One of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe, Kiev dates back to the 5th century. A proud city of contrasts, the Ukrainian capital has a uniquely relaxed vibe, mixing its history with some boho feels. Kiev travel should include visits to old cathedrals and walks around the picturesque cobblestone streets. There are plenty of places to see in Kiev, thanks to the city’s vast history as an important spot in the region. And, as in any other big city, you’ll find many things to do in Kiev!
Although a big city with over 3 million inhabitants, Kiev feels like a small town. It’s got a sweet hipster vibe, with lots of cafés and the nicest people.
Those who get to Kiev travel will realize there’s a kind of idle sadness to this city. Ukraine has spent most of the past two centuries under Russian rule, in a never ending conflict. Still, the pleasant locals aren’t about to let that get them down. Kiev’s a place of gorgeous views, cute cafés, and restaurants, and that unique feel of Eastern Europe.
It was a joy to get to know this city, and these are my 7 favorite things to do in Kiev! Check out my post about 5 gems in the East to get more inspiration of places to visit in this part of the world!
1. Get Swept Away by the Magical Cathedrals
Saint Sophia’s Cathedral
One of the first places to see in Kiev should be its churches. I am always humbled by the grandiosity of these old churches, a testament to centuries of faith. In Kiev, one stands out above all others: Saint Sophia’s Cathedral.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this Eastern Orthodox marvel dates back to the 11th century. Its bell tower is an imposing dark white building with a gold ceiling. The church is perhaps the greatest example of the Ukranian Baroque period. St. Sophia’s survived destruction during the Soviet years, becoming a museum for most of the 20th century. Definitely a must among things to do in Kiev.
St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
Afterward, head to St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, which did get destroyed by the Soviets. It was later restored from pieces the government and even Kiev citizens had saved. Nowadays, it stands as a functioning monastery, and a masterpiece of old times, in blue with golden domes. A must on the list of places to see in Kiev. The whole area is gorgeous, and I particularly loved the clock tower behind the monastery. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a show, too: local musicians sometimes play great street music around the back entrance!
St Andrew’s Church
The last among the cathedral places to see in Kiev is St Andrew’s Church. One of the most prominent landmarks of Kiev, located in the historic neigborhood – Podii. Built in mid 1700s by an Italian architect, it is a true beauty! The picturesque street named Andriivs’kyi Descent is one of the most popular street in Kiev and offers a great view given the location on a hill. This street is lined with small boutiques, bars and restaurants and some days there is also a flea market here. If you get hungry, try some traditional Ukrainian food like Chicken Kiev and Kiev cake the cozy Kanapa restaurant.
2. Get Lost in the Picturesque streets of Old Kiev
All the cathedrals above are located in the old part of Kiev so once you are admiring them make sure to get lost in all gorgeous streets of the old part of Kiev. For sure one of my favorite among things to do in Kiev, a must for any Kiev travel. The architecture here are are amazing and the streets are lined with colorful houses. You will quickly see that it is not only cathedrals that has the unique Kiev turquoise color, so do a lot of buildings. Making the streets even more pretty!
Another must among places to see in Kiev, is the Golden Gates. Once the fortified entrance to the city. It’s now a small but lively square where the heart of town beats. It’s one of the loveliest places to see in Kiev, with street music, cute cafés, and restaurants. The nearby Yaroslaviv Val Street is also a must visit, with its fancy buildings. This is where most Embassies are located, and it’s a traditional and high-end area.
3. Take the Tram & Enjoy the View
Take a moment when you’re around the St. Michael’s Golden-Domed monastery to hop on the tram. There’s a tram station located right behind the monastery. Get in there and head to the Dnieper river via the scenic route. You’ll be surrounded with every bit of the city’s magic: no Kiev travel is complete without this tram ride!
4. Take a Stroll with the Wind on Your Hair at Dnieper River
Cities by water are always a little magic, so it’s no surprise that strolling down the Dnieper is wonderful. Without a doubt, one of my favorite things to do in Kiev!
