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Note: Because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I don’t currently recommend traveling to this destination. I stand with Ukraine.
Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Kyiv. Some readers may be surprised to hear that I am recommending spending 24 hours in Kyiv. After all, Ukraine’s capital is mostly in the news because of the war with Russia or because Ukraine elected a television personality as its new president.
First of all, as an American I don’t have anything to say about either electing television personalities as presidents or being at war. And secondly, Kyiv is a charming city with an excellent arts scene and a thriving youth culture. I guarantee if you spend 24 hours in Kyiv, you’ll like it just as much as I do!
24 Hours in Kyiv
Where to Stay?
As a solo traveler, when I visit an unfamiliar city, I choose a hotel with a friendly staff that will help me if any unexpected problems come up. That’s why I recommend Sunflower B&B for your 24 hours in Kyiv. The rooms are comfortable and affordable, and the hotel is in a good safe location. But more importantly, the staff was so helpful getting me to the airport when I had a fairly early flight. They arranged for the taxi, and they fixed a breakfast “to go” for me for no extra charge. I’m sure you’ll have a good time here too!
24 Hours in Kyiv
What to Pack?
The weather in Ukraine can be rainy. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Ukraine.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out and about without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or UK plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Kyiv
Morning: Explore Kyiv
Kyiv is a large and historically crucial city. Unlike its southern neighbor, Odessa, Kyiv is quite old. In fact, it dates back to the 5th century. So you’ll want to begin your 24 hours in Kyiv by going exploring! I was traveling with a large group, so we had a private guide take us around the city. But it will be almost as easy for you to find the main sights in Kyiv on your own. Allow me to help you out with…
approximately top 5: 24 hours in Kyiv
1) independence square
Independence Square is one of the most important places in Kyiv. That’s because the 2014 Revolution in Ukraine started here. Our guide was a local, and she was actually present at the protests. She explained that the protests began because the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was considered to be too close to Russia. The anger at Yanukovych came to a head when he refused to sign an agreement with the European Union, preferring closer ties with Russia.
Yanukovych responded to the protests as you would expect a corrupt politician to do…by having his soldiers fire into the crowd at the protesters. However, the protesters did not give up, and eventually Yanukovych stepped down and fled the country to Russia. I think if he was trying to convince people he didn’t have uncomfortably close ties with Russia, this didn’t really help his case. Our guide told us people used to call him “Putin’s Puppet”. (I assume he responded “No puppet! You’re the puppet!” only in Ukrainian.)
2) golden gate
I can see you squinting at my picture above. (Well, I can see it with my mind’s eye.) Why is this building above called the Golden Gate? It is not even slightly gold. Well, this golden gate is a recreation of the gate that used to protect the walls of Kyiv back when it was a medieval city. Some think that there was a golden dome on top of the original Golden Gate, and that’s how it got it’s name. But the medieval Golden Gate was destroyed and no one is exactly sure what it looks like.
This modern Golden Gate was built in 1982, which I’m pretty sure makes it a Millennial Gate. Some snooty snootersons don’t think it should have been built because there’s no way to know if it’s historically accurate or not. Let’s just call it the “Medieval” “Golden” “Gate” and say it’s a very modern ironic commentary on national identity. That should make everyone happy.
3) if wishes were horses…
If there’s one thing I learned about Ukrainians during my 24 hours in Kyiv, it’s that they seem to like making wishes. Take this cat statue near the Golden Gate. Apparently it is in honor of a kitty that used to live in a neighboring restaurant. How sweet! We should make statues for pets more often. People decided this cat was lucky, and now they like to make wishes while touching the cat’s tail. I do not recommend doing this with a live cat unless your wish is to be horribly disfigured.
If you prefer lucky hedgehogs, say hello to this fellow. Apparently citizens of Kyiv prefer to dress this hedgehog up in cute little outfits. Well it makes just as much sense as the Mannekin Pis in Brussels.
