I know, I know, it’s not Chiang Mai, and it hasn’t quite hit the big league as a digital nomad or remote working destination yet (thankfully for me, as I like it as it is), but Kiev surprisingly has a lot to offer as a location for nomads or remote workers like myself.
Here’s the lowdown on Kiev for travellers or remote workers, so you can make up your mind whether or not to add it to your itinerary.
Cost of living
I thought I’d hit this one right away as this is a big plus for Kiev. Most people who are travelling, backpacking or remote working are looking for affordable cities that are not going to sap their savings or break their budget. Well, Kiev is that city. Cost of life here is much cheaper than anywhere else in Europe and most places in the world. In Lviv I easily lived on £400 a month, here in Kiev it’s more like £650 but we rent quite an expensive apartment.
Here’s a breakdown (prices in pounds, sorry euro fans!):
Metro ticket (one way, any distance): 5 uah = 14p
Bus ticket: 4-5 uah = 11-14p
Half a litre of beer in average place: 30 uah = 82p
A meal in Puzata Hata (Ukrainian self-service chain): approx. 100 uah = £2.70
A dinner for two with drinks in a nice place: approx. 800 uah = £21.90
There are a variety of ways to get accommodation in Kiev, in a variety of locations and at a huge range of prices.
For a short stay, decent hostels and basic hotels can be as cheap as £8 a night.
For a medium-term stay of less than 3 months I recommend Airbnb. Of course you’re not going to get the same prices as locals do for an apartment, but by Western standards they’re still cheap. You can get a 1-2 bedroom apartment in a fairly central zone for £400-600 a month.
For a long-term stay of 6 months to a year or more, you can look into renting. HOWEVER if you need a posvidka or residence permit, you also need to get an official stamp to show you’re renting, which means you need an official contract. These are much harder to come by, and you’ll likely be forced into renting a rather expensive place to be sure of getting a proper contract. Our apartment is huge and still cheap by UK standards, but pretty expensive by Ukrainian standards. Unless your Russian is great, you’ll need to go through an English-speaking agency and as you might guess, that costs money…
There are lots of areas I could recommend to stay in. If you want to be very central look around the Khreschatik, Teatralna and Zoloti Vorota metro stations. However I recommend to just go 1-2 metro stops out as you’ll save money, get a better place and avoid potential mayhem around Maidan on big occasions. I live around the Vokzal (train station) area which is affordable and full of cool restaurants and entertainment. Alternatively, Podil is a very trendy and cool up and coming area which attracts quite a few expats and is still in the middle of the action.
I can’t comment on the visa situation for all countries, but for UK or EU citizens, you can stay in Ukraine for up to 3 months with no visa at all. This makes it a very good choice for anyone wishing to do a few weeks or few months stay.
Wifi and SIMs
I have internet, calls and texts on my phone with KyivStar, one of the major operators here. Coverage is good and it’s cheap, 70 uah a month (under £2). What’s not to like? You can get a free SIM by dropping into the big branch on Khreschatik where they speak some English. You top the SIM up at any of hundreds of machines around the city. Once you’re on a contract you just add the correct amount each month, plus a few uah extra to cover fees and your contract renews automatically. Stop paying and the contract simply stops. It’s perfect for short stays.
Wifi tends to be very good in all the apartments I’ve stayed in (lots!). In public places it’s mixed. I’ll get on to good workspaces in another section.
Social life and expat scene
I’m not really one for digital nomad and expat groups, but everyone needs to meet people when they’re in a new places. Here are some of my preferred options in Kiev.
Facebook groups: If you search Facebook you’ll find a handful of expat or meetup groups for foreigners in Kiev. There are a good few expats here, many teaching English or working for embassies, with people from all over the world, speaking a range of languages. People from the group often organise events and there’s always something to do.
Couchsurfing. Let’s say I and my friends have had mixed results with this group, but they do organise some events which you can go to, or you can contact locals directly and maybe make a few friends. I’ve met lots of Ukrainians via CS, so I can’t knock it.
