By Julia Leescu
“Those baristas are looking at me like I did not catch up with reality.”
“Well, you left Ukraine exactly 16 years ago”–says my mom, finishing her Grand Blueberry Latte, looking at the cat monument from the window.
My Kiev of 2018 is a city of coffee and cats. Morning coffee keeps its inhabitants optimistic and ready for whatever life can throw at them. Cat motives as well as street cats are an ingrained part of the city landscape probably since Mihail Bulgakov, a proud Kievite, created his famous black Behemoth “Master and Margarita”.
Cities like this one do change fast. When you are born in the city of almost 3 million people, it’s impossible to leave and return to find it exactly the way it was. Over the last four years Kiev seems to have finally parted with its ugly communist past–most of the numerous statues of Lenin and other communist symbols are gone. The Ukrainian capital has become an interesting mix of authentic local culture and things adopted from other European countries–open balconies with coffee tables, solar-powered benches and many cosy bars that are open 24/7.
Kiev in the summer offers lots of essential tourist experiences like river cruises, tasty meals, festivals, cinemas, theatres and museums. When my Romanian friends ask me whether they should travel to the Ukrainian capital in 2018, I say that there’s no better time to do it. And yes, it’s now officially become the cheapest European capital.
Considering your summer or autumn trip to Kiev? Most of my friends from Romania are asking the same questions about my hometown, so I’ll just list my answers here:
Is it safe to travel to Ukraine?
Yes, most of the Ukrainian territory is now safe to visit. Just avoid going to the territories where the war still goes on (most of Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast) and the occupied territories.
How safe is Kiev?
I think it is as safe as any big European city. However, unlike in Bucharest, which is one of the safest cities of Europe, one has to pay attention to the surroundings and people a little bit more.
How expensive is it?
In my experience, Kiev for a tourist is about half the price of Bucharest. For costs of living see Expatistan website.
How do I get there?
Your best option is to take a direct “Bucharest–Kiev” flight operated by Windrose Airlines. Alternatively, check Expedia.com for current round trip deals offered by LOT or Turkish airlines (all those flights are with 1 stop).
Do people speak English there?
The majority of city inhabitants younger than 40 can speak enough English to help you in most of situations. With older folks you may need to rely on the language of gestures. Most street signs, metropolitan schemes and public transport schemes are created in two languages anyway: Ukrainian and English.
What do I take with me to Kiev?
Some money on your card (use trustworthy cash machines from the likes of Private Bank to withdraw it) and enough cash in USD or in EURO. There is no easy or painless (cheap) way to exchange Romanian Lei into Ukrainian Hryvnya, please keep this in mind. Most things can be found in the supermarkets–from food for a specific diet to various gadgets.
I find AirBnb a great tool for finding an apartment in Kiev–from small studios in the centre to huge 5-roomed places which will accommodate all of your friends. If you are not a fan of AirBnb deals, Booking.com is your trustworthy tool for finding a nice hotel.
What else should I mention? You will see a lot stunning people on the Kiev streets. While the stereotypes about the beautiful women of Ukraine are true, the local men are lately trying to catch up and look as awesome as the girls and, it has to b reported that they are largely succeeding in this. In the early morning you will find many of the parks full of dedicated guys working out.
It’s time to get to the main point though. Here are just some of summer adventures that you can take in Kiev. I’ve road-tested them all this May:
◊ From any place in the historic centre, walk to Andriyivskyy Descent street to get yourself great souvenirs, created by local craftsmen and artists. I’d give this activity a day: you won’t regret it.
◊ Go to Kontraktova Square (use Kiev metro – it’s the easiest way) to ride the beautiful Ferris wheel that they’ve just installed there. Take your smartphone or camera with you!
◊ Walk from Kontraktova Square to Poshtova Square, visiting some of those many cafes and restaurants on your way. If you are fan of trying things which you probably haven’t tried before, it’s a good idea to pick Ukrainian, Georgian or Central Asian places – places that don’t exist in Bucharest.
◊ Take a metro to Poshtova Square. There you will find Kiev River Port. Take one of the short cruises to see the beautiful river Dniepr, see the little islands and the views of Kiev you wouldn’t see otherwise. The longest cruise that I’ve seen advertised lasts for about 3-4 hours.
◊ Visit the National Opera of Ukraine, try to do it at least once.
◊ Orthodox churches. Even if you are not particularly religious, those buildings are stunning, inside and outside.
◊ Take a tour to former president’s Yanukovich residence, Mezhyhirya. Tasteless luxury and other ridiculous things you will see in this place might make you understand why Ukrainians decided to get rid of their little dictator. And why they eventually did it.
Looking for more good ideas?
Lonely Planet’s list dedicated to Kiev can be really useful.
For more daring things, try these colourful suggestions by “Atlas Obscura”.
If you’re still not sure about how to plan your trip to Kiev, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can give you some more tips.
This May was probably the first time that I’ve heard a couple of tourists speaking Romanian at one of outside café tables in Kyiv. I think it’s about time we made Romanian tourists less rare in Ukraine and I’ll be genuinely happy if this article helps.
The visa situation couldn’t be more straightforward, Romanians don’t need a visa, the list of countries who need a visa to enter the Ukraine is short, the list of those who don’t need a visa is very long. Check online.