find Unique Murals
Did you know that Kyiv holds one of the leading spots in the world when it comes to murals? It was the first city ever to have a mural drawn on the wall of the police department. Another prominent piece of street art that depicts a Ukrainian girl wearing vyshyvanka – an embroidered traditional blouse – is acknowledged as Europe’s biggest mural. This is a 43-meter tall artwork. Its author is an Australian artist.
Here’s a bit of an insider story. When the first Kiev murals appeared on the walls, the locals were shocked. There were quite a few protests, too, especially from the older generation. But then, the mural drawing art started taking over the city. So, more and more local, as well as foreign artists came to leave their marks and to turn the moody walls of old soviet buildings into vibrant and colorful ones. With time, the residents of Kiev grew more and more fond of the idea.
Today, one of the top things to see and do in Kiev is to wander around the city in search of these murals. What’s really great is that the drawings can be spotted not only in the city center. There is, for instance, one mural that covers the wall of a house on the outskirts, at Troeshchyna. It is already part of the Kiev lifestyle, just take a look at the diversity of stories on the walls!
Reason #3: To Dive into The Hustle and Bustle of the Kiev Fairs, Venues, and Flea Markets
There are at least three events that every outgoing resident of the town is looking forward to with impatience. We’re talking about the Kiev Street Food Festival, Courage Bazaar Kiev Flea Market, and Atlas Music Festival. But this is nearly not all that the city offers!
If you come to Kiev in winter, you will be able to explore one of the biggest Christmas fairs in Eastern Europe – The Land of Winter Wonders at the National Expo Museum. Held throughout December and half of January, it has Santa Claus’s Residence, unique and mesmerizing shows for kids, a rink, lots of food stalls and other entertainments.
Summer is the time to eat! This is what all the Ukrainians are fond of. Kiev Street Food Festival takes place each month at Art Zavod Platforma. This is a two-days venue with hundreds of food stalls serving everything you can only imagine. There are burgers and hot dogs to deep-fried cheese, pots of local mussels from the Black Sea, snails and oysters, noodles and falafel, and lots of desserts. And don’t even make us mention numerous types of local drinks – from honey vodka to infusions on berries from western Europe and more. This event comes fully packed with entertainment: movies in open-air movie theaters, concerts, and whatnot.
Another great venue is the Courage Bazaar. This is an initiative started by one of the locals as a way to elegantly get rid of anything that can not be thrown away. You know what they say – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Well, the idea was such a success that a small initiative quickly turned into a major city even that many look forward to with anticipation.
Reason #4: To Admire All the Majestic Churches
From the modern vibes of the city to its very heart – the churches…
Kiev is mostly a Christian Orthodox city, with lots of golden domes overlooking other buildings. The story of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra itself is a depiction of how a church dominates in Ukraine’s capital. Because it had to remain the tallest landmark in the city, its neighbor – a no-less iconic Monument Motherland was shortened. A sword that the statue is holding in its hand was cut and turned into a dagger in order for the monument not to be taller than Lavra’s bell tower with the cross.
The only other city in Ukraine to compete with Kiev in the number of beautiful Orthodox Churches is a small and lovely town of Chernihiv.
While we already mentioned Byzantine heritage – the St. Sophia’s Church, which is protected as UNESCO heritage, facing it on the other side of the avenue is the sky-blue St. Michael’s Cathedral with its golden domes and beautiful frescoes.
My absolute favorite, however, is the Cathedral of St. Andrew with its unique green domes. The church is located at Andriivsky Descent, and its terrace opens breathtaking views of the Dnipro river.
While these three are among the definite top-10 things to see in Kiev, there is also a small Kyryllivska Church at Oleny Telihi, which is remarkable for its interior created by the famous painter Vrubel. There is also an old Catholic cathedral where organ concerts are held frequently.
Reason #5: To Catch Up with the Bursting Kiev Nightlife
While the outskirts and residential areas of the city fall asleep by 10 pm, there are great places to head to if you are looking for Kiev’s nightlife. Among those, there is a street food market opened fairly recently where an old river terminal used to be. Lots of people are headed here for drinks, fried corn, and burgers. Also, the market has comfortable chairs overlooking the river. Loud music and lots of socializing – if you don’t sleep by 11 pm, you are probably here.
It is also the spot where local salsa clubs hold open airs. If you’re not into eating, maybe, just maybe, you might enjoy salsa.
