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I spent six weeks in Kiev and was able to explore a lot of the city during that time.
When some friends came to visit for the weekend, though, I found myself really pondering the best things to do in Kiev during their short stay. So, I narrowed it down to this list, half of which you can see in one day on your own DIY walking tour of the city (I’ll give you all the details on that below, of course).
Ready to go? Use this guide to see the 15 best things to do in Kiev!
Painted frescoes inside St. Sophia’s Cathedral
1. St. Sophia’s Cathedral
St. Sophia is a 1,000-year-old cathedral in the middle of the city. It’s now surrounded by a monastery and a 200 uah / 7.60 usd ticket will get you access to the church itself, the bell tower, and all of the surrounding buildings. It’s one of the best things to do in Kiev because the whole area is a UNESCO site, but the interior of the church, covered floor to ceiling in frescoes, is undoubtedly the highlight. It’s dark, it’s brooding, and it’s a perfect place to really feel the weight of this city’s long history.
Monument in Independence Square
2. Independence Square
Independence Square is especially interesting because of its recent history. In 2014 it was the site of the bloody Revolution of Dignity, in which 100 people were killed while protesting the pro-Russian president. I recommend watching Winter on Fire on Netflix to learn more about it so you can feel the true impact of this site when you visit. A museum to the revolution is in the works but for now, there are plaques up at the site that will walk you through the timeline as well.
The pedestrian street running from St. Andrew’s Church to Podil
3. St. Andrew’s Descent
St. Andrew’s Descent is the best place to buy souvenirs when you visit Kiev. Just make sure you start at the top at St. Andrew’s Church or you’ll find yourself struggling up the hill rather than enjoying a leisurely stroll down it. The church itself is closed for repairs at the moment (2019) but you can still pay 20 uah / .75 usd to get a panoramic view of the city from the walkway around it. Then, walk down the pretty cobblestone street browsing the art and souvenirs sold by the vendors on both sides of the road.
Kiev from above
4. Mount Uzdyhalnytsya Observation Platform
If you don’t want to pay for the St. Andrew’s viewpoint you can visit another one for free on the descent. Keep an eye out for a metal staircase on the side of the road that leads to the observation platform (or click here to find it on Google Maps). A quick climb will take you up onto a hill with a view of St. Andrew’s church on one side and the colorful Vozdvyzhenka neighborhood on the other.
Decaying bumper cars in the Pripyat ghost town in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
The site of the worst nuclear disaster in history is only two hours from Kiev. You can only visit on a guided tour because the 30 km Exclusion Zone around the site is still heavily restricted. Tours cost $100 per person and must be booked at least two days in advance, but I think they’re well worth the cost – click here to read about my experience at the site. If you don’t have time for a full tour, you can also plan a visit to the Ukrainian National Chornobyl Museum instead.
Kiev Toilet History Museum
6. The Toilet Museum
The Toilet History Museum is a little strange but that’s what makes it one of the best things to do in Kiev! It only costs 50 uah / 2 usd per person and entrance comes with a free guided tour in English.
I actually learned a lot about the history of sanitation but most of it boils down to the fact that living in the Middle Ages was really just a terrible and unending nightmare. The museum also the home of the largest collection of toilet-related memorabilia in the world – as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records – and is a fun place to stop for an hour on your visit to Kiev.
7. Eat Ukrainian Food
Obviously, this is a must. Ukraine has actually become one of my absolute favorite food countries (tied with Mexico) which came as a complete surprise to me, but a welcome one. While you’re in Kiev try:
- Borscht – beetroot soup
- Dumplings – with meat and with potatoes
- Salo – slices of pork fat on bread
- Chicken Kiev – fried chicken with butter inside
- Potato pancakes – pretty self-explanatory
My friends are Kiev locals and they recommended Pervak Kiev and the Opanas restaurant, both of which I personally tried and both of which are fantastic not just for the food but for the ambiance as well.
Ukrainian craft beer and ostrich jerky at Varvar Bar
8. Drink Ukrainian Beer
Getting drunk is always one of the best things to do in Kiev, especially when the weather isn’t cooperating with your travel itinerary. Ukraine has a surprisingly mature craft beer scene and the best brewery in Kiev (and the whole country, in my opinion) is called Varvar.
Their bar is a bit out of the way but so worth a stop if you can make it. They had 14 of their own beers on tap when we went and pints were only 50 to 60 uah / about 2 usd each. If it’s available, I strongly recommend the Carribean Dream, a coconut porter that’s truly one of the best beers I’ve ever had the pleasure to drink.
Varvar also has interesting snacks like ostrich and horse jerky on the menu but the food is a bit expensive. Like most breweries, it’s not super lively at night so it’s better for an afternoon drink before dinner out on the town.
