Kiev (or Kyiv) is the capital of Ukraine and the country's largest city, with a population of three million. Sitting on the banks of the Dnieper River, it is one of the most ancient cities in Europe, dating back to at least 500 AD.
The city's long history has resulted in a fascinating mix of architectural styles, creating a city center skyline that is all it own. The people of Kiev are also friendly, funny, and fiercely proud of their city and their nation.
Tourist numbers in Kiev are still small, and this means that you can experience the Ukrainian capital without hordes of visitors; it's an easy place to meet people and make new friends.
Kiev comes alive at night, with a huge variety of pubs and clubs. You can choose between typical Ukrainian bars or stylish cosmopolitan lounges. The club scene gets started around midnight and carries on until dawn. Forsage is one of the most popular clubs, with three floors pumping out different music styles.
Kiev is full of pop-up bars and cafes, often serving their fare from converted cars. It makes just hanging around on the streets of Kiev a real pleasure and you're never quite sure what is around the next corner. There are also markets everywhere, especially in the underground areas beneath the major streets, creating an electric atmosphere.
With 1,500 years of history, you will find architectural styles to suit any taste, from gold-covered domes and soviet tower blocks. One of the best-known sites is the Kyevo-Pecherskaya Lavra, or Monastery, dating back 1,000 years and with fascinating underground catacombs.
It is now possible to take a day trip to the city of Chernobyl, site of one of the world's worst nuclear disasters. The full-day tour includes a two-hour coach trip to the site, during which you will be shown a fascinating documentary on the incident. Visitors are able to get quite close to the site of the reactors and experience some of the sights.
The Mother Motherland Monument - built to commemorate the Soviet Union defeating the Nazis - at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War is quite a sight. Turn up early in the morning and get a private guide to take you to the top, where you can take in some stunning views.
This is a must-see for any trip to Kiev. Sitting on the bank of the Dnieper River, the historic monastery includes a large Cathedral, a refectory and a bell tower. Boasting an architectural style that won't be found anywhere in the west, the complex's cathedral and refectory display both Byzantine and Baroque influences. Walk through the interior and take in a five-tier icon screen as well as the stunning examples of medieval art. Despite the building's destruction by the Soviets, its original decorations, mosaics and frescoes have been recently restored.
"Monumental" hardly does it justice. The massive 200-foot stainless steel statue weighs 560 tons and commands an imposing vista over the city. Part of the Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II, the incredible memorial stands in tribute to over 11,500 soldiers awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title during the war - in other words, it's a history buff's dream. The statue is also incredible without taking any of that into account, as it stands over the countryside like something from a science fiction film. Visit, and you can journey up to the top of the shield and take in the cityscape from the observation deck.
The largest square in the city leaves nothing to be desired. From monumental art to ceaseless activity, Independence Square is a whirlwind of energy. The calendar brings numerous festivals, parades, markets and protests to this meeting place. When you visit, be sure to notice the column topped by a statue of the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of Kiev.
Renowned for its collection of succulents -- the largest in Eastern Europe -- this botanical wonder is the perfect place to relax after a few days of urban exploration. Massive in size, the park has plenty of places to picnic, rest and practice yoga. Calm and quiet walkways take visitors past over 8,000 plants, with many recognized as rare specimens. It's a popular place for locals to visit and relax in.
If you're into incredible theater -- and incredible theaters -- this is an absolute must during your stay in Kiev. Home to the national opera, this magnificent building is known for its large size, warm acoustics and rousing performances of both classic and modern dance, theater and opera. The lavish design and opulence of the interior belie the affordability of the tickets. Even if you don't choose to stay for a show, it's well worth it to visit the building simply for its stunning architecture.
Kiev has a humid continental climate, with damp, hot summers and cold winters. The peak tourist season is in July and August, but May, June, and September are also good months to visit the city.
Kiev's main airport is Boryspil International Airport (KBP), which is 22 miles to the southeast of the city center. Most of the international flights connect to other Eastern European cities and to Turkey, but there is a direct service to New York City. The SkyBus will take you into the city from the airport, charging ₴60. You can also take the bus to the Kharkivska subway station for ₴35 and then buy a subway ticket into the city center for ₴4. This is cheaper and quicker during traffic rush hours. Taxis into the city center cost from ₴250. A second airport, Zhuliany Airport (IEV), is just five miles southwest of the city center. This is used by regional budget airlines like Wizz Air. Taxis into the city from this airport cost around ₴60 and the bus costs just ₴5.
The main train station is Kiev Passazhyrskyi, in the city center. There are services to all major Ukrainian cities and international routes to Prague, Warsaw, Bucharest, Budapest, and Belgrade. A single to Prague will cost around ₴950 and domestic routes range from ₴90-120.
The main road from the west is Route 4 from Poland. Once in Ukraine, this becomes the E40 and runs all the way from Lviv to Kiev. Care is needed when driving in Ukraine, as even this main road is in a poor condition.
International buses from all over Europe arrive at Kiev Central Bus Station on Moskovska Square. Fares vary widely but a single from Prague can cost around ₴675.
The Podolski Hotel provides good, clean, safe budget accommodation in a central location. The Staro Hotel is a good mid-range hotel. It's a little outside the city center, but it is modern and in a quiet neighborhood. For a luxurious stay, try the Premier Palace, which has a gym, sauna, pool, and a superb central location.
Pechersk - this is a central neighborhood housing the Verkhovna Rada Parliament building and the pretty Mariinskyi Park. Pechersk is the city's central business district and is bordered by the Dnieper River. It is also home to the Pechersk Lavra monastery.
Podil - Podil is Kiev's oldest neighborhood and has some beautiful buildings and good restaurants. It's close to the major tourist attractions and has a good street market on Sagaydachnogo Street.
Shevchenko - this is a neighborhood of quiet, upscale streets and green open spaces. It is home to the National Opera of Ukraine and Taras Shevchenko University. It is also the area with most of the big, international hotels, such as InterContinental Kiev, Hilton Kyiv, Radisson Blu, Hyatt Regency, and Premier Palace.
Kiev's public transportation system includes buses, trolley buses, and trams. The network can be crowded but it is very cheap. You buy your tickets on board and then validate them by punching them in a machine. Tickets cost ₴3. A second, and often faster and more comfortable option, is the subway. Tickets cost ₴4.
Unofficial taxis are widespread and cheap, costing around ₴55 for a city center journey and up to ₴100 to travel from one side of the city to the other. Official taxis will cost around ₴100 and ₴180 for the same journeys.
The roads within Kiev are in better condition than those outside the city, and traffic is not unusually heavy. Look out for faded road markings and traffic lights that don't always work, or are dimly lit. Car rental is available from around ₴1,600 per day, and there is a Budget outlet in town.
For traditional goods and souvenirs, try the market at Andrew's Descent. It's open every day but Saturdays and Sundays are best. The main shopping malls are at Ocean Plaza, which has 400 stores, a cinema, and restaurants, and Gulliver in the Downtown area, which has everything from groceries to beauty salons. Mandarin Plaza is the place for upscale fashion boutiques.
A quart of milk in Kiev will cost around ₴17, while 12 large eggs cost ₴29. Major supermarkets include Velyka Kyshenya, with branches across the city, and Billa, on Gryshko Street.
Puzata Hata on Sahaidachnoho Street is a cafe selling traditional Ukrainian food from ₴15-30 for mains. Specials include Borscht and the local Kvas, fermented bread drink. Kureni on Parkova Doroga is a more upscale Ukrainian restaurant, with specials such as the famous Chicken Kiev. A four course meal will cost around ₴800.