The city is also known for its night clubs. For some of them, you really need to be a bit of a detective to spot the entrances. Such is the case with the iconic Closure. It is a rave and techno place to dance the night away. The club is hidden in one of the old buildings of a former factory in the Podol area.
Reason #6: To Enjoy the Easy Logistics…
…because this is a very easy-to-move-around city for tourists and visitors. Unless you decided to stay in a villa at Pushca Vodica to enjoy the proximity of the pine forests, or are renting an apartment somewhere on the outskirts, you will most probably be able to get to all the best places to see in Kiev by feet, or by taking a short metro ride.
All the major attractions are centered around the Khreshatik, Podil, Arsenalna and Pechersk areas (roughly). A single metro ride costs 8 UAH, which is about 0.30 USD. If you are in the city for several days, it might be a good idea to get a KyivSmartCard for all public transportation.
This card offers to save money while buying several rides at a time. For instance, a single ride will cost you 0.30 USD. If you charge the card for 50 rides, a single ride will cost you 0.26 cents (given that you deposit 2 USD to a card). This may not be much of a cash saver, but it definitely saves time.
Recharging the card is easy. There are special iOS and Android apps. Also, you can do it at metro station cashier desks, or at iBox and EasyPay terminals. Finally, there is an option to do its via online payment portals, such as Portmone or iPay.
Kiev for Tourists: SmartCards
As of April 2020, residents of Kiev use a system of SmartCards. While it offers good prices, I am afraid that it might be somewhat tricky for a foreigner to register. It requires creating an account that verifies that you are actually a city resident.
But hey, you can always try to find a resident who can help you out, so just in case you do, I will leave the details about this public transportation card here. The card covers buses, trams, trolleybuses, metro and funicular rides.
Depending on the type of card, you will need to pay:
- 11,60 USD for 46 trips during a month.
- 15,60 USD for 62 trips during a month.
- 23 USD for 92 trips during a month.
- 30,82 USD for 124 trips during a month.
- 52 USD for an unlimited amount of rides for one month.
The city also offers the following unlimited tickets:
- A 4 USD card for an unlimited amount of rides, which is valid for 24 hours.
- Per 48 hours, the price is 6 USD.
- Per 72 hours, you will need to pay 8 USD.
Kiev for Tourists by Taxi
Online taxi services are widely used. Three of the most popular are Uber, Uklon, and Bolt. All of these are available for iOS and Android downloads. Taxi rides in Kiev are cheap. For instance, taking a cab from Podol (the river terminal area) to Maidan Nezalezhnosti (the central square) will cost around 2 USD.
If you opt-in for a taxi, beware of the traffic jams. Kiev is the proud resident of the world’s top 10 cities with the worth traffic in Eurasia. It lands a dignified third place, after Moscow and Istanbul, according to TomTom. The roughest rush hours are between 8:30 to 11 am, and between 17:30 to 20:pm.
Reason #7: Is Kiev for Tourists Cheap? See for Yourself
We get that a lot! Visitors praising on how cheap it actually is to travel in Kiev, or in Ukraine in general.
You’ve already seen the cost of public transportation. Let’s get to some other usual spendings a traveler faces.
Kiev for Tourists: Accommodations
On average, a night in a dorm will cost 7 USD or slightly more, and the price of a private room in a hostel starts at 22 USD. Prices for 1 bedroom AirBnB apartments in the good central areas start from 35 USD.
Here is a list of Kiev hostels that many travelers on the budget enjoy and leave good reviews about:
- Dream Hostel is located at the end of the Andriivsky Descent (or the beginning of the Andriivsky Ascend, depending on how lost you are on your first day), and between Kontraktova and Poshtova metro stations (that’s the blue line). Among its many benefits are clean rooms, friendly staff, and a great international community of visitors.
- Also in a Podol area, there is a recently opened Sky Hostel, appreciated for its stylish interior, clean rooms and a warm welcome.
- Located in close proximity to the Motherland Monument of Pechersk district is the Light Life hostel with its quietness and a home-like atmosphere.
Kiev for Tourists: Cafes and Restaurants
- Lunch and coffee. Ordering a Belgium waffle with tuna and salad + a cup of coffee in one of my fave spots in the city, a hipster Stories Cafe where they know how to cook really good, will cost you around 7 USD. And this is what we call luxury:) If you head to any of the budget places like Puzata Hata canteen (a truly iconic place loved by everyone who lives in Kiev; be prepared to get into some serious lunch hour traffic), a plate of Chicken Kiev and a side dish will cost you around 4 USD.
