I went to Kiev for two full days and I was completely surprised at how much I enjoyed it. After visiting tons of European cities, I started to feel like they were all pretty similar. However, Kiev definitely has a different feel from most European cities and I think it is completely underrated. I wish that I had at least one extra day to see some extra sights. I spent one day wondering around the city and the other day taking a guided tour to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
I flew into Kiev-Boryspil International Airport. After arriving at the airport, I went through immigration. Ukraine does not require a visa for U.S citizens. After getting through passport control, I took out some money at an AM (1000 UAH limit) before going to purchase a local SIM card. I knew that this would come in handy with navigating my way around throughout the trip. It was only about $5 for 8GB, which was the smallest option they had available at the time.
I then found the Sky Bus outside of the airport, that takes you to the city. You pay for the bus ticket on the bus, which is 100 UAH, which is less than $4. The downside of the bus is that it does not go all the way into center city. It will drop you off near a metro stop and you will have to take the metro the rest of the way into the city. The bus does not announce the stops so it will be useful if you have maps pulled up on your phone. Otherwise, just get off on the first stop, which is about a 15-minute ride. The metro ride is only 8 UAH, which is only 30 cents. The metro takes about an extra 30 minutes to get into the city center. This mode of transportation is much cheaper than taking a taxi.
If you want the convenience of a taxi, there is an official taxi desk inside of the arrivals terminal. This will get you a government taxi instead of getting inside a taxi from some random guy that may try to overcharge you. It is also safer going with the official taxis. Most Ukrainians do not speak English so you may also run into a problem if you take the taxi route.
I stayed at an apartment in the Independence Square area. This is main square. The apartment is owned by Kiev Accommodation Hotel Service and can be booked on hotels.com. The apartment is in a great location and is only 30 USD per night.
Since I arrived at night, I didn’t have time to see anything on the day of arrival. I read about a unique bar online, so I thought I would go check it out. The bar is called Palata No6 and is named after Anton Chekhov’s tale about life in a madhouse. It is hidden down a back alley and is a bit challenging to locate. The male bartenders are dressed in doctor’s scrubs and the females are dressed in white nurse’s outfits.
If you ask for the Pyramida, you will be served vodka through a giant pyramid of test tubes. My husband asked for the Helmet, which involves chugging absinthe and getting your helmet lit on fire. I advise you not to order food though since it took over an hour just to get some wings. This bar was definitely an interesting experience though.
On the first full day, I took a walk around the city to see the main sights. Everything was fairly walkable and goes in a circular direction. I started at Independence Square. If you have time, they offer free walking tours every day, but since I only had the one day, I wanted to explore at my own pace so that I could fit more in. Maidan Nezalezhnosti is the actual name of the central square and is also the name of the metro stop. It is located on Khreshchatyk Street, which is the busiest street in Kiev. The square is the location for political rallies, so I recommend making sure that there aren’t any going on during the time that you plan to come.
I then headed down the road to People’s Friendship Arch. This is a monument built in 1982 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the USSR and the celebration of the 1,500th anniversary of the city. In 2016, the Ukrainian government announced plans to dismantle the arch as part of its decommunization laws. There are plans to put a memorial dedicated to veterans of the War in Donbass in its place. However, when we were there, the arch was still there although there was construction going on.
Since the Friendship Arch sits high up on the hill, you can get a good view of the city. You can also look across the way and see Volodymir the Great statue.
I didn’t want to walk down one hill and up another hill to see the statue, so I made my way to St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. Admission to the monastery is free.
Behind the monastery, you will find the Kiev Funicular, which connects the historic Uppertown, and the lower commercial neighborhood of Podil through the steep Volodymyrska Hill overseeing the Dnieper River. It is 8 UAH per trip (30 cents). I took the funicular down thinking that it would get me closer to St. Andrew’s church, but I actually just ended up walking back up the hill. However, I did walk up a cool street called Andriyivsky Descent. On this 720 meter, cobblestone street, you will find lots of street stalls selling souvenirs.
At the top of the steep hill, sits St. Andrew’s Church overlooking the historic Podil neighborhood. This was my favorite church in Kiev because of the pretty turquoise color. The church was being renovated when we were there so we did not get to go in, although we were able to walk around the grounds.
