The City of Golden Domes
Finally the time came for this so awaited and expected trip to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Although not the first time in an ex-Soviet country, this is by far, one of the most important and largest of the ones I’ve been such as the neighbour Belarus, or the Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Certainly it was a show-off of power during that days together with Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Minsk. 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, minding the “obvious”, which is knowing where you are at all times and you don’t go to any areas where a tourist should not be on first place. People is pretty nice and kind across all levels and everywhere 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, so fully loaded, was good to see the most important places and areas. It is therefore that the guide of sights below will be a long and in detail one.
There was too much damage and loss during WWII and the Soviet era. 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 trend 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 Anastylosis worked pretty well here, a great job done; this is, 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 in 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 and an unique sight on their own.
Food-wide talking, this was 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 in their cuisine 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 meats, vegs or both), goulash (although Hungary is popular for this, Ukraine does a 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 the cheapest prices guaranteed, although saving you the effort nothing beats the chain called Puzata Hata (Пузата Хата), here you will find absolutely anything Ukrainian, on a self service basis at great prices, the same applies to the drinks with great beer as example.
For more information about the city check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Ukraine’s currency is the Hryvnia (UAH). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Kiev
- Maidan Nezalezhnosti 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.
-Tchaikovsky National Music Academy Is the conservatory for higher education in music. On the southeast side of the square.
-Hotel Ukraina Occupying the entire east side, was 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.
-October Palace At the northeast side of the square, was built in the late 19th century as an institute for girls, nowadays a centre for performing and arts.
-Independence Monument Along the east part of the square, was built in 2001 commemorating 10 years since the independence.
-Central Post Office Flanking the southeast plot of the west half of the square. Quite imposing as any other in here.
-House of Trade Unions Built in 1970 at the opposite side of the post office, was the first building in Kiev to feature an electronic billboard for advertisement.
-Lach Gate Just west of the fountains, was built in 2001 in time for the 10 years commemoration of the independence. The Archangel Michael at the top is the city’s symbol.
-6 Streets All leading from the western side of the square forming a semicircle with all the buildings at the front in the same style. One of the most known landmark image of the city.
- Khreshchatyk Street The main thoroughfare in the city, principal avenue leading to Independence Square, aligned with imposing Soviet style buildings, most of which ministries and elegant apartments. While all of them are beautiful, the following are worth to mention:
-Khreshchatyk 13 & 17 At the corner with independence Square opposite the Post Office, one of the many Stalinist style apartments built in this area, back then some of the most expensive ones. Notice the turret making it even more stylish. The next block, 17 is another beautiful landmark, both connected by an archway leading into a passage.
-Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry Continuing west, at the intersection with Prorizna Street.
-City Council Along the same side of the road 3 buildings after the Ministry of Energy.
-Khreshchatyk 21 Opposite the City Council. Another grand apartment block, one with an archway in the middle for access to the perpendicular street.
-Khreshchatyk 23, 25 & 27 This complex looks somewhat as if taken from the ones that align Central Park in new York City for its architecture. Number 25 being a true masterpiece, the very traditional Stalinist conception of a skyscraper.
-TsUM – Central Universal Department Store Built in 1939 hence its late art-deco Stalinist style. One of the most luxurious when open. At the opposite side of the road from the apartments at 23.
- Zoloti Vorota Area One of the most desirable areas in the city, the surrounding square and streets are all filled with very elegant of art-nouveau and neoclassical buildings. The metro station serving it is Zoloti Vorota which is the landmark station of the entire system for its rich decoration.
-National Opera and Ballet At the intersection of Bohdana Khmel’nyts’koho with Volodymyrska, the latter being the oldest street in Kiev. With a grand Neo-Renaissance style façade and marvelous neo-classical interiors in resemblance to Vienna Opera, was opened in 1901.
-Zoloti Vorota Translates as the Golden Gate, is a 1982 reconstruction of 11th century main medieval city gate that once stood on this place along the walls.
- Old Town The round shaped central area of Kiev regarded as the oldest is nested between the Zoloti Vorata at the southwest, the Independence Square at the southeast, the river to the northeast and Saint Andrew’s Cathedral to the northwest.
-St Sophia’s Cathedral The oldest church still standing in Kiev with some walls dating from the 11th century. It has the largest collection of mosaics and frescoes from the 11th century in the world, not surprise it is regarded as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Opening hours are from 10.00am until 17.00pm, 100 UAH to enter including the Refectory, or 160 adding the bell tower which is totally advisable for the great views you will get over the city. It’s few blocks north from the Zoloti Vorota along the elegant Volodymyrska street.
-Sophia Square Right at the east front of the Cathedral gate and walls. One of the major squares after Independence Square, completely surrounded by elegant architecture, and the Volodymyrs’kyi Passage connecting it to Mykhailivs’ka Square at the other end.
-Mykhailivs’ka Square The second major after Sophia Square yet equal in importance for also being home to another icon and major sight of Kiev, the Golden Dome Monastery.
-St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery Built in the 12th century yet destroyed during the Soviet era, thankfully rebuilt in 1998. You can cross the complex and upon exiting through the back gates, reach the park with great views over the Dnieper River and beyond, and the upper station of the funicular that links the lower area of Poshtova Square.
