Kiev (or Kyiv) is Ukraine’s capital city, situated in Eastern Europe bordering Russia and six other countries. The country has only been independent for 28 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and since then, it has slowly been building its reputation as a worthwhile country to visit for travellers. The main destination for tourists to visit in Ukraine is, of course, it’s capital, Kiev. A sprawling metropolis that is a magnet for culture and history lovers who enjoy alternative and unusual city breaks.
Kiev is the seventh-largest city in Europe with a population of almost 3 million and stretches across the Dnieper River which runs from Russia, through Belarus and Ukraine into the Black Sea. It’s home to the UNESCO World Heritage site which celebrates the St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Kiev Pechersk Lavra and other Orthodox buildings for their stunning architecture and influence. Like most huge European capital cities, Kiev is also the centre of Ukraine’s financial world and the Kiev nightlife scene is thriving.
There are plenty of unusual and exciting things to do in Kiev for the more intrepid traveller, but Kiev is also a very accessible alternative for more popular European city breaks.
This ultimate Kiev travel guide will show you the best Kiev Ukraine travel tips, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Kiev and things to do in Kiev which will help you in planning a trip to Kiev.
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How to get to Kiev
Kiev has three airports, but the one that serves most worldwide destinations is the Boryspil International Airport, though Zhulyany Airport is sometimes confusingly referred to as ‘Kiev International Airport.’ Zhulyany Airport does fly to destinations both domestically in Ukraine and Europe, often by Wizz Air, but Boryspil flies directly to New York, Dubai and more.
Boryspil Airport is much better connected to Kiev city centre via public transport. You can catch the train from the airport to Kharkivska Station and then use the city’s metro system to reach your accommodation.
Kiev is well-connected by rail to other major cities in Eastern Europe. Direct services are available to Moscow and St Petersburg, Budapest, Bratislava, Minsk and others. There are fast and overnight trains to cities in Ukraine like Odessa and Lviv. Many bus companies, such as Autolux and Gunsel, operate numerous services daily to smaller Ukranian cities for very low prices.
What to expect in Kiev
Ukraine is usually in the news due to the unrest near the Russian border, so is Kiev safe to visit? Luckily, Kiev is nowhere near this Russian border so it’s just as safe to visit as other European capital cities. If you are an LGBT+ traveller, you may want to exercise caution as homophobia is rife in Ukraine, though less so in Kiev.
Ukraine is one of the cheapest countries to visit in Europe. Coffees cost under €1 and most Uber journeys are around the equivalent of €2. The local currency is the Ukranian Hryvnia (UAH). Ukraine is not in the EU or Schengen area so you may need a special visa to visit. The main languages are Ukranian and Russian so there is an English language barrier, but service workers do tend to speak a bit of English. Learning a little of the Cyrillic alphabet will help you massively.
How to get around Kiev
Kiev is a huge, sprawling cosmopolitan city with a lot of hills. So while you may want to walk around the more picturesque, tourist parts of the city, to get around the other areas you may want to use the metro, bus system or Uber if you can use the SIM card in your phone.
Kiev’s metro system is extremely cheap at approximately 8UAH per single journey and is a real local experience. The metro is very deep underground and can be hectic during certain times of the day. The buses and trams cost the same as the metro and you pay onboard using cash.
Uber is many international visitor’s preferred method of travelling around Kiev. Even though journeys could cost up to ten times the price of a metro ticket, the average ride is still cheap by most western standards if you pay in cash to avoid card fees.
The best time to visit Kiev
Kiev is at its most beautiful during the spring and autumn months of May-June and September-October. There are plenty of parks and botanical gardens in Kiev that will either be in full bloom or changing colours during these times. You don’t really visit Kiev for the warm weather as temperatures only reach around 25 degrees Celsius in summer and winter can be bitterly cold and below freezing.
Kiev is generally affordable for the majority of travellers any time of year, and even though summer is peak season it still won’t be expensive to most. October is the best time to visit Kiev for the opera shows and there will be far fewer people with mild weather conditions.
