Kiev, the capital of Ukraine may not be on your bucket list yet but it really should be. This city has a huge amount of attractions to keep you busy for a long weekend or longer if you are a museum enthusiast. Like a moody teenager trying to break free of parental protection, this is a country slowly undergoing a transformation. Kiev is in a heady rush to erase Soviet symbols and modern skyscrapers and beautifully restored mansions gradually replace concrete Soviet monstrosities.
Getting around Kiev
As with any country that has a different alphabet and a language that is difficult to decipher, getting around can be difficult. That said, it’s clear that Ukraine is embracing tourism with street names and metro maps showing names in both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. Most workers in restaurants, bars and public transport stations also speak some English so getting around may be less daunting than you think.
The first thing to stress is that Kiev is a sprawling city. Although most of the sights are reasonably close together, you will almost certainly need to rely on public transport in your quest to explore the city. It pays to download a guidebook before you travel. We used the lonely planet Ukraine, which is a little dated but nevertheless very helpful. This version has a metro map at location 4157 on kindle.
The guidebook dates to July 2018 but you can not rely on the prices in the book and the book also makes no mention of the airport express train. Maybe this is evidence of how quickly things are changing in Ukraine. We visited in April 2019 so all prices are current as at that date.
Getting from the airport
You have three options for getting from the airport by public transport assuming you arrive at Boryspil International Airport.
The airport express train
The airport express train is anything but express but at 80 UAH each it is at least cheap (less than £3). It takes around 40 minutes and the station is located next to the bus stops outside arrivals. Bright blue signs direct you to the station where you can purchase single fare tickets which a conductor scans once you board the train.
Other than the ability to avoid rush hour traffic, this train offers little to recommend it. With just one carriage, guests have to cram onboard and clamber over stray baggage in the aisles. There is limited seating and storage so it is woefully inadequate but marginally quicker than the bus.
The airport shuttle bus
The airport bus leaves from the bus stand outside arrivals and costs 75 UAH each. It takes around 1 hour although traffic may add to that. Both the express train and bus deposit you at Kiev’s central train station.
Note that this is a peculiar station composed of two terminals. They are both connected, but the airport bus arrives at the south terminal and the metro is left of the north terminal. You will need to take the high walkway or the underground passage if you wish to transfer onto the metro from the bus.
The sky train arrives at a dedicated platform between the two terminals.
The Metro in Kiev is crazy. If you thought the Tube was bad, you are in for a surprise. Despite the lack of personal space (locals think nothing of trampling over you in their quest to get on a rammed train) however, it’s worth making at least one trip on the Metro.
Many stations are elaborate with busts and sculptures adorning the halls. Glittering chandeliers hang from the ceilings and beautiful tiles decorate the platforms. Golden Gate is allegedly the most beautiful and some are classed as architectural monuments.
Stations are marked with a green M and are often inconspicuous. You need to keep your eyes peeled just to see them. They are also quite infrequent in parts, so you may find you need to walk some way to your nearest station. It can often be as quick to walk (although more painful on the feet) than taking the Metro due to long descents and possible multiple changes.
Tickets cost 8 UAH per single which is great value at around 25p. Your ticket is a blue plastic token which you put into the slot at the barrier. You then descend deep (and I mean deep) into the underbelly of the city. The Arsenalna station is the deepest underground in the world at 120 metres deep. It takes ten minutes just to descend to the platform. God forbid if the escalators broke down!
Trams and buses
There are plenty of trams and buses throughout the city and the best way to find your route is to download the Eway public transport mobile app.
Tickets cost 8 UAH and you must pay the driver or conductor in cash. As with many destinations in Europe, you will need to validate your ticket once onboard.
My top tip for getting around Kiev is undoubtedly Uber. The price for a 2-3 mile ride is less than the price of a Tube ticket.
We paid anything between 45 and 80 UAH depending on demand at the time we booked each trip. At just a few pounds this is by far the easiest way to travel even if is considerably more expensive than public transport.
Top tip: elect to pay cash for each ride as the additional card fees will double the cost of your ride.
Recall I said Kiev is a sprawling city. Worse yet, it is hilly. Locals affectionately call these hills mountains and whilst this is something of an exaggeration, navigating the city will require some long and serious climbs. Added to that, walking the pavements can feel akin to navigating a war zone. There are numerous hazards to avoid, from potholes to building rubble, parking bollards and locals who will cross directly in front of you almost barging you out of the way in the process.
However, you should spend some time wandering the boulevards and cobbles of the city. In doing so, you will spot some of the incredible buildings that add to the diverse patchwork of architectural styles that this city has to offer. For every concrete Soviet reminder, there are lavish mansions resembling the icing on a fancy wedding cake. They come in every pastel shade and offer glimpses into a bygone era.
Hop on hop off
If your sole goal is to see the major sights conveniently, I recommend the hop on hop off bus. Be warned, it’s not as good value as similiar trips in other cities with only one route and limited buses throughout the day.
Allegedly buses come once an hour but in April when we visited there were just three a day meaning hop on hop off is not very realistic. The last bus left at 3 pm with the first at 11 am which hardly gives you much time to jump off at multiple sights.
That said, it encompasses most of the main sites including Rodina Monument (a huge statue and war museum a few kilometres from the old town), the Gold Domed Monastery and St Sophia’s Cathedral. It will certainly give your feet a rest and provide some fascinating insight into the turbulent history of this city.
It cost £13 each. Book online for cheaper fares.
Your top tips
If you have visited Kiev and have any other top tips for getting around the city, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to share your favourite memories of the city too as I definitely plan to go back. A weekend just wasn’t enough!!