Kiev can seem quite foreign to the western tourist, as most signposts are in Cyrillic script. It is still largely a city where very few people know English, and the likelihood of encountering an English speaker is low – but not impossible. For the non-Russian or Ukrainian speaker, it’s quite possible to get around easily, and it is a very interesting city to explore. It never hurts to speak English. Often, a shop assistant will ask customers who can speak English to act as translators.
It is advisable, however, to pick up a pocket Russian or Ukrainian phrasebook, and learn the Cyrillic alphabet, which can be fun and is easy to learn. Spend some time practising key words and phrases (e.g. ‘hello’, ‘thank-you’ and ‘bill please’). Even what you regard as a feeble attempt at Ukrainian or Russian will amuse most people to the point where they become comfortable engaging in pantomime or trying out the little bit of English they know.
It is impolite to chat loudly (e.g., in the Metro), point or wave one’s hands. You should also avoid whistling inside or being under-dressed, although in summer very short mini-skirts are widespread. All of these actions will regularly attract the wrong type of attention, including outright hostility.
Women are supposed to cover their heads and put on skirts before entering the caves or churches. However, this is not always enforced for tourists. You may be invited to take the church’s shawls – one to cover your head and a second to wrap your legs like a skirt. Or you may buy nice shawls at Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
- Chornobyl Museum, Khoryv Lane, 1 (Metro “Kontraktova Ploshcha”), ☎0038 (044) 417-54-22. Mon-Fri 10-18; Sat 10-17. A fascinating and moving museum. Heavy on symbols of the disaster’s consequences but very light on the plant’s background or anything technical. No signage in English, but very good English audio guides are available for a fee and are highly recommended.
- Khreshchatyk(Хрещатик) Street – The main drag of the city centre. It is closed to traffic on some weekends and full of entertainers and people wandering around. A big happy crowd and very conducive to peoplewatching. Metro: Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Khreshchatyk.
- Kiev Pechersk Lavra(Cave Monastery–Печерська лавра), (Metro station Arsenal’na is a couple blocks away from the main entrance. You can take a trolley from the subway station – 2 stops). One of the oldest and most important monasteries in Ukraine and in the teritory of the former Soviet Union. Only the most important monasteries were designated as Lavras; there were only four, of which this Cave Monastery is the oldest. It was founded in 1077 by St Antoniy. The caves were dug out by priests who lived there as hermits. Nowadays, the caves are venerated by the faithful and tourists who visit the mummified monks, and pilgrims are still allowed access to the underground church there. There are two parts to the modern complex: the upper lavra, owned by the state and consisting of a number of museums (entry fee); and the lower lavra, owned by the Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriach) and consisting of the caves (you’ll need 1 UAH to buy a candle to enter). Do not miss the display of micro-miniatures in the upper lavra. It sounds lame, but it is fascinating. You can enter the caves in the lower part if you dress correctly (women MUST cover their hair and wear skirts, no shorts. Expensive scarves are for sale there). Women can only just get away with pants in the winter. Start at the Lower Lavra, visiting the caves before the crowds descend for the day. There are two cave complexes, each housing the mummified remains of monks, as well as religous icons and other relics. Both caves are accessed through churches, with the entrance to the shorter caves at the end of a boardwalk. While it is free to enter the caves, you must purchase a taper candle in order to light your way. The caves are not recommended for the claustrophobic or overly tall. Once you’re in there, it’s hard, even impossible to turn around and go back out – you have to keep going.
- Open-Air Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life(Музей народної архітектури та побуту – Muzey narodnoyi arkhitektury ta pobutu), Krasnoznamennaya street, 1, Pyrohiv (Bus #156 or #172 from Olimpiiska, Lybidska or Vystavkovy Tsentr Metro stations goes there for USD 0.30 (pay driver). About 30-40 minutes.), ☎+38(044) 526 57 65. daily. Covering 160 ha, the area shows how people used to live in different parts of Ukraine. Six restored rural Ukranian villages, with old huts, wooden mills and churches from all over Ukraine have been carefully restored and function as living museums. English-speaking (sort of) guides with expertise on the whole site are available and well worth-it. Ukrainians come on sunny days to relax in the grass.
