As one of the largest cities in Europe, Kyiv is definitely a place to explore in depth. While the spectacular Unesco-protected sights like St Sophia’s Cathedral and Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra are a must-see for the majority of visitors, the real charm of Ukraine’s capital lies in the numerous lesser-known spots that reveal its cool character.
As eclectic as it gets, Kyiv is a thrilling set of superb architecture, secret courtyards, quirky statues and unexpected panoramas. Here’s a quick guide to its hidden highlights.
Explore the Old Town’s street art
With dozens of murals appearing on the streets of Kyiv at lightning speed, the Ukrainian capital is confidently turning into one of the hotspots on the European street art scene. There’s even a project to put all Kyiv’s murals on a map. The best street art can be found in the heart of the city – the Old Town. For the best mural-spotting experience, stroll along the Striletska street enjoying the enormous wall art painted on almost every house. Not to be missed are the crafty portrait of Ukrainian writer Lesya Ukrainka (Striletska 28), a depiction of the famous Ukrainian gymnast Anna Rizatdinova (Striletska 12), and the quirky ‘Square of the Kyiv intelligentsia’ (Honchara 8) – a lovely park boasting a few murals and some bird statues. This district’s best-kept secret is the legendary courtyard on Reitarska 9, with two big cages hosting ravens. To learn more about Kyiv street art, join a Kyiv Mural Art Walking Tour.
Stroll through a colourful ghost town
There’s a ghost town right in the centre of Kyiv. Trapped between the iconic ‘bald mountains’ (a pagan name for the hills in the city centre) lies Vozdvyzhenka – a kitschy monument to the economic crisis and bad architectural taste. Planned as a dream district for rich Ukrainians, it was doomed from the very beginning due to the difficult setting and financial problems. In 2003 a decision was made to construct an upscale residential neighbourhood, demolishing most of the historic buildings of the old Kozhumyaki district. The project was never finished and many houses currently stand uninhabited, slowly falling into disrepair. Nevertheless, life has found a way to flourish among the cartoonish, colourful faux–art nouveau buildings of Vozdvyzhenka, with many hip cafes, trendy restaurants and art galleries. Some of the places to stop by include one of the best Asian restaurants in Kyiv, Ohota na Ovets, and the cosy, modern Dip Coffee Shop.
Find all the bizarre Kyiv statues
Apart from its recent street art boom, Kyiv is a city of unusual statues and sculptures. They can be found in different shapes and sizes all over the city centre: on the streets, in the courtyards, on trees and benches. Check out the bronze statue of a cat standing next to the Zoloti Vorota, the wooden ballerina at Striletska 10, the giant frog next to the Water Museum, and the babushka (old woman) statue sitting on a bench in the Taras Shevchenko Park. And, of course, don’t miss the Hedgehog in the Fog statue, made of wood and nails, at Reitarska 2. The epicentre of statue quirkiness is found on the Peyzazhna aleya. The first sculpture park in the Ukrainian capital, it’s always a great spot for a walk, offering magnificent panoramic views of the city as well as various art objects to admire.
Feel inspired by Lypky mansions
Lypky is a central neighbourhood that has long been a habitat of the local aristocracy. It still shows the grandeur of the past, combined with the atmosphere of a government district (all branches of power are headquartered here). A perfect place for architecture lovers, Lypky is where the wealthy Kyiv dwellers competed in architectural opulence, ordering the most daring designs for their mansions. Start your exploration from the extravagant Kowalewski mansion (Shovkovychna 15/1), a mix of Romanesque, Caucasian and art nouveau styles. Next, visit the Chocolate House whose architecture is inspired by Italian palazzos. Gaze at the art nouveau House of the Crying Widow (Luteranska 23), so named because of the decorative sculpture of a woman’s head that ‘cries’ when it rains. The most precious jewel in Lypky’s crown, however, is the spectacular House of Chimeras; it can only be visited as a part of a tour. Take the Lypky Mansions excursion to have a peek inside, and to discover all the secrets of the district’s rich architectural heritage.
See the remnants of Soviet modernism
Kyiv was one of the largest cities of the Soviet Union, and post-war Soviet architecture has drastically changed its look. The city was a playground for the leading architects of the communist state, who were given a free pass to realise their wildest modernist dreams here. This heritage is often overlooked in modern Ukraine, where Soviet legacy has negative connotations and is being gradually destroyed in a process of decommunisation. Nevertheless, Kyiv’s numerous modernist buildings are fascinating and at times bizarre. Start your exploration with the enormous UFO-shaped structure of a former conference hall located next to the Lybidska metro station (Antonovycha 180). Observe the spaceship-like rounded design of the Salute Hotel and the retro-futuristic ‘House of Pioneers’ nearby. Then take a walk around the campuses of the Kyiv National University (Vystavkovy Centr metro station), whose imposing architecture was inspired by the Japanese Metabolism style.