The Motherland Monument, looming larger than the Statue of Liberty
9. Motherland Monument
This is definitely one of the most impressive tourist attractions in Kiev because it’s bigger than the Statue of Liberty! The Motherland Monument was built by the Soviets in 1981 as a war memorial for Soviet soldiers. It also has a huge park around it with tanks and helicopters on display, a World War II Museum, the Bowl of Eternal Fire, and a lot more. You can pay 70 uah / 2.65 usd to visit the lower viewing platform (36 meters) or 300 uah / 11 usd to go the upper platform (91 meters) or, of course, admire it from the outside for free.
The sprawling Pechersk Lavra Monastery system
10. Pechersk Lavra Caves
The massive Pechersk Lavra Monastery system is within walking distance from the Motherland Monument so I recommend visiting them both in one go. There’s a ton to see in the monastery but, having already visited so many churches in the city, I opted to visit only the caves when I went. They’re free, but you should pay a small donation to get a candle to light your way through them. Monks lived in these caves and their mummies are still buried there… it’s pretty spooky and a memorable stop in Kiev for sure.
Beaches dot the islands in downtown Kiev
11. Island Beaches
Catching some sun at the beach is one of the best things to do in Kiev in the summer. Just keep in mind, though, that the beaches in Kiev are really just for sunbathing and day drinking because the river is too polluted to swim in. This list of the best beaches in the city had plenty of private clubs and free stretches of sand to choose from.
Children’s Landscape Park in the quirky Landscape Alley
12. Landscape Alley
This small walkway has a bunch of cute and quirky sculptures along it, but the main draw is Children’s Landscape Park where you can snap pictures in the mouths of sculpted cats and other absolutely adorable creatures.
St. Michael’s in downtown Kiev
13. St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
St. Michael’s is just down the street from St. Sophia’s Cathedral and you can enter free of charge. You can also pay a small fee (about 60 uah / 2 usd if I remember correctly) to visit a small museum and climb the bell tower as well, although I personally think St. Sophia’s bell tower offers a better experience and more views if you’re debating between the two.
14. Podil Neighborhood
The Podil neighborhood is one of the most popular in Kiev and for good reason. It’s one of the most concentrated areas of bars and restaurants in the city and extremely walkable with the main street and square permanently closed to traffic. I recommend coming in the afternoon for champagne and oysters on the stairs of the Naprosecco restaurant while you watch the world go by.
Colorful streets in the Vozdvyzhenka neighborhood
15. Vozdvyzhenka Barrio
Last but not least on my list of the 15 best things to do in Kiev is a walk through the Vozdvyzhenka Barrio. This historic district next to Podil was totally flipped by developers hoping to turn it into luxury accommodation. But, the ultra-expensive apartments went on sale right as the housing market crashed so most still sit empty today, turning the neighborhood into a ghost town. There are shops and restaurants on the streets but you’ll definitely feel that something’s just not quite right as you walk through. Still, the brightly painted and super ornate buildings make a fun backdrop for photos of the city.
How to Create Your Own DIY Kiev Walking Tour
If you want to see most of this list of the best things to do in Kiev in one go, this walking route is for you. Go at your own pace on this DIY walking tour of Kiev and finish with lunch in the popular Podil neighborhood. From there, if you still want to see more, simply call an Uber to the Motherland Monument to visit the last two stops on the itinerary below.
A. Begin at Independence Square
B. Walk 10 minutes / 650 m to St. Sophia’s Cathedral
C. Walk 6 minutes / 500 m to St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
D. Walk 6 minutes / 450 m to Children’s Landscape Park
E. Walk 7 minutes / 500 m to St. Andrew’s Church and the descent
F. Walk 3 minutes / 201 m to the Observation Platform
G. Walk 6 minutes / 500 m to the Vozdvyzhenka Barrio
H. Walk 14 minutes / 1.1 km to central Podil where you can sit down for lunch and drinks and rest your weary feet.
If you still have energy after eating, take an Uber to the Motherland Monument. It should take about 20 to 25 minutes and cost around 100 uah / 4 usd. Finally, if you’re truly superhuman and STILL want to see more of Kiev, walk to the Pechersk Lavra Monastery and cave system to finish your day. It’s about 1.5 km away and will take about 20 minutes.
Ready to visit Kiev?
Compare flights on Skyscanner to find the best deals and then click here to book your stay in the city! I recommend staying in the Pecherskyj neighborhood (especially near the Bessarabsky Market area) to be near restaurants, bars, and tourist attractions.
Finally, finish planning your itinerary with the Ukraine Series where you’ll find plenty of insider tips on what to do, see, eat, and explore in the country when you go!