Best of Kiev, Ukraine
Kiev is the capital of Ukraine and the biggest city within the country. We have to admit, Ukraine was never on our list while traveling across Europe, however we truly had a great time. Traveling to Ukraine while on a Euro trip is great for US citizens because your days in this country do not count to your 90 day visa in the Schengen Area. We were cramped for time and trying to adjust how to make it 110 days in Europe so this is how we came across Kiev. We stayed for 10 days in an Airbnb and really got to immerse ourselves in the culture and history of this strong country.
Experience the history at Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square)
There is no denying that the entire country of Ukraine has had a rough political history, especially in recent times. This Independence square has been known under many different names, but often it is simply called “Maidan.” Since the start of Ukraine’s independence movement in 1990, the square has been the traditional place for political rallies and protest campaigns. The square is also a regular site for non-political displays and events such as live music, markets and dancing. In the center of the square is the Independence monument commemorated to the Independence of Ukraine. The monument was built on the 10th Anniversary of the independence of Ukraine in 2001. While we were in Ukraine we watched the movie “Winter on Fire” (shown on Netflix) which is a beautiful and important film for the Ukrainians. It tells the true story a civil rights movement that erupts after a peaceful student protests and it quickly morphs into a violent revolution in the year of 2014 (SO RECENT-6 YEARS AGO!!). The majority of the movie takes place in the Independence square/Maidan Square. It’s a must-see for anyone who is interested in history, the Soviet Union, civil rights, or anyone who wants to experience a powerful human story, taking place in one of Europe’s largest country and one Americans know next to nothing about.
Podil is a little out of the main center but is a great place to explore with its arty vibe, buildings, great cafes and a traditional feel. There’s also some great markets here, funky galleries and hidden treats to discover around every corner. Come at night where you can be entertained with live music, a ride to the top of the ferris wheel or simply just dance the night away.
Built in 1981, the Motherland Monument is a gigantic, 200 foot stainless statue commemorating the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The statue can be seen from various areas within the city, it is that tall! There are two separate observation decks in the statue that you can pay to get to. First is the observation deck around the sculptures pedestal which has binoculars to look out over the city (costs 100 UAH). The second extreme observation deck is in the shield the women is carrying. This option requires an instructor and some physical stamina to get to (costs 300 UAH).
Eat the local cuisine
Just near the Motherland statue was one of the best restaurants we had been to in Kiev. Tsars’ke Selo is a longtime restaurant featuring an extensive menu of traditional Ukrainian dishes in a classic setting. If you are visiting Kiev this restaurant is a MUST to try the local cuisine. We asked the wait staff what the most popular dishes were on the menu before ordering our lunch. Some of the most popular dishes the staff recommended we try were…
- Rye Bread with mustard
- Chicken Kiev
- Potato pancakes
- Cold borscht soup
Also, it is not unusual to wash your meal down with some local VODKA, even if it is for lunch time.
One of the deepest metro systems in the world
If you truly want to experience the Soviet Ukraine you must take the metro to the Arsenalna station where you will find the deepest metro system in the world. Reaching down 105 meters (350 feet) this metro stop takes two very long trips on the escalator taking almost 5 minutes to reach the train. The reason behind the deep metro system is because of the geography surrounding this metro stop.
This was the first country in Europe where there actually was a language barrier between us and the locals. It seemed as though a very small percent of the people living in this country knew English. Not that it ruined our stay at all it just made it a little more difficult to communicate or socialize with the local people. Knowing some of the more common phrases in Ukrainian helped us a lot when traveling the country. It showed that we took interest in their official language rather than just expecting everyone to know English.
Most visited McDonalds
Oh boy does Kiev love their burgers. As well as the deepest metro in the world, Kiev also homes one of the busiest McDonald’s in the world near the Vokzalna train station. Locals say it is always insanely busy and packed at lunchtime. We unfortunately ate McDonald’s quite often while we were in Kiev and it seemed like every one we went to was ALWAYS so busy. What can they say, they love those McNuggies.
Stroll through the local markets
Ukraine is a very fertile country that harvests tons of different produce. One of our favorite things to do in each city we go to is stroll through the markets. Since we did have a kitchen in the Airbnb we decided to buy some of the fruits/vegetables to cook at the apartment. There are some very popular markets in the center of the city as well as informal stalls around the city selling local in-season produce. When we were visiting Kiev there were tons of strawberries
Explore the street art
In the neighborhoods of Podil you will find quite a bit of street art on the sides of buildings and complexes. Just like any newly independent country, street art is a way to express emotions and frustrations this country went through. You can find maps online to the most popular pieces around the city or there are also guided tours that you can pay to take you around as well.
Understanding the culture
When we arrived to Kiev we noticed that the local people almost seemed cold and unwelcoming. After doing some research we realized that the local people don’t just smile at one another as the way we do back in the states. Actually when you smile so much in Ukraine they may often think you are strange or make them feel uncomfortable. It is known that it is hard for them to be open and friendly with people they have just met for the first time.
Our favorites in the city
We thought we would share with you some of our favorite things we did that maybe doesnt have to do with the culture or history of the country. First off, every morning we would wake up and go to a local cafe to get our lattes which we are obsessed with!!! Especially obsessed with in Ukraine because you can get one for $1, which is unheard of in USA.
Another favorite we had almost everyday for breakfast was a croissant sandwich at Lyiv Crossionts. Though it is not French croissant, it still really hit the spot for us each time. There are many different types of savory sandwiches served here as well as delectable sweet ones as well!!
And lastly, who doesn’t like to go to the movies and munch out on some popcorn?! Since we were here for over a week, some days we just wanted to chill out and get an Uber ride to the nearest cinemas. You can check before online and make sure the movie will be showing in English, often with Ukrainian subtitles. They don’t serve the American butter popcorn but the salted popcorn tasted just fine!
We hope you have enjoyed our recommendations for the city of Kiev, Ukraine. Now go explore!!!!