Growing up with Ukrainian grandparents has meant that I have a deep fascination and love for the country. Unfortunately, growing up in Australia meant it was difficult to travel there, and in more recent years, political issues had made me nervous about visiting Ukraine. But Ukraine is finding its place in the world, and tourism is growing, and now this is Ukraine’s time to shine. During our trip we realised that it is a real European gem nestled somewhere between a future in Europe and a past dictated by Soviet rule. We spent 3 days in Kyiv and from the moment we landed to the moment we left, we absolutely loved it. We have put together a 3 day Kyiv itinerary to help you plan your own trip to the Ukrainian capital as well as listing the best things to see and do in Kyiv. So let’s start.
- Kyiv or Kiev
- Is Kyiv safe to visit?
- Basic Information
- Where to stay in Kyiv
- When to visit Kyiv
- Getting around during your 3 days in Kyiv
- Things to do in Kyiv
- Attractions in Kyiv
- St Volodymyr’s Cathedral
- St Sophia’s Cathedral
- Motherland Monument
- Peizazhna Alley
- Andriyivskyy descent
- Park of Eternal Glory
- Holodomor Victims Memorial
- Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra
- St Andrew’s Church
- Chernobyl Museum
- Taras Shevchenko Park
- Golden Gate
- Maidan Square
- St Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery
- Kyiv Funicular
- Bessarabsky Rynok
- Eating and drinking in Kyiv
- 3 day Kyiv itinerary
- Final tips for visiting Kyiv
- 3 days in Kyiv a recap
Kyiv or Kiev
So first things first you might be wondering is it Kyiv or Kiev? Officially Kiev is the Russian translation of the city coming from the Russian word Киев. The Ukrainian word is Київ which is literally translated as Kyiv. So it is probably best to go with Kyiv, after all it is the Ukrainian capital. It might not sound like a big deal, but national identity is a big thing in Ukraine and after years of Soviet rule it is even more important to get the name right.
Is Kyiv safe to visit?
This is a question that we get asked a lot. After booking the tickets to Kyiv I did feel a little nervous, after all a lot of what you hear on the news about Ukraine these days is about war and unrest. When we arrived in Kyiv though, the only reminder of this was the soldiers we would see mostly at train stations shipping off to various destinations. And of course there is the memorial in Maidan Square for those that lost their lives during the revolution of 2014. Apart from this, it is a pretty normal bustling city with people going about their lives. We had no issues in Kyiv whatsoever and really it was like visiting any other European capital. Of course, have your wits about you and everything should be fine.
Languages Spoken: Ukrainian and some Russian- the official language is Ukrainian though. A small number of people do speak English, for example people working in tourist spots, bars, and hotels, but I think this adds to its charm.
Currency: Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH)
Famous for: Orthodox churches, literature, history
Visit if you like: Big cities, and places not overrun with tourists
Where to stay in Kyiv
Kyiv is huge and deciding where to stay during your 3 days in the city can be a little bit challenging if you don’t know where to start. Ideally you want to be close to the hustle and bustle and near a metro stop. There are a lot of hotels near Maidan Square which are centrally located. It can be a bit touristy here though so keep that in mind. If you are after something a little quirky, the Podil District is a great place to be, which we go into more detail below.
We wanted to stay somewhere mid-range and we opted for Senator City Centre Hotel and Apartments. The rooms were of high standard, and it was centrally located which was important to us. We were right near a lot of attractions, and parks, and about a 5 minute walk to a metro station. If we go back to Kyiv we would definitely stay here again. Staff spoke English and were on hand to answer any questions we had.
When to visit Kyiv
Like most places in Europe, Kyiv’s peak tourist season lasts from May to September. Over the summer months Kyiv is pretty mild and temperatures sit in the mid 20’s (Celsius). Winter is harsh in Kyiv so unless you are prepared to trudge around in snow it probably isn’t the best time to visit. Temperatures can be as low as -8 degrees Celsius.
We visited Kyiv in April and it was perfect. There weren’t too many tourists around, and the weather was perfect. We did have to wear jackets particularly in the evening but we had a lot of sunshine that helped warm us up. The temperature ranged from around 1 to 15 degrees Celsius.
Getting around during your 3 days in Kyiv
By far the quickest and easiest way to get around Kyiv is on the metro. It costs 8.00 UAH per person per trip, which is something like £0.20 pence per trip. You have to go to the ticket desk and they will give you a token to insert into the gate. The metro is quite easy to use and if your Ukrainian is rusty or non existent they do announce the stops in English as well.
