The Best Things To Do In Kiev-A Complete Guide
One place that is underrated and under the radar in Europe is Kiev, Ukraine. Kiev makes a great destination for escaping the overcrowded and expensive European cities to the West. Kiev is full of cultural sites, history, and has a thriving restaurant scene. It is also a very affordable place to visit. The cost of living in Kiev is very low compared to the United States and other developed nations. This makes eating out, paying for tours, transportation, and entertainment much easier on your wallet than doing the same activities in western Europe.
We lived in Kiev for a short time right in the heart of the city. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring it and learning about Ukraine. Kiev is gritty, it doesn’t have the same polished feeling that a city like Vienna has. Things are a little more challenging there with the language written in the Cyrillic alphabet and not an abundance of English. But these things also add to the excitement of visiting Kiev I think these challenges heighten senses and make an experience more memorable. I would love to see more people give Kiev a visit, I think it would be a pleasant surprise for many!
Read more about my experience as an expat here.
KIEV OR KYIV
A quick note about the spelling of Ukraine’s capital city. Most westerners are used to spelling it “Kiev”. This spelling is from the Russian language transliteration of the word. Since Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union where Russian was the official language, this spelling was widely dispersed and accepted and is still how most people know to spell it. However, Ukraine has its own language and the transliteration from Ukrainian is “Kyiv”. Ukraine is an independent nation with its own unique culture and language. In more recent years the country has made strong efforts and has even passed laws to use the Ukrainian language as opposed to Russian. In order to respect that, the proper spelling should be Kyiv.
For the purposes of this article, I am using the more widely searched spelling Kiev. Typically I reference the city as Kyiv, but in order for this post to be found easier via Google search, I am using the Kiev spelling.
TRANSPORTATION IN KIEV
Kiev is easily reached from many European cities by air. Fly into Kiev Boryspil International Airport (KBP). Ukrainian Airlines has affordable flights from many destinations. We flew this airline many times and the service was on par with other European carriers but better than a budget airline like Ryanair.
As a family traveling through Boryspil Airport, we were always able to use the Fast Lane for security screening. The airport has a couple of soft play areas for children. There is also a Priority Pass Lounge. We utilized the lounge before most flights. It was nice to go to the lounge and get some free snacks for the kids before a flight.
The train can be used to reach other cities in Ukraine like Lviv and Odessa. There are also train routes to Moscow, St. Petersberg, Bucharest, and Warsaw. Tickets are very inexpensive and there are overnight trains that can be used as many of the journeys are several hours long.
Using the metro in Kiev is very easy and cheap. You can purchase tokens or a rechargeable card from the cashiers in the stations. A metro ride is about 8 UAH ($0.30 USD). There are three lines Red, Green, and Blue. You can access almost anywhere you want to go using the metro.
The stations are very deep underground most of the time. The escalators are steep and narrow. There aren’t any elevators which should be noted by families traveling with strollers. A double stroller will not fit on the escalators and there are no stroller ramps in the stations.
The metros now have English spellings of the stations on maps and on the screens in the metro cars announcing the next stop, making it much easier to navigate without knowing how to read the Cyrillic alphabet.
You can read more details about using the Metro in Kiev here.
I would not advise renting a car in Kiev. Traffic, poor road conditions, snow/ice in winter, limited parking, and crazy driving make it less than ideal to try and drive yourself. The best way to get around Kiev by car is Uber. I liked Uber over using a traditional taxi because prices are regulated and it avoids getting overcharged because you are a tourist. Uber is very cheap in Kiev, a 30-minute ride would still only cost a few dollars.
Families should be aware that you are lucky to get seatbelts in an Uber and there will never be a car seat to use. There aren’t any laws saying children have to be in car seats or seat belts. So this is entirely up to your comfort level with taking on these risks.
For larger families or if you need to transport a lot of luggage, you can prearrange a van to pick you up with Elite Taxi. They speak English, you can pay with a credit card and get a receipt. The phone number is +380 44 2488248.
Kiev is surprisingly walkable. You can reach many places by foot and walking is a great way to explore smaller side streets and really get an overview of the city. Kiev is quite hilly, not so much as Lisbon, but you should expect to be walking up some hills.
