Our hearts go out to all Ukrainians and those affected by the war. Please note that this article was written in 2019, before Putin’s full invasion of Ukraine. It’s not safe to visit Kyiv at this time. You can check the U.S. Department of State’s website for the most up-to-date travel recommendations.
Gold-domed church rooftops and monasteries are iconic landmarks of Kyiv, but Ukraine’s capital offers so many things to do in addition to religious sightings.
I spent one week in Kyiv and was thrilled when a stroke of bad logistics granted me an extra morning to explore the city.
I’m here to share with you all the incredible things to do in Kyiv- both those that are tourist magnets and the hidden gems.
Accessible Travel Note: If you’re a wheelchair user, head over to our sister post on A Wheelchair User’s Guide to Kyiv, Ukraine.
Kyiv or Kiev
Have you seen Ukraine’s capital written two ways? Are you wondering which is correct?
The answer depends on who you’re talking to.
Kyiv is the Ukrainian spelling, and Kiev is the Russian spelling. Since this post is all about Ukraine, and Ukrainians want their own identity from Russia, I’m using “Kyiv” as the spelling.
Overview: Things to do in Kyiv
When it comes to Kyiv, and Ukraine as a whole, you’ll find lists of churches as popular things to do. It’s for good reason, as the Orthodox churches and monasteries are stunning.
I’m going to kick off this list of things to do in Kyiv with churches. However, if churches aren’t your thing, scroll down a bit and you’ll find a list of non-church related things to do in Kyiv.
Church Related Things to do in Kyiv
Behold, below are a few of the many churches in Kyiv that you should consider visiting. If you’re short on time, visit the first three. Not only are they close to each other, but they each have unique qualities to give you a well-rounded Ukrainian church experience.
1. St. Andrew’s Church
St. Andrew’s Church sits on a hill overlooking the famous Andriyivskyy Descent Street. It’s impossible not to be in awe when you see this church with its castle-like features (“Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran, anyone?).
Typically, the church is open to visitors for a fee. However, when I was there, the church was undergoing construction. They charged me a lesser fee (about 80 U.S. cents) so I could walk around the outside of the church.
From the balcony, you’ll get to enjoy views of Podil, which is one of the oldest districts in Kyiv. And, of course, you’ll get to have views of Andriyivskyy Descent Street, which you still might be out of breath from if you walked from Podil to get to St. Andrew’s Church.
You can view the hours for St. Andrew’s Church here. Keep in mind that the ticket office is located on the street across from the entrance of the church. Only cash is accepted- no credit cards. Also, there are steep stairs to get up to the church, so anyone with limited mobility will find it challenging.
2. St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
When walking from St. Andrew’s Church towards Sofiyivska Square, you’ll soon stumble upon a massive blue church. The church is part of a monastery complex and is free to enter.
The grounds are small but worth exploring. Service is held in the blue building twice per day. If you plan on attending, make sure to dress conservatively. Women must wear something on their head. Scarves are the most common and fashionable, but you can get away with something as informal as a baseball cap.
It’s worth reiterating that the St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery complex is free to enter, with the exception of the museum, which is a measly 9 UAH (about 35 U.S. cents). If you’re visiting Kyiv on a budget, this is your place.
You can view the hours for the monastery here.
Travel Tip: There’s a funicular that runs behind St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery to the Podil district. This is an excellent option if you’re in the lower town and want to avoid the uphill climb on Andriyivskyy Descent Street to get to St. Andrew’s Church.
3. St. Sophia Cathedral
Remember how I told you that you should visit at least the first three religious sites on this list and that they are close together?
When standing at the entrance of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery and looking away from the church, your eyes will land on the stunning St. Sophia Cathedral and its bell tower.
Confession: St. Sophia Cathedral was my favorite church of the many churches I visited in Kyiv.
It’s easy to think that you can view the cathedral well from Sofiyivska Square. However, I encourage you to pay the entrance fee to go inside. St. Sophia Cathedral is a UNESCO site and you’ll be greeted by beautifully maintained grounds with apple trees, benches scattered about the lawn, and striking buildings.
The most striking, of course, is the St. Sophia Cathedral.
The cathedral has been turned into a museum so it’s no longer active. Therefore, women are allowed inside without covering their heads. Nonetheless, conservative clothing for both men and women is encouraged.
The best part about the St. Sophia Cathedral complex is the bell tower.
If you’re able to manage many flights of stairs, at sometimes dizzying heights, walking to the top of the bell tower is a must-do. There are three viewing platforms at various heights.
If you get vertigo easily, you’ll likely be able to manage the first one fine, but going higher won’t be for you. The advantage of the first platform is that there isn’t any chicken wire on the windows to get in the way of your photos.
The St. Sophia Cathedral complex has an array of pricing options, depending on how many sites within the complex you’d like to visit. Keep in mind that the complex opens before the bell tower. You can view prices here.
