Kiev is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Part of the former USSR, Ukraine only became independent on 24th August 1991. Founded in 482 by three brothers (Kyi, Shchek, Khoriv) and their sister (Lybid), Kiev was once known as the city of churches. Unfortunately during the Soviet times many of these churches were destroyed.
Kiev has a turbulent history which goes back further than the Soviet times. During the invasion of the Mongols nearly eighty percent of Ukrainians were killed or sold as slaves. You can visit the Southern City gates that the Mongols once entered back in 1240.
Nowadays Kiev is an exciting city that is quite young in terms of its own identity. It’s a great destination to explore as a solo. I spent five days in the capital in November 2017. Here are my recommendations for things to do in Kiev as a solo.
1. Lavra in Kiev
This is one of the most stunning sights in Ukraine. If you are only in Kiev for a few days make sure that this is on the top of your solo itinerary. The Lavra was founded in 1051 by the Greek St Antony and is located above the Dnipro River. It is a large complex of churches and monasteries and is a mecca for pilgrims who come to kiss the tombs of the mummified saints who lay within the catacombs of the grounds.
Inside the grounds are the Holy Trinity Church, St. Nicholas Church, the All Saints’ Church and the Conception of St Anne Church. To enter the grounds you have to be covered and are given a piece of material to wrap around you as a skirt.
Under the complex is a tunnel system where relics of Lavra Saints lay in 170 coffins. There are two different ways through the tunnels, one exclusively for the priests and one the local way. The walk through the tunnels can get warm as you hold a candle lighting the way and follow the people in front. Some of the bodies are embalmed and according to my guide, if the body turns into a skeleton then he was a sinner.
It’s worth exploring the whole of the complex and visiting the Refectory Church. Inside you’ll be greeted by an elaborate-style dining room where the monarchs used to be served dinner. The room is so regal that people even get married here.
For the best view of the Lavra complex climb the bell tower to the viewing platform at the top. There are hundreds of stairs so you do need to have a good level of fitness.
Lavra Tour – I took a private tour of Kiev Pechersk Lavra. With your guide you learn more about the complex, its history, and get to explore the caves and discover the Saints under the ground. Prices from £27 per person. Check availability here
2. St. Sophia Cathedral and St. Michael's Monastery
St. Sophia Cathedral is simply stunning. This golden-domed Orthodox cathedral is Kiev's oldest standing church and was the first site in the country to become UNESCO listed. Constructed in 1037 by Prince Yaroslav (who is buried inside), the cathedral is now partly a museum as well as a place of worship. Inside are mosaics and frescoes dating back to the 11th century and a 6 metre statue in the altar. You can also see small models of Kiev as it looked before the early 13th century. Climb the 76 metre-high bell tower to see Sofiivska Square below.
Can be found: 24 Volodymyrska Street (near metro Zoloti Vorota)
Price: 50 UAH (£1.50)
Opening times: 10am – 5pm every day except Thursdays
Time needed: 2 hours
St Sophia Cathedral – If you prefer to take a guide to learn more about the cathedral, this tour includes entrance tickets including the bell tower and the House of Metropolitan. You also get to visit St. Michael's Monastery. This monastery was destroyed by the Soviets in the early 20th century. It has since been restored and operates as an Orthodox monastery for men. Prices from £18 p/p. Check availability here
3. Museum of Miniatures
I love this museum. Unique and quirky the Museum of Miniatures is a collection of microart by Ukrainian artist Mykola Syadristy. The museum has the world’s smallest book, and a set of chess that is tiny enough to fit on the top of a pinhead! Each piece of art is so tiny that you have to look through a microscope glass as they aren’t even visible to the naked eye. You honestly would never have seen anything like this before. It's a must-see.
Can be found: Inside the Lavra complex at: корпус 5 9, Lavrska St
Price: 50 UAH (£1.50)
Opening times: 9am – 6pm every day except Tuesdays
Time needed: 1 hour maximum.
4. See The Mother Statue
Called The Motherland Monument, this giant monument was built to honour all the heroes of the Soviet Union. It is even more impressive close up as you look up at the 340 feet of stainless steel to see the ‘mother’ with her 16 metre sword and shield displaying the USSR emblem.
Construction took 3 years and there is an observation deck where you can get a birds-eye view of the city. The monument is part of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War which took place in 1941 to 1945. Just look for a giant statue and follow! It’s not just Ukraine that has one either, as there’s one in both Georgia and Armenia too.
