The Wayfarer's Book

How To Spend 48 Hours in Kiev

With sights, food, and shopping -- here's how to spend 48 hours in Kiev!

Only have 24 hours? Skip down to the bottom of the post, for my Snapchat story on how to spend just one day in Kiev!

I arrived in Kiev on a cold, rainy day at the end of February. Over the next three months, I watched as last flurries of snow tease at the end of winter, the lilacs burst out to announce spring, and the slow awakening of sidewalk cafes out of winter hibernation. Three months in Kiev, and when I got on the train to head to Budapest, I got uncontrollably weepy. Kiev had changed from a destination to a home. It’s hard to think, what I could recommend for someone breezing through Kiev, except, Stay longer! But I know that’s not possible or typical for many travelers, so I got to work, sifting through my experiences to curate a rather personal list of how to spend 48 hours in Kiev.

(A quick note: In my posts I choose the spelling “Kiev” as that is what most travelers use when researching. However, the transliteration from Ukrainian is “Kyiv,” an important distinction to note.)

Day 1 in Kiev

Ukraine isn’t big on breakfast like the States are, but you need to get up early and eat something hearty, because you’ve got a full day ahead of you. Hop on the metro and head down to Arsenalna, Europe’s deepest metro station. The first stop on your whirlwind 48 hours in Kiev is the holy site Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra. Established in the 11th century, gilded with lots of bling, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most important religious sites for Slavic Orthodox Christians.

48 Hours in Kiev_Lavra Church

But the main draw here is the catacombs. The monks who resided at Lavra used the cold storage method of burying their deceased brothers, and now there’s Mummy IX: Resurrection of the Monks waiting to happen under Lavra’s foundations. I recommend getting a candle before your tour. It’s dark down there.

48 Hours in Kiev_Lavra

Before you leave Lavra, make sure you stop at the Museum of Microminiatures. This is one of my favorite weird museums in the whole world. Created by artist Mykola Syadristy, these tiny works of art are so small you need to look through a magnifying glass to see them. He created a chess set so tiny it fits on the head of a pin. And his delicate gold ship is so well-crafted even modern machinery can’t recreate it. Why did Syadristy decide a worthwhile use of his time was polishing strands of hair and crafting rose sculptures in them? I don’t know, but I don’t judge.

But now, it’s lunchtime. You should make it a priority to tuck into Ukraine’s traditional food, so for lunch I’m recommend borscht and vareniki. There are a few local places you can stop at on the way back to the metro, if you’re starving, but if you can wait I would recommend Varenichnaya #1 (Palats Sportu metro stop). Their tasty traditional fare is complimented by the bright, homey interior. And if you’re inclined to try traditional Ukrainian vodka, this is the place to do it.

To make sure you don’t fall into a food coma after your heavy Ukrainian lunch, the rest of the afternoon is spent walking. Khreshchatyk Street is the spine of downtown Kiev, with lots of shops and restaurants in the area. On Sundays they close it to cars to make it pedestrian-only, making it a fun people-watching promenade. Stop at Lviv Handmade Chocolate for dessert (especially if you don’t have time to visit Lviv on this trip). You’re walking all the way to Maidan, Kiev’s Independent Square. Maidan is like New York’s Times Square, complete with costumed characters. It’s where Ukrainians gather to celebrate and protest. I imagine there’s something powerful about standing up for what you believe under the eyes of the Founders of Kyiv statue. Maidan is where the most recent revolution started, and the trauma from those deadly protests is still palpable.

48 Hours in Kiev_Ukrainian Flag

Take a right to walk along Heroyiv Nebesnoyi Sotni. The street is lined with memorials to those who died in 2014. I’ve heard some of the trees are still scared by sniped bullets. It isn’t an easy walk, but it’s an important one. There’s a lot of doubt and frustration still clouding the Ukrainian political system, but as an American who is disillusioned with her own government, it was inspiring to see that ordinary people still can effect change through extraordinary heroism.

Turn towards the river and head to Mariinsky Park. Here you get a peek into 18th century Russian imperialism, complete with pale blue walls and baroque decoration. Unfortunately you can’t go inside, but you can get a sweeping view of the Dnieper River from the park. If you need a pick me up, stop and get a cappuccino from a barista serving out of a hatchback.

Time to meander back towards the center of town for dinner. Next to Golden Gate, a monument that marks the old walls of Kiev, is Tres Branche. Yes, I’m recommending a French bistro for dinner. Its sophisticated and affordable menu quickly made it one of my favorite restaurants in Kiev. It’s colorful and intimate inside, but if it’s warm enough get a sidewalk table for people watching.

