The concept and perceptions of Kiev are a bit strange.
People who haven’t visited Kiev perceive it as a distant Eastern European city with close ties to Russia, a lot of apparent corruption and frequent protests going on.
The thing is that – as Bradt travel writer Michael Palin once said – few stories in English romanticize Kiev and, for the last few years, with all the violent demonstrations and the ongoing war against Russia, many people from the West are even questioning the city’s safety and potential appeal.
Nevertheless, despite all these negative views, your perception of the capital changes radically as soon as you step into the city, because what you find is an extremely vibrant, energetic and beautiful capital with so much going on.
Kiev is, in fact, one of my favorite cities in the world, but I only discovered that upon my arrival, because Kiev is a city that, unexpectedly, tends to wow all its visitors.
There is just so much to do here, from visiting Baroque-style buildings to a large WWII Heritage, loads of Soviet things to see, a great bar scene and, basically, something going on in almost every corner.
Traveling to Kiev won’t disappoint you.
I spent two weeks in the city and this guide contains everything you need to know to visit Kiev, including transportation tips, the best places to stay and, of course, the best things to do in Kiev in a 4-day itinerary, including off the beaten track stuff.
For a more practical guide to the country, don’t forget to read my ultimate Ukraine guide
How to prepare your visit when you travel to Kiev
Kiev is big, like damn big.
In area, it is almost as big as Berlin and definitely bigger than Madrid or Paris, so it might easily be the 3rd or 4th largest city in Europe.
Despite its size, however, it only has 3 metro lines.
It also has an extensive tram and city bus system but, when you have to make a connection, it just takes forever to reach some places.
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Moreover, many things to do in Kiev, as well as bars and restaurants, are scattered all around the city, so you can’t just leave where you are staying and expect to find everything along the way.
This means that visiting Kiev requires a bit of preparation and planning ahead, so that is why, in the itinerary section of this post, I thought it would be helpful to split all the places to visit in Kiev into area and day by day.
Kiev or Kyiv?
The first day I posted something about Kiev on my Instagram Stories, I got a message from a young Ukrainian lady who was kind of upset because I spelled it Kiev instead of Kyiv. The fact is that Kyiv is the Ukrainian way of writing it and Kiev is the Russian transliteration, so given the current (and past) relationship between both countries, Ukrainians are a bit sensitive regarding this topic and, in any case, their spelling is the correct one, as the city was named after one of the three city’s founders, Kyi. As for me, in the article I am using Kiev because this is the term English-speaking people search for and, by any means, I don’t want to get political about it. In private, however, I will always spell it Kyiv.
How to move around Kiev
Metro – As I said above, Kiev has two metro lines and one ticket costs as little as 8UAH, which is the equivalent of 0.30€. Something that surprised me about Kiev’s metro is that it is always very busy, no matter the time of the day.
Trams and city buses – Slower option but both tram and bus can take you literally everywhere. Google Maps can easily tell you which bus or tram number you should take when planning your route.
Taxi – It is easier if you download a taxi app and Bolt seems to be the most popular one.
Interested in visiting Minsk? Read my 3-day Minsk itinerary
Best places to stay in Kiev
Wherever you stay, I strongly recommend you stay close to a metro station and, if possible, near the center.
Otherwise, getting back home every day can be a time-consuming experience.
Where to stay in Podil area
Podil is the fashionable neighborhood where you can find the old pre-Soviet architecture. It is attached to downtown, is very well-connected and here you will find a wide array of bars, restaurants, and cafés.
Backpacker Hostel – Dream Hostel Kiev – Top backpacking hostel in the city, with a great traveling atmosphere and great location. A really good place.
Budget Apartment – Danchenko’s Apartment – In Kiev, booking an apartment is a popular thing to do.
A good hotel – Bursa Hotel – A nicely decorated hotel with a trendy style in the heart of Podil.
Where to stay in Pecherski (downtown)
This is the area around Independence Square and where you can find some of the most famous landmarks such as Saint Sophia Cathedral.
Backpacker Hostel – Friends Forever – A great hostel at the heart of downtown.
Mid-range Hotel – Ukraine Hotel – Surprisingly, the famous hotel that overlooks Independence Square isn’t expensive at all.
Things to do in Kiev in 4 days
These are, in my opinion, the unmissable places of any Kiev itinerary.
Map of what to see in Kiev in 4 days
Each pin color refers to a different day of your Kiev itinerary
Day 1 – Things to do in Kiev around Pecherski
This is basically downtown and the first place you need to visit in Kiev is Independence Square, the most central square and from where you can do a loop while stopping by a couple of landmarks.
Or Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Ukrainian is one of the most beautiful and impressive squares I have ever visited in Europe, and one of the most symbolic as well, as Maidan has witnessed quite a few particularly violent and important revolutions, the last one being the Euromaidan, a series of demonstrations that lasted for several months back in 2014, when many people were murdered by the police.