- Wining and dining. Fine dining is becoming more and more of a thing in this city, finally, with quite a big choice of restaurants to head to for a pleasant evening and some good food. On average, prices for a dish plus a glass of wine start from 18 USD per person.
With some careful budgeting, you can count on spending around 40 USD or less per day in Kiev. This estimate covers both the cost of living and food.
Reason #8: Explore Ukraine’s Coffee Culture
Coffee is the second favorite thing for Ukrainians. After food. While Lviv usually gets the spotlight for its rich coffee and chocolate culture, Kyiv does not hold back, either. There are lots of small and cozy coffee shops, as well as street stalls and kiosks. On average, a resident of this city has around three cups of coffee. In Ukrainian, we say kava.
While many cafes rely on the coffee import, the Kiev coffee scene is currently thriving. Many local roasters popped up and are delivering some quality products to the market.
As a true coffee fan, I’ve done my share of research and have a list of favorite locations in all areas of this city to stop at for a cup of coffee. The publication is coming up soon.
Reason #9: Diversify Sightseeing with Some Activities
Kiev is not only about museums and coffee shops. It actually offers lots f activities for all tastes – from walks to rides to exploring the abandoned metro stations and to some extreme sports like wakeboarding.
One of my personal favorites is kayaking across Dnipro. The trips will vary in length, from several hours to a full day on the water. This is a slow and meditative way to get acquainted with the city while gliding across its major river artery.
At Kiev Xtreme park, you will be able to choose among all sorts of adrenaline-pumped activities. The list includes strikeball, quad-biking, paddle boarding, and whatnot.
If you are into some truly unusual tours, I can also recommend joining an underground adventure quest. It goes through underground water channels. Among similar walks, there is a guided tour to catacombs and abandoned metro stations.
Reason #10. Enjoy Some of the Best European Mixology in Kiev Bars
Don’t get me wrong, but one of the reasons why I love Kiev nightlife is for its bars. These are a work of art, and Ukraine’s capital is currently experiencing a true boom in mixology. At places like The Alchemist, Parovoz Bar, Loggerhead or Barman Dictate, the guys and gals of the barmen world work hard to deliver some of the best and most exquisite cocktails and drinks.
This is not about getting drunk, partly because such a goal will cost you. But if you are looking for places to hang out at, to meet the expats and active locals, then exploring the bars is among must do things in Kiev.
Some of the bars I’ve listed above are now acknowledged by international mixology awards.
Reason #11. Catch Up with Kiev Shopping and Its Latest Trend – the Local Brands
Sure, mass market and familiar brands like GAP or Zara are among those you will find in the malls. That’s not what this advice is about. I strongly recommend you not to miss out on young Ukrainian brands of clothes, jewelry, shoes, furniture, and food.
For the past four to five years, Kiev has been experiencing a sort of a good revolution in local production. What started as modest attempts of the young enthusiasts to offer a local alternative to international labels, grew into a true boom during the Revolution of 2014. This was an unrehearsed and unified wish of the Ukrainians to support everything produced within the country.
This enthusiasm and support of the Ukrainian consumers gave life to lots of startups. I am happy to say that these turned into established brands within these past few years. I myself have a close friend who was brave enough to launch her brand of clothes back in 2016. Today, she has a branded showroom, as well as personal brand corners in the two major mall stores.
When she tells me about her small and big victories and positive reviews from her clientele, she is happy. I know that this is a feeling that many local brand owners now share.
What About the Price?
I can not say that price-wise, clothes produced by the Ukrainian brands are cheaper. Often the owners of smaller labels lose to major brands when it comes to the cost of production. However, even if you don’t want to buy, I recommend taking a look at such stores. There are all-clothes, shoes and jewelry Vsi.Svoi stores at Kreschatyk and Adnriivkiy Descent, as well as furniture and decore Vsi.Svoi showroom.
If you are in the Vozdvyzhenska area, you might want to explore Osobnyak – also an all-Ukrainian store with clothes, shoes, and jewelry.
Reason #12: Relax on One of Many Kiev Beaches and Go for a Swim
Conveniently located on the banks of river Dnipro, the city offers lots of public and private beaches. The main area for some beach time is the Hydropark metro station. Warning: lots of locals go there in the summertime. It gets crowded.