Also the metro is probably the busiest we have ever ridden on. And that includes New York and London. It is easy to get caught up in a swarm of people getting off the metro. In fact it reminds me of that scene in the Lion King where Mufasa meets his untimely end after getting caught in a stampede. That’s kind of how I felt getting off the metro in Kyiv. The metro doors open and people hurtle towards you if you are going in the opposite direction it can be quite scary but all part of the experience (much busier than photo below).
For those times where it wasn’t possible to catch the metro we relied on the bus. Once you have boarded the bus you wait for the person selling tickets to come to you. They don’t always speak English so it is a good idea to learn some basic Ukrainian numbers to help you out.
Things to do in Kyiv
Here are some of the the best things to do in Kyiv including must see attractions and places to go for food and drink.
Attractions in Kyiv
St Volodymyr’s Cathedral
St Volodymyr’s is hard to miss, mostly because of its bright yellow exterior. The cathedral is the mother church of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church so it is a must see attraction in Kyiv. It was built to celebrate 900 years of Orthodox Christianity in the country, and the name St Volodymyr is in homage to the ruler that brought Christianity to the country.
The interior of the Cathedral is just as flamboyant as the exterior, with lavish artwork and iconography on display inside.
If you are wanting to take pictures inside you do need to pay a small fee, and this is a general rule in most places in Kyiv so keep this in mind. Also if you are entering an Orthodox Cathedral it is best practice as a woman to cover your head. Even if this is just with your scarf. In contrast men should remove any hats before entering. Always be respectful particularly if there is a mass taking place which we found to be quite often.
St Sophia’s Cathedral
This Cathedral is one of Kyiv’s most popular and oldest standing churches. It was built in 1037 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise who was also laid to rest inside the Cathedral. Another cool fact is that it was named after the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.
If you want to get a bird’s eye view of the cathedral then for a small fee you can climb the bell tower opposite. As we both hate heights we decided to avoid this, and explored the cathedral on solid ground.
Unfortunately when we visited we were unable to go inside the cathedral, so we had to settle for admiring this masterpiece from the outside. The gardens are really beautiful and offer you a moment of reflection in an otherwise busy and chaotic city.
The Motherland Monument or Rodina Mat is one of the few reminders of Ukraine’s Soviet past. The statue is huge and at over 300 feet high it towers over Kyiv holding a sword in one hand and a shield showing the state emblem of the Soviet Union in the other. It was designed as a war memorial in 1979 and its construction was highly controversial. Many people felt the cost of creating the statue could have been spent elsewhere.
Even today controversy surrounds it, as many people today feel she should be torn down. The statue still represents communism and Soviet rule, something which Ukraine is still trying to rebuild from. In 2015 the government banned all Soviet monuments and memorials with the exception of any related to World War II. This is why the monument still stands and is one of the most controversial attractions in Kyiv.
So Peizazhna Alley is probably one of the stranger attractions in Kyiv but also the most fun. It is basically a park full of bright sculptures, and mosaics. The children’s play area is truly a sight to behold and follows a kind of Alice in Wonderland theme. In fact had I of been several years younger I don’t think you would have been able to pry me away.
We actually came across this by accident during an afternoon stroll in Kyiv, which I sometimes think is how you find the coolest things. There are a lot of places to sit and soak up some of the incredible views of Kyiv as well as enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.
Andriyivskyy descent is often called the Montmartre of Kyiv, and after spending an afternoon here it is easy to see why. It connects Kyiv’s Upper Town and the Podil neighbourhood. Walking down the descent is a great experience, you pass artists selling their paintings as well as souvenir stands and a few quirky museums.
Park of Eternal Glory
This is a beautiful park with a very profound World War II memorial. You also get some really great views from here, so definitely take your time exploring. We stumbled across the park as we were making our way to Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra which we talk about below.
Holodomor Victims Memorial
The Holodomor Victims Memorial is located in the Park of Eternal Glory. Unfortunately we did not have the time to visit but if you have the time I urge you to. The Holodomor was a famine between 1932 and 1933, and was imposed by the Soviet Government who were in power at the time. It is now recognised as a genocide against the Ukrainian people that resulted in the deaths of millions of Ukrainians.
Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra or Kyiv Monastery of the Caves is a must see attraction on any trip to Kyiv. The monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and an important sacred ground in Kyiv. The site contains several beautiful churches with golden domes and intricate interiors.
The true spiritual significance of the monastery however lies below ground. There is a cave network that currently displays the bodies of several monks that have been preserved due to the caves’ environment. For women visiting the underground caves, you have to have your head covered, and you need to wear a wrap around skirt provided to you at the entrance to the caves.
We recommend purchasing some candles before making your way into the caves as these will be your only source of light. It is a truly remarkable experience and you can see the importance to Orthodox Christians whom you will see kissing the glass coffins as a mark of respect. You cannot take photographs in the caves for obvious reasons so we can’t show you in this blog post. We highly recommend you make the trip though to experience this for yourself.
