It’s just one month until the final of the UEFA Champions League. Now, I’m the first to admit that I have no interest in football, however I do have a huge interest in the amazing city of Kyiv (or Kiev), where I’ve lived since September last year. So whether you’re heading over for the football and wondering what else to do while you’re here, or just visiting around the same time, read on for some of my tips to make your visit even better!
Arriving in Kyiv
If you fly (which I imagine most people will), then you’ll arrive at one of the two airports – Borispil or Zhulhany.
Borispil is both larger and further away. If you land here, the easiest way to get to the city centre is to jump on the designated airport bus (Sky Bus) which stands right outside the airport – you literally can’t miss it. You’ll need to pay cash, so grab some local currency (hryvnia – uah) from a cash machine at the airport if you don’t already have some. The bus costs 100 uah (about £3), and takes about 50 minutes to reach the Vokzal, or central station. From there you can jump on the metro to your destination.
If you land at Zhulhany, it’s much closer to the city but ironically less well connected. If you speak Russian or are particularly adventurous, you can check out the bus stop. Local buses run to the station from here too, but they’re not designated airport to city buses, so you’ll have to work out for yourself which one to get on and where to get off. I much more strongly recommend that you get an Uber. An Uber to the central station usually costs about 65 UAH (about £2), which is peanuts really, and makes everything much easier if you don’t know your way around.
Getting cash and paying for things
Some places here do accept card (big restaurants and shops), but many places don’t. You’ll have to pay for buses, cafes, kiosks and smaller venues with cash. I strongly recommend taking out at least 1,000 UAH if you’re staying a few days. You can withdraw from the cash machines at the airport, or around the city. Be warned, though, that card cloning does happen here, and not all cash machines are safe. Stick to the larger banks like Privat Bank, Alfa Bank or Raiffeisen, or cash machines that are inside a bank rather than hole-in-the-wall deals. £1 is about 35 uah. Prices here are very cheap compared to the rest of Europe for almost everything, so enjoy!
Internet and phone stuff
If you’re here for more than a day or two and you want to be able to keep in touch with your friends, look up maps and generally check out where to go and what to do, it’s a very good idea to get a SIM card. The two main providers are Life:) and KyivStar. You can either buy a SIM at the airport, or I can recommend the huge KyivStar store in Khreschatik (the main street). The staff there speak English well. You can buy a SIM plus 3 GB data and calls/texts for 130 UAH (KyivStar). This is about £6 total, so you might decide that it’s worth it. European phone providers don’t work in Ukraine, so your only other option is to rely on wifi here and there. It can be done, although I’d personally just get the SIM.
People here use taxis a lot, and compared to most of Europe they are very cheap. But the drivers don’t usually speak English, and there is no way to guarantee you’ll get a fair price. Again, Uber is the best bet for English speakers. But most of the time you’ll be able to get wherever you want to go by metro. Just look for the big green ‘M’s to spot a station. A one way ticket for any distance costs 5 UAH, or 14p. Yes, 14p. You can either pay by beeping a contactless Mastercard (not Visa, as far as I know) on the white card readers (there’s usually one gate at each metro station with a card-reader), or by buying green tokens (called ‘zhetons’) from the window. But it’s much faster and more convenient to use a contactless card.
What (and where) to eat
Ukrainian food is really nice, and definitely worth trying while you’re here. Typical dishes include borsch (beetroot soup with sour cream), varenyky (dumplings stuffed with meat, potato or cabbage), holubtsi (meat and rice wrapped in a cabbage leaf), and of course the chicken Kiev (here it’s called ‘kotleta pa Kyivski’, fyi).
If you want to try some Ukrainian dishes, there are three really great options with different price ranges. For a cheap and easy option, head to Puzata Hata – this is a self-service chain which is all over the place (there is a branch up the road from the stadium and a huge one in Maidan – the central square). You just load up your tray with whatever you want and pay at the end. The chain restaurant Katiusha is also a good bet. They have a huge range of traditional and other dishes, and there are pictures on the menu. If you want to go upmarket, I love Petrus which has a nice outdoor terrace and serves incredible fried Carpathian mushrooms for a starter. It’s a very good place to try varenyky as well.
If you’ve had your fill of varenyky and cabbage, then I really recommend trying Georgian cuisine. It’s very popular in Ukraine and I know why – it’s freaking delicious. I’ve eaten in Georgian places all across Ukraine and always been delighted by the food. I have to shout out here to my favourite of all time – Khinkali, near to Gulliver Shopping mall. Georgian cuisine is something like a mix of Eastern European and Turkish/middle Eastern. Plenty of lamb or beef kebabs, grilled meat, pomegranate seeds, dolma, roasted or grilled vegetables, fish and dumplings (khinkali) with various fillings. Not to forget my favourite of them all, khachapuri – a delicious bread with cheese and egg filling. Khinkali (as mentioned above) does the best khachapuri in my humble opinion, but there are many other places to eat Georgian, notably the new, and super-trendy, kid on the block Mama Manana.
Of course if that stuff doesn’t float your boat you’ll also find lots of Italian, sushi and burger places for a quick and easy meal. There are also plenty of kiosks around the city selling coffee or snacks and fast food.
Where to drink and party
Ukrainians love a drink and there are loads of great and cheap options. If you want a traditional pub, there are plenty around the centre. Porter Pub is a popular chain that’s all over the place. There’s also the obligatory (English-speaking) Irish pub, O’ Brien’s, very near Maidan, which shows sports as well as serving pretty cheap beers. The Golden Gate Pub right opposite Zoloti Vorota station is also quite a good English-speaking pub.
If you’re up for a Kyiv-style night out, there are also loads of bars and clubs to try.
Shooters is a pretty big club with shisha, food, drinks and music, or you can try my favourite club Coyote Ugly, which is based on the movie, with girls dancing on the bar. Also check out Arena Citi right in the centre of Kyiv. It’s a kind of entertainment complex which circles around a central courtyard, with lots of bars and restaurants around the outside, and is popular with locals too.
There are also a huge number of strip clubs, in case that’s your thing.
Check out this more detailed blog post for the low-down on the best bars.
Finally, if you like to smoke shisha you’re in luck as it’s extremely popular, and you’ll find dozens of relaxed outdoor places to smoke just by strolling down the major streets.
What to do and see
The beating heart of Kyiv is Maidan square. Almost any tour of the city should start here, and head down Khreschatik street towards Besserabsky market. Khreschatik street is kind of the Oxford Street of Kyiv, but much more varied and with a better atmosphere. Don’t bother trying to eat here though, as it has the least good and most expensive restaurants. Don’t forget to head underground too, where there are endless tunnels full of shops and kiosks.
From Khreschatik, turn back to Maidan and walk up the road behind the square towards the impressive St Sophia’s cathedral.
From there, head to Andrijivski Descent – a long hill that’s always crammed with stalls selling souvenirs and stuff, with one of Kyiv’s most iconic buildings (St. Andrew’s cathedral) at the top. Right next to it is also the Landscape Alley full of crazy mosaic sculptures.
If you walk down the descent, you’ll end up in Podil, a cool district with lots of restaurants and usually something going on in the main open square. It’s also close to the river, so you might want to cross one of the bridges and check out the river beach, or just crawl the pop-up bars along the right bank. From here, you can ride the Funicular railway up the hill and end up back near St. Sophia, which is an easy walk back to Maidan metro station.
Of course there is much more to see, but that route is doable in a day and will hit all the main sights.
Hit me with any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to help you out! Also let me know if you want any particular recommendations or suggestions.
PS, follow me on Instagram @wanderlustlanguages for loads more insights about this cool city!