Kiev feels like a proper metropolis, a kind of small Moscow. It is also a city of contrasts: it has its beautiful gold-domed churches and monasteries, its pompous Soviet-era monuments, and its tall glass capitalist buildings. It has large chaotic avenues and small cobblestone alleyways. It has posh upscale restaurants and nightclubs and traditional modest Ukrainian cafés. This contrast makes it a very interesting city where you can easily spend a week or more.
The Dnipro river divides the city into a west and east bank. You are likely to spend most of your time on the west bank as that’s where the city centre and most of the transport connections are.
Your main reference point in the city centre is Khreshchatyk Street, which starts on top of the banks of the Dnipro and runs south through Kiev’s main square, Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), and further south until it intersects with one of Kiev’s other major avenues, Shevchenko Boulevard, which is where Bessarabska Square lies.
Of course, Kiev’s Fan Zone will be located right in the centre on Independence Square and Khreshchatyk Street.
The city centre basically stretches out on both sides of Khreshchatyk Street. Most monuments are located in the northern part of the centre, whereas most cafés and restaurants tends to be a bit more toward the south.
As in most Eastern-European cities there is no lack of green, with especially the banks of the river Dnipro providing for good options to escape the sometimes hectic city.
National Sports Complex Olimpiyskiy – 70,050 seats.
NSC Olimpiyskiy is one of the better known stadiums of the Euro 2012 tournament, having hosted most of the past European adventures of FC Dynamo Kiev.
It is, however, not the same stadium as it was before, as it got extensively renovated for the Championships. The complete bottom tier and West Stand got rebuilt, and the stadium received a new exterior and roof.
It has kept is running tracks though, which is probably the only drawback of the stadium as it increases the distance from the stands to the pitch.
But the biggest advantage of the stadium is probably its location. No worries about a tiring public transport trip to a far-away suburb as the stadium lies right in the city centre. The stadium is just a 10-minute walk south from Bessarabska Square, and what’s more, there is plenty of entertainment in the area in the form of bars and restaurants.
It are not the Ukrainians, but the Swedes that will play all of their group matches at the Olympiyskiy. The Ukrainians instead have opted to play two of their three matches in Donetsk, possibly because Donetsk has more of a football culture.
The Ukrainians do play their first match at the stadium, against the Swedes obviously, who will then receive England and France in Kiev. The winner of the group will then play the number two of group C at the stadium (who will have to come from Poland). And of course, the final will also be played in Kiev.
Two teams have made Kiev their base: Ukraine and Sweden. The Ukrainians will sleep, eat, and train at the FC Dynamo Kyiv Training Center in Koncha Zaspa, south of the city of Kiev.
The Swedes will stay in the same area at the Platinum Hotel in Kozyn. They will train at the Ukraine Olympic Training Center in Koncha Zaspa. The Koncha Zaspa area, on the banks of the Dnipro river, is primarily known as the playground for Ukrainian’s rich and famous with large mansions and various recreational facilities.
How to get in and around
Kiev is located in the centre of Ukraine, which means that the country’s borders are not particularly close by – with the exception of the Belarus. But if you are coming from Western or Northern Europe, you almost certainly fly into the city.
Kiev has two airports: the main International Airport Boryspil (Borispol) and the smaller Zhuliany Airport. Practically all major airlines fly on Boryspil, though low-cost airline Wizzair (which has direct flights to several Western-European countries) has made Zhuliany Airport its base.
Boryspil Airport lies on Kiev’s east bank, about 30 kilometres from the centre. Buses will take you in less than an hour into the city. They tend to drop you off at the central railway station (Kiev Passajirskij). A taxi from the airport to Kiev centre will likely set you back 200 to 250 UAH.
Zhuliany Airport is located in the western part of the city at just 8 kilometres from the city centre. Trolleybus 9 will bring you to the central railway station.
Kiev Passajirskij Station is where all long-distance trains arrive and depart. It can be a somewhat chaotic affair so you may not want to arrive at the last minute to catch a train (though delays are not uncommon).
Kiev has, of course, direct train connections to practically every major Ukrainian city. For the English and French who have to travel between Kiev and Donetsk a long train journey of over 10 hours awaits. There are however several overnight options with sleeper cabins which will limit the amount of wasted time and save you the cost of a hotel night.
From the railway station you can easily walk into the centre. Walk down the somewhat desolate entrance road and then straight up the hill until you reach Shevchenko Boulevard. Turn right onto the boulevard and follow until you reach Bessarabska Square. Once up the hill it is a not unpleasant walk as you pass by Shevchenko Park and St Volodomyr Orthodox Cathedral. The walk will likely take you about half an hour, but if you’re tired after a long journey you can also take the metro or a taxi to the centre.
