Things to see & do in Kyiv, Ukraine

The Ukrainian capital and one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe, Kiev’s prominence may have ebbed and waned over the centuries but the idea of a great civilisation on the hills above the River Dnipro has stood the test of time – it has been entirely rebuilt at least twice, the first time after being sacked by the Mongols, the second after having been heavily damaged during World War II. It has survived absorption into the Duchy of Lithuania, the Kingdom of Poland, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union; famine, war, the Bolshevik Revolution and Stalinist purges. Kiev is not without scars, but they serve only to enhance its appeal.
Kiev is spread across both banks of the Dnipro, with most visitor attractions situated on the right bank. The city’s main street, Kreschatyk, pre-dates the creation of both Russia and Ukraine, and many of the country’s most treasured landmarks are to be found here. It is an essential stop on historical and cultural tours of Eastern Europe, and its proximity to the Chernobyl power plant means the two can easily be visited together, often followed by an overnight train journey to the equally magnificent city of Lviv.

Things to do in Kyiv

Andriivsky Descent

Kiev’s Montmartre, this steep, winding street is a living museum, being one of the oldest in the city. It is lined with historic houses, art galleries, small bars and restaurants tucked away and stalls selling mass-produced tourist trinkets alongside vintage Soviet souvenirs. Along with Kreschatyk it is one of the most popular places in Kiev to wander aimlessly along, just enjoying the atmosphere.

Golden Gate

The last remaining vestige of the city’s 11th century fortifications and once the main entrance to Kiev, a Triumphal Arch, the Golden Gate actually fell into ruins centuries ago, but was ‘restored’ by the Soviet authorities in the 1980s, an immensely controversial decision. Yet while not original, the gate remains one of the most iconic structures in Kiev and is worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Lavra Monastery

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, a leading center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and a magnificent monastic complex, the Lavra Monastery was founded in the mid-11th century, and ranks among the most prestigious landmarks in Ukraine. Visitors can explore an underground network of catacombs several kilometres in length, where the monks would live, work and, on their deaths, be mummified naturally by the cool, dry atmosphere.

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Maidan (Independence Square)

Numerous monuments stand around Kiev’s central square, which has been the focal point of political protests and rallies in the city since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 – most notably those leading up to the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Euromaidan in 2013 – it is because of the violence that occurred during the latter that events such as Christmas and New Year celebrations are no longer held at the Maidan.

National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War

The name’s a bit of a mouthful – until 2015 it was known as the Museum of the Great Patriotic War – but this vast (25 acres) memorial complex offers an outstanding number of exhibits devoted to the war between the Germans and the Soviets, with some 300,000 items on display, from armaments to sculptures. At the center is the 62m Motherland sculpture honouring Soviet heroes, and the views over the city are superb.

Pirogovo Museum of Rural Life and Architecture

South of Kiev, this village contains many examples of traditional Ukrainian buildings in an open-air setting, most notably a collection of wooden windmills. Ancient handicrafts such as textiles, woodwork and embroidery are demonstrated by people in period costume, while folk vacations are often celebrated with theatrical shows.

St. Sophia Cathedral & Monastery

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside the Lavra Monastery, St. Sophia is the most recognisable landmark in Kiev, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture and art. Among the most distinctive features are its golden cupolas, many excellent murals and frescoes, and ornamental walls.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Illia Cherednychenko] [Top box: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker] [Golden Gate: Jorge Láscar] [Maidan square: Juan Antonio Segal] [St Sophia: Francisco Anzola]