The grounds are just incredible, and to this day it is a working monastery which gives you a fantastic insight into the Orthodox Christian faith. You ideally will want to spend at least half a day here as the site is quite large and there is a lot to see.
St Andrew’s Church
St Andrews Church is a Baroque style church perched at the top of Kyiv’s Upper Town. Its immense beauty towers over the Podil neighbourhood and is a striking feature of the neighbourhood skyline.
Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside due to restoration, but we did pay to walk around the outside of the church. We would highly recommend this because you get some fabulous views of Kyiv from here.
Time and a probably unfounded fear of getting radiation poisoning and dying stopped us from actually visiting Chernobyl. So the next best thing was to explore the Chernobyl Museum. The museum gives you a really fascinating look into the disaster, and it quite poignant in its explanation of the events and how this has had a long lasting impact over the country.
We had an English audio guide which was easy to follow, and through this you heard stories of some of the people working or living in Chernobyl at the time of the disaster. It is gut wrenching and reminds you about how much destruction was caused at the hands of humans. If you can’t/ don’t want to go to Chernobyl this museum is the next best thing. And one of the cool things was we almost had the museum to ourselves minus a couple of other tourists and a school tour.
Taras Shevchenko Park
Kyiv has quite a lot of amazing green spaces and the Taras Shevchenko Park is certainly worth a visit. The park pays homage to Taras Shevchenko who was a great Ukrainian poet. Walking through the park you will eventually stumble upon his stern, but fatherly presence, in the form of a statue located in the centre. Because the weather was so great on our visit to Kyiv we spent a lot of time sitting here and people watching while taking in the fresh air and sunshine.
The Golden Gate is a restored historical monument based on the original fortifications of Kyiv in the 11th Century. The structure you see now was built in 1982 and the design is only based on interpretations of what the original may have looked like. Still it is an interesting sight to behold in the centre of Kyiv.
Maidan Square or Independence Square is the main meeting point in Kyiv. Whether it be festival or protest, all roads lead to Maidan Square. Which is apt as when you arrive here you see a number of intersections and streets all pointing towards the square.
The square is probably most well known in recent years for being the centre of the Euromaidan protests where over several months, over 100 people were killed. It is a sombre reminder of the freedoms we take for granted in the west.
St Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery
I think this might have been our favourite religious building in Kyiv, in part due to its bright blue colour and gold trimmings. It was originally built in 1108 but in the 1930s during the Soviet regime, it was torn down as it was said to have no historical value. The reconstructed cathedral was completed in 2000.
If you get the chance, do go inside. The dark walls filled with portraits and iconography are a contrast to the streams of light that pour through the windows making it almost heavenly.
This is probably the most fun way to get around Kyiv. The funicular station is located just behind St Michael’s and we decided to do the ride down and then back up. You do get some fantastic views from the funicular which was our purpose for wanting to ride it.
If you are looking for an authentic Ukrainian experience in Kyiv head to Bessarabsky Market. There are a variety of traders here selling fruit and veg and other produce. It gets lively in the afternoons and evenings and it is great watching the locals spring into action purchasing their goods.
Eating and drinking in Kyiv
Kyiv is such a large city and it can be overwhelming trying to decide where to eat and drink. Here are some of our favourite places based on our 3 days in Kyiv.
I know this is a bold statement but this Ukrainian take on the classic hot dog might just be our favourite street food ever. To find Kyivska Perepichka, get off at Teatralna metro station, walk for 1 minute, and look for the long line of people by a window. We had one each and immediately had to line up again for more. It was that good.
If you have ever read Anton Chekov’s Ward No. 6 (or even if you haven’t), this bar is a must. The bar is designed after the short story in which a doctor becomes a patient in his own psychiatric hospital. The bar staff are dressed in white hospital scrubs, and if you order specific shots the bar staff will put a flaming helmet on your head. It is kind of a secret bar, and I don’t want to give too much away because actually trying to find it is honestly half the fun.
Puzata Khata is a cheap and cheerful chain in Ukraine serving some of the best traditional dishes the country has to offer. Grab a tray as you walk in, and point to what you want. The food is served instantly and I have to say it is really delicious. It is kind of the Ukrainian McDonalds, where instead of burgers and fries you are presented with Vareniky, Borsht, and Chicken Kyiv. Yum!
Kupidon is a bar in the centre of Kyiv that also serves some decent Ukrainian food. The cuisine is more Galician which originates more on the west of Ukraine. So there are more potato based dishes such as potato pancakes and potato veranyki to feast upon. The food was great and the interior was really quirky as well.
