With breathtaking architecture, diverse art and over 1,500 years of history, Kiev (or Kyiv) is a fascinating and eclectic place to visit. The capital city of Ukraine boasts some of the most unique and mesmerising cathedrals, a vivid nightlife scene, and delicious, welcoming restaurants everywhere you turn.
Founded all the way back in 482 AD, Kiev is one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe. Belonging to half a dozen empires and federations over the centuries, Kiev has played an important role in the development of East Slavic civilisation. Following its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the metropolis continues to grow and rebuild as it remains one of the most significant cultural hubs in the region.
There are so many interesting things to see and mesmerising places to visit in Kiev, you’ll be wondering why you haven’t been here sooner. To help you plan your perfect trip, here are 30 things to do while in Kiev, Ukraine.
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Kiev Pechersk Lavra
One of the most astounding and iconic attractions in Kiev is the Pechersk Lavra. The enormous Orthodox Christian complex includes various structures like cathedrals, bell towers, museums, fortification walls, and over 100 burial sites. Considered an extraordinary accomplishment in Eastern Orthodox church architecture, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine. The monastery complex and its numerous individual attractions are available to visit daily between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Great Lavra Bell Tower
One of the most easily identifiable features of the Pechersk Lavra, and the Kiev skyline, is the Great Lavra Bell Tower. The Classical, four-tiered tower is free-standing, reaching a height of 96.5 metres and topped by a golden dome. Each tier includes different columns, from Dorian columns on the second tier to Ionic and Corinthian columns on the third and fourth tiers respectively. The clock on the fourth tier chimes every 15 minutes.
The primary cathedral associated with the Kiev Pechersk Lavra is the Dormition Cathedral, built between 1073 and 1089. After being converted into a museum by the Soviets in 1928, the structure was later destroyed in World War II. The restored Byzantine-style church was consecrated in 2000 and is unlike any other you’ll see around the world.
Gate Church of the Trinity
Another remarkable historic structure at Kiev Pechersk Lavra is the Gate Church to the Trinity. Built in the early 12th century in a Kievan Rus style, the church’s facade today is opulent Ukrainian Baroque. Despite numerous renovations, it is the only significant above-ground monument in the area to remain intact across the centuries. Impressively detailed frescoes from the 18th century cover the high interior walls, and a sixteen-candle chandelier adds even more elegance.
The Near Caves
Kiev Pechersk Lavra’s underground cave system is known as the Caves of Saint Anthony, or the Near Caves. Dating back to 1057, the caves even contain three underground churches, most notably the Church of Saint Anthony. With a total length of 383 metres, they are easy to explore, even as a self-guided tour. Of course, booking a guided tour ensures you learn the most you can about the caves and hear some fascinating, historical stories.
Saint Sophia’s Cathedral
Built in the early 1000s, Saint Sophia‘s Cathedral is the oldest standing religious structure in Kiev. Like the Pechersk Lavra, it is recognised as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine. The cathedral’s name came from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), though it is dedicated to the Holy Wisdom.
In fact, some say it was designed to rival the former church. Saint Sophia’s Cathedral is well known for its 13 green and gold cupola domes, which are unique for a Byzantine-style church. For a bird’s eye view across the city, climb up the 76-metre-tall bell tower.
As you may expect, the interiors of the cathedral are even more mesmerising. The rich frescoes have been remarkably preserved since the 11th century and are sure to amaze you. Stop by between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to explore the interiors in detail. The cathedral is closed on Thursdays and closes an hour early on Wednesdays. Guided tours in English are available for an extra cost.
The Golden Gate
The Golden Gate was the entrance to the city during the Kievan Rus era. Like Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, it was constructed in the early 1000s by Yaroslav the Wise to emulate Constantinople’s Golden Gate. Although destroyed during the Middle Ages, the Soviets rebuilt the gate in 1982 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of Kiev.
It now contains a museum detailing the history and significance of the original gate. Head to the top of the three-tiered pavilion above the gate for a unique perspective of Kiev.
