As part of our quest to conquer Europe by visiting every single country, Ukraine is somewhere we hadn’t been and were interested in going to. As it worked out it was also a good time to go with flights being very reasonable and due to the higher media interest in the area due to the recent TV series based on the events of Chernobyl we decided now would be an excellent time to go for a 4-night break. We flew with Ryanair from London Stansted.
We booked our accommodation at Tourist Hotel Complex which was quite reasonable for 4 nights. It was ok, we didn’t book the breakfast but it was clean and tidy and the reception staff were mostly helpful. We had a room on the 21st floor overlooking the Metro line. We would certainly recommend asking for a room at the front of the building as the trains were a little noisy especially first thing in the morning. We did, however, have a lovely view from our window and it was very convenient for the metro, shops and restaurants. Due to its height, it was also easy to find!
The currency of Ukraine is the Ukranian Hryvnia (UAH) and as a rough guide as of July 2019, there were 32 UAH to the Pound. We worked everything out roughly at 100 being about £3. It was nearly impossible to buy UAH in the UK before we flew and therefore we opted to get currency through an ATM locally. I had read about scams at ATM’s in Ukraine including card cloning and therefore the use of bank cash points rather than stand-alone terminals and careful checking of accounts is necessary. Most restaurants and larger shops do take card (Visa appears more acceptable here than Mastercard for some reason) but expect to pay cash in kiosks or small shops.
Transport around Kyiv
From our prior internet research, we determined that Uber was commonly used in Kyiv and therefore rather than book airport transfers we used Uber instead. This worked out well at approximately 300 UAH or £10 each way. Not bad for a half-hour trip! You can either pay by Visa card through the app or cash. It should be noted that Ukraine is not part of the EU and therefore you cannot use UK mobile phones for free here. It may be worth exploring addon’s or data bundles or even buying a local sim, especially if you plan on using apps such as Uber.
The metro system in Kyiv is pretty basic and easy to use; every single journey costs 8 UAH (25p) and you buy tokens from the ticket office. This price applies if you travel one-stop or ride the entire system all day without leaving a station. We found it was easier to buy a few tokens in advance so you didn’t have to keep queuing every time. The Kyiv Metro system has just 3 lines, red, blue and green; we mostly used the red line but did venture onto the blue. Just to note the Metro is not disabled friendly with no lifts and copious stairs; there are very steep wheelchair ramps on the stairs but in all honesty, you’d have to be pretty strong and fit to push a wheelchair up there. If this is a problem as it was for me at times, then Uber journeys are reasonable about £2-4 for short journeys.
Food and Drink
One instantly obvious thing is that the Ukrainians love coffee! Everywhere you look coffee shops are serving a variety of different types for around 20 UAH (62p). The kiosks also serve snacks and cold drinks. Additionally, there are many ice-cream stalls around in the main tourist areas.
Now it wouldn’t be right to visit Kyiv and not have a chicken Kyiv; we spent quite some time trying to find the best place to have some traditional Ukrainian fayre and after reading some reviews online found a restaurant called … Chicken Kyiv! The restaurant was located on Khreschatyk Street just off from the main Independence Square (known locally as Maidan Nezalezhnosti). We had a really lovely meal here; Nigel had borsch, warm beetroot soup with garlic dumplings, (more like bread rolls) and of course a chicken Kyiv. I opted for the beef medallions which were amazing (although of course, I had some of his Kyiv!) and we had Carrot Pie and Kyiv Cake for dessert. These were washed down with Kyiv mule cocktails and local beer! It cost approximately £40 for our meal; not cheap by local standards but considering this was 3 courses and 6 alcoholic drinks between us we felt for the quality it was very reasonable. We would recommend a visit here.
In general, there is an abundance of restaurants and takeaways around Kyiv offering a variety of food to suit all tastes; you will pay more in the main tourist areas but it is still reasonable compared to English prices. If you have any food allergies however I am unclear how easy it would be to communicate and the use of google translate may come in handy!
Where to visit – Our recommendations
Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square is a must for a visit to the city. The square is a bustling metropolis with a really lovely vibe. With the numerous restaurants and bars around the area, there really is something for everyone. From our location in Livoberezhna, it was just 4 stops on the metro. The square is the site of the Orange Revolution in 2004 and political protests still take place there today. It also features the Founders of Kyiv Monument; a tribute to 3 brothers who were said to have founded Kyiv over 1000 years ago, and the Independence Monument, a column which is 61 metres high. On the opposite side of the square, you can find the Lach Gates built in 2001 to commemorate one of the Medieval Kyiv city gates.
People’s Friendship Arch
The arch is visible and in walking distance from Independence Square. It was constructed in November 1982 to commemorate 60 years of the USSR and to commemorate 1500 years of Kyiv city. In 2016 plans were made by the Ukrainian to dismantle the arch as part of its decommunization laws. It was decided that a ‘sculptural group’ of the monument should be removed as part of these laws and the arch remained. In 2017 it was painted in rainbow colours for the Eurovision Song Contest hosting and also to celebrate pride. It was returned to its normal form 3 weeks later. The statues underneath are said to depict Russian and Ukrainian friendships.
The arch has been criticised as it’s a reminder of the former communist rule of the country and it really wasn’t all that wowing; however, there were really amazing views nearby across the Dneiper River. Apparently, there is also a zipline which runs from the arch across the river to Trukhaniv Island but we didn’t see this and it is currently non-operational. Further information can be found here.
