The Ukrainian capital of Kiev is unlike any city I’ve ever seen before. It’s a mix of styles with its Soviet concrete centre contrasting with colourful Baroque churches and cobblestoned streets – and you’re never really sure what will greet you around the next corner.
The main city sights are located near Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), and those further afield can be accessed via the city’s efficient metro system.
You may recognise Independence Square from the news. In 2014, the square was the scene of violent riots and tourists have stayed away since. But you’ll be happy to know that these days, the city feels quite safe and as a solo female traveller, I felt as safe as in any other European town wandering around by myself.
To discover the best of what Kiev has to offer, the ideal place to start is with a free walking tour. Free walking tours work on a tips basis and are held daily at 11am and 3pm. The tours start from Independence Square next to the statue of Kiev’s founders.
I happened to be the only one who showed up to the tour on a grey Kiev day, and got my very own personal tour. The first stop on the tour was Independence Square where I learnt about the history of the square and the nearby flower clock. The square’s obelisk was constructed in 2001 to mark Kiev’s 10 year anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union.
Across the street is Kiev’s city gate – which was once used as the official entry to the city.
Kiev is also home to many beautiful churches, and the following three are the top picks. St Andrew’s Church takes pride of place atop a hill on Andrew’s Descent and is one of Kiev’s most famous landmarks. You can walk there or take the funicular up.
The church is located at the top of Kiev’s oldest street, which is lined with cobblestones. Markets stalls regularly line the streets here if you’re looking for souvenirs.
St Michael’s Cathedral, also known as the Golden Domed Church, is beautiful to look at with it its bright baby blue walls and ornate golden interior.
The cathedral you see today is surprisingly only 17 years old. The original cathedral was demolished by the Soviets in the 1930s, but it was reconstructed in 1999.
St Sophia’s Cathedral is not far from St Michael’s and can be entered for a small fee. This cathedral is the oldest in Kiev and was built during the first half of the 11th century.
Other places to visit in Kiev are the Botanic Gardens, and the Lavra Monastery and caves. Underneath the monastery lies a series of narrow passages and caves, as well as catacombs. As it is considered a sacred site, women will need to wear a headscarf and clothing covering below their knees to enter the caves.
If you’re after something more action packed, then why not try your hand at driving an old Soviet tank?
It’s not cheap, but it is a fun experience. You get one go of driving the tank around the field and I must say it’s hard as the steering is very unresponsive and the gears are clunky – but don’t worry your guide helps you with changing the gears! Then you get to ride on top of the tank and feel the wind in your hair while the other members of your group drive. Prices start from USD$100.
Kiev is also home to the Ukraine State Aviation Museum next to the Zhulainy Airport – one of the biggest exhibits of Soviet aircraft in the world. There is currently more than 70 aircraft on display at the open air museum, including the Soviet produced Mi-26 Heavy Lift Transport Helicopter used by the United Nations. This is one seriously big helicopter – in fact one of the largest ever produced. Entry is USD$2.00.
If you want to venture outside of the capital, the western town of Lviv is worth a stop. It’s completely different to Kiev because it was once part of Poland.
Lviv has a lovely Old Town quarter and it’s worth the hike up to the High Castle viewpoint for spectacular views across the city.
The highest point in Lviv takes its name from the castle that once stood on the hill between the 13th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, the castle is now in ruins and there’s not much to see today.
You can reach the viewpoint in about a 45 minute walk from the city center.
Lviv can be reached from Kiev by train in about five hours, and then it’s possible to go by bus to nearby Polish cities.
Things You Should Know:
- English speaking Ukrainians are few and far between, even in touristy areas of Kiev. From my personal experience, the best bet if you need something like a train ticket is to translate it into Ukrainian using something like Google Translate and present that, or get staff at your hostel to write down what you want and present that. If you need someone who speaks English to help you, look for someone young – most young people learnt English at school or university.
- The currency is Ukrainian Hryvinas (prononced gryvnas). 1 US dollar is equal to 25 Ukrainian Hryvinas.
- Ukraine is a very cheap destination. You can get a filling meal at a restaurant for as little as USD$4. The metro is only 20 cents a ride!
- Kiev’s metro service is easy to use, efficient, but crowded at all times of the day. To get on the metro, find a machine with a 20 UAH note on it. Insert your 20 and you’ll receive five tokens. Each ride on the metro is one token. All metro stations have signs in Cyrillic and Latin words.
- Dream House Hostel seems to be the go to for backpackers and also Ukrainians. The hostel is very clean and comfortable and has kitchen and laundry facilities. It’s near a metro station and only a 20 minute walk to Independence Square and just around the corner from Kiev’s oldest street. Dream House Hostel can book tours for discounted prices such as the tank driving/shooting tours.
- Kiev’s train station is not very central to the city centre but it is connected to the metro. The Lviv train station is also not very central but it’s serviced by regular trams. Catch the No. 1 Tram to reach the city center. You can buy tickets from the driver.
Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.