Another popular location to head to is on the Trukhaniv island in the Podol area. Take a metro to Poshtova station and head towards the pedestrian bridge across the river. On its other side, you will see the public beach on the left side.
On your right, and further into the island, there is also a private beach that belongs to the Yuzhniy Bereg Kieva club (YBK). The entrance is free of charge, and so is the stay if you come with your own beach towel. You can also rent, both umbrellas and deck chairs. There is a cafe and a bar, too.
Since this is a modern travel guide for Kiev, I will also include clubs with pools, some located not far from the city center. City Beach Club is among those. This is a private pool on the roof of Ocean Plaza mall (metro Lybidska). Another pool within a convenient metro reach is the Pier 39 pool at VDNH (the National Expo Museum).
Reason #13: Take Day Trips from Kiev
Located conveniently in the center of Ukraine, Kiev is the perfect hub for day trips to many historic locations, hikes and iconic sites.
You can head west, towards Kamenets-Podolsky town and its legendary fortress. Another idea is to cut the distance in half and opt-in for a day at Radomyselsky Castle. It is not far from Zhytomyr town. This castle has a nice story to it. Abandoned for many years, nearly destroyed, it was acquired by one Ukrainian businesswoman. She managed to restore it and did an excellent job, I must say.
Admission fees to Radomyselsky Castle are 6 USD, and you can explore the territory of the castle itself and its museum. The site also has a lake, a restaurant, and a small hotel. You can spend the night within in any of the rooms within the castle walls, which is very authentic.
If you head east of the city, you can explore such historic destinations as Baturin. This is a legendary Hetman Capital, once a place of glory where the Ukrainian cossacks elite lived. The site includes the Hetman’s palace and the fortress with panoramic views, as well as the museum.
Kiev for Tourists: Don’t Miss Out on This One!
South of Kiev, there is the notorious Mezhygirya residence – a ridiculously big piece of land by the Kiev sea, chopped off by our greedy former President Viktor Yanukovich who was forced
to abdicate his throne to flee the country after the Revolution of 2014.
The residence itself is gorgeous, and turned into a lovely public park, with its golf course, a Honka-styled house, waterfalls and fountains, pools and artificial lakes, a zoo and many other attractions (normal to any private villa of a regular millionnaire, and unforgivable for a public servant and a governmental official caught stealing from the nation).
Among activities that you can plan on doing here, there is bicycling with rentals available on-site, as well as walking, taking tours of the Honka and private garages with rare cars.
Reason #14: Meet the Friendly Locals
We are happy to welcome guests to our city, and to our country. Within its short term of being an independent state, Ukraine has gone through many major and dramatic events. The reason? Always the same. To get closer to a democratic society. This means a country that would be safe for us, Ukrainians, to live in without looking for places to flee to. This also means a country that would be an attractive location for tourists to come to.
I am happy to say that today it finally looks like more and more travelers discover this Eastern European country and recognize it is a good place to head to.
Is Kiev safe to travel to? Definitely. It was relatively safe even during the days of revolutions. All major events were circled around Independence Square, leaving the rest of the city to its regular lifestyle. Today, the capital is in a state of peace, with just a few non-violent local demonstrations held mainly in the governmental quarters. Unfortunately, this is something I can not say about the eastern regions of my country – Donetsk, and Lugansk, in particular. I hope that peace will finally return to these lands, too.
As for us, the locals, we might not know English all that well (not the younger generation), but we will do our best to help you out. We are curious, friendly (even though we don’t smile much as we’re still getting rid of all those Soviet fears), and eager to help.
Written by Inessa Rezanova
I am a Kyiv-based screenwriter with 10+ years of experience in producing scripts. I love my job, and no, I did not quit it to travel the world. I see different countries in my spare time. As a storyteller, I believe that it is the emotional journey that matters the most. This is why together with my sister I started this blog to encourage everyone to travel and to do so with a heart and mind opened to adventures.
Images by Natalie Rezanova
I am a photographer based in Kyiv, Ukraine. I am lucky to be able to do what I love the most for a living. Photography is an endless source of inspiration for me. My mission on this blog is to inspire by sharing some of the favorite captions from my journeys. I also provide professional photography tips to help the readers bring home some beautiful photo memories.