To write a short Kiev guide is an idea which can confuse anybody. During its 1,500 history Kiev has accumulated so many treasures, that every time you visit the Ukraine capital you’ll discover something completely. Cities are like people, each one has its own unique character and charm. You simply have to see Kiev with your own eyes to feel its unforgettable beauty.
Kiev is an extraordinary city. Perhaps there are not too many cities in the world which would have so many historical and cultural monuments like Kiev has with all its churches, theaters, museums, monuments, concert halls, and so on. The same old story – so many places to see, but so little time. Let’s do it one step at a time. This page of our Kiev guide is about its downtown area.
The central part of Kiev is the oldest, most visited area by tourists, and perhaps the most interesting part of Ukraine’s capital. It is impossible for any Kiev guide to miss this place.
Let’s take a stroll under the huge chestnut trees that line the streets of Kiev. We’ll start at Bessarabska Square, the closest metro to which is Teatralna. This is the very end of the Khreschatyk Street – the most famous and one of Kiev’s busiest streets.
Khreschatyk Street is much younger than Kiev itself. The first buildings appeared there at the end of the 18th century. The area was once one of the favorite hunting places of Kiev princes and has since become a place of popular stores and restaurants, the freshest news and active social life.
The entire street was completely destroyed by the retreating Red Army during World War II and rebuilt in the neo-classical style of post-war Stalinist architecture that rises like sheer carved canyon walls. The street is closed for automobile traffic on weekends which turns the area into a large outdoor party place. Thousands of people come to have a good time in the nearby restaurants, clubs and outdoor cafes.
Any decent Kiev guide would suggest you visit the Bessarabsky central covered market that is located here and was built in 1910-12. The market has a large selection of fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat, seafood, fish, caviar, spices and fresh flowers. You can make a great breakfast while shopping here, and no store can compete with their variety and prices.
The market is worth a visit even if you don’t like shopping. It is a lot of fun and will make for a unique Kiev experience. The market is open from 8am to 7pm. If shopping at the market, bring some bags as many vendors won’t supply you with any.
After a 5-minute walk from Khreschatyk, there is a park named after the famous Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko. Across the street directly facing the Taras Shevchenko Statue, you will see the beautiful red building of Kiev’s Taras Shevchenko National University.
Take a right onto Volodymyrskaya Street. Any Kiev guide would agree that none of Kiev’s streets has as many historical and cultural monuments as Volodymyrskaya Street. On this street you will see;
The Taras Shevchenko University.
The Taras Shevchenko Opera and Ballet House.
The Golden Gate.
The Saint Sofia Cathedral.
The National Museum of Ukrainian History.
Having crossed Bohdan Khmelnytsky Street, you’ll find yourself in front of the Taras Shevchenko State Opera and Ballet Theater. The theater was built during 1898 – 1901, according to the project of architect V. A. Shreteron, on the site of the pre-revolutionary municipal theater which burned down in 1896.
The theater is noted for the great acoustics of its auditorium. Cane and slabs of cork-tree were set in the walls to gain such effect. In the 1980s, vast reconstruction works were carried out at the theater. As a result the exterior and the interior of the ancient building were renovated, and the theater was supplied with the latest equipment.
Much of the theater’s creative efforts are concentrated on productions of classical Ukrainian and Russian operas and ballets. Ukrainian opera singers and ballet dancers are and always have been among the most talented in the world. Therefore they can be found performing in many ballet and opera companies around the world.
Information about the theater’s performances and online tickets purchasing can be found at the National Opera and Ballet Theater official website (mouse over text). Ticket prices range from about 50 to 400 Hryvnia ($2.00 to $20.00) per performance and are available at the theatre box – offices or you can order e-tickets on-line (mouse over text).
Continuing past the Opera Theater, after a several blocks of walking, you’ll reach the Golden Gate, a reconstruction of the historic gateway in the ancient city walls of Kiev. This gateway was constructed by Yaroslav the Wise, Prince of Kiev, in the mid-eleventh century. In 1240 the Golden Gate was partially destroyed by Batu Khan’s Golden Horde. Through the years the gate gradually fell into ruins.
However, in 1832 the ruins were excavated and an initial survey for their conservation was undertaken. In the 1970s an adjacent pavilion housing a museum of the gate was added. In 1982, the gate was completely reconstructed for the 1,500th anniversary of Kiev. Although there is no solid evidence as to what the original gates looked like.
