Before you start reading this blog, let me clarify something, after an extensive research, looks like Ukrainian government and most of Ukrainian people prefer to spell the name of their city as “Kyiv” instead of “Kiev”. I personally know that Kiev is the commonly accepted English language spelling of it and I’ve been using “Kiev” spelling for all of my life but I read in different sources that Ukrainians prefer to spell it as “Kyiv”. Therefore, I will use the spelling “Kyiv” in this blog.
Kyiv is the capital and the most populous city of Ukraine. It is a large city with about 2.8 million inhabitants making it the 6th most populous city in Europe. Kyiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe (it was founded 1500 years ago) and played a vital role in the development of the Eastern Slavic civilization as well as in today’s Ukraine.
Kyiv is a beautiful, cosmopolitan, and modern city. However, the city still has a Soviet legacy. Many landmarks from the Soviet era are still visible in Kyiv to this day. I found this an interesting and beautiful mix. Kyiv is truly one of the most underrated European capitals and definitely a hidden gem.
I have a serious interest in Former USSR countries so Kyiv was on my radar for a very long time. Luckily, I had the opportunity to visit the city in August 2018. In this blog, I will be sharing with you my impressions about this beautiful city and some tips and recommendations.
Landing in Kyiv
I flew with Qatar Airways. I missed my connection flight but Qatar Airways compensated me by booking me a nice hotel room even though the next flight to Kyiv was less than 8 hours later. I also got a voucher for an open buffet meal and a transportation from the airport to the hotel and back. The flight was really good and comfortable. Service on Qatar Airways is one of the best in aviation industry so I really enjoyed my flight. Hamad International airport in Doha is one of the best airports in the world. I can’t recommend Qatar Airways highly enough.
It’s fairly easy to reach Kyiv as most of major European and Middle Eastern Airlines in addition to low-cost carriers fly to Kyiv on daily basis. For train lovers, there is a night train that is operated by Austrian Railways; it departs daily from Vienna to kyiv via Budapest. The total journey from Vienna to Kyiv takes 23 hours 39 minutes. Another train option is a night train operated by Ukrainian railways from Warsaw to Kyiv and journey takes 15 hours 55 minutes.
The passport control experience in Kyiv airport was like a breeze; very quick, friendly and welcoming. My intuition quickly told me that I am going to enjoy this country.
There are two airports in Kyiv; Boryspil and Zhulyany airports. Boryspil is the bigger airport and is located outside the city. It’s about 30-40 minutes minutes in the taxi from Boryspil airport to Kyiv city centre. Zhylyany airport is much smaller and located in the south-west corner of the city. There are different options to reach the city centre from Boryspil airport such as Taxi (Uber or Yandex), train, or bus. I was in a hurry as it was about 9.00 pm and I wanted to reach the centre as quickly as possible so that I make a use of my evening so I got myself a local simcard with data plan and ordered Uber taxi to my Airbnb apartment. Taxi ride costed me around 10 USD. I arrived at my Airbnb place, dropped my luggage, had a quick shower, and then went out to have my 1st meal in Kiev in a lovely restaurant called “Balkon”.
Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square)
Maidan Nezalezhnosti is Kyiv’s main square and has been known under many different names and often simply called as Maidan or (Square). Maidan was the centre of many revolutions in Ukraine especially the 2014 Ukrainian revolution where clashes with riot police became violent and more than 100 people lost their lives during the revolution. There are memorials of the heavenly hundred people who lost their lives in the Maidan around the square.
The Golden Gate of Kyiv
The Golden Gate of Kiev is a very interesting site; it was the main gate of fortification of Kiev, the capital of Kievan Rus in the 11th century. The structure was rebuilt completely by the Soviets authorities in 1982 after it was dismantled in the Middle Ages. The gate is located right outside Zoloti Vorota metro station. The area around the gate has a beautiful street market where vendors sell flowers and fruits. Furthermore, there are plenty of great restaurants and cafes in the area. I stopped at a Lebanese restaurant in the area called Mon Cher, had a tasty lunch there.
State Aviation Museum
State Aviation Museum in Kyiv is a real paradise for aviation lovers, especially those interested in Soviet built aircraft. I am an aviation lover myself and I have a serious interest in Soviet planes so I was dreaming about visiting this place for a very long time. In this great outdoor museum, you will have the opportunity to see different models of Soviet commercial and military aircraft such as Tupolev, Antonov, Ilyushin, Sukhoi and more.
The museum is located next to Zhulyany airport. It’s a large museum so expect to spend at least 3 hours to check out the aircraft there. This museum provides a rare opportunity to see and even to get inside Soviet commercial and military planes.
my favourite Soviet aircraft is Tupolev TU-154; it’s the master of Soviet sky!! Click here to watch an interesting video about this legendary aircraft.
Podil is a historical neighborhood in Kyiv and one of the oldest in the city and the birthplace of the city’s trade and industry. It’s a lively area and full of different landmarks. I particularly liked the Ferris Wheel there. Speaking of Ferris Wheels, people in former Soviet Union countries are obsessed with them, you will find a large Ferris Wheels in every major former Soviet Union city and sometimes in smaller towns. Good example is the famous Ferris Wheel in Pripyat (the city that was serving the nearby Chernobyl nuclear reactor).
