Kiev’s 12 Amazing Sights
A city of chestnut trees and ancient churches, lush parks and modern conveniences, vibrant markets and rich cultural heritage, Kiev is one of Europe’s underappreciated tourist gems. Not sure where to start? Read on below for the secrets of the tour guides themselves!
Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, has an ancient and proud history. It’s estimated to be more than 1500 years old – one of the oldest cities in Europe, and also the 7th most populous. The city was founded around the fifth century and became the capital of the powerful state of Kievan Rus – the center of Slavic culture.
Modern Kiev is a vibrant, bright, green, and cozy city with many historical buildings topped by golden domes, church spires and bell towers, and picturesque landscapes. The city is nestled among seven hills that are very suitable for city observations. You can enjoy the beautiful views of the banks of the Dnipro River and numerous bridges. The city is decorated with thousands of chestnut trees that are considered the city symbol.
The main historical neighborhoods in Kiev are the ancient Upper Town, and the Lower Town, consisting of the commercial neighborhood called Podil. Since Kiev breathes so much history, we asked a few leading tour guides to reveal the top historical destinations. Here is what we found:
Khreshchatyk Street & Maidan
Khreshchatyk Street is the heart of Kiev and a must-stop for all visitors to the city. The street is roughly 1.3 km. in length and stretches from the European Square through the Independence Square (Maidan) to Bessarabska Square, where the famous Besarabsky Market is located.
Khreshchatyk was destroyed during World War II, so most of its buildings were rebuilt in the neoclassical style of postwar Stalinist architecture. During weekends and public holidays, Khreshchatyk is closed for road traffic and is a good place to walk and observe local buskers and jugglers which create a festive atmosphere. Every Sunday, you can try traditional Karaoke in the Maidan song contest, organized by a local TV show. People from all over Ukraine compete to become the best singer in Maidan (Independence Square) and get a chance to become a music star. The central areas boast a wide range of stores, cafés, and restaurants where you can try Ukrainian and foreign cuisine. After Ukrainian Independence, the street was significantly renovated and now looks elegant and spacious – definitely one of the best tourist spots in Kiev!
The best way to explore Khreshchatyk is to take a leisurely walk from one end of the street (European Square) to the other end (Bessarabska Square) and then back again on the other side of the street. Enjoy the well-maintained historical buildings (such as the City Council, House with the Star, the Main Post Office building, TsUM – central shopping mall of the city that has just opened after 3 years of reconstruction and others), stop by various stores along the way (don’t miss the newly opened “Vsi.Svoi” shop, where you can find impressive selection of goods by Ukrainian brands), sit down and enjoy some drinks or food at numerous cafes, pubs, and restaurants (try Ukrainian classics like Borsch, Goluptsi, Varenyky and Pancakes), and of course spend some time at the main square of the city, Maidan. Maidan has always played an important role in the history of Ukraine, hosting the “Granite” student revolution (1990) for de-communization and the establishment of an independent state, Orange Revolution (2004), and Euromaidan (2013-2014) – the student movement for European integration.
Andriyivsky Descent is of one the most beautiful and ancient streets in the city, often called Kiev’s Montmartre. It is a favorite stop for Kiev tourists, and here you can buy handmade souvenirs in the great variety of shops or visit art galleries, cafés and Ukrainian restaurants. The most popular Kiev souvenirs include vyshyvanka (embroidered shirts), painted Easter eggs (pysanka), Ukrainian Matryoshka, handmade linen, jewelry, a big variety of ceramic items and paintings of local artists. The street lies on a steep hill, so wear comfortable shoes while going there. It’s about a 15-minute pleasant walk from Maidan Square.
Andriyivsky Uzviz is often associated with world-famous writer Mikhail Bulgakov, author of The Master and Margarita and the White Guards, who lived in the descent in the building No.13. Today, his home has become the Literature-Memorial Museum to Mikhail Bulgakov, where you can experience a mixture of the real, biographical world in which the Bulgakov family lived as well as mystical, literary world of heroes of his novel White Guards.
If you want to learn the history of this mystic street and ancient Kiev lifestyle, do not miss the One Street Museum located down the Andriyivsky hill, which has a unique collection of fascinating manuscripts, documents, antique books, photographs and postcards, and allows you to feel nostalgic atmosphere of ancient Kiev, as if traveling by time machine.