National Opera of Ukraine
Wondering how to spend an evening in Kiev? Pop into the National Opera of Ukraine and see a show. The theatre was opened in 1901 and is considered one of the most prestigious in both Ukraine and Russia.
Tickets are very affordable and there are new opera and ballet performances almost every evening at 7 p.m. Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Carmen and Madama Butterfly are just a few of the classics currently on the schedule. To book your tickets, check out the program online and head to the box office earlier in the day.
Gryshko National Botanical Garden
One of Kiev’s most serene areas is the M. M. Gryshko National Botanical Garden. A part of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, it was founded in 1936 and made public in 1964. The gardens are comprised of greenhouses, rosaries and conservatories. Its 13,000 types of plants, trees and flowers from around the world are divided by geography and landscape.
You have the unique opportunity to see rare tropical and subtropical species here, as well as over 350 types of orchids. The garden is open daily until nine o’clock at night, so you can come by for a peaceful wander in the late afternoon or evening after a busy day in the city.
An absolutely fascinating building in Kiev is the Gorodetsky House. Also known as the House with Chimaeras, this eccentric Art Nouveau home in the historic Lypky neighbourhood is used as a presidential palace. Unfortunately, this means no one from the public can enter.
Completed in 1902, the house is known for its ornate statues and motifs of exotic animals and mythical creatures. There are a few scandalous legends surrounding the building, including the rumour that its architect, Władysław Horodecki, cursed the building for future tenants. Of course, the stories are lacking incredible sources, but are fun to hear about nonetheless.
Saint Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery
Yet another incredible religious building in Kiev is the Saint Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery. The elegant Ukrainian Baroque cathedral and bell tower are sky blue and white with gilded domes. As is the case with many other landmarks in former Soviet republics, this monastery is a reconstruction of the original, demolished by Soviet officials in the 1930s. According to scholars, an even earlier monastery was built here in the 1050s.
Head up to the bell tower and look out across the Dnieper River. Before you do, however, there’s a small museum with information about the history of the monastery. The cathedral is open to the public from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m and is free to enter. Services are held daily at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. with an additional Sunday service at 10 a.m.
Kiev’s most famous street is Andriyivskyy Descent, a winding slope descending from the Old Town (or Upper Town) to Podil near the Dnieper River. The charming 720-metre-long cobblestone road has plenty of chic cafes and galleries to pop into, as well as local vendors selling their artwork.
Drawing similarities to Montmartre in Paris, Andriyivskyy Descent has become one of the most popular Kiev tourist attractions. Beginning at the forked end of Volodymyrska Street and Desyatynna Street, the descent passes major attractions like the Saint Andrew’s Church, the Castle of Richard the Lionheart, and the former home of Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov.
Independence Square (or Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Ukrainian) is the central square of Kiev. Known throughout the centuries as Perevisyshch and Soviet Square, it was given its current name in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The square is a significant gathering point for political activism, with numerous large-scale protests held here since the 1990s.
The main attraction here is the Independence Monument, a Baroque-style column made from Italian marble to commemorate Ukraine’s independence.
National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine
In the southern outskirts of Kiev is the village of Pirogov, which has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. Pirogov is home to one of the best museums in Kiev, an incredible open-air space officially known as the National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine. This escape from the city transports you right into Ukrainian folk life from the past few centuries.
Across one and a half square kilometres are over 300 dwellings, workshops, churches and other authentic buildings. There are more than 70,000 artefacts too, including ceramics, costumes, glassware, woodwork, embroidery and more. With six different villages representing different regions of Ukraine, you can explore the rural architecture and watch traditional craft demonstrations like pottery and weaving. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Saint Andrew’s Church
Appearing straight out of a fairytale, Saint Andrew’s Church is a stunning Baroque church built in the mid-1700s. The blue and gold masterpiece features five domes and a platform offering more beautiful views across the city.
