The capital of Ukraine is a fascinating off-the-beaten-track destination
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Intrepid wanderings: Kiev & Ukraine
The first thing you notice when visiting the capital of Ukraine is that many of the locals call it ‘Kyiv’.
The Western spelling ‘Kiev’ is more recognisable to English-speaking tourists, however. Either way, it’s an interesting city where old traditions contrast with the modern world – and at the moment, it’s incredibly affordable.
You can always find up-to-date information about travel to Ukraine on the Australian government’s Smartraveller website. This should be your first stop when researching the country.
There’s a lot to see and do in Kiev, so give yourself plenty of time. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Visit the Saint Sophia Cathedral
This beautiful building is World Heritage listed by UNESCO and is a place of great spirituality, serenity and architectural wonder dating back to the 11th century. It has been burnt and then restored many times throughout history and in its present form combines construction techniques from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Intricate mosaics and frescos by Byzantine masters decorate the pillars, walls and vaults, representing both biblical and secular subjects. The belfry is enhanced with paintings that depict scenes from the era of Emperor Constantine with musicians, clowns, jugglers, dancers, animal trainers and chariot races featured. It is impossible to do justice to the artistic excellence of the cathedral in mere words – you simply have to see it for yourself.
2. Cycle through the Golosiyivsky Forest
Golosiyivsky is a nature park situated right in central Kiev. Kiev is noted for its many green areas and this is one of the most accessible. Once you’re in the midst of the picturesque natural landscape, you’ll forget how close you are to the busy city streets. Though many walkers and joggers use the winding paths that thread through the forest, a great way to experience a bit more of this park is to rent a bike and to start pedalling.
To reach this green oasis, take a metro to the station at Lybidska and from there, grab a number 4, 11 or 12 trolley bus until you reach the stop called ‘Park Rylskova’.
3. Visit the monastery and caves at Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra
Lonely Planet calls this monastery ‘the city’s most fascinating and extensive tourist site’. Located on 28 hectares of land overlooking the Dnipro River, the monastery is a cluster of gold-domed churches. There is much more to this place than first meets the eye, however, because there are a maze of underground tunnels that house a collection of mummified monks.
Founded in 1051 by the Greek Saint Anthony, this monastery features a series of catacombs where the reclusive monks of old once lived, worshipped and studied. When they passed away, their bodies were preserved within the naturally dry, cold air below ground (no embalming or other form of chemical preservation were necessary).
Because this is such a popular religious attraction, try to avoid going on weekends and make sure you arrive early enough so you give yourself half a day to see everything properly.
Because this is such a popular religious attraction, try to avoid going on weekends and make sure you arrive early enough so you give yourself half a day to see everything properly. Dress codes apply: no hats, shorts or tee shirts for men, and women must wear a scarf and a skirt or dress that extends below the knee. Guided tours in various languages are available.
4. Stroll through the Grishko Botanical Gardens
The Grishko Botanical Gardens were founded in 1935 and cover an area of 130 hectares, with 5000 square metres of climate-controlled greenhouses, a large collection of tropical orchids and (in spring) flowering lilac bushes and chestnut trees creating a colourful spectacle. There are also displays of fruits, vegetables, medicinal species and ornamentals.
Situated in the historic ‘Holy Mountain of Kiev’ area, the centre of the park is home to the Holy Ioninsky Monastery, with another monastery (Vydubychi) located at the bottom of the hill. The entire area is superbly landscaped and offers visitors a calm respite from the bustle of the capital.
5. Relax in the evening at Independence Square
Back in 2004, Independence Square in Kiev was all over the news as the focal point for Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. These days, it’s much calmer and serves as a popular meet-up spot and cool place to hang out during warm Kiev evenings. There are plenty of impressive statues, illuminated fountains and a mix of tourists and locals enjoying the open air.
The square is located at the northern end of Khreschatyk, Kiev’s most well-used street (the Soviet Army thoroughly mined this street as a ‘welcome gift’ to advancing German forces in the Second World War). The Monument of Independence is a huge pillar dedicated to Ukraine’s separation from Russia. On weekends and public holidays, Khreschatyk is closed off to traffic and adopts a party atmosphere with street performers and musicians.
This is a great part of the city to meet friends and venture onward to one of the many nearby bars or cafes. Just be careful of the dressed-up people who will offer to take your picture in the square and then demand payment for the service. It’s cheaper to take all your own photos here!
Day trips from Kiev
It’s easy to get buses or trains out of Kiev for the day to check out some of the sights further afield. Three of the nicest are the Tunnel of Love (composed entirely of woven tree branches) at the town of Klevan, the spectacular park at Sofiyivksy in Uman (as big as London’s Hyde Park) and the historic ‘city of legends’: Chernihiv, along the banks of the Desna River.
And if you need travel insurance for Kiev, grab a quick quote from Budget Direct!