Disclaimer: I wrote this blog some time ago and was planning to post it later this year. But we all know what happened a few weeks ago… We don’t know yet whether the landmarks would survive the bombing or the landscape of the city would change forever. So I’m publishing my blog as it was intended to be in the pre-war time – some kind of memorabilia to preserve the beauty and vibes of the city which is under the vile attack right now.
Kyiv is a gorgeous ancient city that according to some legends was founded in 482 AD. The real archeological data suggest a later date, up to the 9-10th century, however the discussion is still ongoing on and it’s hard to be sure about the exact founding date right now. But it’s absolutely clear that slavic tribes resided in this area for a very long time. Kyiv’s been the main city of Kyivan Rus but was destroyed during the Mongolian invasion. After being rebuilt, to cut the story short, it became the Lithuanian-controlled city and then was included into the Tsardom of Russia. After the Revolution of 1917 Kyiv became the capital city of Ukraine as the part of USSR and after the USSSR collapsed, it continued to be the capital city of now Independent Ukraine.
Having visited the capital of Ukraine several times over the last few years, I must say that Kyiv becomes prettier and prettier every year although the times are not the easiest for the country. If you’re planning to explore this ancient city, rich in legends and historical significance, scroll below!
Square of independence
Possibly, the first first square you get acquainted with, is the Square of independence with a column and fountains. You can pop into the shopping mall Globus for a coffee or a quick shopping too.
Just recently, the Square of independence became an epicentre of Orange Revolution (aka Revolution of Dignity) – and you will see many signs dedicated to these events. The street nearby (Grushevskogo street) leading to the President’s palace and Rada is even called now the Alley of Celestial hundred to commemorate those who died during the Revolution’s course.
The wide street starting from the European Square, crossing the Square of Independence and coming all the way up to Besarabsky Market is called Khreshchatyk (derived from ‘cross’), and it’s undoubtedly the main artery of the city since the 19th century. Just take a relaxing stroll along it, have a cup of coffee in one of the cafes or listen to the music of street musicians!
Central Universal Shopping mall, or TsUM (the abbreviation meaning the same in Ukrainian), is an equivalent to Harrods or Selfridges in Kyiv. Apart from the international brands (that tend to cost more than in London for some reason), the Ukrainian designers are represented there too. Head to the terrace to see the views – they are really nice!
Saint Sophia Cathedral
Saint Sophia Cathedral dating back to the 11th century is probably the most important religious building of Kyiv. Its outer appearance is performed in Ukrainian Baroque style – the one you’ve already seen in Chernihiv.
This cathedral shows the Byzantine Heritage that Kyivan Rus was proud about. Do you remember the Hagia Sophia in present-day Istanbul? Yes, this is it (oh I should write a blog about Istanbul too, it’s an amazing city!)
The graves Kyivan princes were located there (just a few sarcophagi survived up to today), and there are gorgeous mosaics and frescoes to admire!
Also I wanted to note that shooting inside of some religious buildings is not encouraged in Ukraine: in some places it’s forbidden to shoot and in others it might not be forbidden officially but the people would give you dirty looks.
Golden Gate is another nod to Byzantium and one of the most ancient and important historic landmarks of Kyiv. It has been mentioned as early as the 11th century as a part of fortifications around the city and one of three gates erected by Yaroslav the Wise, the Grand prince of Kyiv and the ruler of Kyivan Rus (his statue sits there too). The only problem is that it has been completely destroyed so many times including the Soviet period that the current view of the gate could possibly be pretty different from what it had looked like originally. Anyway, the green area around it is really nice and there are lots of cafes around too!
Did you know that the man who christened the Kyivan Rus was Prince Vladimir (the other version of his name is Volodymyr)? This church built in 1862-1882 is dedicated to him and is considered one of the most important religious buildings of Kyiv nowadays. Some of its most famous paintings there belong to Viktor Vasnetsov, a well-known Russian artist.
National opera and Ballet theatre
Located on the Volodymyrska street, Taras Shevchenko National Opera and Ballet theatre of Ukraine is considered the largest opera house of the country that dates back to the 19th century. I’ve been there a few times, and if you’re a theatre goer, it’s worth visiting to experience some Ukrainian pieces.
Kyivska Pecherska Lavra
Kyivska Pecherska Lavra is one of the main religious sites for all slavic orthodox people (so many of them, and all are unique and important!) and an UNESCO protected site: it’s a grand monastery on the bank of Dnieper river that occupies an enormous territory with hundreds of relics in the catacombs aka the caves (this is where its name is coming from!). According to the legend, it was founded by St Antony in 1051, and Dormition Cathedral, Assumption church, Holy trinity gate church and the bell tower are really worth a visit. You can also visit the multiple museums located on the territory too.
