19 Keys to Kyiv

🇺🇦 Kyiv, Ukraine 🇺🇦

 

Kyiv was SO cool!!! I loved the souvenirs and the beautiful streets and the food and all the people decked out in winter (hopefully fake) fur. I’d been nervous to head to Kyiv, but nothing like a bit of nerves to motivate me to do research and plan fun things!

 

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Arriving

I arrived at night, so I got to enjoy the lit up streets covered in snow as I walked by dozens of golden domed cathedrals. I stayed right next to St. Michael’s Church (not the Monastery), which was a nice part of town. Super modern and right next to Gulliver’s, a giant shopping mall that had a MASSIVE food court on the bottom floor that I went to about 5 times, haha. They had pizza and breads and pastries and veggies and pickled everything and fish and salad and a bunch of other stuff. I got a little confused as to how to ordering worked. I thought you just walked up to the counter, but apparently you start alllll the way down at the end and follow everyone in a makeshift and disorganized line (I say disorganized, because there was one type of person who could go ahead of anyone she pleased: the little old ladies who toddled over in fur coats and gloves and leather boots. They could walk right up to whomever and get whatever, no matter how many people were in line – no one wanted to mess with them! Haha).

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1. Independence Square

By the main gathering area, Independence Square, I found all kinds of souvenir shops and tiny cafes. There was a man holding a monkey wearing a costume, so he sucks :((((( But I loved the tall buildings and flower shops in the metro were so colorful. I loved the dancing lamp post statues in the main square and the Hall of Fame murals in the alleys. 🇺🇦 💛💙💛💙💛 🇺🇦

 

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2. St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery

⛪️ OMG these cathedrals! St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery was like walking into a palace. The nuns were very strict, but the Monastery is very well preserved – and secured. You can only enter at specific hours and, even though it’s free, there is no place to sit, so you won’t want to stay too long. Most walking tours go in here specifically because it’s a) free and b) beautiful, so if you’re taking a walking tour, fear not! You’ll definitely be passing by.

 

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3. St. Andrew’s Church

St. Andrew’s Church was closed for renovation, but our tour group agreed, in open-mouthed gaping admiration, that this was one of the most beautiful churches in Kyiv. (And there’s a lot of competition!) These were some seriously beautiful places. Makes me want to visit Russia next! 🇷🇺

 

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4. Park Landscape Alley

I loved the Alice in Wonderland Park (not the official name), but I wish that I could have seen it in the summer…or sometime when it wasn’t covered in snow lol. It’s officially called the Park Landscape Alley – and it was a trip! There were all these colorful statues, many of which had benches carved into them for both hilarious photography or just relaxing. I wanted to take soooOooOoOoOoo many pictures but it literally felt like 10 degrees F, so that wasn’t happening. I imagine this place is freaking magical in the summer!

 

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5. Free Walking Tour Kyiv

I couldn’t believe how cold I was on this walking tour. ❄️ It was like the cold just kept getting more intense. Even though I’m from Chicago, it seemed like the same temperatures that I have at home were 10x worse in Kyiv. ⛄️ There are a dozen and a half free walking tours in Kyiv (don’t forget to tip!), and they cover everything from the main cathedrals to Independence Square, to why we should spelling the city as “Kyiv” and not “Kiev.” (Kiev is the Russian spelling, and this Ukrainian city is actually spelled Kyiv.) These are not for the faint of heart – or faint of feet, haha – you walk A LOT. And for a long time in the super-dee-duper cold. So wear two pairs of socks and a really great hat, haha.

 

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6. Arsenalna Metro Station

Arsenalna is a station on Kyiv Metro’s Sviatoshynsko-Brovarska Line. My tour ended right next to the beautiful subway station – it was incredibly deep underground – the deepest in the world, in fact! And to get down from the street entrance to where you board the trains, it took about 3 full minutes of just standing on the escalator…probably longer, actually.

Buying tickets ($0.30USD) was cool, too, because they just hand you a little plastic token, and you put it in the machine to be collected and reused each day. What a great way to have tickets without wasting paper or using something online (it was so cold here, my poor phone had to remain constantly plugged into my battery or it would die immediately lol, poor little phone). Anyway, the actual station was beautiful and looked like an underground Greek theater, complete with pattered tiles on the ceiling and glittery chandeliers and pretty shadows. That was cool. (Figuratively and literally, which was why I left sooner than I’d have liked to. I thought my toes were actually going to freeze off.)

