“Kyi”, “Kyjev”, Kyiv”, “City of Golden Domes”
29th of October until the 1st of November, 2010
Finally the time came for this so waited and expected trip to the capital of Ukraine. Although not the first time in an ex-Soviet country, this is by far, the most important and largest of the ones I’ve been up to this date, like Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia. A very big city sightseeing-wise speaking, since it is almost everywhere where you will find beautiful and historical buildings, churches, monasteries and palaces.
Something you must clear from your mind is any idea you might have of the city and Ukraine as general of being any dangerous. Of course it is not, obviously minding the obvious which is knowing where you are at all time and you don’t go to any areas where a tourist should not be on first place. People was pretty nice and kind but unfortunately finding anyone speaking English was a challenge; signs worked well on this trip.
With so much to see and do, 3 days in the city is the minimum you should consider, although it will be still short. We had 3 full days and this was not enough. Fortunately, the plan and route I created for each day, fully loaded, was good to see the most important sights. The guide below will be this time a long one.
There was too much damage and loss during WWII and the Soviets. Churches and monasteries were blew up, fine 18th and 19th century buildings erased from the map and thousands others damaged. Ever since the war finished and specially since the end of the Soviet era, the city (and country as overall) started a new era of frenetic construction and reconstruction. Vanished cathedrals and monasteries were elaborately rebuilt on the very same form and design as the ones centuries old before stood. Whenever appropriate, using as many of the original stones as possible. Such a reconstruction effort is what you can admire today, blended with the elegant and imposing Soviet style avenues.
While it is true the Soviet era did a terrible damage in the city, bulldozing entire historic areas to make way for avenues and boulevards, 10 lane roads and new transportation ways, it was not all a negative point. They created a new urbanism seen today across every country that once formed part of the Soviet Bloc. Stalinist Architecture (Stalin’s Neo-renaissance, Stalinist Gothic or Socialist Classicism), those are all terms referring to the same style. It made the cities look grand and powerful, elegant and practical.
Food is great. But finding the right place can be challenging since rarely anyone will speak or understand English. If you know Russian or Cyrillic alphabet, or even Slavic, then you will be totally fine as you will be able to communicate. But something easy which you will find anywhere is Ukrainian borshch (soup made of vegetables topped with sour cream); rosolnyk (soup made with pickles), deruny (potato pancakes), varenyky or pierogi (dumplings filled with meets, vegs or both), goulash (although Hungary is popular for this, Ukraine does great version of it), cabbage rolls (cabbage leaves rolled with rice, meats and vegs), and many sausages. Try to find as more local place as possible and you will get the best quality and cheapest prices.
What to see and do in Kiev:
- Maidan Nezalezhnosti area Translates as Independence Square. It is the heart of the city where the elegant avenues meet. One of the greatest examples of Soviet urbanism and architecture. It is also the place where political events occur. Metro Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Kreshchatyk stations.
-Khreshchatyk Street The main throughfare in the city, principal avenue leading to Independence Square, aligned with imposing Soviet style buildings as the Kiev City State and City Council or the Cabinet of Ministers.
-Tchaikovsky National Music Academy Is the conservatory for higher education in music.
-Hotel Ukrayina Built in 1961 as Hotel Moscow is a landmark building for its architecture, typical Stalinist and the same used back in Moscow in the construction of the Seven Sisters buildings.
-Monument to Founders of Kiev Located in a nice fountain.
-Independence Monument Is the column with the sculptures at the top.
-TsUM Department Store On the most elegant street in the city to the south of Independence Square, Khreshchatyk Street.
-House with Chimaeras or Gorodetsky House, to the east of Independence Square, it’s a fine example or art-nouveau architecture. The exterior decorations includes mythical creatures. It’s the presidential residence for official and diplomatic ceremonies.
-Presidential Building Right opposite the House with Chimaeras.
-St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral To the south of Independence Square along one of the main avenues in the city, Tarasa Shevchenka Boulevard.
- Arsenal’na area An important neighbourhood where to find some of the greatest tourist sights the city has to offer, all walking distance from the metro station of same name.
-Pechersk Lavra Translates as Monastery of the Caves. The foundation goes back to 1051 and it’s one of the most important Orthodox Christian monasteries in the country, an UNESCO World Heritage Site and voted as one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine in 2007. Without any doubt, a must see while in the city. Among the many buildings you will see, those are note-worthy to mention:
-Great Lavra Belltower At 96.5 meters it is a major symbol of the complex built in the 17th century.
-Gate Church of the Trinity Houses the entrance to the monastery complex.
-All Saints Church A fine example of Ukrainian baroque architecture.
-Cathedral of the Dormition Destroyed by the Soviet army in WWI, rebuilt in 2000, it’s the centre piece of the complex.
-Church of the Saviour at Berestovo Although not inside the monastery complex proper, it forms part of it and it’s located to the north.
