Back in December I took a two-night trip to another new country and city, this time visiting the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. I’ve decided to write this blog in a different style to previous destination reports, with different sections covering Food, Things to Do and my random thoughts. Hopefully it’ll give you a good idea of my adventures in the city and any feedback on this post (and any others) will be gratefully received.
Milk Bar – I started my first day in Kiev with a visit to Milk Bar, a café in the Cherepanova Hora district of Kiev. I discovered this café on an article on ‘The Culture Trip’ and after a brief look at the menu the night before, decided to give it a try. I turned up at about half past 9 and was quickly shown to a table in the spacious interior.
I opted for some delicious Ricotta Pancakes with Philadelphia, Blueberry curd and Berry compote accompanied by a couple of Lattes and a ‘Happy C’ juice (Orange, Grapefruit & Lemon) which in total came to 412 UAH, or just £13.22 with my Monzo exchange rate.
The Last Barricade – Following the free walking tour I took around Kiev, a couple of the other people on it and myself decided to head to a restaurant that the guide had recommended. The Last Barricade is a restaurant under Independence Square and is fairly well hidden unless you know where to look (hint the entrance looks like a service entrance).
The restaurant is themed around (and is born from) the three Ukrainian revolutions in living memory (1990, 2004 & 2014) and only serves Ukrainian food. I decided to opt for the Banosh with Bacon accompanied by two local beers which cost me 256 UAH or £8.21. For the three of us, each having a main and two drinks, the total was just £28.87!
Under Wonder – For my final meal in Kiev, I met up with one of the fellow travellers from the previous days walking tour and we headed to Under Wonder for breakfast. Located not far from Milk Bar in the Cherepanova Hora district, an Uber from my AirBnB cost just £1.29.
Under Wonder has a range of both Western and Ukrainian dishes for breakfast and so I opted for the English Breakfast, again accompanied by two lattes which cost me 260 UAH or £8.34. The food was delicious and fresh and there were no problems at all, however I did prefer the more laid-back atmosphere at Milk Bar to the more upmarket atmosphere of Under Wonder.
5 Things to Do
Walking Tour – As with most of my trips, I arranged to do a free walking tour on my first day in Kiev. Using Freetour.com I was amazed at just how many options there were with a choice of 11 different free English tours. I went for the Ancient Kiev tour, which I found covered some ancient parts of the city but also took us around some more recent parts of the city. The tour started in Independence square and covered areas such as St. Michael’s and St. Andrew’s churches (see below), Landscape Alley (a rather Gaudi esc area of art within a public park) and Kiev’s ancient Golden Gates (which are actually a modern construction due to them being in ruins in the 1970s.
The general history of Ukraine and Kiev covered in the tour was absolutely fascinating, especially how in the 28 years since independence from the USSR, the country has made great efforts to create (or re-create) its own identity. Although many parts of the country’s soviet identity have been destroyed through various revolutions and their fallouts, some still remain such as the ‘Stalin Baroque’ style Ministry of Foreign Affairs and various monuments such as the Motherland Monument. If you’re in Kiev even for just a day, I’d definitely recommend doing one of the many walking tours available!
Churches – Even if you decide not to do a walking tour, it is certainly worth visiting some of Kiev’s stunning Orthodox churches. We covered three of these during the tour: St. Michael’s church (which we also went inside); St. Andrew’s church (the only church in Kiev without a bell tower); and St. Sophia’s cathedral (one of the seven wonders of Ukraine).
St. Michael’s church was absolutely stunning with its golden domes; however, this building was only completed in 2011, replacing the previous church on the site which was destroyed by the USSR in 1933. What surprised me was that given how bright and colourful the church was outside, the area of the inside we were able to look around was very dark with the only light coming from windows and candles.
People’s Friendship Arch & Volodmyr the Great – Following the walking tour and the meal at The Last Barricade, a couple of us from the walking tour decided to head to the People’s Friendship Arch (or Arch of Nations) which is about a 10-minute walk from Independence Square towards the river. Located in Khreschatyi Park, behind the buildings of the National Philharmonic Society, the arch was opened in 1982 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the USSR and Kiev’s 1,500th anniversary.
Between the Arch of Nations and the nearby statue of Volodmyr the Great, there is a glass bottomed bridge crossing one of the main roads out of the city. Thankfully I’m not scared of heights, however standing and watching the traffic pass under your feet is definitely nerve wracking and we soon headed over to the statue of Volodmyr.
Volodmyr the Great was a price of Novgorog, a grand Prince of Kiev and the ruler of Kievan Rus’ between 980 and 1015 AD. In 988 Volodmyr converted to Christianity and Christianised the area under his rule, thus becoming Saint Volodmyr. His statue on Volodymryska Hill overlooks the Dnieper river and is near to both the Kiev Funicular railway and the beautifully illuminated Parkovyi pedestrian bridge. Whilst statues are always interesting, the highlight here was definitely the views out over the river and eastern suburbs of the city.