Due to its hilltop position, concern has been shown regarding the shifting foundations below the church. For this reason, it may be under renovation during your visit. If you happen to be here when visitors are allowed inside again, be sure to marvel at the heavenly central dome, the rich three-tier iconostasis and the impeccable woodwork.
Another architectural gem in Kiev is Mariyinsky Palace, used as a ceremonial residence for the President of Ukraine. Constructed over eight years in the mid-1700s, the picturesque Baroque palace is surrounded by gardens with large ponds and water features. Although you can’t go inside, it’s wonderful to walk around the outside.
Dnieper River Cruise
A beautiful experience to have in Kiev is a sightseeing cruise along the Dnieper River. Depending on your budget, you can pick a group tour on a small ship, an individual kayak tour, or a private tour for you and your loved ones only. If you’re tired of walking around the city, you can sit back and relax as you pass some of Kiev’s most notable sites.
Park Landscape Alley
Lovers of abstract art should head straight to Park Landscape Valley, an urban public park showcasing quirky sculptures and vibrant mosaics. Following the alley’s creation in 1980, it was eventually transformed by locals into an open-air art gallery of sorts. The large, colourful installations feature a variety of animals, including elephants, hugging giraffes and some creepy-looking cats. You won’t regret making the effort to check out one of Kiev’s most unexpected attractions.
Street Art Tour
If you want to delve deeper into the city’s street art scene, book a street art tour. A two-to-three-hour private guided tour will take you off the beaten path to see some of the lesser-known murals, as well as the largest underground mural. Depart at a time that suits your schedule and get ready for an in-depth exploration into Kiev’s most creative and lively spaces.
Get a taste of daily life in Kiev at the historic Besarabsky Market in the heart of Bessarabska Square. Built in the 1910s, the indoor market takes up almost 900 square metres and offers a wide variety of produce, meats and dry goods. Stop by between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. to pick up some fresh fruit, as well as some Ukranian halva, a dense dessert made from sunflowers.
The Motherland Monument
An unmissable part of Kiev’s modern skyline is the Motherland Monument, installed in 1981. The enormous stainless steel statue is 62 metres tall and a part of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War. However, due to its position on top of the museum, which is already on a hill, it actually reaches a height of 102 metres. This makes it appear much taller than the Great Lavra Bell Tower from certain parts of the city.
The Soviet Mother holds a shield with the state emblem of the Soviet Union in her right hand, and a 16-metre-long sword in her left hand. Interestingly, the shield still remains despite it violating the country’s decommunisation laws, which prohibit all Soviet and communist symbols.
The National Museum of the History of Ukraine
The National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War serves as a memorial complex in honour of the 11,600 fallen soldiers. With over 300,000 pieces, the museum is one of the largest in Ukraine.
Through well-curated exhibitions and moving photo galleries, you’ll gain some thorough insights into the struggles of the Ukrainian people during World War II. You can also see genuine military equipment such as tanks and planes in the outside field. The museum is open daily from 10 o’clock, closing at 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday and at 6 p.m. on the weekends.
Saint Volodymyr Hill
On the right bank of the Dnieper River is Saint Volodymyr Hill, known for its prominent monument of Vladimir the Great. Built in 1853, the four-and-a-half-metre bronze statue stands on top of a 16-metre-high cast iron pedestal.
This scene is symbolic of Kiev and is often used in paintings and photographs to represent the city. To save time walking up the steep staircase, catch the funicular to the top of the hill and admire the panorama below you.
A Ukrainian Cooking Class
Ukrainian cuisine is full of heart and tradition, though you likely haven’t had the opportunity to try it. Why not change this by taking a three-hour class and learning to cook like a local? In your host’s apartment, you’ll prepare Ukrainian favourites like borscht (beetroot soup) and varenyky (dumplings). What’s not to love about improving your cooking skills and learning some delicious new recipes in a friendly environment? The classes are private and conducted in English, so there’s no language barrier to worry about.