48 Hours in Kiev_Golden Gate With tickets as low as 50 UAH (um, that’s about $2), I must recommend going to the National Opera of Ukraine. The opera has a different performance every night, from opera to ballet to concerts. If the performance is in Ukrainian, you might be lucky enough to get English subtitles.

48 Hours in Kiev_Mykola Lysenko

After the show, it’s time for a nightcap at Kiev’s speakeasy, Parovoz. Walk into the movie theatre and down the stairs for one of Kiev’s most creative cocktail bars. If you’re feeling up a second round and can go for a refreshing walk, Lost & Found is my favorite craft cocktail bar in Kiev, just a bit outside the center. Run by an American-Ukrainian couple, the atmosphere is friendly and the cocktails are delicious.

48 Hours in Kiev_Parovoz

At Parovoz, where drinks come in mugs with metal straws.

Go to sleep. You’re tired.

Day 2 in Kiev

Ready to get back at it?

The first stop this morning is the ousted President Yanukovych’s former estate, Mezhyhirya. Now dubbed a ‘museum of corruption,’ what was once a closed compound is now open to visitors. When Yanukovych fled the country in 2014 and activists took control of the estate, the Ukrainian people were free to wander through the house and grounds. And they did, full of curiosity about the splendor Yanukovych’s corruption had brought him.

Now, the house is closed, but the sprawling grounds are reason enough to visit. From the ostrich farm to the golf course to the pirate boat where Yanukovych would hold meetings (not kidding), the estate is a mind-bending contrast to the Ukrainian pensioners who can barely afford their utilities. You will need to take public transportation or a taxi to get out to Mezhyhirya, but it’s definitely worth the hike.

I forgot my memory card when I went to Mezhyhirya so I have no pictures (arrrghh!), but here’s a BBC clip from right after Yanukovych was ousted. It’s amazing to see the protestors and Ukrainians wandering around the lavish estate. 

For lunch, I’d suggest another round of borscht and vareniki, or go with the dish of the city, chicken Kiev. Chicken stuffed with garlic butter and then fried or baked, yum! Many resturants have a ‘business lunch,’ an affordable two or three course meal that’s served quickly so you can get back to work (or sightseeing!). Or, if you’re looking for something to grab on the go, look for the sidewalk stands selling bread and pastries. The warm flakey gooey Georgian cheesey bread was my favorite afternoon pick-me-up — I never said you were going to lose weight in Kiev.

You’ll have a chance to walk some of it off. Time to check out St. Sophia’s Cathedral, one of Kiev’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I’ve seen a lot of churches in my time, but the 11th-century frescos inside St. Sophia’s are truly spectacular.

48 Hours in Kiev_St. Sophia's

The climb up the bell tower is worth it!

Right down the street from St. Sophia is St. Michael’s Monastery, my favorite building in Kiev. Established in the 12th century, St. Michael’s has been destroyed many times over the years, most recently in 1937 by the Soviets. During the protests of 2013, when police brutality first started in Maidan, the injured and scared protestors sought shelter at St. Michael’s. The monastery became a sanctuary during the following months of protest. As the conflict intensified and the police got more violent, bell boy got permission to ring all the bells in the tower to alert the city to the insidious danger – the first time all the bells had been rung since the Tartars invaded. In 1240.

48 Hours in Kiev_St. Michael's

Come during a religious holiday and see the priest bless the devout by basically dumping them with water.

A short walk behind St. Michael’s is Andriyivskyy Descent, one of the most picturesque curvy streets in Kiev. On a warm weekend day you’ll see dozens of vendors set up with handicrafts and souvenirs. One any day of the week there are several permanent booths with the standard Slavic knickknacks and old Soviet memorabilia. You can even find some cheeky political souvenirs.

Depending on how much time you spend fresco-gazing and shopping, you might have time for the Ukrainian National Chornobyl Museum. If you don’t have time to visit the site itself, the museum will give you an intimate glimpse into the 1986 nuclear disaster.

Dinner is on Andriyivskyy Descent at a popular modern Ukrainian restaurant. Kanapa serves classic dishes and new favorites with flair. Borscht comes in a cabbage bowl and bread is paired with an edible garlic butter candle. Kanapa is no secret, though, so it might be worthwhile to make a reservation.

After dinner, if you can manage the climb back up Andriyivskyy Descent, there’s a nightcap waiting for you at Whisky Corner. With 751 kinds of whisky, this bar isn’t messing around. The route between Kanapa and Whisky Corner will take you past St. Sophia’s and St. Michael’s again, so you can see the stunning buildings lit up at night.