Continue along Volodymyrska and you’ll come to Sophievskaya Square. The Square has been considered to be the public and trade-economical center of Kiev since the period of Yaroslav’s the Wise reign (1019-1054). In the middle of the square is the equestrian monument to B. Khmelnytsky, this monument is a peculiar emblem of Kiev.
Next to the monument the impressive 250ft campanile is located. Behind the white wall, shining in the sun, the golden domes of St. Sophia’s Cathedral can be seen. The complex now remains a museum of Ukraine’s Christianity. You can read more about the Cathedral of Saint Sophia at the Kiev churches page.
After leaving St.Sophia’s Cathedral, go to the monument to B. Khmelnytsky and take a look around. Here you will see more golden domes not too far (only 3 blocks away) from the monument. These domes belong to St. Michael’s Golden Domed Cathedral. More information about St.Michael’s Cathedral you will find at Kiev churches page as well.
If at this point you are not yet tired, you can continue your way to European Square. This is the place where Khreschatyk Street begins. Two more streets, Vladymyrsky Decent to Podil area and Grushevsky Street meet each other here. Another choice to reach European Square is “Khreschatyk” or “Maidan Nezalezhnosty” metro stations.
There are two particularly interesting buildings located in European Square. The big building made of glass and light marble is “The Ukrainian House”. It is always hosting exhibitions, concerts, cultural, and business meetings. On the opposite side of the Square you will see the Kiev Philharmonic.
Kiev Philharmonic is known for the finest recordings and concerts in every major city in Europe, Asia, and the United States.
Two more famous Kiev Monuments – Volodymyr the Great’s Monument and The Friendship Arch can be reached from the European Square. Independence Square(Maidan Nezalezhnosty) is located one block west from the European Square.,
Independence Square is the city’s main square and one of the most popular places for meetings and dates. Therefore it is always full of life, crowds, and action.
Now your Kiev guide invites you to find a more quiet place. Let’s go up to Architect Horodetsky Street past the Kiev Conservatory building, the famous Ukrainian theater named after Ivan Franko and continue up to Bankova Street.
Building #10 on Bankova Street is the famous Horodetsky Building. Perhaps any Kiev guide will tell you some scary legend about this building. It was built by the well-known architect and extravagant person Vladislav Horodetsky, as a private residence in 1902.
The walls and the roof of the structure are decorated with intricate sculptural ornaments of mythological and hunting themes. There is an art gallery “Ukraine” in this building. Even if you arem’t going to buy anything there, it is still worth a visit. The interior of the building is as whimsical as its exterior. You’ll just have to see for yourself.
Now it is time to visit Andriyivsky Uzviz (Decent ), the shortest route between the aristocratic Upper Town and the tradesmen’s town, Podil. Your Kiev guide suggests you go back to Khreschatyk Street and take a metro ride to “Pochtovaya Square” station. Right by the metro exit you will see the funicular (cable car) station. Take a short, about 2 minute, ride and enjoy a magnificent panorama of Kiev and the Dnipro River that uncovers from the funicular.
Andriyivsky Uzviz starts right behind the Historical Museum located at 2, Vladymyrskaya St. Open daily from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m., but closed on Wednesday’s. Phone: 228-65-45
At the very top of Andriyivsky Descent you will see St. Andrew’s Cathedral. From the Cathedral the steep Andriyivsky Descent runs down to Podil. The street has some special spirit. It is lined with galleries, antiques stores and artist studios in late 19th-century brick buildings. For this reason the street is usually crowded, especially on weekends.
From the early morning numerous artists hang their pictures, sculptures, and souvenirs on the walls, arrange them on the shelves or just on the lawns. You can watch improvised performances given by actors, musicians, poets or other people posing for artists. Certainly there are a lot of talented people over there.
Halfway down the street is the house where Russian novelist and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov grew up, and the house is now the Mikhail Bulgakov museum. Bulgakov’s best known novels are “The Master and Margarita”, “The White Guard”, and “Heart of a Dog”.
Now our downtown Kiev excursion is over. You worked hard during the day and deserve a good rest at some pleasant outdoor place if the weather is fine. If the weather’s poor, Kiev has a lot of activities to offer with its theaters, concert halls, night clubs, restaurants, and more.
While this page took you to many interesting places, as I mentioned earlier the city has an extremely rich historical and cultural past. You have to spend days in Kiev to visit at least the most interesting part of it.