Bila Tserkva is a small city with a population of approx. 200,000, located around 1 hour’s drive south of Kyiv. For this reason, if you’re looking for a day trip out of Kyiv, or to visit another city without going too far, Bila Tserkva is probably your top choice. Of course there are many bigger and more exciting cities in Ukraine to visit, such as Lviv, Odessa and Kharkiv. But if you like to explore smaller and more authentic cities, you should definitely spare a day for a trip to this charming city.
But what is there to do and see in this small city?
Visit Teras Shevchenko park
You can’t spend any time in Ukraine without getting well acquainted with Teras Shevchenko, Ukraine’s most beloved writer and poet. He’s basically Ukraine’s Shakespeare, and there are monuments, streets, parks, universities and more named after him in every city in Ukraine. Bila Tserkva is no exception, and there’s a nice city park in the centre dedicated to our old friend Teras. Inside the park there are loads of wooden kiosks selling ice cream or mulled wine depending on the season, a rope-park for kids and loads of fairground rides. Some of the fairground rides don’t seem to be in use any more, and all of them are rather old-fashioned and rickety. If you’ve seen the famous abandoned fairground in Pripyat, you’ll recognise the same style of fairground rides which is pretty typical of the Soviet era and can actually be found all over the former USSR. I didn’t fancy a ride on the wobbly old ferris wheel (I’m terrified of heights), but plenty of locals are more than happy to ride on it, and live to tell the tale.
Stroll around the market
There is a huge, typically Ukrainian market in Bila Tserkva during the weekend (it was taking place on Saturday when I visited). It’s not the kind of aesthetically-pleasing market with quaint artisan products that is going to get you Instagram shots, but it is a handy place to buy all sorts of stuff for cheap prices. I strolled around and bought some kitchen utensils that I needed for the house anyway, for cheaper prices than you’d get in a proper shop in Kyiv. Practically anything is on sale here from knock-off clothes and shoes to tools and utensils to plants.
The Saviour’s Transfiguration Cathedral
As with any Ukrainian city, there are plenty of Orthodox churches and cathedrals to stroll around and marvel at. The most famous of all in Bila Tserkva is the Saviour’s Transfiguration cathedral, built between 1833-1839.
I did not enter the church but it does have the impressively decorated, golden interior that’s typical of Orthodox churches and should be seen at least once during a trip to Ukraine.
This cathedral is located in the centre of the city and is easy to find.
Castle Hill – Church of St George, Monument to Yaroslav Mudry, Church of St John the Baptist
If you take a short walk from the centre, you’ll find ‘Castle Hill’ located just beside the river. From here you can get a fantastic view of the river and countryside just beyond the city. The beautiful Castle of St George (pictured below, foreground) is located here, and boasts some very intricate decorative detailing.
On the other side of the road (seen in the background), is the Church of John the Baptist, which is an older, Catholic church built between 1812-1816 which is now mainly used to host concerts and art exhibitions.
While you’re up on the hill, you’ll also see a monument to Yaroslav Mudry, aka Yaroslav the Wise. Like most monuments it’s not worth a long walk to see it specifically, but it just happens to be located right next to the aforementioned two churches and with an amazing view, so it’s definitely a number-one spot to make sure you see.
Take a boat trip on the Ros
Bila Tserkva is located on the Ros river, and if you visit during the warmer months, it’s definitely worth making your way down to the riverside. You can reach the riverside and boats by taking the stairs down from castle hill, right next to the large bridge across the river. There is extensive parkland/forest on either side of the river which is perfect for a stroll, picnic or barbecue and you’ll see many locals doing exactly that.
If you like the idea of exploring the nature around the city a little more from the vantage point of the water, there are boat trips available which take around 1 hour (30 minutes in each direction), for 100 uah per person (at the time of writing).
In true Ukrainian fashion (service providers like to maximise the money they make from any activity they offer), they cram quite a few families and kids onto the boat. But you get a nice tour of the city’s green surroundings, and you can even buy a beer, snack or ice cream on board.
Drink coffee and eat Ukrainian cakes
Of course you can drink coffee in any city, there’s nothing special about that. In fact, it’s an odd curiosity that most countries and cities try to proclaim themselves as particularly coffee-oriented cities, even though a so-called ‘coffee culture’ is pretty much a staple of any European city. But in any case, Bila Tserkva does have quite a few nice tea and coffee shops and cafes, and it’s well worth it to stop at one for a snack and a drink. Especially if it’s a nice day and you can grab a table out on the street.
If you’re visiting Ukraine you should definitely try the cake ‘Napoleon’. It has its origins in Russian cuisine but is nonetheless extremely popular in Ukraine and really delicious.
Eat at my favourite restaurant
There are a few decent choices of where to eat in Bila Tserkva, but I always head for the same place – Veranda. As the name suggests, it’s up on the second floor of a building and has a really nice veranda/terrace which is perfect for sipping your drinks with a great view over the city. I really recommend eating or at least getting a drink here and enjoying the view.
I hope that’s given you enough ideas to fill up a day in Bila Tserkva! Let me know if you visit.