Saint Sophia’s Cathedral
The second section of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyiv, along with Pechersk Lavra and only about 10-15 minutes by car from it, Saint Sophia’s is a favorite tourist attraction because it shows several epochs of Ukrainian history in one complex. With the name derived from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the work on the cathedral was begun sometime in the first half of the 11th century. It fell into disrepair and neglect and threatened by destruction several times and was finally preserved as historic monument by the Soviets. Today, the cathedral does not actually belong to a church, as several religious entities lay claims on it. However, all of the Orthodox assemblies were permitted to use Saint Sophia’s at different times, until the Ukrainian government finished this practice due to continuing fights between the factions. Today’s visitors mostly are tourists and the complex is now a museum. The exterior displays a mixture of Byzantine architectural elements and Ukrainian baroque, while the interior of the building is especially notable, as it contains beautiful icons and frescoes as well as the sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Kiev from 1019 to 1054. The complex consists of several buildings apart from the actual church, for example there is also a bell tower. Admission has to be paid for each structure separately, but the rates are low.
24 Volodymyrska Street, open daily except Thursdays
St. Michael’s Monastery
Yet another religious building in Kiev that has become a tourist attraction is St. Michael’s (photo above, in the distance), located not far from Saint Sophia’s Cathedral. The monastery consists of four buildings including the refectory and a bell tower. The centerpiece of the monastery that was founded in 1108 is the church building, whose original version had been commissioned by the Supreme Ruler Sviatopolk II of Kiev to honor the archangel Michael, a patron of warriors. The gilded plates of the domes were stolen and the building devastated when the Mongols invaded in 1240, but St. Michael’s rebounded and was restorated and extended several times over the centuries. Under Soviet command, in the 1930s, the rulers in an effort to purge religion from everyday life claimed that St. Michael’s had no real historic value anymore due to the changes in architecture since it had been built. After carefully disassembling and selling the valuable items including the gilded roof elements, the monastery was demolished in 1936 by the brute force of dynamite. The Soviets planned on building a large governmental and parade square there, but only one building, today housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was actually constructed. The monastery was finally rebuilt in 1997, partly using some of the original structures still at hand. While only a fraction of the original interior artworks could be recovered, it is still an impressive sight to be inside the quiet atmosphere of the cathedral and looking at the delicate interior, it is hard to believe that this building is essentially a creation of the late 20th century.
Open to visitors as long as respectful behavior is displayed. Female visitors are expected to cover their hair before entering the cathedral
Volodymyrska Hill and Kiev Funicular
Just steps away from the monastery, the territory changes abruptly, opening up a sweeping view of the Dnieper river down below, on the base of the steep river bank. Referred to as either the St. Michael’s Hill or the St. Volodymyr’s Hill, the bank is laid out in terraces, with a landscaped public park about halfway down. The park centers around a statue of St. Volodymyr built in 1853, from where one has a nice view of the left bank.
From the top of the hill to the lower neighborhood of Podil, the Kiev Funicular operates. This is a two-rail cable car system existing since 1905 that nowadays is often used by tourists to navigate the steep hill. Passengers travelling on the Funicular master the 36% decline and 240 meters down in about three minutes. As an alternative, there is also a walking trail available. A low fee is required to ride the tram.
Even visitors just passing through Kyiv and not even intent on taking in all the sights have a good chance of spotting this particular attraction, as “Mother Motherland” is a colossal statue standing no less than 102 meters tall and weighing 560 tons. “Mother Motherland”, often also referred to as “Rodina Mat” was made from stainless steel, is a monument to the Soviet victory in World War II, which is usually called the “Great Patriotic War” here. The original plan for this spot called for the installation of a similarly giant statue of Lenin and Stalin but as that idea was not further pursued, the Rodina Mat monument was erecetd in 1981 on designs finished a decade earlier. With a height of 62 meters without the pedestal, the statue is among the 20 tallest in the world. At 36 meters, there is a viewing platform and another one at 91 meters, both accessible by two elevators inside the monument. Going to the top requires an extra fee in addition to the entry ticket and there is also a fee for bringing a camera. Guided tours for the museum are available as well. The statue remains controversial among Ukrainian citizens as many see it as an unwelcome reminiscence of Soviet times.
Lavrska Street, open daily except Mondays 10 am - 5 pm. Nearest metro station is Arsenalna
People’s Friendship Arch
Even more Soviet monument architecture can be found in the Cross Park on the right bank of the Dnieper river, not far from the street navigating Volodymyrska Hill. The term “People’s Friendship Arch” or “Friendship of Nations Arch” refers to a group of three monuments erected in 1982 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union as well as the 1500th anniversary of the city of Kiev. The group consists of a bronze statue of workers and a granite stele dedicated to the 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav, but mostly of the titanium arch with a diameter of 50 meters, meant to symbolize the unification of Russia and Ukraine. In light of recent events however, many Kiev citizens view the monument warily. There is a viewing platform connected to the monument which allows a good view of the left river bank with the Troieshchyna neighborhood.
Gryshko National Botanical Garden
A pleasant retreat from the busy city atmosphere, the botanical garden is located in the Pechersk district, not far from Pechersk Lavra. The park consists of several sections with unique garden designs, each reflecting the flora of a different geographic area. There is a wide variety of plants ranging from coniferous trees to magnolias and roses and various lilac species. The garden was founded in 1936 and has about 13,000 different plant species on display. Apart from plants native to the extended geographical region, the Gryshko Garden contains some tropic specimens in a greenhouse. There are also two historic monasteries located on the grounds of the botanical garden.
Open Wednesday-Sunday from 8:30 am, small admission fee. Nearest metro station is Druzhby Narodiv
What was once one of three entry gates into the city today remains as the only surviving element of the ancient fortification. It is widely assumed that the gates and the walls between them were built in the early 11th century by Yaroslav I, Grand Prince of the Rus. A bronze statue of Yaroslav stands nearby. The gate, which actually appears to be reddish in color, gets its name from the golden domes atop of it. The building was in large parts destroyed by the Golden Hordes of the Mongols and was reconstructed in 1832 and again renovated in 1982. The complex today houses a museum informing visitors about the history of the Golden Gate and the former fortification.
Metro station Zoloti Vorota only a few steps from the monument
Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex
Mostly known for its large multifunctional arena, the Olympic complex is in fact more than that, consisting of several facilities for athletic use. Its centerpiece, the Olimpiyskiy Stadium, was originally opened in 1923 and has since been renovated and remodeled a number of times. It set an attendance record in 1985, when more than 100,000 fans saw a European Cup match, but has since had its capacity reduced to comply with FIFA guidelines. The stadium can now accommodate 70,000 spectators. It hosted football matches in the 1980 Olympics and several games, including the final, of the football European championships in 2012. The Ukrainian national team usually plays its home games here and so does local team Dynamo, which has its actual home base at Lobanovskyi Stadium in the city center. There are short guided tours offered at the complex on days when no matches are scheduled.
Velyka Vasylkivska street. To visit, use of Metro to station Palace of Sports or station Olimpiyska