The capital of the Ukraine, Kiev, is a city rich in history and beautiful architecture, with countless cathedrals and monasteries, and open, leafy streets. Perched on wooded hills overlooking the vast river Dniepr, Kiev seems to be made for the budget traveller – a shaky economy in the past year means that absolutely everything seems great value to visitors, from dining out to a night at the opera.
Despite the abundance of culture, great nightlife, bargain prices and hostels in Kiev, the city is (surprisingly) still off the backpacker trail. We were going to stick together one of our “10 things to do for $10” guides… until we realised that everything on the list cost much less! So here’s a compiled list of cheap and free things to do in Kiev, with one important tip from us – enjoy the unspoilt beauty of this city before the hordes discover it!
1. See St Sophia’s Cathedral
The oldest church in Kiev, St Sophia was built in 1037 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise. It’s a majestic 13-cupola cathedral with golden domes, a turquoise bell tower and an interior adorned with elaborate frescoes and mosaics. A UNESCO heritage site, there’s also a museum inside the 18th century refectory full of archaeological artefacts.
It costs just 2Hr (€0.20) just to enter the grounds next to the bell tower, and 5Hr (€0.50) for the Bell Tower itself.
2. Go underground in Kievo-Pecherska Lavra
This vast, sprawling monastic complex is home to a huge network of eerie 11th century caves, some of which are lined by the mummified bodies of monks. Buy a candle, descend into the depths, and see how the monk’s bodies have been perfectly preserved to this day. Admission is 16Hr (€1.50), and English speaking tours can be arranged if you’re too afraid to navigate the caves solo! Women must wear scarves, which are provided at the entrance if you don’t have your own.
3. Chernobyl Museum
Away from the grand buildings and ornate churches, discover a true Soviet relic at the Chernobyl Museum. Head two hours north of Kiev, and you can now visit Chernobyl itself – the tragic scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident, and the neighbouring ghost towns. Or stick to a radiation free trip to the Museum in the center of Kiev – the museum does a great job of making you feel you are actually in the middle of a fallout. Entry is 5Hr (€0.50).
4. National Museum of Pirogovo
Ukraine is a beautiful country, but you might not have time to head furthur afield. Instead, discover an authentic slice of Ukraine in the countryside, at Pirogovo, an outdoor museum devoted to Folk Architecture and traditional village life in the Ukraine. Hop on Kiev’s clean, cheap and efficient metro, and take a short ride to Pirogovo (take Marshrutka 496 from Metro Lukyanivska or Marshrutka 576 from Academmistechko). A perfect trip on a warm summer’s day, explore traditional dwellings, 17th and 18th century churches, quaint farms, and scenic countryside, all for 15 Hr (€1.50).
5. A pleasure cruise
The vast Dnipro River runs through the heart of the city, and seperates the historic west bank from the modern east bank. Naturally, the best way to see Kiev is by boat. The ‘pleasure cruises’ that depart from the river terminal every half an hour may look a little cheesy – (some have discos and champagne on board) but offer stunning views of Kiev’s sights, and only cost a few US dollars. Swallow your pride and jump aboard!
6. Andrew’s Descent
A stroll through the ‘Montmartre of Kiev’ is a perfect free introduction to the city. One of Kiev’s oldest and most beloved streets, Andrew’s Descent has been the hub of city activity since ancient times. The steep and winding cobbled streets are the setting for outdoor concerts and festivals in the summer, and home to several art galleries and vendors selling traditional Ukranian crafts. Pick up a beer from one of the many street vendors and swig while you wander, and then try typical Ukrainian cuisine in the Dva Gusya (Two Geese) chain of restaurants, serving a surprisingly good selection of cheap and decent meals. Try the borscht meatballs and ‘vereniki’, a form of ravioli.
7. Go house hunting
No, we don’t mean looking for a new home, but taking your own free architectural tour around some of the city’s most impressive buildings. Start at the Crying Widow’s House, (Liuterans’ka 23). Built in 1907, this house is notable for a carving of a sad woman’s face – when rain falls, she appears to be crying. Next up is the House of Greek Gods, (Horodets’koho 9), covered with elaborate sculptures of ancient deities, and then the House with Hymers (Bankova 10), one of Kiev’s most unique buildings. Built 100 years ago by local architect Gorodetsky, he indulged his passion for hunting and the African savannah by covering the building with animal figures.
8. A church tour
Kiev is also full of beautiful churches that deserve their own seperate tour. The ornate St Andrew’s Church was designed by famous Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli in 1754, and was one of the rare buildings in Kyiv that has managed to avoid serious damage or reconstruction during the Soviet Regime. St. Michael’s Golden Domed Cathedral can be reached by a funicular lift. The original 12th century cathedral was destroyed by the Soviet regime in the mid-1930s in keeping with their anti-religion programme, but in May 2000 the church was restored with a bright blue exterior and shiny gold domes. Finally, pay a visit to St. Volodymyr’s, a 19th century cathedral built in the confusing titled Russian pseudo-Byzantine style, with frescoes inside by famous Russian, Ukrainian and Polish artists.
9. Visit Mariyinsky Palace
You can only enter this grand palace if you’ve got a date with President Yuschenko, but the blue and cream exterior is pretty impressive nonetheless – it was designed by the same architect as St Petersberg’s Summer Palace. Start at the arch of Ukranian and Russian reunification, then make your way through the park to the palace building.
10. A night at the opera
In Kiev, even backpackers can afford the opera. The National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Ukraine offers bargain tickets to world class ballet and opera, ranging from €1-20 per person. Check the theatre website for schedules and upcoming shows.
11. Book your cheap accommodation in Kiev
Book a night in one of our hostels in Kiev and you could stay at the likes of…
The Magic Bus Kiev, where privates start at just €10.40 pppn and the shared dorms start at €.62pppn.
Or Hostel Kiev City Centre, where shared rooms start at €7.08pppn and dorms at €13.37pppn.
Thanks to Vlad kiev, stuck in customs, adamsofen and Jean and Nathalie for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.