My expectations were greatly surpassed during my 3-night visit to Kyiv in October 2019.
The least enjoyable part of the trip was getting to Kyiv – my flight departed at 11pm, the last flight of the day and arrived into Kiev Airport in the early hours. Luckily from the time between logging of my work computer and catching the train from Victoria Station to Gatwick I managed at Boxing Class at 1Rebel and had dinner. I managed to nap on the Ukraine International Airlines flight and reflective of the price, provided no complementary food or drink – not that I would want any food at night time.
I organised beforehand, through my hostel, a taxi to collect me from the airport as I did not want to rely on public transport at 3am. The hostel kindly let me and other travellers who seemed to be on my flight try nap on the sofas in the reception area. The few hours of sleep were much needed and an early wakeup let me explore the streets of Kiev from 7am. My hostel was Dream Hostel Kiev, which is located in a beautiful part of Kyiv and located close to a metro station.
Dream Hostel is located along Andriivs’kyi descent where you will find many stalls set up during the day. Other hostels I would recommend are ZigZag Hostel and Kyiv Central Station.
Sightseeing in Kyiv – cathedrals, impressive metro and parks
At 7am I ventured out to explore. The sunrise was beautiful, streets were empty and the tree colours provided an Autumnal experience.
My first stop was a visit to the St Andrew’s Church which is 10 minutes from the hostel. The hill top view provided stunning views over the city and Dnieper River. Aside from a few local dog walkers, I had the area to myself.
I then continued my walk to St Michaels Cathedral and onto the Independence Square, where I stopped for breakfast at a cafe.
Following this, I made my way to the Metro ticket office and after a little misunderstanding with the member of staff (read more in Ratings) I eventually got my metro ‘ticket.’ What I mean by ticket is a little plastic coin and only costs 6p (compare this to a single London journey costing £4)! The metro system is made up for 3 lines and covers the entire city providing a quick and reliable service.
As a tube / metro fan I excitedly got off at Arsenalna Station – it is the deepest station in the world! There are 2 levels of fast moving escalators which take 5 minutes journey time to get to street level. Imagine if the escalators stop working and you have to walk up instead…
From Arsenalna Station there are 3 sites worth visiting within walking distance of each other :
Kyiv Caves Lavra
A UNESCO site it is a large Monastery with a range of stunning buildings and underground cave system, a must see when in Kyiv. The underground tunnels are home to mummified monks and religious ornaments which have been preserved due to the climate and air in the tunnels. Whilst above ground there are several buildings including Holy Trinity Church, Great Bell Tower and the Dormition Cathedral which had the most beautiful interior!
Whilst I enjoyed strolling around, popping into the buildings and exploring the underground caves, I wish there was more signage and a map provided so I could understand what each building was. However, walking around in an active monastery was an great experience, it was peaceful and I went early – so it was nice and empty!
Motherland Statue (Rodian Mat)
This impressive statue stands at 102m and is located close to the National Museum of the History of Ukraine. The wider site is full of old Soviet war vehicles.
Park of Eternal Glory
A large open space which was peaceful to walk through. I was lucky to visit during Autumn and the colour of the leaves and trees was beautiful. I would through it on my way to Lavra and Statue. There were a few monuments located within the park including the Monument to the Unknown Statue as well as views out across the Dnieper River.
Other notable places I visited include:
- Mariinsky Park – there are a range of monuments in the park as well as Mariinsky Palace and a football stadium. A stunning bridge – Park Bridge can be found here, this was unexpected and beautiful. The autumnal colours of the trees made the park even more beautiful.
- Glass Bridge and Friendship of Nations Arch. They are located next to each other and just to the north of Mariinsky Park. The glass bridge opened in 2019 and provides a great observation deck, the atmosphere here was great with musicians and street performers along the bridge.
Day Trip to Chernobyl
I could write an entire post about my second full day – a day trip to Chernobyl and Prypyat. There are many tour operators offering a very similar itinerary at similar prices, I decided to go with Chernobyl Tour. The coach departed at 8am and we didn’t return back to the city until 9.30pm.
It’s a circa 2hr 30min journey due north of the city to the exclusion zone with two checkpoints enroute to the attractions. Security is tight, and a passport is required to pass through the checkpoints. The tour takes you to several stops within the exclusion zone including many abandoned buildings – such as a nursery and hospital.
For lunch we ate in the canteen for the Chernobyl nuclear plant staff! After lunch we then went to as close as we can to the nuclear reactors – I was surprised how close we are able to get. I do believe that more recent tour operators allow you to actually go inside the nuclear plant, which would be a super cool experience. Time was limited, due to the high radiation risk.
Following this we visited the town of Prypyat which was once home to 50,000 people and was built to house the Chernobyl plant workers and their families. There was a lot of abandoned buildings to see including a supermarket, athletics track, swimming pool and the ‘famous’ amusement park.
Is Visiting Chernobyl Safe ?
Of course it is – otherwise why would hoards of tourists visit it everyday. My flight to Kyiv probably exposed me to more radiation then what a day visit to Chernobyl does. Maybe standing in close proximity for a long duration may be a cause for concern, however we were allowed a 20 minute maximum stay in the spot closest to the reactor. Security is high with checks made at the exclusion zone and everyone leaving must be checked for radiation levels.
I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw and experienced as a visitor to Kyiv. It was clean, welcoming a lot is provided for visitors, prices are super cheap and the metro provides a great way to get around. Unfortunately when I told people that I was heading to Kyiv most asked why which saddened me – Kyiv provides a lot to do and should not be overlooked.
Ukraine was my 47th country and I hope to return one day to explore Kyiv further as well as Odessa and Lviv. Finally, it is an extremely budget friendly city and is easily accessible from all parts of Europe.
Things to do – 4/5 There was more than enough to see and do in the city to fill up a long weekend. It is a big city and I certainly did not have enough days to explore it, due to Chernobyl taking up an entire day.
Dining – 3/5 A range of food is available throughout the Kyiv to suit most diets. Along with some travellers I met in my hostel we had dinner at Chicken Kyiv – I could not have left the city without trying one. We also had some cocktails there and headed to a nearby bar after.
Cost – 5/5 I can not express enough how affordable my visit to Kyiv was – flight, public transport, hostel accommodation, food and attractions were all very well priced. Visiting Chernobyl was the most costly part of the trip (cost more than the return flights) however the price is expected.
Transport – 5/5 The city metro system is very well designed, with metro stations located throughout the city. Also it was incredibly cheap!
Safety & security – 3/5 As a solo traveller I had no issues, aside from a rather rude staff member at the ticket office who, for an unknown reason refused to serve me – luckily a local behind me provided me help. I am very lucky and have never / rarely experience rude locals when I have travelled – thus this has stuck with me .
Overall – 20/25 I would certainly recommend a visit to Kyiv and that there is more to it than just a day trip to Chernobyl.