On the top of Andriyivsky Descent, you will find Saint Andrew’s Church, erected in the eighteenth century in royal baroque style. The church was constructed by Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli under the order of the Russian Empress Elizabeth, who decided to construct a summer residence in Kiev, consisting of a palace and a church. Legends say that the place where now the Dnipro River flows was a sea in ancient times, and when Saint Andrew came to the present Kiev territories and put a Cross on the mountain, just where Saint Andrew’s Church stands now, the sea waters went under the ground. After Saint Andrew’s Church was constructed, a deep well appeared under the altar. Therefore, Saint Andrew’s Church is the only church in Kiev which has no bells, as it is believed that the first bell stroke will make water wake up and cover Kiev in one second!
Just after Saint Andrew’s Church, turn to the right and see the National Museum of the History of Ukraine, located just near the ruins of the Church of the Tithes (tenth century), in an area that has been declared a state reserve. The museum illustrates Ukrainian history since ancient times and contains a huge collection of ethnographic materials and archaeological items, including an outstanding collection of Scythian art, historical paintings and sculptures, and early printed books.
Near the museum, you’ll find the so-called Landscape Alley. From there, you can enjoy a view of Podil and the Dnipro River and take pictures near picturesque mosaic pictures on the walls, fountains, unusual animal-shaped benches and playgrounds. This is a great place to walk, take funny pictures and enjoy the view of the Lower Town.
The Saint Sophia’s Cathedral
The Saint Sophia’s Cathedral (eleventh century) is one of the most important Christian cathedrals in Eastern Europe and the oldest of the few surviving buildings of Kievan Rus, included on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. It has 13 cupolas and includes an ensemble of supporting structures such as a bell tower (open for visitors in warm times of the year) and the House of Metropolitan.
Close to the Cathedral, on Sophiivska square, you will find the dramatic Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky Monument, dedicated to the Cossack leader who fought for the independence of Ukraine in the mid-17th century.
After the political events of 2013-2014, the cultural center of Kiev moved from Maidan to Sophiivska Square. Currently, it serves as a platform for almost all public festivals, shows and concerts of the city. The administration lights the main Christmas Tree of Ukraine in the square in December, and everyone can enjoy the Christmas fair, amusement park, competition games (quests) and artistic groups’ performances.
Kiev Pechersk Lavra
Kiev Pechersk Lavra (eleventh century) is one of the first Orthodox Christian monasteries in Kievan Rus included in the list of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine and also on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. It contains the Great Lavra Bell Tower, an ensemble of ancient churches and a complex of caves, divided into Near and Far Caves, where 123 surviving burials of saints are located. Among others, there you will find burials of the epic hero Ilya Muromets and Nestor the Chronicler. This place is believed to have strong saintly energies, and Christians from all over the world come there to pray for forgiveness, ask for relief from diseases and pray to solve family problems.
The Kiev Pechersk Lavra includes a Library of History and a large museum complex with outstanding exhibits. One of them is the incredible Mykola Syadristy Microminiatures Museum, where you will be amazed by extremely tiny and extraordinary sculptures that can only be seen under a microscope! A rose inside of a human hair, a camel placed in a needle eye and a pair of golden horseshoes put on a flea (the “shod flea”) are among the most famous exhibits.
Also, don’t forget to visit the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine with the unique Gold Pectoral that is believed to have graced the breast of a Scythian king.
The Golden Gate
The Golden Gate (“Zoloti Vorota”) of Kiev was the main entrance to the eleventh century fortifications of the city. It was constructed by the order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, whose monument is erected just nearby. In 1982, the Gate was completely reconstructed for the 1500th anniversary of Kiev. At present, there is a museum inside of the building, where you can see original parts of ancient Gate and learn the history of the fortifications of ancient Kiev. Also, you can go upstairs for an excellent view of Kiev’s city center.
The Gate is surrounded by attractive Zolotovoritskyi Square, set up in the 19th century and now a popular walking area. One of the square’s main attractions is a statue of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, who holds a miniature of the Saint Sophia’s Cathedral and looks in the direction where it is built.
Kontraktova Square is located in the Lower Town (Podil District) and is one of the oldest squares in Kiev, known from the times of Kievan Rus. Ideally located on the banks of Dnipro River, it was and still remains an important economic, cultural, and transport center of the city. Since ancient times, it was a trading place where numerous contracts were concluded, which gave the name to the square: “Kontraktova.”
The atmosphere here combines old, picturesque buildings with meaningful murals, churches, and tiny streets that make the square an interesting place to feel the spirit of ancient Kiev.
The historical places of interest here include:
- The main building of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (KMA), one of the oldest and most authentic constructions in the Square, built in baroque style in the time of Hetman Ivan Mazepa (1632). Now it serves as the Library of the University and Doctoral School.