-Poshtova Square As the name suggests, the Post Office Square, another important transport hub the city. The Poshtova Ploshcha metro station is right at the centre. Beautiful buildings include the Post Office and the Rizdvo Church.
-Saint Andrew’s Church North from the Golden Dome along Desyatynna Street. Built in 1754 in Baroque style, it is located at the highest point of Volodymyr’s hill.
-Andriyivskyy Descent Is the main street running through the heart of Podil Distric within the Old Town from Saint Andrew’s Church on the Upper Town to Contractors Square at the bottom. Along the way there are several 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.
-Dormition Church At the front of Florovsky Monastery, on the west side of Kontraktova Square. Destroyed in 1930, restored in 1990.
-Kontraktova Square Contractor’s Square, the largest square in the district of Podil and largest transport hub, surrounded with beautiful buildings including:
-Gostinny Dvor A large trade complex building built 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 neo-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.
- Arkhitektora Horodetskoho Street Running along the west side of Independence Square, heading south, connects it with the Presidential Palace.
-Ivan Franko National Academic Drama Theatre Built in 1898, painted blue easy to spot towards the end of the street
-House with Chimaeras Behind the Drama Theatre, 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. As an update from 2019 trip, you cannot go anymore to the front street where you get the best view of the façade and architecture.
-Presidential Palace Right opposite the House with Chimaeras. As an update from 2019 trip, it is not possible anymore to walk past the front of the building and the street.
-House of the Weeping Widow Another grand art-nouveu mansion next to the Presidential Palace. Its nickname comes from the fact that when it rains, the water pours over the woman’s face on the façade running down her cheeks like tears.
- Shovkovychna Street The one behind the Weeping Widow House, heading towards the Maryinsky Park and Arsenal’na.
–Shovkovychna 19 Apartment building designed in neo-Gothic style.
-Chocolate House Completed in 1880 in Venetian Renaissance, its dark brown colour of the masonry leads to its nickname.
–Arabic House Built in 1912 for the wealthy merchant Nicholas Kovalevsky, modelled to look like a little Arabian castle.
-Shovkovychna 19 Farther ahead along the street, another fine example of very Central European art-nouveu style.
-Verkhovna Rada Committees At the end of the street, facing the Parliament building and Maryinsky Palace. Designed as a Venetian palace.
- Maryinsky Park Beautifully landscaped park on a hill over the bank of the Dnieper River.
-Mykhaila Hrushevskoho 22 Overlooking the park and Parliament, this beautiful palace was designed in neo-baroque style.
-Verkhovna Rada Completed in 1939 is Stalinist neo-classical style, home to the the Ukrainian parliament.
-Maryinsky Palace A Baroque style construction built in 1744 for the Russian Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, nowadays the official ceremonial residence of the president of Ukraine.
- 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, yet not far from the back of Independence Square.
-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. Open 06.00am to 20.00pm. Entrance fee 80 UAH. Among the many buildings you will see, these 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 located after the Pechersk Lavra complex. The nearest metro station is Dnipro right by the river front.
- Metro Stations Likewise for any ex-Soviet built metro system, some of the stations were designed to resemble palaces and marvellous halls. Kiev is no exception, the 3rd largest network after the ones in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
-Zoloti Vorata Sometimes referred as one of the most beautiful in the world.
-Arsenalna The deepest station in the world at 105 meters.
-Demiivska Home to the main bus terminal. It’s one of the newest of the system.
-Kreschatyk Connecting with the Independence Square, its motifs are Ukranian folk heritage.
-Olimpiiska Very sober yet elegant covered in marble all over.
There are two airports serving the city. The larger, Boryspil, is the principal at 35km east from the city centre, while Zhulyany Airport at only 8km from the city mostly caters low cost carriers.
From Boryspil the best way to get to the city centre is via the newly opened train, or by the SkyBus service. Buses run at approximately 15 minutes interval during the day and 45 minutes at nights, 24 hours a day. It goes to the Central Railway Station with a stop by the Kharkovskaya metro station and costs 50 UAH. As for the train, it costs 80 UAH and takes approximately 40 minutes. If arriving or departing from Zhulyany, then you can take the local public city buses to the city centre.
Within the city the public transportation you will certainly 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 be 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 just 8 UAH.
City buses are almost non existent and/or very difficult to find and guess. There are plenty of 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 the big luxurious hotel chains to the more modest ones and 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. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.
While I do not have the information about which hotel I stayed back in 2010, I have here something more up to date, our accommodation in this recent trip. We stayed at the Hotel Ukraine. Back in the Soviet days one of the most famous in the city, nowadays it is more a landmark construction and a glimpse of the glorious days long gone in decay. The building itself was modelled after the Stalinist skyscrapers he loved so much, and while it was going to be way larger and more luxuriously decorated than how was built, is still nevertheless a sight on its own. Advertised as a 4* property, do not expect any higher than 3*, however it is a nice and good place to stay. Rooms and public spaces had a makeover, it is quiet and comfortable, with a more than decent breakfast. The location could not be any better, right by the Independence Square with all the transports network within meters. Considering the lack of larger and higher quality properties, and the overall high fares for a Western hotel chain, this came really good and will not hesitate in recommending to anyone.