 

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7. Cute Cafes

They are everywhere. They are warm. And they are delicious. To warm up, I popped into an adorable cafe called Small Talking, and had a snack of cottage cheese dumplings with an orange juice tea that had all kinds of herbs and spices floating in it, and then some soup. Nothing tasted like I thought it would, so that was a fun surprise. (Still delicious though) Haha, at least I could feel my toes again. 🦶

 

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8. St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral

I found the big yellow church, aka St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, which I LOVED, but mainly because there was almost nobody inside, haha. I wanted to stay forever, but the nuns got mad at me for taking pictures of the souvenirs, so off I went. 😂 It’s free and a very calm and quiet place, but mainly for locals, so be respectful.

 

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9. The Heroic Cat

🐈 There was also a statue of a cat, super fluffy and majestic, that was said to have saved people from a fire. 🔥 From what I remember the guide telling us, when the fire started and no one woke up, the foofy cat jumped from person to person in their beds to make sure they smelled the smoke and got out. What an amazing kitty!! (For the record, my cats would let me die and then eat my charred self for lunch.)

I am more and more in awe of this place. 😱

 

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10. Shopping

I finally found my shopping location. I hate spending money, so I usually do an extensive comparison excursion before I buy anything. I’m not one to buy a trinket here and another one there – I’m an all at one place kind of gal. (I usually compare prices and quality until I find one that works for me, and then I get EVERYTHING.) This hole in the wall was in the underground walkway by Gulliver’s shopping mall. It was full of trinkets and handmade boxes and cute figurines and post cards and a mace that I promptly bought without figuring out how to get it around Europe in my carry on (but my carry on became a checked bag and that was the end of that, haha. This mace is still proudly displayed in my living room.) This one little old man explained what everything was and why certain things were special and where things came from. The hand-painted boxes were BEAUTIFUL, and I loved each of the little thimbles that had faces painted on them. I didn’t buy much else on this trip, but I knew I wanted this little man’s entire store, haha. I left with two bags of stuff and a massive charge on my credit card, but #worthit. 💰 ❤️

 

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11. Underground Walkways

These unground walkways are amazing – they have everything! I saw beautiful beaded jewelry and fur coat boutiques and mannequins wearing pink cat masks. Kyiv is so FREAKING cold that the city basically built an entire town underground. I could walk almost anywhere I needed to go…under the sidewalk. Underground, there were street signs and heat and incredible shopping places.

 

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12. Eat Cake. Duh.

I bought some chocolate cakes (plural) to celebrate finding my souvenir store. 🧁 I was SO cold, so I sat by the heater all evening, but I spread my goods and my goodies out on the floor, and enjoyed a feast for the eyes – and for the tummy. It was delicious. It was all delicious.

 

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13. Museums

I explored some beautiful and beautifully inexpensive museums. My tummy, eyes, camera and wallet were extremely happy with Kyiv so far.

(My fingers and toes? Not so much. But those will grow back, right?)

There are a couple really beautiful art museums here, 🖼 all for like $4 USD or something ridiculously cheap. The National Art Museum is spectacular, and the Museum of the History of Ukraine in WWII also should not be missed. You can find anything from art collected solely from Ukrainian artists, to treasures found around the world.

During one such visit, I was exhausted and thirsty, so I discreetly took a sip from my water bottle (like, a 2 second sip far away from anything), and the guards (who were hiding in the freaking rafters or something? Like, where did they even come from??!) basically jumped on me and tried to physically push me out the door. I didn’t realize what the problem was until one of them made some motions to mimic my water drinking. 💧 I apologized and said no more water, haha. Even with this promise, someone was always within – not kidding – TWO FEET from me. I know how damaging it could be, of course, but just be warned, haha.

I took pictures of a minuscule fraction of the amount of paintings I saw. It was an amazing collection between these two museums.

 

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14. St. Sophia’s Cathedral

St. Sophia’s Cathedral was built in the 11th Century and displays Byzantine architecture and Ukrainian Baroque styles.  It was the first landmark in Ukraine to be added to the World Heritage List, and it is currently one of the most well known places in the country. Visiting this colossal cathedral is a must-do in Kiev.

I headed over to St. Sophia’s Cathedral, which was massive and enchanting, but also super dark, cold and fascinating. The nuns were everywhere and the big entrance was really lovely. However, the star of the show is the giant egg mosaic upstairs. It’s a display made from 15,000 painted eggs, completed about 10 years ago. The coolest part was that the artist enlisted the help of schoolchildren in order to paint all the eggs needed for the project. 🥚

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15. 🥗 THE FOOD!!!! ☕️

I had a traditional Ukrainian meal at a super famous Ukrainian restaurant (Kanapa), complete with pike caviar, hare in aspic, weird little raviolis full of fish that were actually really yummy, potatoes with veal brain (didn’t know this at the time, lol), the official Kyiv Chicken (Aka stuffed chicken) and the long awaited Borsch! Borscht is a stew made from pork, prunes, and beets and here, it was served in a makeshift bowl: an entire head of cabbage. It was served with garlic bread and sour cream and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever had in my life. The place was called Kanapa and my entire meal that was 7 courses and took an hour and a half to serve cost a total of 22 euros before tip.