St Volodymyr Hill Park
The Friendship Arch is located just a short distance away from the hill which is a park on the steep right bank of the river Dneiper however it is a charming place where there is clear construction going on to improve it for tourists and locals alike. We had a lovely walk through here, it was very popular and we particularly enjoyed walking through the works of local artists. Also to be found in the park is a funicular which links the park with Podil and a short distance away is St Andrew’s Church. We enjoyed the green space and quiet here as well as the magnificent views.
When we exited the park by St Andrew’s Church we found ourselves on Andriyivski Uzviz or ‘Andrew’s Descent’, a cobbled street which descends on a steep hill linking the upper town to Podil. The street is famous for souvenir shopping and street cafe’s but it is also where you find the entrance of the church. Further up the hill, however, we also found a further small park which housed the Church of the Tithes, the first and largest stone church which was the burial place for Kyiv princes. It was built between 989 and 996. It also houses the National Museum of the History of Ukraine.
To get to Podil, we used the funicular; this cost 8 UAH but does not use the same tokens as the Metro so you have to pay separately for this. Alternatively, you can get to Podil by Metro and the station, Poshtova Ploshcha, is next door to the funicular entrance. We caught the funicular down to Podil from St Andrew’s which took just a few minutes. You should do this journey at least once for the experience.
Once in Podil, you are greeted with an array of shops, bars and restaurants and it is really vibrant. This was the city centre of Kyiv until the 19th Century; there was however a great fire in 1811 which destroyed many houses, churches and temples in the district and these were quickly rebuilt. Once you have strolled past the street of bars and restaurants you reach Kontraktova Ploshchad, the heart of Podil and the main square. When we arrived there was a craft market and many interesting buildings and a Ferris wheel which we went on for 100 UAH each.
Kyiv River Port
If you fancy chilling by the riverside, head straight across the road from the Podil funicular/metro exits and head down to the lively bars and food establishments. There is a huge array of food and drink on offer here from stalls and bean bags and deck chairs to relax on. A lovely place to chill out by the river especially at dusk and late evening.
If you’re fancying a boat trip this is also the place to come; on pier 10 there is a booking office for various types of boat cruises from panoramic views of Kyiv to a disco evening cruise. We opted for the disco cruise at sunset on Nigel’s birthday and despite not knowing any of the music we had a great time; it wasn’t as we feared an 18-30’s style affair but people of all ages. It cost 200 UAH each for it for a 1½hr cruise up and down the river Dneiper with Ukrainian Disco music pumping through the speakers from 8.30-10pm. It was popular and the crowd of around 50 fellow revellers were very enthusiastic; we saw many other boat trips online which were way more expensive but these were at a set price and run at various times during the day and there was something for young, old, romantics and party animals alike.
The Motherland Monument
The Motherland Monument (or Rodina Mat as it is known locally) is probably the most iconic column statue in Kyiv and visible from great distances due to its height of 102m. Sitting on the right bank of the Dneiper we were able to see it from our hotel quite some distance away. The monument sits atop the Museum of the Great Patriotic War and the site covers 10 hectares, incorporating “The Flame of Glory”, a site with World War II military equipment, and the “Alley of the Hero Cities“. We grabbed an Uber there one afternoon and had a wander around the military equipment and saw the lady up close. The location is a way out and therefore unless you were visiting as part of a tour an Uber was a good way to get there. It is apparently accessible however from Arsenalna and Dnipro Metro Stations.
If you’re into military stuff this is the place for you; we more took in the views and admired the free bits such as the ‘Crossing the Dnieper’ Monument, and had a quick look at the tanks and helicopters on display. There are lovely views across Kyiv from here and you can go inside and up to a viewing gallery at the top of her shield; we didn’t do this however so cannot comment whether it is stairs or a lift. Definitely worth a visit to see up close.
Surprisingly, as it’s not a coastal location, Kyiv has several beaches, but on the river rather than the sea. We visited Gold Beach which is located on the southern part of the Venetian Island near to the bridge Paton. The beach is opposite the Motherland Monument and in 2017 the beach received a Blue Flag. We visited here early evening for a drink and there were several bars and restaurants and a chilled out beach vibe. If you fancy a beach day and would consider swimming in the River Dneiper then this may be the location for you. If not there are plenty of other beaches to consider here. Additionally, if you fancy a chilled out evening on the beach also consider visiting here. Probably the best way to get here would be by taxi due to its location and if you visit at night or after rain, remember to use insect repellent!
Chernobyl & Pripyat
We could not mention Kyiv attractions without mentioning a trip to Chernobyl and Pripyat. We spent a day on a tour around the area but felt it was worth its own post which you can view here.
Before visiting Ukraine, we did do our research; low-level crime does happen and tourists can be targeted, but all we can say is that at no time did we feel threatened or unsafe, and we were not victims of any crime. With the situation in Crimea, in the east of Ukraine being volatile at times, it’s always wise to consult the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office Travel Advice) for updates before travelling. There were no political demonstrations in Independence Square but if you visit and become aware of one; give the area a wide berth.
We felt it was safe, and the trip far exceeded our expectations; Kyiv was a lovely, beautiful city and we were happy wandering the parks and streets. At no point were we harassed to buy anything or followed by touts trying to sell things which has happened in so many other places we have visited. English is spoken there, although not by many people and often not to a high standard, but the people were fun and friendly and the use of Google translate came in very handy. When you can smile or laugh, communication issues are easily overcome, and I’d never let a potential language barrier get in the way of having a good time. Chernobyl was fascinating, and Kyiv was fun. If you’re thinking of going, we say “Go for it”