Christmas and New Year is a big affair in Kiev and the buzzing nightlife means it’s an ideal alternative to more expensive cities like Paris or Berlin for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Things to do in Kiev
Also known as Independence Square in English, Maidan Nezalezhnosti is the main, historic central square in Kiev just off Khreschatyk Street (the main street) and is one of the top places to go in Kiev. It’s the location of many important Ukranian memorials such as the huge Independent Monument column to signify Ukraine’s liberty from the Soviet Union.
It’s also the location of many political protests and many seasonal events such as the Christmas Markets have been moved to Sofiyivska Square to be respectful of the tragedies that have occurred in Independence Square.
Kiev Pechersk Lavra
There are a few different churches and monasteries in Kiev and one that you should definitely make time to visit is Kiev Pechersk Lavra. It made the ‘Seven Wonders of Ukraine’ list and is very important to the Eastern Orthodox Christian religion and still has Monks in residence.
The Great Lavra Bell Tower is one of the main attractions in this absolutely stunning, imposing monastery as well as the underground caves which are so extensive, they are able to house living quarters and even small chapels.
St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
Another golden-domed monastery you should visit in Kiev is St. Michael’s. It’s also an incredible structure with multiple gold domes that dazzle in the sunlight with a striking blue facade on the edge of the Podil neighbourhood.
The monastery was originally built in the middle ages before being destroyed by the Soviets in the 1930s. It was rebuilt 20 years ago with an attempt to recreate the monastery’s original Baroque and Byzantine style. It’s a beautiful, working church that you cannot miss visiting in Kiev.
St. Sophia’s Cathedral
Most of the golden-domed Orthodox monasteries and churches in Kiev including Kiev Pechersk Lavra, St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery and the St. Sophia’s Cathedral have UNESCO World Heritage status, the first in Ukraine, due to their stunning architectural design and significance to the Orthodox religion.
St. Sophia’s Cathedral is very close to St. Michael’s and was originally built in the 11th-century. This set of three churches in Kiev are possibly the most important monuments in the city and it’s worth taking the time to visit all three if you can.
Holosiivskyi National Natural Park
Are you a nature lover who adores being active outside when you travel? Even though Kiev is a built-up, modern city, it’s very easy to take one metro ride out of the city centre to the Holosiivskyi National Natural Park.
It’s an immense area of trails, lakes and forest that feels worlds away from the busyness of the city centre and you can take some time out from sightseeing to enjoy an afternoon exploring this national park.
Next-door to the Shevchenkivskyi neighbourhood is Podilskyi (more commonly referred to as Podil). It’s one of Kiev’s oldest areas but Podil is experiencing a regeneration with new artisan cafés and galleries and specialist restaurants popping up all the time, which might be because Kiev’s university is based in this area. Head to the locals’ favourite hangouts, Living Room and vegetarian restaurant Vagabond Cafe & Vintage Corner.
The Motherland Monument in Navodnitsky park is one of the most important monuments in Kiev. Not only is it a colossal size and can be seen from all over the city, but the statue is also made out of stainless steel which is unusual for such a huge sculpture.
It stands on top of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War. The statue holds a shield with the symbol of the Soviet Union which is also unusual considering Ukraine has made efforts to ban Soviet and communist symbols.
What to eat in Kiev
Traditional Ukrainian cuisine is quite typical of Eastern European food in that it’s usually comforting, hearty meals based around potatoes, bread and soups. Borscht is a very popular beetroot-based soup served with a dollop of yoghurt or sour cream with garlic flavoured bread, though there are often different variations available depending on which vegetables are in season and the best part is, it’s usually vegetarian.
Chicken Kiev is possibly one of the most well-travelled Ukrainian food staples and you cannot visit Kiev without ordering it at least once! Chicken Kiev is a fillet wrapped around butter and coated with egg and breadcrumbs and will be very easy to find in Kiev in no-frills, family-run restaurants around the city.