THINGS TO DO IN KIEV
Andriyivskyy Descent is a winding road that goes from behind St. Michael’s Monastery down a hill to the Podil neighborhood. This was one of our favorite spots for wandering and shopping. You will find the street full of tourist shops and art vendors. This is a great place to buy souvenirs like nesting dolls (even personalized ones), vyshyvankas (traditional Ukrainian clothing), old Soviet propaganda/items posters, and paintings.
Along the way, you will pass the brightly colored St. Andrew’s Church. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful church in Kiev and should not be missed. The winding street is also full of restaurants and historical buildings.
See one of my favorite souvenirs from Kiev here.
ST. SOPHIA’S CATHEDRAL
St. Sophia’s Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and sits on a huge plaza in the heart of Kiev. You can enter the grounds and all exhibits for a small charge (50 UAH-less than $2 USD) and even climb the ornately decorated bell tower for a bird’s eye view of Kiev.
There are often festivals and special events set up in the plaza right outside and in the street that connects St. Sophia’s to St. Michael’s. Do not miss this area especially at Christmas and Easter when there are markets, rides, and special decorations set up.
ST. MICHAEL’S GOLDEN DOMED MONASTERY
At the opposite end of the street from St. Sophia’s Cathedral is St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. It was destroyed in the 1930s by the Soviet regime who claimed it had no historical value. It was rebuilt in the year 2000. Behind the monastery, you will find a playground which often has inflatable toys and pony rides.
To the left of the monastery, as you look at it from the front, you can find the funicular. The funicular will take you down the hill to the Podil neighborhood. A ride costs 8 UAH ($0.30 USD).
MAIDAN AND KRESCHATYK STREET
Maidan is the central square of Kiev. You may recognize it from the 2014 Revolution (Winter on Fire is a great documentary detailing the events of the revolution). There were protests that ended in violence and many deaths that occurred here. In the present day, you would never know it. The square is bustling and vibrant. Underneath Maidan, you can find a shopping mall and metro station. There are also fountains here in the summer which are perfect for children to play in.
Next to Maidan is Kreschatyk, a street lined with shopping and restaurants. One store not to miss is vsi svoi (CBI CBOI). It’s a department store that carries all Ukrainian designers. You can find very affordable clothes and jewelry here. I like that it is unique to Ukraine and different than what you can get at a chain store like Zara or Mango (which can also be found on Kreschatyk).
On weekends Kreschatyk is blocked off to cars and becomes a bustling pedestrian street. In summer it is even more fun because restaurants will put out chairs and tables onto the sidewalks for outdoor dining.
The Lavra, as its commonly referred to, is a huge church complex and UNESCO heritage site. It is best visited with a guide who can explain the history and take you to the most important parts of the complex. It is also known as the cave monastery because there are caves where important relics and bodies of saints are buried.
If you are claustrophobic, you may want to skip this part of the tour. The caves are very narrow hallways and it’s one way in and one way out. You light a candle and bring it down with you for light. Also, note that there are glass coffins with the remains of saints. They are covered with cloths but you may want to warn any kids you are traveling with.
I also would not recommend this tour with very small children. We left our children at home with a babysitter when we toured. If you had a baby small enough to fit in a baby carrier it is doable, but the toddler years up until about age 8 or so are less than ideal ages for this.
Holodomor refers to the engineered famine imposed upon the Ukrainian people by the Soviet regime in the 1930s. It was a genocide that killed between 7-10 million people. That number is shocking and I feel terrible that I had not ever heard of this before moving to Ukraine. The memorial is small but powerful. We visited directly after visiting the Lavra while we were still with our guide who could tell us more about Holodomor.
MOTHERLAND MONUMENT & WAR MUSEUM
The Motherland Statue is a sight to behold. It is a 203 ft (62 m) tall steel statue that sits atop a building that houses the World War II Museum. The statue looks out over the Dnipro River and is lit up at night. You will likely see it on your drive into the city from the airport but taking a close-up look is worth it.
Golden Gate (Zoloti Vorota) is a reconstruction of the main gate to Kiev from medieval times when Kiev was a walled city. It sits in a small park area and has a big statue of Yaroslav the Wise, who is credited with the construction of the gate, next to it. In the warmer months, this is a lively square where people hang out and enjoy the weather. There are many restaurants nearby the square and down the street Yaroslav Val where it sits.
