Kyiv is a treasure trove of ancient Ukrainian culture, complete with 950 churches, cathedrals and monuments dotting the city. Come to the capital of Ukraine to explore top attractions such as St Andrew’s Church, the MM Hryshko National Botanical Garden, the Mariyinsky Palace and the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, with its underground catacombs.
Saint Sophia Cathedral
Climb to the top of the bell tower in the oldest standing church in Kyiv for sweeping 360-degree views over the capital. The Saint Sophia Cathedral was built in the early 11th century to celebrate Yaroslav the Wise’s victory in protecting the city from tribal raiders. Today, the cathedral has undergone minimal reconstruction and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site for its grand Byzantine architecture. Picture a chalk-white building topped with green and gold domes and decorated with elaborate mosaics and gilt frescoes inside.
If you’re looking for an art fix, head to Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv’s national art and culture centre. The complex is one of the largest in the city and offers a blend of art exhibitions, theatre performances, festivals and concerts. Once a military factory, the centre now promotes Ukrainian culture, with new shows every month. Time your visit to coincide with events such as Ukrainian Fashion Week, the annual book fair or one of Mystetskyi’s contemporary art exhibitions.
Saint Andrew’s Church
Built on a hill, Saint Andrew’s Church overlooks the Podil neighbourhood and the glittering Dnieper River. The church is one of Kyiv’s most majestic baroque buildings, loved for its white-and-blue exterior embellished with emerald domes and golden details. Renowned Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli designed Saint Andrew’s in the mid-18th century, and it has survived centuries of conflict and two lightning strikes. Climb the steps for views from the base of the church, which is now a protected architectural landmark.
Mikhail Bulgakov Museum
Come to this small literary museum to learn about the famous Russian writer and doctor Mikhail Bulgakov. It’s set in his former home on historic Andreevsky Descent, where he lived with his family from 1906 to 1919. Take a guided tour for a fascinating glimpse into his life, where you’ll get to see personal artefacts, including the medical desk where he wrote books such as The White Guard (1925). Bulgakov even featured the house, which is now a national landmark, in this celebrated novel.
National Art Museum of Ukraine
The National Art Museum of Ukraine dates back to 1899 and is the oldest museum in the city. Visit to discover national artwork from the Kyivan Rus era, when a federation of East Slavic tribes ruled between the ninth and 13th centuries. You’ll find around 40,000 artworks, including paintings, sculptures and an outstanding collection of religious icons and statues. Sometimes called the “museum of lions” for its exterior sculptures, it lies in a neoclassical building in Podil.
Wander a labyrinth of eerie catacombs at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. The Unesco World Heritage site is a practising Orthodox monastery that sits atop a network of caves where mummified monks have been laid to rest since the 11th century. The complex sprawls over 28ha (69 acres) on the hills above the Pechersk district and is dotted with golden-topped churches. Pilgrims come from all over Ukraine to visit this holy site, named one of the seven wonders in the country.
This ornate palace is the official ceremonial residence of the president of Ukraine. Built in 1744 in the baroque style by architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the palace lies next door to the equally impressive Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) building. Explore it on a guided tour, where you’ll get to see the soaring ceremonial hall. It also hosts various events of national importance, such as political receptions, summits and awards, as well as meetings of official delegates from all over the world.
MM Hryshko National Botanical Garden
Enjoy a slice of tranquillity among Kyiv’s urban sprawl at the MM Hryshko National Botanical Garden. Stroll around 120ha (297 acres) of themed gardens home to more than 13,000 plant varieties. The gardens serve as a research facility for the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and make for a serene space with hidden viewpoints. Come in May to see the lilacs bloom, and visit the Trinity Monastery of St Jonas with its 19th-century frescoes. Swing by the greenhouse complex to see tropical flowers, cacti and palm trees.
Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
This stately Orthodox monastery is named for Kyiv’s patron saint and its cluster of shiny golden domes. The original building was constructed in 1108 but torn down by the Soviets in the 1930s. Thankfully, many of its mosaics were recovered, and the building has been painstakingly rebuilt to reflect its former glory. Head up the monastery’s bell tower, which houses a museum where you can learn about Saint Michael’s history and enjoy views over Kyiv from its perch on the riverbank.
National Opera of Ukraine
Catch a performance at the National Opera of Ukraine, one of the most prestigious ballet and opera centres in Europe, comparable to Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. Stepping inside the neo-renaissance building is a treat in itself, with its refurbished sculpted amphitheatre, originally opened in 1901. In addition to ballets and operas, it also hosts concerts. You’ll find the National Opera of Ukraine near the Golden Gate metro stop.