Korchma Taras Bulba
Korchma Taras Bulba is the place to go if you want a true Ukrainian dining experience. They serve all the staples and it is a great place to go for some Chicken Kyiv which is a must in the city. The staff are decked out in traditional Ukrainian clothing and the atmosphere is jovial and welcoming.
Dave has this thing when we are abroad where he will try to visit at least one Irish Pub. So in the centre of Kyiv we stumbled upon O’Brien’s Irish Pub. It is great for a pint of Guinness in a far away place.
If you are after a good solid breakfast to get you through the day, then Milk Bar is brilliant. We came in one morning for brunch and it was absolutely delicious. I ordered a salmon and avocado dish with poached egg and sourdough, whilst Dave opted for the berry pancakes. Even weeks later Dave is still raving about those pancakes, and that is something, coming from a really fussy eater.
One thing that I really wanted to try was Ukrainian Pancakes for breakfast. At Under Wonder they do a Kyiv breakfast filled with different varieties of pancakes. It was delicious and despite struggling to get up and walk around for the rest of the morning on account of being so full, it was truly worth it.
Our final recommendation is B-Hush which is a rooftop cocktail bar offering some amazing views of Kyiv. Admittedly the drinks are expensive so we only stayed for one, but we loved the view of the city during golden hour as the sun began to set.
3 day Kyiv itinerary
We arrived in Kyiv early afternoon and the first thing we did when we arrived into the city was eat. We got the bus from the airport which dropped us off at the train station. We decided to grab some lunch at Puzata Khata before finding our hotel. After we settled into our hotel, we ventured out to St Volodymyr’s Cathedral to have a look around. From here it is only a short walk to the Golden Gate.
We then visited St Sophia’s Cathedral, before spending the late afternoon exploring the surrounding area. We eventually stumbled upon Peizazhna Alley. As evening approached we had cocktails at the rooftop bar B-Hush. We then had dinner at Taras Bulba before retiring for the night.
We got up early and took a walk through Taras Shevshenko park before grabbing a traditional Ukrainian breakfast at Under Wonder. We then got the metro to Arselena which is the deepest metro station in Europe. From here we visited the Park of Eternal Glory, and the Holodomor Victims Memorial before making our way to Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra.
We spent the rest of the morning exploring the Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra (one of the must see attractions in Kyiv) and the Motherland Monument, before getting on a bus back towards town. We had some lunch at Kyivska Perepichka and then visited Maidan Square.
As afternoon approached we visited St Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery and rode the nearby Funicular. We decided to go out for some drinks for the afternoon and visited the hard to find Palata No.6. For dinner we stopped by Kupidon for another traditional Ukrainian meal.
For our last day in Kyiv we had breakfast at Milk Bar before visiting Bessarabsky Market. We then made our way to Poldil, one of Kyiv’s oldest neighbourhoods. Here we visited the Chernobyl Museum and spent the afternoon exploring the neighbourhood.
We also made a trip to the nearby St Andrew’s Cathedral and enjoyed exploring the area. Andriyivskyy Descent was one of our favourite spots in the city and we had a good look around before heading to the train station to catch a train to Lviv in the evening, ending our 3 days in Kyiv.
Final tips for visiting Kyiv
Here are some final tips for visiting Kyiv to consider when planning your own trip.
- The metro system can be like a maze at times. When you come out you will find several underground shops and you will probably get lost. Don’t panic – it is all part of the experience.
- Scams are common in Kyiv and the rest of Ukraine. In fact our hotel advised us of a scam whereby someone drops their wallet and an unsuspecting tourist picks it up and tries to return it. But it then escalates and someone dressed as a police officer arrives and accuses you of theft. The idea is that you pay them to avoid any charges. We didn’t have any issues but it is probably best to keep this in mind.
- Kyiv is bigger than we thought. Have a plan of what you want to do and work out which attractions are near each other.
- Try and learn bits of the language. English isn’t widely spoken and it will help if you know the basics like numbers and common phrases.
3 days in Kyiv a recap
We hope our guide will be helpful to you if you are planning your own 3 day trip to Kyiv. It really is an amazing place with so much history. Ukraine, having only gained its independence relatively recently, in many ways it is still finding its feet and trying to establish its identify away from Russia. Now really is the time to visit as it is yet to be changed by mass tourism in the way other European cities have. If you have any questions or any other tips our readers should know about, please leave a comment in the section below.
Lizzie is one half of Wanderlust and Life. Usually the voice behind the blog posts she holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication (Public Relations & Advertising). She has lived in Australia, Canada & England, and is pretty travel obsessed. She is also a crazy cat lady in the making.