This is more of an activity for people traveling without kids or with older kids. The Opera House in Kiev showcases world-class ballets, operas, and symphonies. Tickets are very inexpensive, ranging from less than $2-$22 USD. That isn’t a joke or a typo, tickets are literally that cheap. To see a performance of this caliber for that price is unheard of in the U.S. so take advantage if you can! The theater is beautiful and drinks can be purchased inside but can not be taken to your seat.
KIEV WITH KIDS
There are parks all over the city. Some conveniently located ones are the playground in between St. Sophia’s and St. Michael’s. It doesn’t show up on Google maps but there are a small park and playground there.
Shevchenko Park is another place to let kids play. On the weekends there is even more entertainment like pony rides, someone making giant bubbles, and vendors selling crafts and treats.
DREAM ISLAND INDOOR WATER PARK
If you need something just fun for kids, you can visit Dream Island which is an indoor water park in the Dream Town Mall. It’s perfect for kids of any age, or even for adults who want to have some fun. There are water slides, tube slides, lazy rivers, wave pools, and kiddie play areas. They have lifejackets available for use and restaurants where you can take a break and order some food. You can easily spend an entire day here, there is plenty to keep everyone entertained!
Lavina Mall is a bit outside of the main city but it has a huge entertainment center for kids inside and even includes a full-size roller coaster! There’s also soft play areas for small kids, a number of rides, a ropes course, and trampoline area. Every mall in Kiev has some kind of play area for kids in it but this is by far the biggest.
Read my tips for photographing your family while traveling here.
Ukrainian stories for children:
WHEN TO VISIT KIEV & HOW LONG TO STAY
Kiev is best experienced in the months April-October. The winter in Kiev can be extremely cold and the city is covered in snow and ice for the winter making it a challenge to enjoy walking around. In the warmer months, Kiev is lovely and it is very enjoyable to spend time in parks and to be able to dine outside.
Easter in Kiev is a big ordeal, visiting at this time won’t disappoint. The city puts out an amazing display! Check the calendars though because Ukraine celebrates Easter on the Orthodox calendar.
You should dedicate at least 3 full days to exploring and enjoying Kiev. If you add on a side trip, you could easily spend a week or more in Ukraine.
SIDE TRIPS FROM KIEV
Chernobyl was the site of a major nuclear disaster in 1986. You can visit the site with a guided tour only. Chernobyl is about a 2-hour drive from Kiev.
Lviv is in western Ukraine near the border with Poland. It is a charming city known for its coffee, chocolate, and cafe culture. Lviv can be reached easily by train. It is about a 6-hour train ride.
Odessa is a seaport town on the Black Sea. It is known to have a fun nightlife and restaurant scene. It can also be easily reached by train, about 7 hours on a direct train.
These hotels are centrally located, nearby restaurants, metro stations, and attractions in Kiev.
Radisson Blu near Golden Gate and street with many restaurants
Hyatt Regency rooftop bar with a view of St. Sophia’s
Intercontinental don’t miss the rooftop bar with the amazing views of St. Michael’s
Senator Apartments apartment style rooms with small kitchen facilities
Or search for other properties below with Booking.com:
BEST RESTAURANTS IN KIEV
The food scene in Kiev is thriving. There are so many great places to eat and prices are very affordable. Many restaurants have play areas for children which makes eating out with children much more enjoyable! Here’s a list of places we have personally tried and liked!
Baklazhan-Georgian food with a kids playroom
Kanapa-traditional Ukrainian food, they also serve a coursed tasting menu of regional dishes. If wanting to do the tasting menu you should mention this when you make a reservation. This restaurant is best without kids or with older children.
Last barricade-”secret” restaurant under Maidan serving regional Ukrainian dishes, often has live music.
Himalaya- delicious Indian food, welcoming to children
Vino e Cucina-Italian food with lovely outdoor seating in warm weather. Has an outdoor playground for kids as well as an indoor playroom along with “animators” (essentially babysitters to watch and play with the children). Also serves brunch.
Persimmon-Georgian food, nearby Golden Gate
Citronelle-lovely outdoor seating, French cuisine. Get the Kyiv cake for dessert! Perfect for dinner before seeing a performance at the Opera.
Papa Feta-a little out of the way but delicious Greek food and amazing views from it’s almost rooftop location. Indoor and outdoor seating.
Panna-Italian food, pastries, and gelato. Also serves brunch.
Chang-Vietnamese food, also does takeaway if you call and ask.
O’panas-traditional Ukrainian food in Schevchenko Park
Bottega-wine & tapas, fun place for a date night
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