Kiev is a huge, moderately multi-cultural city so there are many restaurants serving food from all over the world as well as a small number of vegetarian and vegan-friendly places.
Where to stay in Kiev
Budget – You won’t be short of choice when it comes to cheap accommodation in Kiev. A lot of Kiev hostels are very basic unlike the flashy, design hostels in other European cities but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any great options. Hostel Veselka in Shevchenkivskyi district is in a great location, very affordable and has bright, colourful decor. Dream House Hostel is an alternative in the Podil neighbourhood if you like a modern hostel with more amenities.
Mid-range – Even if you normally stay in hostels, your average budget might stretch to an affordable mid-range hotel in Kiev. Hotel Ibis has two great located hotels in Kiev: City Centre or Railway Station which might be handy if you’re travelling elsewhere after visiting Kiev. Both have fantastic views over the city and have modern, regularly updated interiors. Theatre Boutique Apart Hotel is perfect if you want a cheap hotel room with kitchen facilities.
Luxury – There are tonnes of great affordable luxe hotels in Kiev. Premier Palace is a gorgeous hotel in a building dating back to the early 1900s in the Shevchenkivskyi neighbourhood where all the main things to do in Kiev are located. This hotel has an indoor swimming pool and a retro antique-style decor.
Tours to do in Kiev
Kiev may be a large city, but the most historical and important monuments and buildings are concentrated to a small area to the east of the Dnieper River. Taking a walking tour around these top sites in Kiev, especially if you’re short on time, is the perfect introduction to Kiev and you’re sure to learn things about Ukraine’s capital city that other visitors wouldn’t from a knowledgeable, local guide.
Foodies cannot miss the chance to taste as much of the best authentic Ukrainian food in Kiev on this local cuisine tour. Sample no less than four different foods and learn about the history of favourites like Borscht, Kasha and Ukrainian sausages. Don’t miss the chance to ask the food-loving guides where their favourites restaurants in Kiev are because they’re sure to have the best recommendations.
The Kiev nightlife is some of the best in Europe, not to mention the cheapest. So, if you’re a party-goer then this pub crawl around the best bars is the perfect way to drink in all the best bars that locals hang out in, make friends with fellow travellers and have a great night!
Day trips from Kiev
You really can’t plan a trip to Ukraine without booking a day trip to Chernobyl and this tour from Kiev is the best-rated. The abandoned city of Pripyat is the location of the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl Power Plant and the entire area had to be evacuated leaving houses, schools, and hospitals frozen in time allowing the plant life to reclaim the city.
It’s a phenomenal and devastating scene and you have the opportunity to learn about the event and the aftermath on this safe and extensive day tour.
Yanukovych’s Countryside Residence
Ukraine has such a long and troubled history, but you can learn about the recent state of affairs by hopping on a day trip to this lovely country home that belonged to corrupt former Ukrainian President Yanukovych who was forced to leave office 2014.
It’s such an eclectic and different thing to do in Ukraine and this mansion is so extravagant. You can visit his personal underground shooting range, his private zoo and the rest of the lavish estate while learning all about recent Ukrainian current events.
Ex Nuclear Missile Base
If you’re one of those people who find military history fascinating (and there are lots of people who do) then this day trip to a retired Nuclear Missile Base in Ukraine is ideal. You can learn more about Ukraine’s part in the Cold War and explore the missile base which has been preserved and turned into a museum.
Recommended tours in Kiev
- Chernobyl Tour from Kiev
- Highlights of Kiev Private Sightseeing Tour
- Kyiv by Night
- Private Mezhyhirya Residence Tour from Kiev
- Shooting Gun Range in Kiev
- Yanukovych’s Countryside Residence: Tour from Kyiv
- Half-Day Cossack Village Tour from Kiev
- Private Tour of Museum of Aviation in Kyiv
- Kyiv Craft Beer Tour
- Ukrainian Cuisine Cooking Class: Borsch and Varenyky
- Jewish History of Kyiv including Babi Yar Memorial Private Tour