Now is the perfect time to visit Kyiv, which is experiencing a mini cultural renaissance. Having only recently appeared on Western travellers’ radars, the Ukrainian capital offers an array of attractions from its top-notch historic wonders to the exciting foodie scene. For an easy way to explore one of the most intriguing eastern European destinations, here’s a quick guide to Kyiv’s main neighbourhoods.
Also known as the Upper Town, Kyiv’s Old Town is an area where the glorious history of the city started. Commence your journey through ancient Kyiv at the ruins of Desyatynna Church, the first church of the medieval empire of Kyivan Rus. You can learn more about those bygone times at the nearby National Museum of Ukrainian History. A little walk down Desyatynna street will take you to the gold-domed St Michael’s Monastery, named after Kyiv’s patron saint. Your next stop is one of the symbols of the city – the splendid St Sophia’s Cathedral. After having a look at its Byzantine frescoes and mosaics, you can admire the view over Kyiv from the heights of the baroque bell tower. From there, walk along Striletska street to spot some cool examples of Kyiv street art. On Yaroslaviv Val street you should try one of the stuffed pies at the iconic Bulochnaya Yaroslavna cafe. Yaroslaviv Val ends at a picturesque square dominated by the Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gates), one of the remaining city gates of ancient Kyiv.
The historic Lower Town of Kyiv, Podil is one of the trendiest and most vibrant neighbourhoods in the city. The best way to reach Podil from the Upper Town is by walking down Andriyivsky Uzviz, a street nicknamed ‘the Montmartre of Kyiv’ for its artistic atmosphere and picturesque setting. Pop into the Museum of One Street to learn more about the history of Andriyivsky Uzviz, and look for another one of Kyiv must-sees, the stunning baroque St Andrew’s Church. From there you can take a relaxing walk downhill enjoying the historical buildings and perhaps buying some traditional Kyiv souvenirs. For one of the best Ukrainian dining experiences in town, go to Kanapa, and to get a taste of Kyiv’s cocktail scene, try Pink Freud or Wood You Like Bar.
During the Russian Empire Lypky was one of the most desirable and expensive areas of Kyiv, and in Soviet times it became a district for government buildings. Dotted with the luxurious mansions of long-gone aristocrats, this is a neighbourhood ideal for fans of architecture. One of the highlights is the House of Chimeras, a quaint Art Nouveau masterpiece by Wladyslaw Horodecki. Also stop by the superb Neo-Renaissance building of the National Bank of Ukraine on Instytutska street, and go to Shovkovychna street to see the Chocolate House inspired by Italian palazzos. Take a break in one of the most popular green areas in Kyiv, the Mariinsky Park. It’s home to the elegant Mariinsky Palace built by the architect behind St Petersburg’s Winter Palace, Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The building right next to it is Verkhovna Rada, or the Ukrainian Parliament. You can enjoy some gorgeous panoramas of the Dnipro river and the left bank from numerous viewpoints within the park. Complete the experience of the neighbourhood’s opulent character at classy Lipsky restaurant.
The hectic Khreshchatyk boulevard, packed with boutiques, restaurants and cafes, is the centre of big-city life along with the impressive Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) which has witnessed the biggest events in Ukrainian history. Starting from the square, turn into Horodeckoho street, known for its splendid architecture, and stop for a coffee at vintage Na Stanislavskogo cafe just around the corner. Back on Khreshchatyk, take a walk along the wide boulevard observing the gigantic Soviet-era houses that were built after the complete destruction of the street in WWII. At the beginning of Khmelnytskoho street you will definitely spot a queue for a perepichka – a mega-popular urban snack that’s essentially a fried bun with a sausage inside. If you’re up for some shopping, explore the nearby TsUM, one of the most luxurious department stores in the city.
The absolute highlight of this neighbourhood is the Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra, a magnificent church complex considered to be one of the holiest places for Orthodox Christians in the world. You can spend a whole day here, walking from church to church to admire the golden domes and superb ornate interiors, but make sure you explore the labyrinths of the ancient caves (pechery in Ukrainian, which gave the Pechersk neighbourhood its name) where mummified monks lay. Afterwards climb to the top of the bell tower for impressive views of the city. Right next to the Lavra you’ll find an entirely different attraction – the grandiose Soviet-era Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Nearby, the 62m-tall Rodina Mat (aka Defence of the Motherland Monument) hails the Kyiv skyline with its gargantuan shield and a sword. Finish your tour by sampling the best of Ukrainian cuisine at rustic Tsarske Selo restaurant near the museum’s entrance.
The area around the buzzing Art Nouveau–style Bessarabsky Rynok market is one of the liveliest parts of the city. Here you can get a feel for Kyiv’s urban rhythm and find some of the best restaurants and bars in town. For a great coffee break go to Chashka where you can taste some interesting local flavours; when hunger strikes, a good central place with an international menu is Under Wonder near Lva Tolstoho square. Those interested in contemporary art will be pleasantly surprised by the collection at the PinchukArtCentre, which regularly exhibits the likes of Damien Hirst, Banksy and Ai Weiwei. Another cool hangout in this neighbourhood – and the perfect place to end the day – is Alchemist Bar, the Ukrainian capital’s nightlife hotspot.
Kyiv dwellers make the most of the city’s riverside position with plenty of outdoor activities to choose from. Grab a bike and go cycling to Truhaniv Island, which offers wonderful panoramas of Kyiv hills. Start on Poshtova square and cross the Pedestrian Bridge to get to the island. In summer, stop by Skvorechnik, an alternative culture haven with a vegetarian cafe and unusual treehouses. For a more eccentric local experience head to Hydropark – the main recreational zone on the Dnipro river, accessible via the metro station of the same name. It’s an area with many beaches and water-sports activities, as well as plenty of bars, restaurants and different kinds of entertainment. Although quite chaotic, Hydropark remains one of the most popular (and crowded) outdoor spots in Kyiv. To see the city from the water, join one of the river cruises offered by numerous ships along the embankment near the Poshtova square.