Travel Tip: Unless you’re ultra into history and/or the Orthodox religion, purchasing a ticket that includes the bell tower and entering the St. Sophia Cathedral should be plenty for you.
4. Pechersk Lavra
I don’t know about you, but my ears perk up when I hear there’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not only does the beautiful Pechersk Lavra make the UNESCO list, but, along with St. Sophia’s Cathedral, it’s also one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine.
Navigating the entrance policies and layout of Pechersk Lavara can be challenging if you’re not prepared. As with St. Sophia’s Cathedral, the price list is long, depending on the sights within the complex that you’d like to see. At the very least, make sure that your ticket includes the church and bell tower. The caves are free to enter with any ticket to the grounds.
The downside to Pechersk Lavra?
You have to pay a fee to take photos. However, no photos of any kind are allowed inside the church. As is the case anywhere I’ve been with paid photo policies, it’s impossible for the staff to fully enforce the rule, meaning that there were plenty of non-photo payers taking pictures.
5. St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral
We’ve gone through the must-see churches in Kyiv, but there are so many more that are worth visiting. One of my favorites is St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral.
Located near the Opera House, St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral is a sight to see with its bright yellow exterior and blue roof.
Due to trees lining the front, the best way to appreciate the beauty of this church is from the right side, when facing the church, and from the backside.
St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral is an active church and open daily for prayer. Make sure to go inside so you can appreciate the incredible domes of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
6. Florovsky-Voznesensky Monastery
The last religious complex to make this list is the Florovsky-Voznesensky Monastery. When looking out at Podil from the balcony at St. Andrew’s church, you’ll easily be able to spot this less glamorous, but still uniquely beautiful, monastery.
What makes Florovsky-Voznesensky Monastery so beautiful is that it’s a little rough around the edges. Paint is peeling and the sun has faded what was once a vibrant green rooftop.
Florovsky-Voznesensky Monastery is a short walk from the main Kontraktova Ploshchad Square in Podil. It has an active Orthodox church, so dress appropriately if you plan on entering.
There are people who say that they get tired of looking at churches. But for me, the designs and colors of the churches in Kyiv are so unique that I found myself amazed by all that I came across. I hope that you, too, enjoy church exploring in Kyiv!
Non-Church Related Things to do in Kyiv
Why, hello and welcome to those who skipped over the church section. Kyiv offers plenty of things for you to do, too.
Let’s dive in!
1. Independence Square
Independence Square, also known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square, is one of the most prominent squares in Kyiv. It’s hard not to be in awe of the square’s large public spaces and the golden angel statue towering above it.
The square received its current name to commemorate the end of the Soviet Union. Nowadays, Independence Square is active day and night with restaurants, vendors, and performers.
2. People’s Friendship Arch & Bridge
From Independence Square, you’ll likely see a lot of people following stairs that lead away from the plaza. Let your curiosity get the best of you and follow them. You’ll soon arrive at the People’s Friendship Arch and the pedestrian bridge that leads from it.
Built in 1982, the arch was constructed by the Soviets to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the USSR, as well as the 1,500th anniversary of Kyiv. The fate of the arch is uncertain, as according to Ukraine’s decommunization laws, it should be removed.
For now, the arch is occasionally re-purposed, most notably being temporarily painted the colors of the rainbow for the Kyiv Pride Parade.
The pedestrian bridge leading away from the Friendship Arch, and the park on the opposite side, are not to be missed. You’ll get some of the best views of the Dnieper River from there.
3. Andriyivskyy Descent Street
Andriyivskyy Descent is the most famous street in Kyiv. Cobblestone and steep, Andriyivskyy Descent is a sight to see.
The street is quiet before 9:00am, so if you’re looking to snap some people-free photos, that’s your window of opportunity. However, I enjoyed when the street came to life.
As expected from Kyiv, there are cute cafes that line Andriyivskyy Descent Street. There are also stands of vendors selling artwork that make great souvenirs.
Andriyivskyy Descent starts in Podil and ends at St. Andrew’s Church. If you’d prefer to skip the uphill walk, there’s a funicular that runs from Podil to the back of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. The funicular is about a five minute walk from St. Andrew’s Church.
Travel Tip: There’s a public restroom on Andriyivskyy Descent Street. When walking uphill, it’ll be on your left hand side as you near St. Andrew’s church.
While we’re on the topic of Andriyivskyy Descent Street, Podil is the obvious next choice for this list. Podil is the oldest district in Kyiv, given its location in the lower part of the city beside the river.
Podil is the perfect place to lose yourself wandering the streets and enjoying Kyiv architecture. You’re not going to find perfectly kempt buildings here like in other parts of Kyiv. However, the rusticness of it all is what gives Podil its charm.
There’s a Ferris wheel in Podil which costs 150 UAH. When viewing Podil from afar, there’s something about the Ferris wheel and river that reminded me of a mini London.
