October 16, 2017

Top 10 Things to do in Kiev

Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is a mix of Soviet modernist architecture and beautiful medieval buildings. Throw in a city centre dominated by parks, great museums, the Dneiper river flowing through the middle, affordable hotels and cheap and tasty local beer, it has the makings of a great weekend away.

Here are our are top 10 things to do in Kiev.

1. Be dazzled by the golden domes of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery
Founded in 1051 the UNESCO listed Eastern Orthodox monastery pokes its sparkling domes above the rooftops of Kiev, and is particularly picturesque when seen from the banks of the River Dneiper.

Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds, and for the best photographs.Bring a torch to explore the catacombs below where many of the monks have been buried over the centuries.

2. Smell the flowers in the Botanic gardens
Right in the city centre the botanical gardens (also known as the A.V Fomin gardens) are a welcome respite after walking around the museums and churches of Kiev. Serene and relaxing, packed full of beautiful flowers depending on the season, and with a couple of cafes for a tea or coffee, it is hard to believe you are in the middle of a busy international city, as a squirrel steals a crust of pastry from your plate. A greenhouse with rare plants can be visited also.

The other major park, the Hryshko gardens, down by the river is another great place to have a stroll.

3. Go down in the tube station at midday
The underground Metro system in Kiev is both cheap and efficient. As well as having some beautiful architecure, the Zoloti Vorota station resembles a church and has some wonderful mosaics, it is an engineering feat. Due to the depth of the Dneiper the line, and the stations, had to be dug far underground.

Arsenala station is the deepest in the world, with a depth of 105 metres (346 feet). There are no lifts but the station does have some of the fastest moving escalators we have travelled on. Even so, the journey down, or up, takes close to five minutes.

4. Understand the devastating effects of the Chernobyl disaster
Day trips are now available to see Chernobyl and the abandoned city of Pripyat. If you have not got time for that, then spend an hour or two at the Chernobyl Museum. You will get a real understanding of both the accident, the ongoing clean up effort, and how the ecology of the area has changed.

The electronic book listing the efforts, and eventual fate, of the 'Liquidators' who first responded to the accident is particularly moving.

5. Buy some unusual souvenirs at Independence Square
Independence Square (also known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti) is one of the most well known sites of recent times in Kiev. A site for political rallies and protests in recent years, it is dominated by the the white marble victory column in its centre.

Pop into the shops below the square and pick up a roll of Vladimir Putin toilet paper. He is clearly not held in great esteem by most Ukrainians due the annexation of Crimea and ongoing problems in the east.

6. Use a microscope to look at works of art that can pass through the eye of a needle
The Museum of Micro Miniatures is just outside the main entrance to the Pechersk Lavra Monastery.
Astonishing works of art made by the Ukrainian Nicolai Syadristy. Ever wondered how a ship got into a bottle? Now you can take it one level further and try and work out how Syadristy added gold rigging to a ship only a millimeter in size.

Gaze through a lens at books, insects, chess sets and a caravan of camels in the eye of a needle at this most unique of Kiev's museums.

7. Witness the terrors of the Second World War
At the Ukranian National Museum to the Second World War (formerly known as the Museum of the Great Patriotic War) there are a multitiude of displays detailing the fight against the Nazi's and the resistance movement that spread throughout the country.

The lack of English translations for most of the exhibits, does not diminish the experience. There are also a huge number of weapons and military equipment, from tanks to helicopters, that can be viewed (but not climbed). Bringing the museum up- to-date, there are also a number of displays given over to the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

8. Climb the Motherland Statue
Or just take a look at it from the courtyard below. The huge statue, made from glistening stainless steel, was opened in 1981 by the Soviet leader Brezhnev, stands 62 metres (203 feet) high, and dominates the skyline of Kiev. You can go almost to the very top.

Buy the tickets at the front desk of the National War Museum below, and then ascend by a small lift. A guide will take you close to the top on a winding staircase. Not recommended for those that suffer from acrophobia.

9. Squeeze through old narrow cobblestone lanes
A short walk from Independence Square leads you to the Andriyivskyy Descent, an old cobblestone thoroughfare connecting upper with lower Kiev. It can be a bit overwhelmingly full of tourists at times, but you can escape it all by detouring into the silent beauty of the baroque St Andrews Church nearby.

This area is also one of the best for souvenirs. There is a fair bit of tourist tat, but also some nice Soviet memorabilia including medals, and actual bullets, on the tables. Not to be purchased if you are flying home!

10. Taste the local beer
Kiev has numerous bars and cafe's to sate the thirst of its beer drinking populace. And did we mention it was unbelievably cheap. Even the best local ale is unlikely to cost you more than 1 US$ a pint.

We recommend Craft vs Pub to try a great selection of Ukranian beers, the darker wheat beers are particularly tasty, and to delve a bit deeper into local brewing head to the Pivarium where the brewery is on the premises. Try the Dark Ale first, or just go for a sampler and taste of all their beers.

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