Though you can walk to most city centre locations, you are likely to use the Kiev metro now and then. Which is no punishment as some of the stations are quite the attraction. The Kiev metro is the deepest in the world and various stations have beautiful designs. At station Teatralna you can even find a bas-relief of Lenin, and on Sundays this station is used by the elderly of Kiev to do some traditional dancing.
Signage in the metro is in Cyrillic script, but is easy enough to figure out with a bit of common sense. Buy tokens at the ticket counter to get through the turnstiles.
Kiev has trolleybuses, regular buses and mini-buses (marshootkas) too, but you will likely not use them very often if at all.
Where to eat and drink
As with all Polish and Ukrainian cities, eating and drinking is very much concentrated in the city centre. And as with any large city, Kiev has everything you might wish for.
That said, Kiev has more of a clubbing culture than a bar culture. If you are into hard partying and dancing until dawn, Kiev is your city. Which does mean dressing up a little and paying not insignificant prices for your drinks.
Most (but not all) clubs are located in the centre, with the focal point arguably Club Arena on Bessarabska Square. But more clubs lie in the vicinity on Shevchenko Boulevard and around Khreshchatyk Street.
You will be able to find bars as well, of course, and there are always the obligatory Irish pubs, which all lie more or less in the same part of town.
Khreshchatyk Street gets closed off from traffic on the weekends and serves as the meeting point for many locals on a night out. It has a very nice vibe in the evening hours and is great to walk up and down. Though the street will be closed off anyway for the duration of the tournament as it serves as the official Fan Zone.
In recent years the city has seen an explosion of coffee chains in the style of Starbucks (though often also offering food options). You will quickly recognise the different franchises. They are rather pricey, but offer reasonable quality and a comfortable environment.
Kiev offers restaurants of all international cuisines, but don’t fail to try the self-service restaurants that often offer cheap and excellent Ukrainian food. Puzata Hata (see Lviv for more info) and Domashnya Kukhnya are two well-known chains, but there are also smaller options.
Again, most restaurants are located in the centre areas so no need to venture far out.
What else to see and do
There is enough to see and do in the city to keep you from getting bored for at least a week.
Even if you are not into visiting churches, you may want to make an exception for one or more of Kiev’s gold-domed churches and monasteries. Both St Sophia’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Monastery are worth the small walk uphill from Independence Square. You can then continue up the hill to St Michael’s Church and on down the hill through artistic Andriyivsky Uzviz to the Podil area down by the river. It’s a good area for (Soviet-era) souvenir shopping and there are quite a few trendy restaurants too.
Possibly the main attraction of Kiev is the Pecherska Lavra monastery (more golden domes), which sits high on the banks of the Dnipro. It lies slightly west of the city centre, but at walking distance (15 minutes) from Arsenal metro station. Its highlight are the caves with mummified monks.
And while you’re there, don’t forget to walk a bit further up the river to the Motherland statue. It’s a massive statue-of-liberty-like statue, and a fascinating Soviet-era monument.
The area around the Dnipro river is overall pleasant to spend some time in, also the bits closer to the city centre. Stadium-enthusiasts should also pass by the Lobanovsky Stadium, home of FC Dynamo until this year, and located only 500 metres away from Independence Square.
Shopping can be done all over the city centre. A modern indoor shopping centre lies right on Independence Square. Bessarabska Square has a similar modern mall, but also an underground complex consisting of a maze of narrow passages with many small shops that offer goods for more reasonable prices. The Market building on Bessarabska Square offers all types of food products.
For those who wish to escape the sometimes unbearable heat, there is the Hidropark situated on one of the islands in the Dnipro river. It has a number of river beaches and all sorts of water-related entertainment. Metro station Hidropark is located right on the island.
The Chornobyl museum in the Padol area is impressive and well-done, and deserves a visit. Those fascinated by the disaster can even visit the actual reactor and nearby ghost town of Prypiat. The area gets increasingly opened up for tourist and day trips are offered from Kiev. It’s an impressive visit, but very pricey. And don’t tell the Ukrainians as they will look at you in astonishment wondering why someone would want to visit the site of such disaster.
Apart from that there is not much to see outside the city and other Ukrainian cities are at least a long train ride away. Though if you’re fascinated by Ukrainian rural life you could go to the open-air museum of folk architecture in the town of Pyrohovo just south of Kiev. It’s not a bad place to spend some time if the weather is nice.