National Art Museum of Ukraine
The National Art Museum of Ukraine (NAMU) in Kiev is dedicated solely to Ukrainian and Russian works of art. Set inside a lovely late-19th-century neoclassical building surrounded by tall trees, NAMU houses over 20,000 pieces.
The museum also runs educational programs and events for locals. Come and see some contemporary avant-garde pieces by renowned such as Vadym Meller, Aleksandra Ekster, Kliment Red’ko and Victor Palmov.
NAMU is open from Wednesday to Sunday with varying opening hours, so check the website in advance. Although, any time between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. is safe.
Get active at Kiev’s X-Park, located on a scenic island between the Dnieper and Desenka rivers. This fantastic outdoor sports complex is full of adventurous opportunities for everyone. Rent a kayak, jet ski or wakeboard and head out on the water, or stay on land and go ATV or motocross riding.
There is a rope park and a trampoline centre for the kids, and paintball is always fun if you’re travelling in a group. Those wanting to keep it chill can head to the volleyball court or play a few rounds of table tennis. As you can already tell, the activities are endless here.
There are plenty of places to chill out, get a massage, or enjoy a meal once you’ve had enough adventure for the day. X-Park is open daily from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Come as early as you can because you won’t want to leave!
Pinchuk Art Centre
Founded in 2006, the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev is the largest private contemporary art centre in Eastern Europe, and certainly one of the most dynamic and engaging. It provides free access to different perspectives and ideas, and aims to spark public discussion on topics like national identity.
Located in the historic Besarabka area, the art centre takes up six floors. In addition to the exhibitions across four floors, there’s a library, an education room, a book store and a cafe too. Come by between noon and 9 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday to see some fascinating works by both Ukrainian and international artists.
One of the best things to do in Kiev at night is to head to Closer, perhaps the most unique venue in the city. A bohemian nightclub in the evenings, the former factory also holds film screenings, markets, fashion shows, art exhibitions and other lively events.
You’ll even find a vinyl record store, a tea room and a vegetarian food bar. Influenced by Berlin’s 24-hour party culture, Closer is somewhat of a city within a city, offering everything you could possibly need for a fun-filled weekend. Full of young locals, good music and a contagiously enjoyable atmosphere, it’s worth checking out for yourself if you’re up for a party.
Taras Shevchenko Park
Kiev is a noticeably green city, with a dozen luscious parks almost blending into one another. Despite being one of the smallest, Taras Shevchenko Park is a top outdoor hangout spot. The older residents come to play chess and read the newspaper in the early mornings, students can be found chilling out on the lawns in the afternoon, and couples stop by for a romantic picnic in the evenings.
Located in the heart of the city, it truly is a space for everyone to enjoy. A statue of Taras Shevchenko, a prominent Ukranian literary figure, stands proudly in the centre of the park and is surrounded by colourful flower beds. Come here to relax, people watch, and buy a drink or a treat from the kiosk.
Something different to do in Kiev is to spend a few hours at the Planetarium. See fascinating 360-degree projections on the largest dome in the country, complete with moon phases, solar eclipses, meteor showers and flying comets. You can also watch some short film screenings or enjoy a classical or jazz music performance under the stars.
The Kiev Planetarium is open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily. Astronomy lovers and those curious about our solar system won’t want to miss out!
Recommended tours in Kiev
- Chernobyl Tour from Kiev
- Full-Day Tour of Chernobyl and Prypiat from Kyiv
- Highlights of Kiev Private Sightseeing Tour
- Small-Group Sightseeing Driving Tour of Kiev – Best Introduction to the City
- Kyiv by Night
- Chernihiv Day Trip from Kyiv
- Private Tour: Kiev Pechersk Lavra and Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine
- Shooting Gun Range in Kiev
- Private Walking Tour – Architectural Masterpieces of Pechersk District
- Ex Nuclear Missile Base Tour from Kiev
- Kyiv Craft Beer Tour
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