What to do in Chernihiv, Ukraine

My current mission is to visit all of the cities of Ukraine, big and small, and hopefully report back on this blog about what there is to see and do in each. Obviously cities like Chernihiv are much smaller than the famous cities like Kiev and Odessa, and not on the radar of every tourist to Ukraine, but if you’re here a bit longer and want to explore the country in more depth, read on…

Chernihiv is a small-medium city with a population of around 300,000, located about 2 hours’ drive from Kiev. There’s just about enough to see to keep you busy for a day trip or a relaxed weekend out of Kiev. So, what is there to do and see while you’re there?

Visit St. Anthony Caves

If you’ve visited Pechersk Lavra in Kiev, then you’ll have some idea about what St. Anthony monastery and caves is like. This is a smaller version of the must-see Pechersk Lavra, but still an interesting place to go and explore.

Above ground, you can wander around the various churches and other buildings of the monastery.

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Below ground is a small maze of caves, where you can clearly see the spots where monks were once buried, and in places you can also see ancient bones. There are also several underground churches or altars. You can certainly spend at least an hour walking around the whole site, both above and below ground, for a ticket price of just 25 uah. Incredibly cheap (less than a pound per person). There were several guided tour groups going round, but the tours are only held in Ukrainian, so we just walked around on our own. There is a small amount of information printed in English, just about enough to get an idea of what each part of the network of caves was used for. Definitely a must-see site for any visit to Chernihiv.

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Behind the monastery are the Boldin hills, which offer a really good view of the city. There are also numerous burial mounds, which are quite an unusual sight (I haven’t seen them elsewhere in Ukraine).

Pyatnytska Church and surroundings

Pyatnytska Church is one of many (many!) orthodox churches to be seen around Chernihiv and Ukraine in general. One might say it’s one of the less impressive or less eye-catching churches as it does not have the characteristic gold leaf that so many others do. However, it’s an interesting and good-looking building, set in the middle of a nice city park. The church is very central, located right behind the theatre in the city’s ‘Red Square’. Much of the building was destroyed during the Second World War, but it has been reconstructed to look as original as possible. Inside you can see the typical golden decor and colourful icons of the Eastern European Orthodox Christian tradition, which has to be seen at least once while in Ukraine.

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The statue in the park behind the church is of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who led an uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth in the 1600s, and created a state led by the Ukrainian Cossacks.

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Stroll around the Krasna Ploscha, or Red Square

The ‘Red Square’ might make you think more immediately of Moscow, but it’s also the heart of Chernihiv, too (albeit probably a bit smaller!). In fact it’s actually not really a square, but more like a huge road junction in the middle of the city, disappointingly. Surrounding it are a few nice looking buildings including the theatre. Chernihiv is based around a kind of cross-shaped road structure, with everything essentially leading to this square. From here, in one direction you can find the city’s famous ‘light and music’ fountain (a very popular thing in Ukraine as you will know if you’ve been to the biggest one in Vinnytsia), and in the other you can stroll through a very floral park towards the ‘Val’ or Dytynets park.

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The square is literally the heart of the city and when any events are going on such as markets or festivals, they are very likely to be held here. The park area around the square is really nice to walk around, and there is also a central street leading off the square where you will find most of the city’s best restaurants (more on this later!)…

If you want to make a stop here before strolling around the rest of the city, I really recommend the cafe ‘Sharlotka’, where you can have a fancy pot of tea or a coffee in cosy surroundings with cheap prices. The apple tea which we ordered was delicious.

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Dytynets park / ‘Val’

If you walk straight down through the park from the Red Square, you will come to the park and fortress on the hill. This whole area is a must to visit, as not only is there the remains of the city’s fortress, located right on the river, but there are also four impressive churches all grouped together in a very small area.

First and foremost you will come to St. Catherine’s Cathedral, which is a very typical example of a Ukrainian orthodox church.

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Then you can head on up to the left to explore the fortress area.

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As you walk around the hilltop fortress, you will see that it is surrounded by 12 cannons, dating back to the 13th century, and was once the city’s defensive fortification.

Up here you will also find a huge statue of the very famous and popular Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. Climbing up and getting a photo on the bench next to him seems to be a popular pursuit, and some friendly locals offered to take a picture of us up there too. Shevchenko is synonymous with Ukraine and there’s a statue of him in pretty much every city, but this one is particularly cool.

When you come back down the other side you’ll see the three churches grouped together. The Saviour-Transfiguration Cathedral (below) is actually the oldest church in all of Ukraine.

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Chernihiv Collegium

This amazing building is also located inside the Dytynets park area. If you want to see as much as possible of the city in a short time, then simply head straight down here from the Red Square and you can already see about 80% of the sights of Chernihiv crammed into one area.

The Collegium was founded in the late 1600s as a refectory, and was later used as a type of college for the study of subjects such as philosophy and Latin.

Nowadays there is a small museum inside. The very small permanent exhibition is very cheap but not terribly interesting unless you are really into church history. However while we were there there was an exhibition of ‘crowns of the world’ which we decided to go for since, again, it was very cheap to enter.

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Where to eat?

Most of the city’s best restaurants, especially for tourists, are located right next to the Red Square, and there are a handful of different cuisines to choose from.

We ate at ‘Buba’, a nice Georgian restaurant. If you haven’t tried Georgian cuisine yet, you need to do so asap! It’s probably the most popular cuisine in Ukraine after Ukrainian and Italian.

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So that’s pretty much it for my trip to Chernihiv? Have you visited or would you like to? Comment below!

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