Kiev Soviet Tour – Discover more about the Soviet legacy of Kiev with a tour that includes the Motherland Monument and the Museum of History in WWII. The tour last 3 hours and costs from £25 p/p. Check availability here
5. Take a Chernobyl Tour
If you were born before 1986, chances are that you’ll remember the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. On 25th April 1986 during an experiment at the power plant, an explosion occurred at reactor number 4 releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere. It was declared the world’s worst nuclear disaster and the actual figure of those affected by the disaster still remains unknown.
It may sound like a sombre thing to do but visiting this dark tourism site is an intriguing insight into the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster and definitely educational. There is no danger of radioactivity either. You’ll watch documentaries on the two hour journey there and back and get a chance to have lunch in the same canteen as the power plant workers. The tour also includes a visit to the ghost city of Pripyat and the iconic ferris wheel.
Chernobyl Tour – I visited Chernobyl as part of a group. Tours take approximately 11 hours and provide transport to and from the zone from Kiev. The guides are really informative and give you an amazing insight into the Chernobyl Nuclear Zone and its history. Prices start from £60 for the full day. Check availability here
6. Get Lucky
Ukrainians are a superstitious nation so if you see someone rubbing noses with a statue it’s because they believe it brings them luck. There are so many monuments dotted around the city such as the tree of wishes – a tree which is adorned in eggs, apples and a hen. As legend has it, if you touch the apples you will stay young and beautiful. Touch the hen and you will be rich. If it’s good enough for the Ukrainians it’s worth a shot!
Another popular monument is the frog, where you put a coin inside and under its nose for luck. My favourite (although this one isn't meant to bring luck) is the eternal love sculpture which depicts the love story between as Italian soldier and a Ukrainian woman during WWII. Be prepared to be emotionally moved.
Can be found: Frog monument and eternal love sculpture at Mariinsky Park. Tree of wishes at Kreshchatiy Park.
Opening times: 24 hours for both parks
Time needed: 30 minutes each monument depending on how lucky you want to be 🙂
7. Taste the Cuisine – Restaurants in Kiev
Whichever type of cuisine you are into, you’ll find a diverse range in the capital from Georgian and Asian restaurants to European and American classics. You'll find pop up sandwich bars too. The restaurants around the city centre can be a bit touristy so expect to pay a bit more but you do get to see the traditional costumes and taste authentic cuisine. Potato varenyky (potato dumplings) and cabbage borshch (a purple dish) are amongst the Ukrainian classics.
The Kitchen 21 is one of the newest restaurants in the city and offers a gourmet culinary menu in modern surroundings. If you want to experience the high life of Kiev, you can’t get better food than this.
For the party Girl about the Globes Shooters is one of the best clubs in Ukraine. They have ladies night every Wednesday and Sunday where there is the chance of free alcohol just for women. There’s a sushi restaurant which doubles up as a karaoke bar, a ‘speak easy bar’ with a piano player or a club where you can strut your stuff on the dance floor.
If you don't feel comfortable going out alone in the evening join one of these tours:
Kiev Gastro Tour – Taste Ukrainian cuisine at four traditional restaurants whilst sampling homemade liqueurs. You also get to visit the famous Bessarabsky Market. Prices from £27 p/p. Check availability here
Accommodation in Kiev
I stayed at Podolski Hostel which was more of a hotel in a residential building. It wasn’t very central but was near to the metro so it was still easy to navigate around the city. A huge double room with a shared bathroom cost me $38 for 2 nights. If you are happy staying alone then I recommend it but if you would prefer accommodation where you can meet people then Yak Olympic Hostel is a good option. This was my second choice as it has great reviews from other solo travellers.
Getting Around Kiev
Kiev has a really easy metro system which has signs for all lines and stations in Ukrainian as well as English. The lines make it easy to navigate your way around the city. Most of the stations are really deep underground so expect to be sat on an escalator for a few minutes as you go down the station. Just buy a plastic token from the counter and hand over a 2 UAH coin. You don't even need to ask for a token as they will know you what you want when you hand over the coin. Each token is for one way. Check metro lines here
Travelling to Kiev
I travelled to Kiev on a Soviet train from Odessa on the Black Sea in Ukraine. The train departed the train station in Odessa at 22.25 and arrived at 07.10 in Kiev. It cost £12.00 for a 2nd class carriage which I booked through Booking.uz.gov I had a top bunk and shared the carriage with 3 other people.
How good is Kiev for solos? I really like Kiev. There is so much to see here and I felt safe walking around during the day. Taxi drivers don’t have the best reputation so use Uber or take the metro instead (which is easy to figure out). If you can speak Ukrainian or Russian it makes getting around easier but I had no problems with just English.
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