4) st andrew’s church
At this point, if you are a dutiful nerd, you are probably wondering how Kyiv was founded. Well, legend has it that the city was foreseen by St. Andrew. Apparently he was passing through the area in the 1st century, as wandering saints tended to do, and he had a vision that one day a great city would be located on this spot. Now, he didn’t actually found the city, as that didn’t happen for several more centuries. But he is credited with visualizing Kyiv, and Oprah has told us all about the power of visualization.
The gorgeous green church above is dedicated to Saint Andrew. As you can guess if you’ve been to St. Petersburg, Russia, it was designed by the same architect who designed the Winter Palace. Unfortunately it’s not open to the public, but you can wander around the outside and take as many pictures as you want.
If you prefer shopping to churches, don’t miss the little craft sellers located right next to St. Andrew’s. You can get anything from paintings to clothing. I bought a handmade knitted flapper-style hat, and every time someone gives me a compliment, I always wave my hand and say, “Oh this old thing? I bought it in Kyiv.” Then everyone rolls their eyes because they’re just jealous.
5) st michael’s church
If you’re looking for a church that also looks like a giant cupcake but you can actually go inside, look no further than St. Michael’s Monastery. If the Golden Gate originally had domes anything like this baby, I can see where it got its name! Like the Golden Gate, this is a reconstruction. The original St. Michael’s was destroyed by the Soviets because they were against religion. The Ukrainians weren’t able to rebuild it until 2000.
As I mentioned, you can go inside the monastery, whether or not you are a member of the Orthodox faith. Women will have to cover their heads, so bring a scarf if you have one. Also picture taking is not allowed inside the church.
Of course it’s not Kyiv unless there’s a place to make a wish! This wishing fountain has a special trick. You actually have to make your coin stick to the fountain like it’s a magnet. I didn’t do it because I was scared it wouldn’t work and then none of my dreams would come true and I’d die old and alone with seven cats.
6) lunch at puzata hata
Puzata Hata is a chain restaurant, and ordinarily I don’t suggest chains. However Puzata Hata is a local chain so I think it’s worth stopping here during your 24 hours in Kyiv. You really can’t have this experience anywhere else. Puzata Hata is a cafeteria-style restaurant, kind of like the Southern chain Piccadilly. You just take what you want and pay when you are ready to check out. Some of the staff speaks limited English, so be patient and friendly and willing to communicate with gestures and you’ll be fine.
I got breakfast for lunch because they were still serving breakfast when I arrived, and I never pass up the chance to eat a second breakfast. But don’t feel obligated to do the same!
24 Hours in Kyiv
Afternoon: Kyiv Pechersk Lavra
After the exploring, it’s time to spend the afternoon at the most famous attraction in Kyiv: the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. In English, it’s known as the Monastery of the Caves. Once again, I can feel your confusion through the tubes of the internet because it looks like I took this photo from the air, not in a cave. I will be happy to clear up your confusion with…
three fun facts: Kyiv Pechersk Lavra
1) so where are these caves????
The caves are some of the oldest places in Kyiv. They were dug out of the earth by two monks in the 11th century. The two monks are still in the caves, even though they are no longer alive. Their bodies have been preserved by natural forces, and their bodies remain for the devout to venerate.
The monastery is Ukrainian Orthodox, but tourists can come visit the caves. Keep in mind that they are an extremely holy place for the Orthodox, so be quiet and respectful. Picture taking is not allowed. Also, all people, not just women, will have to borrow garments from the monastery so you’ll be completely covered up when you go through. They’re not very stylish, but I think it would be inappropriate to ask for cute clothes when going through sacred Ukrainian catacombs.
2) is there anything else to do?
Of course! My favorite sight at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra was the view at the top of the bell tower. Its official name is the Great Lavra Bell Tower, and it’s much more “modern” than the catacombs because it was built in the 18th century. So basically it’s a baby. You have to climb more than 300 steps to get to the top, but it’s worth it. My companion and I were so pleased with ourselves when we reached the summit that we decided we’d earned an extra special dinner that night. (And as you’ll see later in this itinerary, we got one.)
