If you’re planning a trip to Kyiv, here are some tips I hope will help you on your journey.
Arriving / departing: Travelling with Ryanair? Then you’ll be arriving/departing from the old Borispol F terminal that has not much in the way of facilities. At the time I was there for departure (June 2019) there was limited and high priced food once you were through security, and no duty free. (Although it looked like there were plans for shops to be put in). The new (more modern) terminal (used by pretty much every other airline) is much nicer and has duty free. There is a Sky Bus shuttle bus service that takes you to the central train station (Voksal), or from the new terminal there is a train. Or you can take a taxi. If you can’t speak Ukrainian or Russian expect to pay 350-400 hryvnia.
Transport: Kyiv has an efficient metro service which is quite economical and charges a flat rate no matter how far you travel. You can either buy a token (zheton) for a single ride, or purchase a card and load it with credit, so then you just tap the card to enter the metro and the trip cost is deducted.
In general, the metro stations have some element of decoration or ornamentation relevant to the name of the station, so some stations are worth visiting just for this. If like me you live in a country where the metro stations are designed to sap your will to live, you’ll love the colour and detail of the artwork you can find in the Kyiv metro.
Some trains have video screens and automated voices in English telling you the name of the next station which is helpful if you can’t read Cyrillic alphabet. However if you need to change to another line, the signs in the metro concourse will not be in English. As a helpful hint, the access to other lines will be either in the middle of the concourse (look for steps going up) or at the end. Look for a sign that shows the colour of the line you are changing to.
There are local buses and minivans (marshrutkas) but I didn’t take any of these. I prefer to stick with a metro that has a fixed route, so I know where I will end up. (This irrational fear stems from several crazy experiences on buses and trolleybuses in Moscow years ago when every time I got on a bus the route was never what I expected and as a result I saw parts of the city that I didn’t plan to see).
History: I would recommend reading up on Ukrainian history before you go. Not necessarily ancient history either, but brush up on the headline political changes in the past 20-30 years. Ukraine is now fiercely independent and resistant of Russian influence and you will see monuments around the city centre that reflect this. As a visitor, it’s good to have some context. This is something I didn’t do and wish I had done.
Sightseeing: There are plenty of things to see in Kyiv. If you plan to visit inside of any churches, please be aware that modesty restrictions may apply – so men: no hats, and women, be ready to cover your head with a scarf. Shorts and sleeveless shirts may also not be welcome. However in some churches I noticed these rules were not very well policed.
For church complexes like St Sophia and Lavra Pechersk, you can just buy an entrance ticket for the grounds and walk around without needing to buy extra admissions to museums. So if the peaceful greenness of Kyiv isn’t enough for you, you can visit one of these places for even more peacefulness.
Are you a culture vulture? Then you should visit the Opera theatre. Ballet and opera performances regularly during the week at a fraction of the price you would pay elsewhere in Europe.
One place I didn’t get to, but which sounded interesting, was 0300, the museum in the dark. You experience this museum rather than see – it gives you the sensation of what it is like to be blind. The name, 3am, comes from the darkest time of the night. Yes, English tours are available.
Eating and Drinking: Again, I was quite lazy during my time in Kyiv. There were four or five restaurants on the corner of the street where we were staying, so it was easiest to go down there of an evening and try somewhere new. But the food was consistently good quality wherever we ate.
If you’re less lazy than me, the recommendations of my Ukrainian colleagues are:
Kanapa – recommended for a fine dining experience (you may need to book)
Mamamanana for good Georgian food
Ostannya Barykada (the Last Barricade) – I did eat here. It’s in the shopping centre under the Independence Square but tricky to find – I think that’s part of the fun in going there. Interesting food and drink from around Ukraine.
Near Lva Tostovo metro station: Zhiznzamechatelnykhlyudey – yes, good luck pronouncing that one. My colleague said “Best place for food, cocktails or coffee – I love this place, blueberry kisel is a perfect taste from childhood.”
Near Pochta Plosha (if you’re riding the Funicular), Kompot, where you can sit on the terrace overlooking the river.
Shopping: You’ll find many familiar shopping brands around Kyiv city centre, but you didn’t come here to buy the same things you could buy at home, did you? So look for smaller local shops selling handicrafts or locally made products (there are several around the shopping street of Khreshchatyk) and if you’re a flea market fan like me, take the trip up to Pochaina / Petrivka on Saturday and see what bargains you can find.
I was recommended to look at Ukrainian store Vsi.Svoi – there are two shops on Khreschatyk Street, one with clothes, one with homewares. Support Ukrainian designers!
Touristic shopping for souvenirs is easily available on Andriyivskyy Descent – t-shirts, hand painted wooden items, knitted slippers, fridge magnets, art, old Soviet memorabilia – it’s all there. There’s also Folkmart, a high quality handicrafts shop on Khreshchatyk Street.
Day trips: It’s not something for everyone, but if you enjoyed the TV series, you can visit inside the exclusion zone at Chernobyl. I travelled there with Chernobyl Wel.com and recommend them for their emphasis on safety. Another trip that sounded interesting (that I didn’t make) was to the Museum of Corruption, Mezhyhirya Residence, the former home of former President Viktor Yanukovych. If you every wondered what an oligarch’s mansion would look like – this is your opportunity to visit one.
General: Kyiv is built on hills so be prepared for some steep uphill walking. The good thing is, this hilliness means there are some patches of greenery in the city that it’s not possible to build on, which adds to the greenness of the city along with the many parks and the river islands. In summer, these river islands serve as “beaches” and I saw people with towels and chairs relaxing there as if they were at the seaside.
Hopefully you’ll use at least some of these tips when you visit Kyiv, which I recommend you do soon.