To make it clear from the outset, we fell in love with Kiev! Another one of our ‘off the map’ destinations, it’s gilded churches, quirky street art, cheaper than cheap beer, excellent food and interesting architecture. All of this was enough for Nat to crown Kiev “one of my favourite European cities”, and she’s been to a lot!
Interest in Ukraine’s capital city has skyrocketed since the release of the Sky Atlantic series Chernobyl. If you want to read all about our trip into the Chernobyl exclusion zone (home to the site of one of the world’s worst nuclear disaster), check out our guide here.
This is the itinerary we followed for the rest of our long weekend. There is so much more to see and do around Kiev as well as taking a trip into a nuclear wasteland.
Beer of the trip – American Amber Ale, Solomianska Brovarnia
Scratch map beer – Chernihvske
Boryspil International is the main airport for travelling into Kiev. We were lucky to bag flights from Manchester for £45 return over May bank holiday. Having a quick browse flights have dramatically risen since then, most being around £100 return from the UK. Don’t be put off by this though as the amount of money you will spend in Kiev is less than a quarter of the amount you would spend in most European capitals.
The airport is 19 miles from the centre of the city and we only paid £12 in an Uber to drop us at Independence Square, Uber is easily the best way to get around the city.
Just be careful before you book as they have a specific taxi pick up and drop off area for all terminals, we think this was on the second floor. Don’t just head outside and hit the button like we did as you may be charged a cancellation fee (don’t worry if you do though it was only small!).
Ukraine still operate their own currency, the Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH), which makes the British pound stretch even further (yay!). The exchange rate at August 2019 is £1 to 31 UAH. To put this into a context that everyone is interested in, on average one domestic beer (0.5l) is 29 UAH, or 94p 😊 and a 3-course meal for 2 people in a mid-range restaurant is 650 UAH, or £21.
Where to stay?…
A word of warning, Kiev is huge! For your first visit, Shevchenkivskyi or the northern edge of Pecherskyi district (where we stayed) are probably your best bets. These areas are central and a good base to explore the outer reaches of the city. Fancy hotels and Plus Airbnb’s are happily affordable, so you don’t have to splurge to get excellent accommodation or if you want to be extra savvy (like us) regular Airbnb’s are super cheap.
Day 1: Independence Square, Kreshchatyk, Churches & Craft Beer
After dropping off your bags at your accommodation order an Uber or walk to Independence Square and the Independence Monument. These are located at the northeast end of Khreshchatyk, the main street running through the centre of the city.
You will more than likely be approached by street performers for pictures in the square which can be quite funny if you feel like a laugh but beware, they will demand a decent payment for their time (150 Hryvnia per person is what they managed to blag from us)!
Still, not every day you have a photo with Garfield while a Dove sits on your head…
Take a stroll down Khreshchatyk after visiting the square for a look at some imposing soviet architecture, plenty of shopping and a variety of bars and restaurants. One thing we didn’t know beforehand (that we wish we did) was that during the evening on Sundays (and on public holidays), Khreshchatyk and Independence Square are closed off to vehicles, and locals come out in force to see a host of street performers and musicians. Finding somewhere to eat and grab a drink al fresco is the best way to enjoy the atmosphere. Make sure you come back during the evening.
After Independence Square and Kreshchatyk you should spend the afternoon exploring some of the city’s famous golden domed churches. There are so many to see that you would be hard pressed to visit them all, but each church is beautiful in its own right so try and visit as many as can!
Firstly, walk up to St Sophia’s Cathedral and take a walk around the church grounds.
For amazing views over the city, make sure you climb the bell tower, which is just a small additional fee over the £1 entry to the grounds.
From St Sophia’s walk down the street to St Michaels Golden domed Monastery (the blue church in the picture above). It’s free entry into the grounds of the monastery and it is stunning! The sky-blue walls of the church and the gilded domes are a photographer’s dream.
If you have time to go inside the churches you should, they are just as impressive inside as outside.
A short walk away is St Andrew’s Church. Unfortunately, the church was closed when we were there however around the rear of the grounds is a viewing platform with great panoramas over northern Kiev looking over the Dnieper River.
You will definitely be thirsty after checking out all the sights, so you should head down the street from St Andrew’s to Solomyanska Brovarnia, A two-storey microbrewery. The ground floor has more of a local pub feel while upstairs is reserved for the restaurant and dining. Grab the tasting flutes to try out their in-house brews, find your favourite and pair it with some of the tasty appetizers from the menu, the tempura prawns are a must.
A little further north is Drunken Monkey, a quirky basement bar with 20 taps of their in-house craft brews on rotation. Famed for their ‘different’ naming style for their beers, classics such as White Walker weizenbock (for all of Joe’s fellow Game of Thones fans), Fat Girlfriend brown ale, and F*ck Like Chocolate Rabbits stout will keep you entertained and tipsy all night long!
Kiev will also not disappoint all you foodies. The food in Ukraine is different to what you would typically find in the rest of Europe, but you can find plenty of international food on offer all around the city. We had great meat & potato skillets at Sunduk, a traditional pub a 5-minute walk from Kreshchatyk (near St Volodymyr’s Cathedral) and make sure you grab a drink from Pilsner Bar just down the road if you’re still thirsty.
Day 2: Botanical Gardens, Motherland Monument & Steaks
Start your second day by grabbing breakfast at one of Kiev’s small cafés. The breakfast at Blue Cup Coffee Shop is worth an honourable mention and will not disappoint!
Head south into the Pechersk district to find The Motherland Monument, a colossal 102m tall statue standing on top of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War.
The monument and grounds are worth exploring on your way down to the Hryshko National Botanical Garden. The gardens cover 1.3 km² and are home to 13,000 types of trees, shrubs, flowers and other plants from around the world. There is a small entry fee but it’s a great place to leisurely explore and snap some pretty good views of the city from the higher areas of the park.
If you are a fan of steak you need to head over to Syndicate Beer & Grill during your stay! A microbrewery and steakhouse decorated in a prohibition style, with an extensive menu of great home brewed beer and tasty beef that won’t break the bank.
Day 3 – Chernobyl
No visit to Kiev would be complete without taking a tour of Chernobyl! The city is only two hours away from the Chernobyl exclusion zone and is the main starting point for guided tours visiting the power plant site and the 30 km nuclear wasteland surrounding it. There are a variety of tour operators offering trips into the exclusion zone so be sure to do your research before booking up. You can read all about our experience at Chernobyl in our blog here.
You will probably arrive back into Kiev quite late after your trip so the bars and restaurants along Kreshchatyk will be your best bet after getting dropped off back at Independence Square. We recommend Moments, the pork lion wrapped in bacon is delicious!
Kiev is without a doubt one of Europe’s most underrated destinations. Both inside the city and out, there are places to explore that you would struggle to find anywhere else. If it isn’t already, Kiev should definitely be on your travel radar!
We hope we have been able to help you with your travel planning and you have a wonderful trip to this amazing city. We would also be more than happy to provide any additional info if needed, drop us a comment below or message us on Instagram @backpacksandbeverages.
Joe & Nat xxx