You may remember these events because it was all over the news.
Today, at least during my visit, there is a permanent outdoor exhibition with photos and memorials from the protests.
As I said, I suggest you come here first but this is also one of the best places in Kiev to see the sunset.
Maidan Nezalezhnosti is definitely, one of the best things to see in Kiev.
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Saint Sophia Cathedral
This gorgeous cathedral was the first place in Ukraine to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. As in many places around Ukraine, you need to purchase a separate ticket for each place within the complex, including general entrance, getting inside the cathedral, going up the bell tour, visiting museums, etc.
I think the general entrance cost me around 65UAH (2.40€) – which was already enough for me – but if you want to visit everything, you may need to spend nearly 10€.
Food tip – Between Saint Sophia and Golden Gate you will find the Milk Bar, a Ukrainian café specializing in fancy dairy products and traditional pastries. Everything they serve is amazing, seriously, and I recommend you order Ukrainian Syrniki, which are some sort of cottage cheese pancakes with sour cream and honey. Delicious.
This place is advertised everywhere as one of the best things to do in Kiev but, in my opinion, it’s pretty boring.
Basically, these are the last remains from what used to be Kiev before the Mongolian invasion in the 13th century. What I liked, however, is that there was always a street musician playing in front of the gates.
A Viennese style building constructed in 1901. You can’t get inside unless you purchase tickets and you can check all the events on this link.
St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral
One of the most important Orthodox churches in Ukraine is the Little Prince-themed Volodymyr Cathedral, completed in 1896.
This is one of the busiest markets in Kiev, and a cool place to take a break because inside there is a craft beer place and a pretty authentic Vietnamese food stall run by actual Vietnamese.
Day 2 – What to do in Kiev around Shevchenkivskyi
The area around Shevchenkivskyi and Pechersk Lavra is my most favorite place to visit in Kiev, as it contains a large variety of very different sights to check out.
Hydro Park (Island)
Nobody comes here but I seriously recommend you stop by.
Hydro Park is the island located in the Dnipro River right in front of the Lavra, and one of the top places to go in Kiev.
On the shores that overlook the Lavra, there is a restaurant serving beer and Khachapuri Megruli, and I swear it was the best Khachapuri I ever had outside of Georgia, and you can trust my judgment because I lived in Georgia for 7 months.
We were sitting under the sun, with a beer, an excellent khachapuri, the best views of the Lavra and there wasn’t anybody else around!
Arsenalna metro station
According to the locals and Wikipedia, Arsenalna is the deepest metro station in the world (105m) but, according to other sources like World Atlas, there is an even deeper one in Pyongyang, North Korea (110m).
In any case, unless you travel to North Korea, Arsenalna is the deepest metro station you will ever see. To get out, you need to stand on the two escalators for nearly 4 minutes (I timed it). By the way, this is the closest metro station to the Lavra.
The coolest Soviet thing to see in this part of Kiev is an old hotel with an extravagant cylindrical shape. It must be a pretty awesome hotel to stay for a few days, and it is not very expensive.
Holodomor, better known in the West as the Great Famine, was a famine that took place in the 30s when several million Ukrainians starved to death.
This unfortunate event, however, wasn’t a coincidence but it was a real genocide organized by Joseph Stalin himself in an attempt to eliminate Ukrainian nationalism.
There is so much to say about it and I recommend you read the full story here.
One of the most sobering, yet interesting, things to see in Kiev is visiting the Holodomor Memorial, which is also a museum where you can read several absolutely crazy stories from survivors of the Great Famine. A must-see.
Food tip – Before Salute Hotel, there is a traditional Ukrainian restaurant named Varenichnaya Katyusha that serves all sorts of local food and is always packed with Kievans. They have all types of Ukrainian dishes but their specialty is varenyky, which are the local dumplings.
The top tourist attraction in Kiev, Pechersk Lavra, is a massive Christian Complex and the headquarters for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Composed of several churches and cathedrals with white walls and shiny green and gold rooftops, Kiev Lavra is gorgeous, and spiritual. Most buildings you see here were built between the 11th and 18th centuries.
The general entry ticket costs 80UAH and it allows you to climb the bell tower, as well as visiting the cave. I think this is more than enough but, if you are interested in visiting the museums and entering other churches, you will have to purchase separate tickets for each.
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This was something I wasn’t expecting.
On my way to the Great Patriotic Museum, I bumped into a military exhibition.
Well, not one, but a few so if you are into military tanks, planes, and helicopters, Pechersky park has several outdoor exhibitions containing all types of military arsenal. Pretty cool.
Some of the weaponry belongs to WWII and Soviet times but there are a couple of tanks (partially destroyed) that have been used during the ongoing war against Russia and each one has a plaque that tells the story of the tank and the soldiers that were riding in it. Some of the stories were pretty sad.