Can you meet people just by hanging out? Maybe. I find that co-working spaces here are less for networking and more for locals working on projects, and I don’t think they’re a good way to meet people. Ditto that when you go out and about, most people will be locals who may not speak your language, and may not seem very friendly at first. Ukrainians tend to seem a little closed off when you first meet them, although they are often lovely when you get to know them a bit. It’s not one of those countries where you easily meet loads of friends at a bar (or maybe some people do, who knows. Just my impression).
If you’re a digital nomad or remote worker, you probably also need to do some work while you’re here. Of course you can probably work from your apartment or hotel, but it may be that you want to get out, potentially meet up with other remote workers and have a change of scenery.
These are some of my favourite working spots:
Циферблат (Ziferblat), near Zoloti Vorota metro
My favourite first. Here you pick up one of a selection of fancy old clocks and present it to the receptionist, who will register it to your name. It then counts up how long you spend and you pay at the end. I usually end up spending about 100 uah (£2.70) for the afternoon. After 4 hours it becomes free anyway.
The price includes tea, coffee, biscuits and toast as well as wifi, power and cool, comfy chairs and tables. There’s also a piano, games and blankets, and they hold events here too.
Часопис (Chasopys), near Lva Tolstogo metro
This is another trendy and comfy workspace in a central location. It does a variety of price plans, with a day pass costing 175 uah (£4.80) or a month for around £100.
You get free tea and coffee and some biscuitty snacks included.
You can of course also work in one of many cafes. Good choices include:
OneLove Coffee: This uber-trendy and artsy cafe is up on the 6th floor of the Pinchuk Art Centre in super-central Besserabsky. It has good free wifi and great coffee, cakes and food, and will make a nice Instagram picture too.
Koritsa: This cosy and hip cafe near Olimpiska metro has plenty of space (especially upstairs) with comfy sofas, power sockets, wifi and spacious tables, making it a great choice for working for a few hours. The food is also pretty good, although not the cheapest around.
Food in Kiev is worth another article on its own. I recently wrote a post about where to eat vegan and vegetarian food in the city, but in general food is very cheap and there are just hundreds of great places to eat.
Пузата хата (Puzata Hata, the Ukrainian self-service chain) – it’s everywhere and insanely cheap. Grab a tray and pile it high with borsch, buckwheat porridge, beetroot salad, chicken kievs and traditional drinks for a few pounds at most.
Катюша (Katiusha) Another typical Ukrainian chain with traditional food that’s also available all over the city. It has a quaint and kitschy Soviet-style interior and lots of food options with pictures on the menu.
Мама Манана (Mama Manana) A great Georgian restaurant with a few branches around Kiev, where you can try the food that all Ukrainians are obsessed with, from the neighbouring Georgia. Khachapuri (amazing cheese bread), grilled vegetables, aubergine rolls, amazing salads and lots of pomegranate seeds…
Nightlife and entertainment
There’s so much to do in Kiev that it’s impossible to be bored. There are bars and clubs to suit every taste, endless restaurants and lots of cheap activities.
Caribbean Club – A big and popular club where you can dance salsa. Not far from the station.
Coyote Ugly Kiev – A quite frankly ridiculous club based on the awful American movie, where you can dance on the bar and drink yourself silly for very little money. Yes it’s a bit kitschy but I have had very fun nights here.
This is Пивбар – I think there’s more than one of these but I’ve been several times to the one in Obolon. It’s a chilled out beer pub where you can get a row of five mini beers from different countries to try.
RockFellow210 – My favourite summer hangout. This bar between St. Sofia and Maidan always has loads of beanbags outside in summer so you can lounge while you smoke shisha and drink.
Al Kaif, Shota Rustaveli – It’s nothing special, but this is my favourite winter hangout. It’s a middle eastern restaurant, where you can get OK food, with a lot of choice of drinks including mulled wine, and shisha. I love to hang out a few hours here with a game, a hot drink or beer and a shisha on the comfy seats. It’s also very cheap.