On a clear day, you can get amazing views of all of Kyiv, and you can truly appreciate the beauty of the buildings in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra complex. I think it’s funny that there are so many golden domes in Kyiv, but the one building called the Golden Dome doesn’t actually have any gold.
3) what about the non-cave monastery?
Kyiv Pechersk Lavra has always had above-ground houses of worship. I guess these were for monks who were not hard-core enough to live underground like Ukrainian Mole People. Like many buildings in Kyiv, these buildings are not the original. Some of the originals were destroyed by fire in the early 18th century, but some were destroyed during World War II.
Apparently no one agrees whether the Nazis or the Soviets destroyed the buildings. That sounds like a harmless argument. Surely if Germans, Russians, and Ukrainians are disagreeing about something, no one could possibly get hurt.
As you can probably tell, the current buildings were built during the 18th century. Everything about them, from the white and gold color scheme to the froofy designs around the windows just screams BAROQUE! And as we all know, if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it. But don’t feel too sad for the medieval monastery. A piece has been preserved in the cage pictured above. So you can pat it on its little head and tell it you’re sorry it burned down. (Actually, don’t touch it. If there’s one life experience no one needs, it’s getting yelled at by a Ukrainian monastery guard.)
24 Hours in Kyiv
Evening: Dinner at Ostannya Barykada
This is the point in our 24 hours in Kyiv when I remind my readers that I am from New York City, which has a fairly large number of cool restaurants. So believe me when I say that Ostannya Barykada is one of the coolest restaurants I’ve ever been to. Ostannya Barykada means The Last Barricade, and it’s a secret restaurant. Getting into it is kind of like getting into a speakeasy.
I suggest making a reservation in advance because it’s quite popular. Then you head to the glass elevator in the Globus Shopping Mall. Press the button that says OB. This will take you to a gift shop where you’ll have to say the password to get into the restaurant. When I went, the password was Boritesya Poborete. (You pronounce it just like it looks.) I think that’s the password all the time, but it’s a secret restaurant, so who knows!
Once you get there, you can indulge in the finest food and cocktails Ukraine has to offer. I enjoyed the “Kyiv Mule”, which is basically a Moscow Mule. I guess this is the Ukrainian equivalent of freedom fries or changing the Anglican Church to the Episcopal Church during the American Revolution.
Ostannya Barykada has quite a few foie gras options on their menu. That’ll show anyone who thinks there’s no fine dining in Kyiv! Everyone knows foie gras is the finest dining. I chose the cold foie gras, which came in a special little tin like the world’s fanciest Spam.
24 hour treat: banosh
I have Romanian ancestry, which means I’m contractually obligated to eat cornmeal porridge every time I encounter it on the menu. Fortunately Western Ukraine is famous for a dish called banosh: cornmeal porridge mixed with various meats, cheese, and whatnot. At Ostannya Barykada, it’s combined with white cheese and bacon. Everyone knows cheese and bacon make everything better. Well played, Ostannya Barykada.
As part of my plan to eat every dumpling in Eastern Europe, I ordered some vareniki for dessert. These were filled with my favorite candy, halvah, which is basically a nut butter made from tahini. If you’ve ever enjoyed eating peanut butter sprinkled with sugar, you’ll love halvah. It was paired with a tart raspberry sauce that helped cut the sweetness. Also I liked how the presentation made the vareniki look like Asian steamed dumplings. Truly all peoples can be one through our love of the dumpling!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Kyiv!
What would you do with 24 hours in Kyiv? Have you ever been to a secret restaurant? And would you rather wish on a live cat or a dead hedgehog? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Kyiv. If you have time for another 24 hours in Kyiv itinerary, try this one. And if you have time for a day trip to Chernobyl, add this itinerary.