-Caves As the name of the monastery suggests this is for the network of old corridors built originally from 1051.
-Mother Statue and Museum of the Great Patriotic War It’s a memorial to WWII, also in metro Arsenal’na and located just before the Pechersk Lavra, you will come to see this place as you to cross it before reaching the monastery gates.
-Maryinsky Park Is a nice park on a hill over the bank of the Dnieper River.
-Maryinsky Palace A Baroque style construction, the official ceremonial residence of the president of Ukraine.
-Verkhovna Rada In neo-classical style is the Ukrainian parliament.
- Podil Neighbourhood One of the oldest and most historical areas in the city with cobblestone streets. It is connected to the metro system on the lower area while the funicular connects it from lower to the upper city.
-Saint Andrew’s Church Built in 1754 in Baroque style and located in the highest point is the main attraction in Podil and overall landmark in Ukraine.
-Andriyivskyy Descent Is the main street running through the heart of Podil from Saint Andrew’s Church on the Upper Town to Contractors Square at the bottom. Along the way there are many historical buildings.
-Florovsky Monastery or Ascension Convent, originally built in the 16th century, destroyed in a fire in 1811 and rebuilt in its current form ever since.
-Halshka Hulevychivna House Is the oldest oldest civil building in Kyiv, part of the National University.
-Kontraktova Square Contractor’s Square is the largest square in the district of Podil and largest transport hub, surrounded with beautiful buildings including:
-Gostinny Dvor Is a large trade complex building built when at the time of the Russian Empire and similar to the ones built in other cities at the same period.
-Contracts House From 1817 in classical style, it is the building where all the contracts in the city were signed off and therefore, giving the name to the square.
-Fountain of Samson Built as one of the many embellishment monuments in the city in 1749, demolished in 1935 and again, thankfully rebuilt in 1981. The wooden statue of Samson survived the demolition and it’s back on to the original place.
-Branch of the National Bank Occupies a former Greek monastery.
-Poshtova Square As the name suggests it means Post Square and it’s another important transport hub the city. The Poshtova Ploshcha metro station is right in the middle of the square. Beautiful buildings include:
- Zoloti Vorota Area One of the most desirable areas in the city, the surrounding square and streets are filled with art-nouveau and new-classical buildings where the upper class live. The metro station serving it is Zoloti Vorota.
-Zoloti Vorota Translates as Golden Gate, is a 1982 reconstruction of one of the city walls.
-St Sophia’s Cathedral The oldest remaining church in Kiev with some walls from the 11th century. It has the largest collection of mosaics and frescoes from the 11th century in the world not surprising that it’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Opening hours are from 09.00am until 16.00pm and costs 53UAH.
-St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery Opposite Saint Sophia in the same square. Built in the 12th century and destroyed during the Soviet era, thankfully perfectly rebuilt in 1998. You can cross the complex and upon exiting the through the back gates there is a nice park with great views over the Dnieper River and beyond, and the upper station of the funicular.
-Taras Shevchenko National Opera House Meters away from the metro station and the Golden Gate.
- St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Cathedral To the South of the city, on Palats Ukraina metro station.
There are two airports serving the city. The larger Boryspil is the main international airport, 35km from the city centre, while Zhulyany Airport at only 8km from the city caters low cost carriers.
From Boryspil the best way to get to the city centre is by the SkyBus service. The run at approximately 15 minutes interval during the day and 45 minutes at nights, 24 hours a day. They go to the Central Railway Station and cost 40UAH. If Zhulyany then you can take the local public city buses to downtown.
Within the city the public transportation you will be taking the most is the metro. It well connects all the sights but you must be careful not to miss your stop. The next stop might me 5km apart, for which you will need to change platforms and head back in the train. Do not attempt to walk if you miss your stop, I warn you, it can be really a long walk. Kiev’s metro system is also one of the deepest in the world, they use ex-Soviet made trains and the stations are in Soviet style, some of them beautifully decorated as those you can find in Moscow or Saint Petersburg for example. Also bear in mind there is not even a sign in English, pleas take with you a printed network map where the names of the station are both in Latin and Cyrillic characters. The cost per ride is 2UAH.
City buses are almost non existent (as of 2010). There are many mini buses but understanding their routes is just impossible unless you speak and understand the language.
There is a great choice if hotels everywhere in the city. Expect all big hotel chains but also local ones. Getting a good deal was not difficult at all. Consider as rule of thumbs a location near the city centre or walking distance to it as this will save you the hassle of depending on public transport and should you be staying farther from the centre, check that a metro station is nearby.
Unfortunately and as for many of the trips I did around 2009 and 2010 I did not keep any record of which hotel we stayed, making it impossible for me to remember and recommend you. All I know it was not far from the main square and a metro station which we were using each time to get to our planned sights for the day.