Parovoz SpeakEasy – This is supposed to be a secret bar, and actually I would never have found it if a Ukrainian friend hadn’t taken me. It’s hidden inside the cinema by Lva Tolstogo and is a nice cocktail bar for a stylish drink.
Dogs & Tails – Kind of a mix between a fancy hot-dog joint and a cocktail bar, it’s good for a casual party evening out. It’s generally very busy and they sometimes have live music and dancing.
Gulliver, next to Palats Sportu metro – Yes it’s a shopping mall, but on the top floor there is a huge bowling club where you can play a couple of rounds and have a beer while you play.
Culture and sightseeing
Ukraine has lots of amazing culture to discover, and Kiev is simply crammed full of great sights, most of which are dirt cheap to visit.
You can also head out to other cities of Ukraine such as quaint and beautiful Lviv, Odessa to enjoy the beach in summer, or even Chernobyl for a day trip if you’re the curious type.
In Kiev itself, there are many cool sights to see, including:
Maidan Square: This is the centre of everything in Kiev and there’s always something going on. It was also the centre of the Maidan revolution in early 2014, where this iconic square and the neighbouring Khreschatik street were transformed into a warzone. These days there are often exhibits, protests and events here. At weekends Khreschatik street is pedestrianised and you can stroll down this huge central street and check out all the shops and monuments.
Pechersk Lavra: This simply stunning, golden-domed monastery is a must-see. With several buildings, tunnels, gardens and more, you can spend half a day wandering around this site.
Rodina Mat: The motherland statue. Sure, a statue, you might think. Great. Well Rodina Mat is not just your run of the mill statue. In fact it’s bigger than the Statue of Liberty in New York, and was once the biggest in the world. You can go right up into the hand if you have a head for heights and get the best view in all of Ukraine.
These are just a few of the sights and things to do in Kiev. You seriously can’t get bored here, even if you stay a few months.
Climate and weather
Ukraine has a continental climate with hot, dry summers and the stereotypical harsh, cold winters.
What time of year is the best to visit Kiev? Well that depends on your taste really. I like it at all times of year. In winter you might get heavy snow which is quite characteristic if you like that sort of thing. It gets cold (down to about minus 20), but not that much worse than elsewhere in central Europe. Nothing too crazy. Ukraine has nice warming foods, plenty of cheap alcohol and lots of places to go out, so you can definitely have a good time in winter. On the other hand, things really come alive in summer with pop up kiosks everywhere serving traditional drinks and food, beach bars by the river, tonnes of events and parties and a great mood everywhere. You can eat and smoke outside every restaurant and the weather will be great most days.
In my opinion Kiev is great at all times of the year, so decide based on your own preference.
Ukraine has two official languages: Ukrainian (as you’d expect), and Russian. But which one should you speak? Well, the answer isn’t all that simple and everyone you speak to will give you a different answer.
Many people will say Ukrainian is the true native language of Ukraine and that that’s the one you should learn. I won’t argue that there is some value in learning Ukrainian and that a certain number of Ukrainians do speak it (the number varies by city). However, I do not find that Ukrainians around my age group speak it very well, or that they use it day to day as a mother tongue. This may be controversial and I’m sure someone will contradict me in the comments, but I have plenty of Ukrainian friends and acquaintances who say they do know Ukrainian but don’t speak it anywhere near as well as Russian.
Day to day, the language I hear on the streets in Kiev is Russian. Russian is also a more widely spoken language and likely to be more useful to you if you travel more widely rather than staying just in Ukraine. I personally chose to start learning Russian (although I know some bits and bobs in Ukrainian too, just in case), as I think it will simply be more versatile and useful in the long run.
If you speak just a little Russian, you’ll get along fine.
Can you get around with just English? Sure, these days the level of English in Kiev is getting better and better. However you’ll be a little restricted to the more central areas, as English is not as widespread as it is in most other countries. Outside the centre you may not find restaurants with English menus, and a lot of people you meet might speak English badly or not at all. You also won’t be able to read the majority of signs and information. I recommend to at least learn a few phrases and to read, to make your life much easier.
Would you consider Kiev as a destination? Let me know in the comments!