The Motherland Monument
Kyiv’s arresting, stainless-steel Motherland Monument towers 102m (335ft) over the city. Taller than the Statue of Liberty, it depicts a woman holding a sword and shield to celebrate victory over Nazi Germany and symbolise the strength of the Ukrainian people. The monument lies on the riverbank and is part of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War. Notice the names of soldiers who fought in WWII carved into its base, then climb to the shield viewing platform for 180-degree skyline vistas.
National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War
Learn about Ukraine’s World War II history at this mammoth museum complex, which lies on the hills of Pechersk by the Dnieper River. Aside from its striking Motherland Monument, the museum has 18 different galleries that catalogue its torrid war history. Browse more than 300,000 items, ranging from official military documents and weapons to personal photographs and diaries belonging to soldiers. Outside, you can roam the museum’s collection of Soviet jets, tanks and sculptures from WWII and the Cold War era.
National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine
Pyrohiv, on the outskirts of Kyiv, is home to the National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine, tracing the history of the country’s rural population. As Europe’s largest outdoor museum, it displays a huge collection of architecture that dates back to the Middle Ages. Wander around various buildings that have been sourced from across Ukraine and carefully reconstructed on-site. You can also marvel at the museum’s selection of colourful folk costumes, period furniture and instruments. If you’re lucky, your visit might coincide with one of the folk festivals held here throughout the year.
Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral
Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral was built in honour of Prince Vladimir of Kyiv, who introduced Christianity to Kyivan Rus in 988CE. Constructed in 1882 in the city centre, the church marks 900 years of orthodox Christianity. The neo-Byzantine building stands out with its distinctive yellow colour and seven domes (six blue and one gold). The interior is just as lavish, painted with intricate murals by famous artists such as Mikhail Vrubel and Viktor Vasnetsov.
The Golden Gate
Once the imposing gateway to the city during the Kyivan Rus era, the Golden Gate is now one of the city’s Unesco-listed jewels. The ruins of the defensive structure date back to 1037. In the 1970s, a pavilion was built over the ruins, protecting the gates from further deterioration, and there’s now a tourist information centre and a small museum inside.
The Chocolate House
The Chocolate House is named for its brown, block-like architecture, which resembles a candy bar. This famous neo-renaissance mansion dates back to 1901 and lies in one of the city’s wealthiest districts, Lypky. Restored in 2009, it now houses an art gallery that’s part of the Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art. Tour the Chocolate House to discover opulent interiors with chandeliers and carved Moorish ceilings. Rooms are named after architectural styles, including Byzantine, art nouveau and renaissance.
Expocenter of Ukraine
The Expocenter of Ukraine is an exhibition complex that hosts fairs, events and concerts throughout the year, including Ukraine’s biggest music festival, Atlas Weekend. Amble among 180 Soviet, neo-baroque buildings spread over the 286ha (706-acre) site – 20 of the structures are listed as historical and cultural monuments. Be sure to photograph Pavilion Number 1 for an example of Stalinist Empire architecture, as well as the mural of Margaret Thatcher, who visited the centre, titled Tea Time with the Iron Lady.
Saint Nicholas Roman Catholic Cathedral
The Saint Nicholas Roman Catholic Cathedral is considered a gothic-style architectural masterpiece. Built between 1899 and 1909, the church boasts two 60m (197ft) towers with spires that puncture Kyiv’s skyline. The building is the second-oldest Roman Catholic church in the city and served as the Ukrainian security service headquarters for a period before being restored in the late 1970s. Today, you can attend Mass at the church or a concert hosted by the House of Organ and Chamber Music.
Take a break from city sightseeing to relax in Kyiv’s most peaceful green space, Feofaniya Park. On the outskirts of the city, this beautifully landscaped park is perfect for a day of picnicking on the lawns. You can also follow paths to sparkling lakes and take in views of the Cathedral of St Panteleimon and its storybook domes – it stands on a hill overlooking the park.
The PinchukArtCentre is Ukraine’s top contemporary art centre. Financed by billionaire Victor Pinchuk, the six-storey building highlights a selection of rotating artwork from local and European artists. There’s always something new to discover, with seasonal exhibitions from names such as Antony Gormley and Damien Hirst. Talk to one of the gallery’s guides to learn more about the pieces currently featured. On the sixth floor, you can take a break at the popular One Love Espresso Bar, a local favourite.
Lysa Hora, otherwise known as Bald Mountain, is a popular hiking destination with a peculiar past. It’s linked to stories of the occult, featuring in Slavic folklore as a mystical mountain where witches and paranormal creatures gathered. Do a little exploring today, and you might find carved statues of pagan deities.
Kim Gregory contributed additional reporting to this article.
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