Kiev is the capital of politically young but historically ancient Ukraine, a fledgling democracy still feeling its way after the Orange Revolution of 2004 and 2005. Kiev, founded 1,500 years ago on the banks of the Dnipro River, is a city of golden domes glinting in the sun, turn-of-the-last-century architecture and blocks of Soviet monoliths, all set against a green backdrop of trees and parks.
But Ukraine has more than its architectural heritage to recommend it; it’s a high-energy city whose citizens are intent on building a new national identity, capitalist trophies such as late-model BMWs cruise its streets, night-time sees clubs packed and noisy. So visit its historic sights, but also enjoy Kiev’s idiosyncratic personality.
Stroll the the main street of Khreshchatyk, stop in a café; if you go clubbing, you’ve got a choice of dozens of bars, nightclubs and pubs. Be sure to sample its restaurants, starting with the eponymous chicken Kiev, then moving on to varenniky, dumplings stuffed with a variety of fillings, or grilled meats and cheeses from Georgia, the Caucasus or Armenia.
Among Kiev’s major attractions are its beautifully preserved Orthodox churches. In the city’s center are complexes such as Saint Sophia Cathedral, molded after the great Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople, and the huge Saint Michaels Cathedral. The Perchera Lavaramonastery grew out of a complex of caves. St. Andrew Church dates back to 752.
Central Square is filled with six water fountains and a huge column topped by the patron saint of Kiev, the Archangel Mikhail. Stop to admire the Golden Gate, the history gateway in the old city walls, built during the 18th century. And visit the National Art Museum for its medieval icons and historic portraits.
Beyond the city is Babi Yar, site of an unimaginable slaughter in World War II, when SS and German military units murdered what some historical estimates put at 100,000 Jews after Germany invaded the Ukraine. Babi Yar today is quiet, gentle breezes ripple through the grass that covers it; the center is a massive statue commemorating the victims and the horror they suffered.
You can travel about Kiev on its high-speed metro (it has three lines), bus or taxi. There are also trams and streetcars and funiculars. Its main aiport is Boryspil International Airport.
Late April to early June is the time to visit. Autumn can be lovely, and summers can get very hot.