When it comes to historic European cities, destinations like Rome, Paris, Prague and Vienna come to mind. However, if you want to visit a city with great architecture, magnificent churches, bustling markets and charming cobblestone streets with significantly fewer tourists, you should consider Kyiv, Ukraine’s colorful capital. For contrast, last year 1.6 million people visited Kyiv, versus 83 million visitors in Paris. As a traveler less people means easily accessible landmarks, great transportation and dinners that are tasty but not exorbitant.
To get a central and stunning perspective of Kyiv, book a stay at 11 Mirrors Hotel, a Design Hotel owned by boxing legend Wladimir Klitschko and real estate developer Ruslan Oleksenko. You’ll go to bed with and wake up to a panoramic view of the city, in particular St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral which is just a short walk away. The friendly concierges will be able to guide you to other nearby landmarks such as the Golden Gate, National Museum of Natural Sciences or National Opera. Another good option is the Senator Maidan which features both hotel rooms and apartments and is located close to St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery and the Michael Bulgakov Museum. Both are great launch points to explore the city.
If it seems like there are a lot of cathedrals and religious buildings in Kyiv — yes, there are. There’s a vista of amazingly designed domes dotting the city, many of them bright blue and green brightening the overall landscape. The biggest site of all is Pechersk Lavra Monastery, an expansive complex spanning 28 hectares of cathedrals, caves, catacombs and grassy hills. It is considered to be the most holy site in Ukraine. Seeing multiple sites in a day is a breeze in Kyiv, in particular because Uber is widely used and extremely affordable. In my experience rides averaged between $2-4 for Uber X and $5-10 for Uber Black for 15 to 20-minute rides.
You’ve probably worked up an appetite from walking around and Kyiv is the perfect place to get a hearty, delicious bite. Borscht, a traditional beet soup is a must-try, of course, especially because the Ukrainian version is served hot and meaty (although there are always vegetarian options available). Golubtsy is another famous Ukrainian dish made with cabbage leaves filled with rice and meat. While not a Ukrainian but Georgian dish, if you like dumplings I implore you to try Khinkali, fist-sized soup dumplings served with sour cream or tomato sauce. Kyiv has a whole namesake chain devoted to these fluffy pillows – you’ll love the size and texture. For a slightly more sophisticated but also distinctly Ukrainian meal visit Pache, a chic restaurant on Kostol’na Street. I’m not a dessert person but tried their Napoleon with vanilla patiser and raspberry sauce which was so good I still think about it today (it’s been three months since I visited.)
Many people visit Kyiv as a gateway to see Chernobyl, the scene of a catastrophic nuclear event which took place in 1986. The previously bustling city of Pripyat which was located close to the destroyed nuclear reactor is now a deserted town. When you visit you’ll see desolate supermarkets, decaying homes and creepy kindergarten classrooms replete with toys from the ’80s. It’s not for everyone, but there’s something undeniably interesting about visiting this dark tourism destination. I traveled there for a day trip with Chernobyl Tours who explained what happened on this disastrous day in great detail and also provided information about radiation safety. The trip takes about 12 hours in total and buses go directly from the Kyiv Central Station.
Kyiv might not be the top of most people’s European vacation list but with incredible sites, great dining options and awesome shopping, it really should be.