Besarabsky Market built in 1910-1912 is a lovely indoor market that stands on Khreshchatyk street. The products sold there are clearly overpriced but it’s so nice to stroll around, buy some fruits, smell the flower stands and have some takeaway coffee! And by the way there are some shops looking outside too.
St Michael Golden-domed Monastery
First of all, according to the legends, St Michael Monastery has been the first ever church with golden domes, and all other orthodox churches you can see in Ukraine, Belarus or Russia, just continued this tradition.
Secondly, this building had a very sad fate. Initially the church was erected in the early 12th century and was dedicated to the patron saint of Kyiv, St Michael. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by bolsheviks in the first half of the 20th century – but thankfully, the monastery was rebuilt in the 90s. At least you can still see some historical frescoes! Lastly, this is my favourite religious building in Kyiv, isn’t it just beautiful?
Andriyivskyy Descent is the street that connects the upper part of Kyiv and its lower part, called Podil. Now there is also a Funicular Railway running between them (see below). The name derives from Andreevsky Church, a true gem of architecture – unfortunately, I don’t have proper photos of it because it’s been under reconstruction for over ten years and has reopened just recently, after my last visit to Ukraine. Another important landmark here is the Literature-Memorial Museum of Michael Bulgakov, famous Russian writer who was born in Kyiv, the author of The Master and Margarita and The White Guard. The museum opened its doors in 1991.
Get a short ride along the Volodymyrska Hill from the upper part of the city to Podil or vice versa! The funicular was opened in 1905, and is a really convenient and pretty way to cut your walking time – Kyiv is full of ups and downs – in just a 2,5 min ride.
Podil is a historical merchant district of Kyiv. A preferred stroll itinerary for many locals, Sahaidachny street is not only adorned by exceptionally beautiful buildings (although some of them vow for the reconstruction) but is rich in restaurants, shops and historical buildings such as Pyrohoshcha Church (or, in full, the Pyrohoshcha Dormition of the Mother of God Church) dating back to the 11th century. Walk to the Kontraktovska Square to see the statue of Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny, the Ferry wheel and the Greek monastery.
University of Taras Shevchenko and Shevchenko Park
Although there is nothing of particular importance about the University of Taras Shevchenko for a tourist’s eye, its building is really remarkable – where else you’ll encounter such an intense Scarlet colour covering all the building!
If you’re wondering who Taras Shevchenko is and why so many places are named after him, he’s a famous Ukrainian poet, philosopher, and painter (oh I think he was talented in so many fields!) of the 19th century who helped to form the Ukrainian literary language.
First stone of Mariinsky Palace was laid in 1744 after the Russian Empress Elizabeth had ordered it to build her a palace near the Dniper river. Rastrelli (you know this name if you’ve ever been interested in Russian architecture – for instance, the Winter palace in Saint Petersburg is also his masterpiece, and his baroque projects are easily recognizable) became its main architect. Now it serves as an official residence of the Ukrainian president.
Glass Bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists is a fairly new addition to the Kyiv landscape: it was opened in 2019 and lies between the People’s Friendship Arch and Volodymyrska Hill. It was pretty sad to see some cracks forming on that bridge already especially considering that there are not that many glass insertions but in general it looked well – especially considering the views over Dnieper river.
Arc of People’s Friendship
The Arc of People’s Friendship erected in 1982 symbolised the friendship between Ukrainins and Russians. It was discussed a few times whether it still should stay there or be destroyed considering the events happening in the 2010s. And I can only guess which destiny awaits it now after Russia started a war with Ukraine…
Kyiv zoo founded in 1909 might not be the best zoo in the world but I had one of the most memorable experiences there: I fed the ostrich!
Statue of Mother the Country
The 62 metres high Statue of Mother stands on the Country National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War and is very well visible from the different parts of the city. You can spot the USSR flag on its shield – and if you think that the sword is a bit too short, there is a legend that it was supposedly made this long not to overshadow the crosses of Kyivska Lavra in length.
Dynamo Kyiv Stadium
Why, Anna, did you put a stadium on your list? Because Ukrainians love football and they love their Football Club Dynamo Kyiv (at least those who do not support Shakter Donetsk, Dynamo’s arch-nemesis), one of the most well-known clubs of USSR and Ukraine! The home ground of the club is exactly this stadium called Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium located in a lovely park in central Kyiv.
How you enjoyed my blog!