Straddling the shores of the Dnieper River in Northern Ukraine, this modern city of more than 3 million people has long been an important link between Eastern and Western civilizations. Officially founded by Prince Oleg around 880 AD, Kyiv quickly became a thriving city — laying the foundation for the Kyivian Rus civilization. Now, after more than 1500 years of fascinating history, it is one of Europe’s largest cities, and is the cultural, political, and economic heart of Ukraine.
The city’s modern buildings and infrastructure mingle nicely with the innumerable reminders of its rich history.
You can’t go far in Kyiv without running into one of its many historical and cultural landmarks, two of which — Pechersk Lavra and the Saint-Sophia Cathedral — are world treasures protected under the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It’s easy to see why this ancient monastery is one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine. One could spend days exploring its numerous grottoes connected by candlelit tunnels dug deep underground — not to mention the many cathedrals and churches emerging resplendent on top of a wooded hillock, overlooking the Dnieper River. This expansive complex was first built in the 11th century, and continues to be one of the oldest active Christian Orthodox monasteries in the world.
The Saint-Sophia Cathedral
In 1011AD the foundations of this cathedral were first laid, eventually providing support for the stunning golden domes that grace the city’s skyline. The architecture of this cathedral was inspired by the magnificent Hagia Sofia, which is thought to have greatly influenced Vladimir the Great’s decision to be baptized. It’s hard to overstate the historical significance of this building, which is evidenced by the burial of many of Kyivan Rus’s early rulers, only one of whose graves remains to this day — the founder of the cathedral, Yaroslav the Wise.
This is the cultural hub of the city, the place where all kinds of festive events are held: concerts celebrations, and festivals, just to name a few. It’s located in the heart of Kreshchatyk — a busy thoroughfare that transforms into a pedestrian haven on weekends, allowing the city’s many inhabitants to leisurely stroll among street performers like musicians, break-dancers, caricature artists, and mimes.
Kyivians can be seen playing, relaxing, and socializing in their more than 60 parks during most of the year. But it is in spring that the parks really come alive, seeming to explode with life as the chestnut and lime trees begin to bloom. While there are many great parks that dot the city landscape, these are Kyiv’s foremost parks:
- Botanical Garden
- Park Slavy
- Truhanov Island
- Vladimirskaya Gorka
World-class performances of ballet, opera, orchestral music, and drama take place all year round in Kyiv’s 33 theatres and opera houses, with the most famous venues being the Ukrainian National Opera House and the Ivan Franko Drama Theatre.
In addition to these regular performances, Kyiv is fast becoming one of Eastern Europe’s top arts centers. While there are many smaller art galleries containing both International and Ukrainian works, the most famous are the Pinchuk Art Center and the Museum of Modern Ukrainian Art.
For purchasing Ukrainian handicrafts, pottery, and embroidery, Andrievsky Uzviz, Percherska Lavra, and St. Sophia’s church are all great places to go.
As one of the most literate countries in the world, Ukraine takes education seriously. Kyiv boasts many of the country’s top universities, including:
- National Technical University of Ukraine
- Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv
- National Aviation University
- National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy
These schools provide a strong educational foundation that helps explain how Ukraine has amassed such a large population of scientists and IT professionals.
Kyiv’s geographical location has always given easy access to a wide variety of international visitors — some more friendly than others (i.e. Batu Khan). Now, instead of coming overland on mounted horse, most visitors simply choose to come from above, landing in Kyiv’s international airport, Boryspil. The domestic airport, Zhuliany offers flights for those who only wish to fly within Ukraine’s borders.
Once visitors have landed, they can choose from a variety of low-cost, efficient means of travel — subway (metro), marschutkas (routed taxis), buses, trolleybuses, shuttle buses, and of course, taxis. There is even river transport. But with its cheap fares and plentiful stations — one of which, Arsenalna, is the deepest metro station in the world — the subway is by far the most popular way to get around.
Kyiv provides its guests with a wide assortment of hotels, the most notable including the Opera Hotel, Intercontinental Hotel, Hyatt Regency, Premier Palace, Radisson Blue, and the Riviera Hotel.