And over your nightcap, you can start planning your return trip to Kiev.

Check out my suggestions in this ’24 Hours in Kiev’ video I made on Snapchat!

Other Suggestions for Kiev

I created the above 48 hours in Kiev guide based on what I think gives a good representation of the city’s history and culture. But there’s loads more to do!

Food and Drink

There are café-bakeries all over the city where you can pick up an easy breakfast. My favorites are Bakefeel, City-Zen, and Boulangerie.

For coffee, you can always pick up a quick cup to-go from a coffee truck or coffee snail. Also, there are these amazing coffee buses converted into cafes scattered around the city. My favorite is the London double-decker parked at L’vivs’ka Square. Blue Cup Coffee is a hip café just off a side street of Khreschatyk Street. One of my favorite places for a cappuccino and a cookie.

48 Hours in Kiev_Coffee Bus

If you want to change things up from traditional Ukrainian food, Il Molino has decent pizza, Kanareyka is a whimsical place for a low-key romantic dinner, and Lyubimy Dyadya (meaning “beloved uncle”) has kick-a Mediterranean food. And if you’re more of a party animal, check out my list of favorite places for craft cocktails in Kiev.

Museums and Culture

Kiev has tons of great museums. I haven’t been to the Great Patriotic War Museum yet but I’ve heard excellent things about it. It’s worth checking out if you’re into WWII and military history. It’s also right underneath the imposing and slightly odd Soviet-era Motherland statue near Lavra. You can also spend hours and hours (and basically no money) at the Pirogov open air museum and the National Botanical Garden.

48 Hours in Kiev_Pirogov

This church is hundreds of years old, located in the middle of a park, and it’s still in use.

Kiev has a pretty strong street art game. The city recently commissioned several artists to create gigantic murals all around the city. Take a walk along Peizazhna Alley for some of Kiev’s quirkiest art.

Get my advice for visiting the whole country on my Ukraine travel page! From Lviv to Kharkiv, the Carpathians in summer and winter, I’ve got you covered for when you visit Ukraine.

General Kiev Tourist Information

The Kiev metro is very easy to use. Tokens cost 4 UAH and can be purchased from a machine or employee at the station. You use the token to get in and need nothing to get out. I used this Kiev metro app to help me get around town.

Taxis can be very cheap in Kiev. The best way to get a taxi is by calling or using an app. I used Uklon most of the time to call a taxi (update: we now have Uber too!). Elite Taxi is also a good service for visitors. Both Elite Taxi and Uklon give you the price estimate when you make the arrangement. If you keep your Uklon driver waiting, you will be charged additionally.

48 Hours in Kiev_Street Art

Wondering about the realities of expat life? Follow me on Snapchat at wayfarersbook!

I felt very safe in Kiev, but as with any big city be on the alert for scams and pickpockets. I had a friend who unfortunately fell victim to a common scam, but keep your wits about you and you should be fine. I never worried about violent crime in Ukraine.

Most people in Kiev speak Russian. It’s always a good idea to learn a few key phrases before you go. Depending on if you stick to the tourist areas or get off the beaten track, you will probably find an English-speaking Ukrainian in bars, restaurants, and cafes 60-75% of the time. Many young people know conversational English, and anyone who doesn’t is still so polite and friendly – people were constantly apologizing to me for not knowing English, while I was trying to apologize for not knowing Russian. But I’ve learned cappuccino is the same in almost every language.

This is my last post about Ukraine for a while. Have I convinced you to come visit? For those travelers who’ve been to Kiev, any suggestions you would add?

With sights, food, and shopping -- here's how to spend 48 hours in Kiev!

Heading to Kiev? Pin this image to remember all my suggestions!

 

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15 thoughts on “How To Spend 48 Hours in Kiev

  1. Dominique

    I’m 100% convinced that I need to check out Ukraine! I was sold a few posts ago, but when I saw your first suggestion on the itinerary: that gorgeous Orthodox Church, I knew I would actually love that city! Thanks for this post, it will be a great reference for people visiting the city!

    1. Amy Post author

      Yay, I’m so glad you’ve become a convert, Dominique! :) And starting in the fall, I’ll be living and working there full-time, so I’ll have loads more suggestions — and I’d be happy to play tour guide for visitors!

  2. Katherine

    You have so many great ideas in the post :) That butter garlic candle- wow!! One of my friends is living in Kyiv now and I’m going to make sure he puts Kanapa on his restaurant list.