Not far from the church is Landscape Alley, a picturesque place that will captivate not only kids. It is a colorful street full of interesting things.
Next, I walked to Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kiev’s oldest standing church. The cost depends on what you wish to see and do. You can pay just to enter the grounds, pay a little more to enter the cathedral, and pay even more to go up to the Bell Tower. I arrived one hour before the next Bell Tower admission so I decided to pay only for the grounds and entrance. This cathedral is an outstanding architectural monument of Kyivan Rus’. The cathedral is one of the city’s best known landmarks and the first heritage site in Ukraine to be inscribed on the World Heritage List along with the Kyiv Cave Monastery.
After visiting the cathedral, I stopped for lunch at Limonade, where I had traditional Red Borscht soup and Varenyky (stuffed dumplings). They were both delicious. Originally, I booked a cooking class on ,Get Your Guide but then I realized I was in Kiev for one less day than I had thought so I cancelled it. If I ever go back, I will definitely want to do this.
Down the road from the cathedral is the Golden Gate of Kyiv, which was the main gate in the 11th century fortifications. It was named in imitation of the Golden Gate of Constantinople. The structure was dismantled in the Middle Ages, although rebuild by the Soviet authorities in 1982.
Two blocks further from the gate is the Opera House.
Next, I went to St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral. Admission to the church is free.
From there, I headed several blocks to the Bessarabka Market, an indoor food market located in a main square with a shopping mall beneath it.
After taking a peek in the market, I walked back toward Independence Square on Khreshchatyk Street. On the left hand side, you will see the Kyiv sign.
Since there was still daylight, I got on the metro and headed to the Monastery of the Caves, which is about 20 minutes from Independence Square located near Asenalna metro station. The monastery is called Kiev Pechersk Lavra and is a historic Orthodox Christian monastery and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Unfortunately, I got there at 5PM and the caves close at 4:30PM. I would have liked to see the underground labyrinths lined with mummified monks. You will have to pay even if you want to walk around the premises.
The next day was dedicated to Chernobyl. I booked the 12-hour tour on Get Your Guide. We met in Independence Square and took a 2-hour drive to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. There were 17 people in our group. The van was pretty nice and had a TV at the front of the van that showed a documentary about the Chernobyl disaster and what has been done to eliminate the radioactivity. It was very informative and a great way to start off the trip.
If you take this tour, be sure to bring your passport since the guards will check it to get into the zone and may check it again within the zone. You also have to wear clothing that does not expose your skin (except your face) and it is recommended to wear boots.
In the exclusion zone, we were shown around villages that had been evacuated and severely effected. We were also taken up close to the reactor where the explosion took place. We had lunch at a restaurant in the zone.
After lunch, we walked around the ghost town of Pripyat and then saw the Duga Radar. As we walked around each place, we were able to see how much radioactivity was still in the area with the use of a Geiger counter. The typical amount of radioactivity in a normal location is about 0.06 CPM. Within the zone, we saw recordings of over 400 CPM.
The Pripyat abandoned amusement park was to be opened for the first time on May 1, 1986, in time for the May Day celebrations, but these plans were cancelled on April 26th, when the Chernobyl disaster occurred a few kilometers away.
Overall, the trip was a very eerie, but interesting experience. It was very neat to be in the place where the world’s largest radioactive explosion took place. To put it into perspective, the Chernobyl explosion put 400 times more radioactive material into the Earth’s atmosphere then the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
When we returned in Kiev, we went to eat at a restaurant called The Last Brigade in Independence Square since it had a good rating on Trip Advisor. I didn’t look into the reviews too much so didn’t realize how hidden it was. It is well hidden within the underground mall and requires a password to enter, which must be spoken in Ukranian.
Luckily, the host gave us the password and opened the door for us after a bad attempt at pronouncing it. The first door opened up to a coat closet and then a secret door opened from there to the restaurant. There was a musician playing music the entire night and the food was cheap and delicious so I definitely recommend this to anyone visiting Kiev.
Kiev is the perfect Eastern European city for a three-day weekend. I loved how colorful it was. If I had extra time, I would have loved to visit the Kiev fortress, Mariyinsky Palace, Ukrainian National Museum, and Mikolaivskij sober.