- The fountain/sculpture of Samson (the Bible character) who tears the lion’s jaw from which the water flows. The fountain is located in a beautiful pergola adorned with sundial clocks on the columns.
- The bell tower of Saint Katerina Greek monastery, built in 1914 upon the design of V. Eisner in neoclassical and modern style as a part of the monastery complex.
- The monument to Petro Sahaydachniy on horseback built amidst a park on the hill in 2001 and dedicated to the Hetman of the Ukrainian Zaporozhian Cossacks who transformed the Cossack Host from an erratic military formation into a regular army.
- The House of Contracts is one of the important classical architectural constructions of the city, built in the years 1815–1817. Since the mid-1990s, it has served as the Ukrainian Interbank Currency Exchange, therefore, visitors may see the building only from the outside.
National Taras Shevchenko University
The National Taras Shevchenko University is one of the oldest (1834) and often ranked as the best university in Ukraine. It is named after author and artist Taras Shevchenko, whose monument is located in the park nearby (Taras Shevchenko Park) just in front of the “red building” of the university.
The university is surrounded by an ensemble of 19th- and 20th-century buildings, such as the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Teacher’s House, the Maksymovych Library in neoclassical style, and the National Library of Ukraine.
The beautiful Taras Shevchenko Park is jokingly called the “green building” of the University, as students often prefer to walk here instead of attending lectures. The park is well maintained with fountains and creatively constructed benches and is one of the favorite places to walk for youth as well as celebrities and politicians.
National Opera House of Ukraine
The National Opera House of Ukraine is one of the most notable ballets and opera scenes in Europe, founded in 1867. The present building was designed from a design by German-Russian architect Victor Schröter, who approached the project very carefully to make sure the building’s neo-Renaissance style harmoniously fits into the architectural and natural landscape.
The opera house will amaze you with its elegance of interior, gravity and luxury. Huge Venetian mirrors adorn the lobby, marble stairs are lit by porcelain lamps and bronze, gilding, and crystal are everywhere. The theater is not just beautiful, but also very conveniently located in the centre of the city, just a few minutes of walk from other places of interest such as Maidan, The Golden Gate and Taras Shevchenko University.
Talented artists and the wonderful architecture attract the attention not only of residents but also Kiev visitors. Every day, you can see various ballet and opera shows there for an incredibly low price: generally, ticket costs around $10-15. Because of its popularity, it is advisable to book your tickets beforehand, especially that now you can book your tickets online!
Last but Not Least – Parks!
Kiev is one of the greenest capitals in Europe, with about 127 parks and an average of about 20 sq.m. of greenery per resident. Our tour guide experts recommended the following parks that are beautiful, are located conveniently in and around the city centre, have interesting history, and are very popular among locals as well as visitors to the city.
Saint Volodymyr Hill Park
With its monument to Volodymyr the King, Saint Volodymyr Hill Park is one of the coziest and most charming places in Kiev, located on the steep right bank of the Dnipro River. It is dedicated to the prince Volodymyr the Great who Christianized the Kievan Rus and, according to legend, observed from this place the process of christening of Kiev citizens. A great place to walk, the park contains a spacious observation deck with amazing views of the left bank of Kiev, Kokorivska Arbor, various paths and numerous stairs. At night, the large cross held in the right hand of Volodymyr is illuminated, giving the impression of a miracle.
Mariyinsky Park and Palace are located in the heart of the city on the bank of the Dnipro River. The Mariyinsky Palace was designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli and built in 1755. It was named after Russian Emperor Alexander II’s wife Mariya, who especially loved the palace and actively participated in the reconstruction of the park in front of it.
At present, Mariyinsky Palace has a political purpose as the official ceremonial residence of the President of Ukraine. Walking in Mariyinsky Park, you can see decorative trees (around 80 species, including rare ones), a fountain, a stage in the open air called “Rakushka” (from Ukrainian for “shell”), the Lover’s Bridge traditionally covered with many love locks, and the wonderful views of the Dnipro River.
Park of Eternal Glory
The Park of Eternal Glory is a memorial complex located on the steep slope of the Dnieper where you can see a spectacular view on the city. The park is dedicated to the defenders of Kiev, who died during World War II. The park includes an enormous monumental statue of Rodina Mat (Motherland) and the Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II. This memorial complex includes an open-air exhibition containing military planes, tanks and other military equipment. The Rodina Mat statue is 102 meters in length and is a visiting card to the city. You can take an elevator on the top of the statue, which will cost you around $8.