- St Sophia’s Cathedral(Собор Святої Софії – Sobor Sviatoyi Sofiyi), (Metro: Zoloti Vorota). 09.00-16.00. The oldest remaining church in Kiev. Parts date from the 11th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and has world biggest emsemble of frescoes and mosaics dating from 11th century, including the Virgin Orans mosaic. The site stopped being an active church in 1934, and has since been operated as government owned museum. Several green-robed ladies maintain order and will shout at you if you look like you are planning to take a photo. The gatehouse and other restorations were completed in the 17th century. Outside the gates, there is a statue commemorating hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, who liberated Kiev in the 17th century… then gave the city to the Russian Empire. UAH53 for admission to the complex and church (UAH 23 for children). Additional charges to climb the bell tower, visit the museum and have a guided tour.
- Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, (a short distance and easily visible from St. Sophia’s cathedral). A working monastery that goes back to the 12th Century. Destroyed during the Soviet era, with many of its art works hastily removed, some of which were trasferred to the museums in Moscow and St Petersburg, some were moved to St Sophia Cathedral. Some mosaics housed in St Sophia subsequently fell into the hands of the Nazis but were returned… to Hermitage in St Petersburg. Rebuilt in 1997-98. Impressive gold domes best visited on a sunny day. Behind the complex is a pleasant park with views of the Dnieper and, to the left, the entrance to the funicular.
- Motherland Statue and War memorials– Kiev was pretty much destroyed during the invasion in WWII. The memorial near the motherland statue is pretty gripping. Lots of examples of classic Soviet-era memorial statuary as well as some amazing exhibits of military hardware. The Museum to the Great Patriotic War (WWII) located in the base of the statue is a must-see for visitors interested in the impact the German invasion had on the Soviet Union. Well worth the visit even if you don’t speak or read any Russian or Ukrainian (several English language tours are provided daily). It’s well curated and full of artifacts (including weapons, battle maps, hundreds of original photographs, and a moving installation at the end of the exhibit symbolizing the great losses suffered). There is also a small museum of the Afghan conflict nearby. Try to enter coming from the top part of the Pecherska Lavra. This way you get submerged with old soviet music and dark statues. Metro: Arsenalna
- Babyn Yar(Бабин Яр) – a ravine which was the site of massacres of Jews, Gypsies, and other civilians by the Nazis and their puppets during World War II. Approximately 60,000 civilians were executed at this site during the war (over 34,000 Jews in the first two days alone). Now a memorial to “Soviet citizens” murdered by the Germans, the park can be reached via the metro.
- Maidan Nezalezhnosti(Майдан Незалежності) – Independence Square, located on Khreshchatyk Street. Maidan is known throughout the world as the place where supporters of Yushchenko and the Orange Revolution camped for weeks on end in October 2004. This is a central meeting place in Kiev. Metro: Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Kreshchatyk
- Kiev TV Tower(Телевізійна вежа – Televiziyna vezha) is the tallest lattice tower in the world. It is not accessible for tourists.
- Andriyivsky Uzviz(Андріївський узвіз) or Andrew’s Descent – At the top of this quaint, very rough cobblestone street is St Andrew’s Church (closed for restoration in 2011). Sidewalks are gradually being added to the Descent but, meanwhile, take a good pair of shoes. Andrew’s Descent winds down to Kontraktova Ploshcha in Podil. The street is lined with souvenir sellers, restaurants, galleries and museums. Touristy but retains charm.