The Motherland Monument – One of the major sights in Kiev is The Motherland Monument which towers more than 100m above the southern districts of the capital. Finished in 1981, the monument is part of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War (see below) and is best accessed via taxi or bus from the city centre. I had quite an adventure trying to reach the monument having tried to access it from Dnipro metro station, however after some failed climbs and a lot of walking, eventually got an Uber around the base of the hill to the main entrance.
Although a challenge to get to (for me at least), the trip was definitely worth it as the monument is absolutely amazing, especially when lit up at night. From the vantage point at the base of the statue there are some amazing views of the city, and when the museum/monument are open, viewing points at the top and part way up provide even better views.
Railway Musueum – The final place I visited in Kiev was a bonus whilst waiting for the airport express and was completely free. Adjacent to platform 14 at Kiev Pasazhyrskyi station is the Museum of Railway Transport. This open-air exhibit has a number of historic locomotives and carriages on display, showing some of the history of the Ukrainian railways. Many of the exhibits are open to explore (including 6ft+ climbs onto locomotive footplates) and it is seemingly a popular attraction with 50+ people exploring when I visited at about half past 10.
5 Things to go back for
With a late arrival into Kiev and only one full day in the city, there was nowhere near enough time to see and do all the things I wanted to (especially as more got added to the list the longer I was in the city!) Whilst I’m sure the list is much much longer than this, below are five of the things I didn’t get to do that I definitely want to go back for!
The Kiev Funicular climbs Volodymryska Hill and connects the Podil district of the city with Old Kiev. A single journey costs just 8UAH and supposedly provides amazing views our across the river. Whereas most funiculars are tourist attractions, the Kiev Funicular is very much part of city life with 10-15 thousand people (about the same as Peterborough railway station!) using it on a daily basis, so make sure you visit outside of peak times!
As mentioned above, there are various museums in and around the complex of The Motherland Monument which certainly look like they’re worth a visit. The complex includes The Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War and The Local Conflicts Museum and various exhibits about WW2 in Ukraine, including a vast external display of military vehicles and aircraft!
The Oleg Antonov State Aviation museum is located to the southwest of the city centre at Zhuliany airport, Kiev’s second airport and the home of low-cost carriers such as Wizz Air and Ryanair. The museum has over 60 static aircraft on display, ranging from MiG fighter jets to the large Ilyushin Il-86 passenger jet, and also contains interactive exhibits. The museum is open year-round Tuesday to Sunday and costs just 100UAH (approx. £3.25) for adults including access to some aircraft cockpits.
The National Museum of the History of Ukraine covers Ukraine’s history from ancient times to modern times. The guide on our walking tour advised if you have time for only one museum, head for this one as it gives a great overview of everything whereas other museums in Kiev look more closely at specific periods. The museum is open 7 days a week between 1000 and 1800 and costs 75UAH (£2.42) for entry. Entry on the last Monday of the month is free!
The final area of Kiev that I definitely want to return to visit is the Pechersk Lavra. The Lavra, also known as the Kiev Monastery of Caves, was founded in 1051 and, along with St. Sophia’s Cathedral, is one of the seven wonders of Ukraine and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Lavra complex is split into two parts and the lower Lavra is free to enter. Entry to the upper Lavra costs 25UAH (£0.81) and the caves are open between 0830 and 1630 with the Lavra complex itself being open later into the evening.
A few Random Thoughts
One of the most noticeable things about Kiev as you wander around is just how many coffee kiosks there are. They are literally on every other street corner. THERE IS SO MUCH COFFEE!
Kiev is quite hilly (it’s built on seven hills – like Rome but less poetic) so either make sure you’re fit enough to manage them or take public transport/an uber. A single journey on the metro, no matter how far, is 8UAH (or a whopping 26p!) whereas Ubers cost about 40-50UAH from the city center to the main station.
The final thing I noticed, and a fact I almost fell into, is that there is a very different attitude towards Health & Safety compared to the UK. At most worksite have red and white tape keeping people out, but there were occasions where there were absolutely no barriers. Walking from the station to my AirBnB on the first evening, I almost fell into a 4-foot-deep hole due to unmarked roadworks on a dark section on pavement. As long as you pay attention, you’ll be fine!
I had an absolutely amazing time in Kiev and found the cross of cultures fascinating. As you can see from some of my highlights and wish list above, there is plenty to see and do and I’d definitely recommend a few days in Ukraine’s capital, although probably in the summer as opposed to December!