Great Patriotic War Museum and Motherland Monument
Soviets refer to World War II as the Great Patriotic War because it was a real conflict and struggle to protect their motherland, the Soviet Union, and the massive titanium statue that overlooks Kiev, wearing a sword and a shield with the hammer and sickle, represents precisely that.
If you can only visit one museum in Kiev, it should be this one.
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Day 3 – Places to visit in Kiev around Podil
Podil area is the most European part of town.
Zhytniy Soviet Market
The best way to start your day is to check out this local market located in a Modernist Soviet building. It was built in 1982 and the interior is characterized by its peculiar roof.
Interesting to see in this market are all the salo stalls. I have never seen so many together. Salo is like slices of pork fat, very salty, and Ukrainians either have it as a snack or with borsch, the local beetroot soup. I found it pretty disgusting but for Ukrainians, it’s like a delicacy. Anyways, Zhytniy Market has tens of food stalls and the ladies will invite you to taste it.
I don’t recommend you visit this museum because there is nothing to see, not even to read, and if you want to know about the nuclear disaster just book a tour to the exclusion zone.
CLICK HERE TO BOOK A TOUR TO CHERNOBYL
Kontraktova Square and around
Podil’s center and where you find a lot of bars and restaurants.
Beer Tip – In Kontraktova Square, there is a beer store called Hop Hey that sells several types of craft draft beer to take away, a concept which I haven’t seen anywhere else. I think they have several shops across the city but, if you want to skip the overpriced beer of Kontraktova, Hop Hey is a great alternative (drinking in the street is allowed in Kiev).
St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
The place where this pyramid of bright domes is built dates from the 11th century but it was demolished under Stalin’s command in 1937 and rebuilt afterwards shortly after independence.
This is one of the most important religious places to visit in Kiev.
By the way, this monastery and the next places from the list are located in the upper part of Podil and to get there, you can get the funicular located right next to Poshtova Ploshcha metro station.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
I like Ukraine because today, religious places get mixed and camouflaged among Soviet stuff, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine is a clear example because this is an impressive concrete Soviet building placed right next to an important Christian site, St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery.
Saint Andrew’s Church
This Baroque-style church is one of the most emblematic things to do in Kiev, especially because from there, you get breathtaking views of Podil’s district. Check this great photo I took with my drone.
Kiev’s Old Town
Saint Andrew’s Church is the beginning of Kiev’s Old Town, a set of narrows alleys full of art galleries and painters that reminded me more of Paris than an Eastern European city.
Interested in booking a walking tour for your Kiev itinerary?
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Day 4 – Off the beaten track things to do in Kiev
If you are into quirky stuff, on your last day you may want to add the following places in your Kiev itinerary.
Don’t get excited, not yet.
Around 20km from Kiev’s downtown, there is a functional tank factory but, as you may imagine, visits are not allowed.
The factory, however, has a tank graveyard which you may find if you are lucky because the industrial complex is huge. I personally walked all around the area and couldn’t find but I did find the tank road, which was a 500m muddy path full of tank marks that lead directly to a factory backdoor.
Doing what I did was illegal so be aware of that and, if you want to try your luck, this is the location: 50.420848, 30.702709. There is a metro stop (Chernovyi Khutir) 2 or 3km away.
A great example of Soviet Modernism, Kiev Crematorium is one of the most unique Soviet buildings in Ukraine. As you may imagine, it is located in the middle of a cemetery, a pretty big one.
When we visited it, there were two funerals and it was a bit awkward, so we left pretty quickly.
If you like weird stuff, don’t forget to check the 7 most offbeat things to visit in Belarus
To be very honest, I didn’t take this tour but one of the coolest things to do in Kiev is visiting its underground tunnel system and checking out a nuclear bunker from the Cold War.
Kiev Circus and Obelisk Hero City
Not that offbeat because it is not far from downtown, but if you are interested in Soviet stuff, you can check out the Soviet Circus and the Obelisk Hero City, which commemorates the defense of the city during WWII and which has a Gold Star on its top, a symbol of heroism in the Soviet Union.
Best day trips from Kiev
The capital of Ukraine is also an excellent base for doing a few cool day trips.
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
You already know about Chernobyl, so I won’t go into details, but the exclusion zone is 150km north of Kiev and, if you want to visit it, you must go on a tour (you can’t visit it independently).
Strategic Missile Museum
Seriously, this was one of the best places I visited in the whole Ukraine, an old Soviet nuclear missile launch facility today turned into an awesome museum where, besides checking out all the military nuclear arsenal, you can also get into one of the silos and the underground control room. Really worth the trip and my full review is on its way.
144km northeast of Kiev you find Chernihiv, a UNESCO World Heritage city and one of the most beautiful in Ukraine, containing beautiful churches and old architecture.
Despite being so close to Kiev, not many travelers decide to take this day trip but I personally think it is an unmissable attraction to visit from Kiev.
For more day trips, you can read this post from Kathmandu and Beyond.
More information for visiting Kiev
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