One of the most amazing experiences of my whole life. 😋

 

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16. Kyiv Pechersk Lavra

I heard chanting and I followed the sounds to, what I figured out later, was the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, an incredibly massive and sparkly monastery. I wandered into an ongoing mass. It was such a cool experience, because there were only local families and little old ladies there, even though it was quite famous. It was nearly pitch black inside, besides the candles that were flickering everywhere. It was heavenly – it felt almost royal. An awesome experience.

 

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17. Holodomor Genocide Museum

I found a museum about the famine that took place in Ukraine – I didn’t even realize that there WAS a famine in Ukraine, so this was an eye opening experience. It was such a devastating museum and I couldn’t even understand much because most of the explanations were in Ukrainian, but language didn’t matter at this point. The pictures were gut wrenching. The Museum is dedicated to the victims of the Holodomor of 1932-1933. I got there about there about 20 minutes before they closed (I came around the side, so I couldn’t find the entrance for about 10 minutes. I’d gotten a bit distracted by the haunting bell and the view around the back of the beautiful fog that had fallen across the city. When I came out of the museum, there was a heartbreaking statue of an emaciated girl. Everyone who leaves here remembers the statue of this starving child. 😞

 

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18. Take the Bus

I took the jam-packed bus home, (I couldn’t quite understand how tickets worked, but the stressed out and overworked ticket collectors were so smiley and patient with me. They were so nice! Shocking, I know, haha.), figured out it was extremely cheap and that you just walk on and pay the ticket collectors as the bus is moving. Good on them for finding a way to keep the buses moving without the long, slow lines. I stopped by a night cafeteria/market, where were all these delicious pickles and beets and strange vegetables that I’d never seen before but instinctively wanted to eat.

 

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19. Fashion Statements

On the way back to my Airbnb, saw this woman in the coolest red and yellow coat, prancing about in kitten heels in the -2 degree weather. Most men wore giant fuzzy hats that looked like wide soup cans wrapped in fur, and every single woman was wearing heels of some sort. Even though it felt like -100 outside, everyone was smiling and happy. I’d be happy, too, if I got to eat dumplings and chocolate cake every day. Cheers.

 

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Thoughts

Kyiv was one of the coolest – and coldest – places that I’ve ever been to in my entire life. This was one of my trips that I actually got nervous about beforehand, but it turns out that there was no reason to be nervous. I never felt in danger or uncomfortable, even when I’d arrived late at night, couldn’t figure out which train and then bus to get on (google was right, I was just confused haha) and then when my phone freaked out and stopped working because of how cold it was. But everyone I spoke to (while asking a hopeful, “Do you speak English?”) responded with either a smile or a “yeah, can I help you find something?” And there were lots of women everywhere, even late in the evening.

The arrival is always the hardest for me – getting my bearings, adjusting to the time and weather change, and then trying (and failing) to not look like a lost tourist, lol. This time was no different, haha, but at least there were plenty of nice people close by to help.

What a marvelous place. I would come back here in a heartbeat. I actually wished I’d had more time here SOLELY for the food. The incredible churches didn’t hurt either. 💙💛

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Important Information

I stayed at an airbnb with a mom and adorable young son for like $20/night. Everything is cheap, but I tried to include prices so you can convert the currency into your home currency if you’re wondering about specific prices. I was living in England at the time, so my flight on Wizz air was $30 one way from London, and then $23 onto Poznan, Poland. I stayed for three nights (arriving at night, 2 full days to explore, then leaving extremely early in the morning). 🚕

The walking tour: I googled “free walking tour Kyiv.” There were a bunch to choose from, but I usually find the highest rated one on trip advisor.

Yes, I went solo. No, I didn’t feel unsafe. I would go again in a heartbeat, but I’d plan for more time. I’d say at least three full days. I had to prioritize the things I wanted to see, but I wanted to visit them allllll!

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UNTIL NEXT TIME!

I would highly recommend a visit to Kyiv, solo or otherwise. 🙂

Don’t forget to LIKE and SUBSCRIBE!

Thanks for reading, happy travels!
Kelsey

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Insta perfect

More beautiful pictures of the lovely Kyiv!

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