Arsenalna – Deepest metro station in the world
Arsenalna metro station in Kyiv is 105.5 metres below the surface making it the deepest metro station in the world. At one time, it had the longest escalator in the world (Moscow built a longer one in 2003). It takes about 5 minutes or so in the escalator to reach the trains platform.
The Olympic Stadium (Olimpiyskiy)
There is only one thing in this world that I am more passionate about more than travelling, which is, football (soccer). I am a big football lover; it is the air I breath and it is something I can’t live without. Any football lover must visit the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv as the stadium was the venue of many big international events; it hosted some football matches in 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics and it also hosted the Euro 2012 final (Spain vs Italy) and the Final match of 2018 UEFA Champions League (Real Madrid vs Liverpool). It’s the home stadium of Dynamo Kiev, one of the most successful football teams in Ukraine and in the whole Soviet Union. Dynamo Kyiv won the Soviet Union League 13 times (record) and the Ukrainian League 15 time (record), European Cup Winners’ Cup twice, and UEFA Super Cup once.
Museum of Ukrainian history in the 2nd World War
The museum of Ukrainian history in the 2nd world war is a memorial complex located in the southern outskirts of Pechersk district in Kyiv. The museum is situated on a hill overlooking Dnipro river. To reach this great museum, you can either take a short metro ride to Dnipro station and then walk for 30 minutes along the river bank. It’s a nice walk across the river but can be a little bit too long. The easier way to reach the museum is with Uber or Yandex taxi, it’s about 10 minutes from centre of Kyiv by car.
The biggest landmark in the museum is the Motherland statue. It is a huge statue; its height is 62 metres (203 ft) upon the main museum building with overall structure height 102 meters (335 ft) including its base and weighing 560 tonnes. It is an astonishing structure and can be seen from a very far distance. The statue was built in 1981.
Food in Kyiv
Food scene in Kyiv is really interesting! As I stated above, Kyiv is becoming a modern European cosmopolitan city so expect to see different restaurants, bars and coffee shops offering food and drinks from around the world. On top of that, local Ukrainian food is interesting and delicious. I tried different dishes; Ukrainian food, Georgian Food, Middle Eastern, and Turkish food and everything I had tasted great. My favourite Ukrainian dish is Chicken Kiev, for sure! My favourite dessert is Oreshki! Value for money in Ukraine is great so expect to pay there much less than you do in Western Europe or North America.
Leaving Kyiv to St. Petersburg via Minsk
Unfortunately, there are no direct flights between Ukraine and Russia. Therefore, if you want to have a Former USSR itinerary, then you need to fly from Kyiv to any Russian city such as Moscow or St. Petersburg through a third city; the best options are Minsk with Belavia Airlines or Riga with Baltic Airlines. I flew with Belarusian Belavia Airlines and I really loved the flight. I wanted to fly with their Soviet built plane Tupolev TU-154 but sadly, they retired that plane and instead, I flew with a beautiful Canadian jet Bombardier CRJ200ER. I highly recommend Belavia, it’s one of my favourite regional airlines.
I love Kyiv; it’s a large and modern city and it’s a place where I would like to explore more. It’s a city I can live in for some time. Actually, I thought about spending a few months there to learn Russian language as I don’t need any visa if I want to stay for 3 months in Ukraine (while I will need that in Russia and Belarus). Ukrainian people are friendly and outgoing but because it’s a large city, you have to be a bit careful sometimes. Especially, if you decide to go to a club at night. I am not a clubbing person so I didn’t have any issue but I heard about some incidents there. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from visiting Kyiv.
There is a military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Most governments around the world advise their citizens not to travel to conflict zone so there’s no reason to go there for the ordinary traveller. However, the situation in Kyiv is completely stable and daily life isn’t significantly affected by the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Avoid talking about politics when you are there as there is a conflict in the country and you don’t want to express an opinion that might be offensive to a certain group of people so my advice is to avoid discussing politics with people there unless you are doing that with a close friend or with someone you trust.
About the best time to visit, I had my trip in August. It was a bit hot and humid when I was there and that can be a great weather for many people. As for me, I probably prefer a temperature around 20 degrees so probably a visit in April, May or September would be ideal. I still enjoyed Kyiv a lot despite the summer heat. Temperature reached 35 degrees when I was there. Yet, it was a lot of fun.
Just like other former USSR cities (except Moscow maybe), value for money in Kyiv and in all Ukraine in general is excellent so you can enjoy a great quality of food, drinks and services for much less than you pay in Western Europe, North America, Middle East or East Asia.
There are many great churches in Kyiv which I didn’t get the chance to visit; St. Sophia Cathedral, St. Michael’s golden Domed Monastery, St. Andrews Church, and St. Nicolas Cathedral. I am ashamed of myself that I didn’t visit any church in Kyiv but I had some other priorities there and I will make sure I visit them (the churches) in my next visit.
Finally, there’s a very popular tour which many adventurers around the world dream about doing; it’s the Chernobyl tour! I personally wanted to do it but I wasn’t mentally ready for such an experience so I skipped it. I still want to do it in the future. Click here to find more information about an excellent tour agency that organizes tours to Chernobyl
That’s all I can share about Kyiv for now. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. Please comment if you have any questions. Stay tuned for more stories.