It's my personal belief that Ukraine and Kiev in particular, will quickly become one of the top destinations for backpackers and travelers. Its countryside is beautiful and its prices unbeatable. There's so much to uncover in Ukrainian culture, and what better way to do it then to immerse yourself in its capital, Kiev.
CLICK HERE FOR A FULL LIST OF MY RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Bessarabsky Bazaar
To understand Ukrainian culture it's important to think like them. The best place to start is where the day begins for most babusyas (Ukrainian grandmothers). At the Bessarabsky Bazaar you can buy everything you'd need for a traditional Ukrainian meal. That being said there are no marked prices so haggling is to be expected and you'll likely be charged a much higher price because you're a foreigner (most speak very little english).
Despite this it's still the perfect introduction to Ukrainian food culture, and its central location makes it an easy stop on your trip.
Hours: Daily 6AM - 4AM
Address: Bessarabs'ka Square, 2, Kyiv, Ukraine, 01004
Next I'll jump right into it and get to one of the more interesting stops on your trip, Chernobyl. In 1986 a Soviet nuclear facility located in Ukraine exploded, launching radioactive waste all across Europe (reaching as far as England!). The explosion put over 400 times the amount of radioactive material into the atmosphere than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima did in 1945.
Because of the continued fallout and deterioration of the buildings, entry into Chernobyl is only permitted with a licensed guide. There are several companies offering tours but the one I chose was called Chernobyl Adventure and I had an excellent guide.
Price: $99 USD / 88 euro
Address: Chernobyl, Чорнобиль, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine
3. The Motherland Monument
Situated on a hill overlooking the Dnieper river, the Motherland monument towers over Kiev at a little over 102 m (335 ft) tall. The statue is of a woman holding a sword and shield, the latter of which bears the Soviet state symbol. This has led to a fair amount of controversy, with many calls to tear it down (the government actually banned Soviet symbols but WWII statues are exempt.). It was completed in 1981, just 10 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It's a great place to come for sunset but be aware the museum below closes around 6PM.
Address: Zapecherna St, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000
Kiev is a city that's exploding with nightlife. The only real downside is that everything is so far away from each other (nothing a cheap Uber can't fix!). I definitely recommend checking facebook for local events when you're there because Ukrainians can put on a hell of a show!
You can click here to see a full list of my nightlife recommendations but two places you should definitely check out are Atlas, which is a club that regularly hosts live music/DJ's and Палата №6 (Don't know the english translation) where you can get your head set on fire and then hit with various objects all while taking shots!
For the address and more bars/clubs click here.
5. Andriyivsky Descent / St. Andrew's Church
These two I'll bundle together because one leads to the other. You'll want to start at the far end of Andriyivsky Descent which is full of street shops selling a variety of nicknacks and make your way towards the church. It's really just the energy of the street and the unique, traditional architecture that makes this area so attractive.
At the end of the street you'll find St. Andrews Church, which is an eastern orthodox church that sits atop a small hill. Its original design and renowned facades make it an easy addition to the list, although unfortunately it's not open to the public.
Address: Andriivs'kyi descent, 23, Kyiv, Ukraine, 04070
6. Independence Square
The independence square is the heart of Kiev and there are several notable monuments here. That being said the square is more known for the location of several political rallies. This includes the deadly Euromaidan protests in 2014 that eventually led to the civil war and Russian involvement in the far east. I recommend doing some more independent research on the subject because it will make visiting the square that much more impactful.
Address: Independence Square, Майдан Незалежності, Kyiv, Ukraine, 02000
7. St. Sophia Cathedral
The St. Sophia Cathedral is one of the most architecturally interesting buildings in Kiev, and earned it a place on the World Heritage list. It was built in the 11th century and has survived all the way to today, despite countless wars, and Soviet opposition to religion (the latter attempted to destroy it but it was miraculously saved mostly thanks to historians and scientists).
Today it is a staple of the Kiev skyline and opened to public viewing. You can also walk up the entrance tower to get great views of the city.
Price: Cathedral is 50Hr and the Bell tower is 10Hr
Hours: 10AM-6PM, Wed 10AM-5PM, Closed Thu
Address: Volodymyrska St, 24, Kyiv, Ukraine, 01001
8. Podil Distict
Podil is Kiev's historic district, what is essentially the cultural hub of the city. Here you can find everything from award winning restaurants, to stunning monuments and museums. It's the kind of neighborhood that you can go to without a clear plan, just wandering the streets and taking in the best that Kiev has to offer. You can spend a whole day here, getting lost and enjoying Ukrainian culture.
Address: Podil, Kiev Oblast, Ukraine
On the surface Ukrainian food may seem very similar to its eastern European neighbors, but there are slight subtleties that make it stand out in a big way. One particular dish that stands out is Chicken Kiev, which is chicken filet rolled around cold butter, then coated in egg and dipped in breadcrumbs (then fried!). Again, for a full list of my restaurant recommendations click the link below!
Click here for my interactive map of restaurants/bars in Kiev!
Photo by Jorge Franganillo
10. The Golden Gate
The Golden Gate sits at the location of the original entrance to Kiev way back in 1027. It was subsequently damaged during the mongol invasion of the 13th century and after attempted reconstruction, the ruins were buried. The current gate was created using its original ruins, in what is thought to have been what it looked like when it was first constructed.
Address: Volodymyrska St, 40А, Kyiv, Ukraine, 01034
WHERE TO STAY?
Just because of the sheer size of Kiev, its impossible to recommend a district that puts you in the center of everything (you will take more than one Uber while you're here). That being said Podil is the most centrally located district with the most attractions in its immediate area. DREAM House hostel is one of the better options for backpackers as it has its own bar and cafe, while those looking for more luxury can try City Hotel Kiev (full disclosure I have not stayed here).