    1. Amy Post author

      Kyiv has such an interesting and vibrant food scene! Kanapa was definitely my favorite of the ‘new’ Ukrainian restaurants, but when I head back in September I plan on doing a lot more research. :)

  3. Jaimee

    Kiev has honestly never been on my list but I really, really like this itinerary and if I do ever go, I’ll be sure to use it! I love that you list where/what to eat too, because that’s one of my biggest troubles. I always gravitate towards whatever I find that’s familiar, but it’s so nice to try local when you travel so it’s nice to have suggestions so people like me aren’t completely lost :p

    1. Amy Post author

      Yay, I’m all about trying to spread the good news of Kiev. :) I had zero knowledge of it before I went, and I think that’s what holds a lot of travelers back. And I totally get what you’re saying about food. It actually takes a lot of energy and time to find good places to eat. I used to just grab street food or eat at touristy places, but I’m trying to push myself to find more authentic dining experiences. I actually wrote a whole article about eating local in Mexico for sheswanderful.com.

  4. Josh Bale

    Its fantastic to see someone living the dream.I was hoping to be in Ukraine teaching myself this year.However unforseen circumstances here in the UK have meant i have had to put my plans on hold for a year.I’m delighted i came across your blog and look forward to hearing about your teaching and travels in Ukraine.

    1. Amy Post author

      Josh,
      I’m glad to hear others are considering Ukraine as a teaching option! I honestly hadn’t thought about it at all until I came out here with someone else. I never imagined I’d love it so much I’d ditch my nomadic lifestyle and come settle for a year. I’ll definitely be covering a lot of Kyiv, both on the blog and Snapchat (ummm, there’s a cocktail festival next month. Heck yes), the good and the honest. :) Thanks for stopping by! Let me know if you do make it out here.
      Amy

  5. Russell

    Wow, what a read! Thanks so much for the insight, it sounded like you were able to squeeze in a lot during your visit! We’re heading to the Ukraine next month so you’ve given us a lot to include in our itinerary ?

    1. Amy Post author

      So happy to help! There’s so much to do here it’s hard to cherry-pick the best options for two days. Now that I’m back for a full year, I’m thrilled to dig in deep and get to all of Kiev’s secrets (or as many as I can, not speaking Ukrainian). :)
      You guys let me know if you need any help!

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  8. Beth Petersheim

    Thank you for this helpful info! We are living in Minsk, Belarus for 4 months and want to take a long weekend trip to Kiev soon. We have 4 children (ages 9, 6,4, and almost 1). Do you have any recommendations that the kids might especially like? Or places we should avoid with kids?

    1. Amy Post author

      Hi Beth!

      Minsk, wow! I’ve been meaning to get over there, but I’ve been distracted by all Ukraine has to offer. I apologize for getting back to you late (hopefully these ideas are still helpful), but not having kids myself I had to do some research, aka talk to two local parents. :)

      Kyiv is great for kids in warmer months, for sure — there are some attractions that might be possible if the weather isn’t *too* cold when you come. There are plenty of green spaces, including a nice playground in Taras Shevchenko Park. There’s also Pirogovo, a sort outdoor architectural museum, that’s really nice. There is a zoo on the outskirts of the city the parents recommended, XII Months (*not* the city zoo, which I’ve heard is a bit sad). I’ve also wanted to check out the Kieven Rus Theme Park, which is a model of the ancient Kieven Rus civilization, as well as the State Aviation Museum. Also, Yanukovych’s estate, Mezhyhirya, has a beautiful sprawling grounds with animals and an antique car collection.

      But I bet you’ll be here when the weather is colder. :)

      As for indoor things to do with kids, both parents recommended entertainment centers (aka… malls). Not very cultural, perhaps, but they said it their children love the choices – things like ice skating, roller skating, VR, trampoline centers, etc. The parents recommended checking out Lavina and Dreamtown. They also recommended the Experimentanium (an interactive science museum) and the Paleontological Museum (which I think is part of the National Museum of Natural History). Also, Lavra could be interesting for children — at least the underground part with the tunnels and mummies (you only catch a glimpse of a hand here and there, so they’re not too scary). Also in Lavra is the fascinating Museum of Microminituares, one of my favorite museums in Kyiv. It’s closed on Tuesdays, just as a heads up.

      If you’re around during Christmas, there’s a wonderful little Christmas market they set up between Saint Sophia and Saint Michael’s.

      Many restaurants and cafes have kid-friendly zones. There’s even a rather nice Italian restaurant, Vino e Cucina, that has lots of entertainment for children. In the summer I can see they have employees to play with the kids.

      I hope these suggestions help! And if you like it this time around, maybe you’ll be back in the summer. ☺

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