A colourful maze of old, hilly streets, with golden-domed cathedrals and pretty parks in the centre, Kyiv is one of Europe's most atmospheric cities. But Ukraine's capital is more than just a place to wander through: beneath the beautifully scruffy surface are great (and cheap) places to eat, drink and party. Kyiv is the ideal size for a weekend trip: there are plenty of neighbourhoods to explore over a couple of days, but it's small enough to walk between most places at your own pace.
Begin your day in the very heart of Kyiv, underneath the angel statue on Maydan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square, signposted 'Maidan'). Some of the most important events in Ukraine’s history have taken place on Maydan. It’s also the start of the city's central street, vul Khreshchatyk. This wide boulevard is a pedestrian zone at weekends, so a walk along it is a good way to do some people-watching. At the end of Khreshchatyk is Bessarabsky Rynok: pop in to see the fruit and vegetable bazaar, almost unchanged since Soviet times.
From ‘Bessarabka’, walk up one of the steep vulytsi (streets) that lead to the highest part of the city, and choose a cafe for brunch near the 11th-century Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gates). Eat some varenyky – Ukrainian dumplings that are made with both sweet and savoury fillings. Near to Zoloti Vorota is the gorgeous St Sophia's cathedral. Climb to the top of the bell tower for a panoramic view of Kyiv: the exquisite and colourful buildings of Sofiyska Square and St Michael's monastery below, and on the horizon, the districts of the left bank of the River Dnieper.
After a morning climbing up hills and cathedral steps, rest your legs over lunch at Spotykach restaurant, where Ukrainian food is given a trendy remix. Then walk away from Sofiyska Square until you come to the top of a winding street called Andriyvskiy uzviz (St. Andrew’s Descent). These steep cobbled stones – be very careful on icy winter days – will take you from the high city down into the district of Podil, a shabby-chic old neighbourhood where rickety trams still amble past. Half-way down Andriyvskiy uzviz is the Chornobyl Museum. At the bottom, explore Podil for a while, then take the funicular cable car back up to Sofiyska Square. It will drop you next to St Michael's monastery.
From the monastery, take any street down the hill and you will end up back under the angel statue on Maydan (Independence Square). If you have time for some shopping before dinner, wander through the plush Globus mall underneath the square. When the sun goes down, forget borshch, vodka and an early night: the real Kyiv experience is a Georgian or Japanese meal, then spiced rum cocktails before an underground rave. Choose a street close to Khreshchatyk and see where the mood takes you…
Start your Sunday in the most relaxing way possible, with coffee and some bliny (Ukrainian pancakes) or medovik (honey cake) at O'Panas restaurant in the middle of Shevchenka Park. Next to the park is the Khanenko Museum of Arts, with collections of European and Asian paintings.
It’s time to take the metro: from Teatralna station (also by the park) it’s two stops to Arsenalna – the world’s deepest metro station. The Arsenalna district is a beautiful part of Kyiv. Walk along vul Ivana Mazepy, and stop on the Bridge of Kisses in front of Hotel Salyut for another panoramic view across the Dnieper.
After lunch, walk towards the golden domes of the Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra, a courtyard of Orthodox churches that is built on top of a labyrinth of ancient caves. The Lavra’s bell tower is one of Kyiv’s landmarks, and can be seen from almost every part of the city. Take a tour down into the caves – a thousand years ago they used to be underground chapels – then come back up into the courtyard to hear a service in one of the churches. The last place to visit, ten minutes or so from the Lavra, is the Great Patriotic War Museum, a vast open-air complex that honours the Ukrainian soldiers who defended Kyiv during WWII. The focal point of the museum is Rodina Mat – the ‘Nation’s Mother’ monument – another Kyiv icon visible from all around. Bring your visit to a close underneath her mighty silver frame, with a final panoramic view over the Dnieper.
If you still have time, take the metro again to see a new neighbourhood: Klovska, Lukyanivska or Obolon. The enormous revamped Lisova market on the edge of the city is full of attention-grabbing fashions and foods. Or stay in the centre and find another restaurant or bar, for one last Odessa brandy.
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