The view from here is spectacular, as you watch across the river to the other side of town. With the wind in your hair, you feel like you’re lifted through the skies, looking down on these old buildings. At night, the city transforms with numerous beams of light, giving the centuries-old buildings a romantic air.
Usually, the river boardwalk is full of art exhibitions, adding an extra layer of magic to the walk. Stroll along and enjoy the ride. And then, have lunch or dinner at legendary Ukrainian restaurant Khutorets na Dnipri!
5. The Colorful Vozdvizhenka Street
Vozdvizhenka is the very heart of the historical city, and a Kiev travel must. This is a little north of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, and it’s also the fairy tale part of town! An explosion of color you might not expect from famously grim eastern Europe, it looks like an amusement park. Everything is adorable here, straight from an old-fashioned postcard!
This is considered a “hidden” district, so it’s one of the places in Kiev with the least amount of tourists. Vozdvizhenka is surrounded by green hills, adding to the secretive nature of the area. Once you’ve breached the natural barrier, you’ll feel inside a Disney movie.
The whole rainbow appears in front of you through the beautiful façades… of empty homes. These buildings are all new, and the mansions were deserted after a real estate bubble burst. A kitsch wonder like you’d only find on this side of the world! A unique experience among things to do in Kiev and your Kiev travel.
Once done exploring this hood, head over to Pink Freud for a drink or two. Cozy bar in a hidden yard!
6. Go Shopping – A Must for any Kiev Travel
This is true of most great cities in the world, but one of the coolest things to do in Kiev is shopping! Head over to Khreshchatyk Street and its surrounding neighborhoods. This is the main shopping street in Kiev and one which got bombed during the second world war. The architecture here is all Soviet with huge houses built to impress. Plus, this is where Kiev’s Maidan Square is located, so you can even do a little sightseeing!
To find some sweet little boutiques and designer shops, leave Khreshchatyk and visit the narrow streets around it. Here, you’ll find local design!
If you’re looking for a more traditional shopping experience, there’s a TSUM. It’s a big luxury shopping mall also present in Moscow. A place you should put on your list of places to see in Kiev as well as things to do in Kiev, even though you are not planning to do any shopping!
7. Independence Square – One of the Top Places to See in Kiev
Kiev, and Ukraine as a whole has a tragic history after being under Russian rule for around 200 years. This is palpable everywhere, but it’s most notorious at Maidan Square. A visit here is a must among things to do in Kiev.
The city’s central square, it’s a beautiful place with a giant monument to independence. Kiev travel should always include this heavily charged place, which has witnessed a lot. Since the 1990 independence movement, it’s been the spot of political rallies, including the 2014 protests with the tragic end.
Walk over the bridge here for a great view of one of the places to see in Kiev. Stop, acknowledge where you are and take it all in. This square is heavily charged, yes, but it’s also the true voice of Kiev, in good and bad times.
8. Enjoy that Kiev Life
This is a deeply cosmopolitan city, so obviously one of the must things to do in Kiev is enjoying life! The city is full of restaurants, serving Ukranian and international, and amazing cafés. No Kiev travel can be done without enjoying the vibe and food this city has to offer.
BAO is an amazingly modern and luxurious Chinese restaurant, with experimental cuisine. Lovely Uncle is my favorite place for having lunch or breakfast, with a great terrace for the summer. One Love Espresso Bar is a highly Instagrammable café that’s great for digital nomads to get some blogging done. For trendy coffee lovers, The Cake is the perfect spot. And to end an evening of getting to know Kiev, head over to Pink Freud for great drinks in a small by cool hidden yard!
Read more about my favorite Kiev restaurants, bars and cafés in my Kiev Restaurant post!
Do not miss my posts about Budapest, Tbilisi & Baku! All unexploited gems that you should put on your travel list! And if you have not visited Moscow, it is high to boo a trip to the cosmopolitan capital of Russia!
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