As it stands I have been to Ukraine 5 times now. During each of these trips I have visited Kyiv for at least a day or longer. As you would expect from a capital city, there are lots of things to do in Kyiv. This list might not have the most highly recommended spots, the museums and other places definitely worth mentioning otherwise.
But to me, here are the top 5 things to do in Kyiv.
5. Mother Motherland (Батьківщина-Мати)
Standing at an incredible 102 m (335 ft), Mother Motherland is a sight to behold. This gigantic statue holding up a sword and shield aloft, towers over the city around it.
Construction began in 1979 and the statue was opened in 1981. As the main attraction of the Museum of The History of Ukraine in World War II, Nataliia took me to see it the second time I visited Ukraine.
Due to its height and position, the statue is visible for miles. I could only look up in awe as we climbed the long staircase leading up to where Mother Motherland stands. Its base carries the names of over 11,600 soldiers and 200 workers from the home-front during the war. Making the visuals even more impactful.
The sheer size and scale of Mother Motherland is breathtaking. Surrounded by beautiful fields and hills covered in flowers, it gives off a very emotional vibe.
Costing nothing to see, I absolutely recommend that anyone looking for things to do in Kyiv should take the trip to meet Mother Motherland.
4. Shevchenko Park (Шевченківський парк)
One of the first places I visited in Ukraine on my original trip was Shevchenko Park. With only one day and night in Kyiv, Nataliia did her best to show me some of her favourite things to do in Kyiv.
Situated by the Taras Shevchenko National University and St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral (two sights worth seeing in their own right) lies this wonderful park. Somehow I find that the most beautiful parks are those presumably man-made within a city. Perhaps due to the desperate need for something green within blocks of grey.
Since our first visit was during summer, I saw the park in all its beauty. Flowers lined the paths as well as some unusual and creative benches. At the time fountains were spraying as musicians played for those who walked by. It truly was a beautiful place and one of my goals is to return to the park and have a picnic during the summer. As we initially planned when we visited.
3. Puzata Hata – Traditional Ukrainian Buffet (Пузата Хата)
Truly, that’s the most appropriate word for Puzata Hata.
A chain of buffets around Kyiv that offer a huge range of traditional Ukrainian food. There are so many places around Kyiv to eat delicious food and some of them have arguably better food. But none of them have the same atmosphere as Puzata Hata. Comparatively, it’s as common for residents of the city as say, a Greggs is in England. But so, so much better.
It felt like a buffet, looked like a buffet but tasted like a fancy restaurant. The price was incredibly reasonable when you consider that we more or less had three courses and a drink each.
Some of my favourite items to pick included borsch (Борщ), a delicious beetroot soup. As well as Chicken Kyiv’s which are as you would expect, so much more delicious in their native country. Eating here is absolutely one of my favourite things to do in Kyiv.
As well as being a great place for the locals to eat traditional food, it is the perfect place for foreigners to try to eat the way Ukrainian’s do. There is the common thought process that when you travel you should visit the places the locals do, not the tourists. In order to get the full experience. Well, this is one place that allows for both.
A visit to Kyiv would genuinely be wasted if you didn’t visit Puzata Hata at least one time.
2. Ocean Plaza
Ocean Plaza is rivalled only by the Trafford Centre as a shopping mall in my opinion.
As you enter you are greeted by some beautiful fountains which display dolphins and sharks spraying water. Further inside you can choose from a great many world-famous stores including but not limited to Guess, Michael Kors, Armani and Calvin Klein. There are also a suitable amount of ‘affordable’ stores such as O’stin, Topshop and GAP, just so you know it isn’t purely for the rich.
Similarly to Trafford Centre, the atmosphere and decor make you feel like you’re shopping in luxury regardless of which store you visit. In fact, those visiting from the UK or America are likely to find some great deals on brands that may other wise be out of your price range. Personally I picked up a few items from Guess and U.S Polo Assn, places I probably would have avoided elsewhere.
When it comes to food Ocean Plaza allows you to pick between a food court that offers McDonald’s, KFC and Sushiya (sushi restaurant) as well as some higher end restaurants by the entrance such as my personal favourite, Murakami.
It’s safe to stay that I think you would be hard pressed to not find what you are looking for in Ocean Plaza regardless of your budget.
But, why is it second on my list of things to do in Kyiv? Again, similar to the Trafford Centre, the atmosphere and ambience makes shopping feel like a genuine experience.
Having visited Ocean Plaza so many times it has become one of my favourite spots in the city and one which I try to visit at least one time per trip.
1. Maidan Nezalezhnosti – Independence Square (Майдан Незалежності)
Whilst I did enjoy visiting Tianmen Square in Beijing, Maidan Nezalezhnosti is on an entirely different level.
Steeped in it’s own kind of history, the square is both impressive to look at and full of interesting stories, if you have the right tour guide. Being the site of the recent revolution in 2014 is enough to inspire a range of emotions as you walk through it. But when you consider that the square has been a part of Kyiv from as early as the 10th century. It’s hard not to feel something in this historic landmark. This is well represented by the Monument to Founders of Kyiv which shows the three brothers said to be the founders of the city alongside their sister. As well as the Independence Monument built in 2001 to represent Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union.
Throughout the day Maidan and the street it is located on (Khreshchatyk) is the site of varied events, street performers and typical souvenir peddlers. At night, fountains dance to music and the street performers gather much larger audiences. Having the square located on the main street serves to enhance the atmosphere you feel. An easy transition between Khreshchatyk and Maidan allows visitors to go from shopping to sight-seeing in mere moments.
As the location of many popular restaurants, stores and cafes, there is so much to do on Maidan that it would seem a waste to visit Kyiv and not spend time here.
What makes Maidan Nezalezhnosti so special for me is the times I have spent walking up and down this area. It would be easy to dismiss it as a high street with a few monuments. But if you look, really look closely. You’ll find the heart of the capital city of an incredible country.
Lords of the Sound is an orchestral group that plays music from both popular and nerd culture. I and Nataliia had the pleasure of seeing them perform their Music is Coming (a non subtle Game of Thrones reference) concert. Opening with the Avengers theme started the room on an emotional high that didn’t end until we got off the bus and returned home. They play music covering many famous video games and franchises. My personal favourite was the surprise Wonder Woman theme song. The intensity was incredible.
I have phone shot footage of their concert but for their sake I won’t upload it. Besides, it is really something that you should see for yourself and phone quality does not do it justice.
The reason this is a bonus mention is due to the fact you could easily miss the concert by arriving to Kyiv at the wrong time. Of course, whether or not you can attend their concert depends on ticket availability, scheduling and so on. But here is a link to their website so that you can find out for yourself and watch some of their videos.
Kyiv is a beautiful city with so much to do. As you would expect from a capital. Rich with history and culture, no matter what kind of holiday you are looking for (unless it’s one spent on a beach) Kyiv is has something to offer you.
I plan to follow this up with top 5 lists for Lviv (when I revisit) and Odessa (when I visit for the first time). As, having been there so many times, I feel a certain sense of pride for Ukraine. It’s such an incredibly underrated place that I believe, deserves some love.
Have you visited Kyiv? What are your favourite things to do in Kyiv, and which places left a mark on you?
We would love to hear your thoughts so leave them in the comments below and let’s discuss this special place.
As always, see you guys next time.
– Adam Pemberton