5. Explore Volodymyrska Hill
For a city packed full of buildings, there are still plenty of green areas to be found in Kyiv. My favorite is the path through the park on Volodymyrska Hill.
This path starts at St. Andrew’s Church and winds around the side of the hill. The area is filled with trees, perfect for escaping Kyiv’s strong summer sun. However, along the way, you’ll encounter stunning lookout points, showcasing the river and parts of the city.
I walked this path for about 20 minutes before turning around, knowing that my day was still full of other places to visit. However, if you have the time and are a nature lover, I recommend allotting more time there.
6. National Museum of the History of Ukraine
St. Andrew’s Church is such a popular attraction that the nearby National Museum of the History of Ukraine is often forgotten by tourists. This is to your benefit, as you’ll get to enjoy exploring the vast grounds nearly entirely on your own.
I’m not a big museum person, so I didn’t go inside. However, I’ve heard amazing things about it for those who love history, so you can read more about it here, if you’re planning on entering.
Either way, make sure to walk around the entire perimeter of the museum. You’ll get to see a small chapel, the top part of St. Andrew’s Church, and excellent views of Kyiv from the side opposite of Podil (aka, the side less visited).
7. Landscape Alley Park
Do you enjoy quirky things when traveling? If so, Landscape Alley is for you.
This outdoor art museum leads off a path from the National Museum of the History of Ukraine. Look for this pillow sculpture to get you started in the right direction:
You’ll feel like a kid again walking through this little park. The sculptures are designed to be used by the public- sat on, stood on, crawled on, etc. A classic Landscape Alley photo opportunity is sitting inside the mouth of one of the sculptures.
It won’t take you long to go through the park- 15 minutes, or so, should be plenty. The path winds above a larger, grassy park, which you can detour to once you’ve seen enough of the sculptures.
Landscape Alley is a popular place for locals to take their kids, although you likely won’t ever feel the need to escape tourist crowds in Kyiv.
8. Bessarabsky Market
It’s no secret that I’m a market lover, so I made a beeline to the Bessarabsky Market upon my arrival to Kyiv.
The Bessarabsky Market is orderly, with two incredible vegetarian/vegan restaurants and a Middle Eastern flare. Expect the sights and “salesy-ness” of markets you’d expect in the Middle East, without the stench and chaos.
The Bessarabsky Market is no doubt for show and designed for tourists. However, walk around the outside of the building and you’ll come across some nice local restaurants.
I bought my fruits and veggies from street vendors scattered about Kyiv, since it was less pricey. However, the veggie-friendly restaurants called me back to the market a few times for lunch and dinner.
9. Golden Gate
When you’re wandering around downtown Kyiv, chances are you’ll come across the Golden Gate, even if you’re not trying.
Built, destroyed, and rebuilt again by the Soviets in 1982, the gate is an iconic site in Kyiv. For a fee, you can go inside the gate, which has been turned into a museum. The entrance fee allows you to walk up to the different outdoor platforms for 360-degree views.
My advice is to save your money for St. Sophia’s Cathedral or Pechersk Lavra. The Golden Gate Museum is mediocre, and the views of Kyiv are far more impressive from St. Sophia’s Cathedral and Pechersk Lavra.
Nonetheless, a visit to the outside of the Golden Gate should be on your list. The plaza around the Golden Gate is alive with musicians, vendors, and restaurants.
10. Eat Buns at Yaroslava
Oh, my buns!
The sweet and savory buns at Yaroslava are one of the things that you must do when you’re in Kyiv. Located near the Golden Gate, Yaroslava offers Ukrainian decor and traditional meals. In fact, it’s one of the oldest restaurants in Kyiv.
But, they’re most famous for their buns.
Buns come in a plethora of flavors. My personal favorites where cottage cheese, spinach, and raspberry. You can stay safe with a cherry bun or go crazy with a liver bun.
At less than 50 U.S. cents per bun, make sure to eat your buns at the restaurant. My bet is you’ll want to return for more!
11. Kashtan Cafe & Raven Aviary
If you love hidden cafes, Kashtan Cafe is for you. The cafe is also known as “Chestnut Cafe” as kashtan means Chestnut in Ukrainian.
Located on Reitarska Street, behind a large metal door seemingly for an apartment complex, Kashtan Cafe sits in front of a (very tiny) aviary.
Enjoy a delicious coffee and fast WiFi in the eclectic, cozy cafe. Then, head a few steps over to an “aviary.” Two large cages housing ravens will be waiting for you, who will happily accept any food you bring to them.
The aviary is in the parking lot, and as such there are no fees to pay the birds a visit.
Whether you’re interested in sightseeing with or without churches, Kyiv is full of things to do. If you have questions about traveling to Kyiv, leave a comment and I’ll try to help you out. Have you already been to Kyiv? If so, what were your favorite places?
P.S.- Will you be traveling to Odessa? Make sure to head over to my post on 14 Incredible Things to do in Odessa, Ukraine.