- One Street Museum(Музей однієї вулиці – Muzey odniyeyi vulytsi). (Andriyivsky uzviz (Андріївський узвіз), 2-B Kyiv.) The collection of the One Street Museum is dedicated to the history of the Andriyivskyi uzviz (Andrew’s Descent) and its famous residents. Open daily from 12 noon to 6PM (closed Mondays) Web-site of the One Street Museum
- Mariyinsky Palace(Маріїнський Палац). and Mariyinsky park (Маріїнський Парк), (metro station Arsenal’na is in one block away from the park entrance). Mariinsky park is one of the most popular walking destinations among kievans. This very picturesque place is about 140 years old. Park is located on the hilly bank of the Dnieper River and received its name from the nearby Mariyinsky Palace which was built in Baroque style at the end of eighteenth century by the order of the Russian Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. The project of the Palace was designed by the famous architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who also developed Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. Mariyinsky Palace adjoins the neo-classical building of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament), and currently functions as an official ceremonial residence of the President of Ukraine. By 2015 the Palace should be renovated, and then it will be open to the public. Also, at the Mariinsky park you can visit Lovers’ bridge, hire the rollers, velomobiles, bicycles and segways, as well as enjoy panoramic views of the Dnieper River, Kiev`s hills and the Left Bank area (do not forget your camera).
- State Aviation Museum– located inside the old Zhulyany Airport with many impressive Soviet civil and military aircraft on display, including an An-2, Tu-104, Il-62, Il-76, an Il-86 and is constantly improving. The museum is opposite to the airport terminal, which is an industrial zone. To get there, you can either take Trolleybus #9 from the main train station – Kiev Passazhyrskyi (South exit)/Vokzalna metro stop or #22 from Shuliavska (Шулявська) metro station, both until Sevastopolska Square. From there, take the minibus 220 that will take you straight to the museum (last stop). Walking in the surrounding area after dark is not advisable as the area is poorly lit and stray dogs are present. Admission: 15 UAH.
- German Military graveyard– located on the road to Odessa, about 20 km away from Kiev, next to the Kiev cemetery. About 10000 German soldiers are buried here, after the battles around Kiev in 1941 and 1944.
- Golden Gate of Kiev– * Zoloti Vorota (Золоті ворота). Metro: Zoloti Vorota. This is a 1982 reconstruction of the Golden Gate of Kiev, described by Mussorgski in “Pictures of an Exhibition”. It is quite a nice spot to visit and learn about the town walls. Some nice buildings are also there and you can inspect the Porsche Cayennes, Lexuses, Audis, BMWs and Mercedes of Ukraine’s nouveau riche who are very much into conspicuous consumption.
- Catch the metro toHidropark island in the Dnipro river. Kiev is endowed with natural city beaches that line the Dnipro. Many a summer day can be spent in the parks and on the beaches of the islands, where you can buy shashlyk from stalls, play beach volleyball, swim in the river or in the pools on the island, or just soak up the sun.
- Stroll around Podil. Start at St Michael’s Cathedral in the Upper Town. Catch the funicular behind it down to Poshtova Ploscha, and wander around the grid-like streets of Podil. The area was the merchant’s quarter, and was completely rebuilt in the 19th century after fires destroyed the area. It was mainly untouched during WWII and is emerging as a hip restaurant district and is rapidly being gentrified. Finish your stroll by walking up Andriyivsky Uzviz, which will get you back to St Michael’s Cathedral.
- If you’re in Kiev on the weekend, go and people watch on Kreshchatyk. Start at Lva Tolstoho Square and head underground. Walk through the Metrograd shopping center, always sticking to your left. Head above-ground at Taras Shevchenko Boulevard (бульвар Тараса Шевченка), from where the council shuts down Kreshchatyk on the weekends. Walking up the street to Maidan, you will be treated to the sight of numerous street performers and animal handlers, or you can simply enjoy seeing families out and about for a weekend stroll.
- Go to a service at an Orthodox Church. The best one to visit is St Volodomyr’s on Taras Shevchenko Boulevard. Services are long and there are no seats in Orthodox churches, however it’s perfectly acceptable to come and go as you please. Women must cover their heads before entering the church. Metro: Universytet
- Visit different eco-cultural, ecological, ethinic, rock and other festivals both inside the city and near its suburbs.