- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Travel to Kiev, Ukraine
One of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe, Kiev is also one of the loveliest and boasts a beguiling blend of opulent mediaeval architecture and stark Stalinist blocks.
A place of broad boulevards and onion-domed churches, there’s no shortage of things to see, while its burgeoning restaurant scene, seemingly untroubled by recent events, continues to grow.
Nevertheless, the events that led up to the ongoing Donbass conflict in eastern Ukraine have left their mark, not least in the main square Maidan Nezalezhnosti, which remains a hub for demonstrations and rallies. Even so, there’s a sort of eerie calm about daily life in Kiev which continues against a backdrop of political turmoil and fighting.
None of that, however, has made much of a mark on Kiev’s main attractions, among them Khreschatyk, the city's main shopping street, which still bustles with life and the opportunity to pick up anything from designer clothes to Soviet era antiques. Most picturesque of all is Andriyivsky Uzviz (Andrew’s Descent), a cobbled hill packed with traders and tiny museums.
It’s so cheap!
Probably one of the highlights of spending five days in Kiev was figuring out how much we’d just paid for each meal, trip etc… After eating a ridiculously large lunch at the fantastic Vagon, including drinks, appetisers and dessert, we realised it only cost £15 for two people. And even better, you can ride the Metro for about 10p (regardless of distance), take buses all over the city for 10p and ride the Funicular for about 20p. Taxis tend to charge you a flat, tourist rate of 100 hyrynas, which is still only around £5 to get from the airport to the city.
Chill out on the beach
Yep, there’s a beach. If you cross the bridge to the other side of the river, there’s a proper sandy beach where locals go to soak up the (surprisingly hot) sun. You can abseil from the top of the hill down to the beach, bungee jump from the bridge, swim in the river, or just sunbathe and eat ice creams that cost you less than 50p.
Ukrainians seem to like to party, with lots of booze and dancing! Coyote Ugly is a favourite spot where you can smoke shisha, drink vodka shots, dance on the bar, and still come away with change from £20. However, be warned that if you ask for water in a British accent, you’re likely to come away with yet another (unwanted) shot of vodka! Apparently Arena City (quite central) is also worth a look with several different bars and outdoor seating areas.
Maidan is the city’s central square and home to some of the most recognisable statues and monuments. During our visit, it was also home to numerous barricades – many built from rubble, rubbish, tyres and whatever else was to hand. There were also many burned-out cars and even buildings which had been burned out by the police during the recent conflict. People had even pulled up the cobblestones from the ground and used them to throw during the riots. Here and in Khreschatik street you’ll also find lots of memorials to people who died during the revolution.
Take a trip to the world’s most famous nuclear disaster site
Admittedly this might not be on every tourist’s to-do list, but it certainly was on mine! You can take a day-trip to Chernobyl for around £100 per person, which includes an extremely well-organised bus trip to the town, lunch, fully-guided tour by really excellent guides and the amazing opportunity to take pictures by the reactor and in the deserted town of Pripyat, with its famous funfair, which was never opened to the citizens of the town before it was evacuated in 1986.
Traditional Ukrainian cuisine is full of warm, comforting foods such as the thick beet and vegetable soup known as borshch, and the unique Ukrainian variation of pierogis known as varenyky. Don’t forget to taste the local sheep cheese and the delicious meringue Kiev cake.
Kiev is a cosmopolitan city, so you’ll want to combine your traditional Ukraine culinary explorations with a foray into modern Kiev cuisine, which, like all other urban city centers, includes Asian traditions and new twists on old favourites. Five-star hotel Hyatt Regency Kiev, for example, is home to the can’t-miss fusion restaurant Grill Asia. You haven’t truly experienced Ukrainian cuisine until you’ve tasted both borshch and the Ukranian take on popular Asian dishes like Nasi Goreng.