The Ukraine was never high on my list of top places I wanted to visit when I moved to England. I had always fantasized about the Colosseum in Rome, the Northern Lights in Iceland, and the Lourve in Paris. These are just a few examples of places that have been on my “bucket list” for a long time. Mostly due to pop culture, Eastern Europe hadn’t really crossed my mind. Then, I moved to England. From England, flights to Eastern Europe can be incredibly inexpensive. A whole new part of the world opened up to me for short weekend trips – Budapest, Prague, Vienna, etc.
Kiev didn’t cross my mind until Conor and I watched the first episode of Chernobyl, the HBO hit show. After the first episode, I was so intrigued by Chernobyl, the disaster, the story, the mass human movement that came after, as well as the surrounding areas that were affected. Immediately, Conor and I looked it up – you can, in fact, visit the Exclusion Zone (in which the Chernobyl powerplant is located) and it’s safe to do so. Over 60,000 tourists visit each year. We basically looked at each other and said “F*ck it, let’s go.” Neither of us had been to the Ukraine before and it was such a unique opportunity to witness first hand the power of humans to create, destroy, lie, and rebuild. Additionally, the more we researched Kiev, the more we wanted to visit. It seemed like a beautiful city, a mixture of incredible, splendid architecture from the Gothic period to the overbearing, intense soviet architecture.
We booked a two day Chernobyl tour bookended by two days in Kiev. I will leave the tour of Chernobyl for another post, but I will tell you about Kiev and the amazing experience we had.
We found roundtrips flights to Kiev in the middle of June for £60 each on EasyJet. We were only going for five days so we packed backpacks to travel lightly. Five days might seem long to travel with just a backpack, especially as a girl, but it can be done! I packed one pair of jeans and two long sleeves (for the tour we needed clothes that covered the whole body), one midi dress and one sundress – the weather was HOT while we were there. I packed my running shoes and sandals. Easy peasy if you plan ahead and don’t overpack (one of my biggest travel flaws).
For accommodation, we stayed in two different hostels. The first night we stayed in a hostel that would be close to the pick-up location for our tour the next day. This was located on the other side of the train tracks from the main part of Kiev. It was definitely more local and residential, which is why I am glad we switched to a different hostel for the days after our tour. The second hostel we stayed at was Dream Hostel in the center of downtown Kiev. It is marketed incredibly well online and has great reviews. I can attest to those positive reviews. Conor and I stayed in a private room, which was very clean and had everything we could need. The reception area was welcoming and helpful. There was also a cafe, bar, and outdoor seating area. The only downside in my opinion was that even though there seemed to be a lot of people staying there, it wasn’t too social. Conor and I only talked to one other person. Most seemed to be in groups traveling together, not really interested in making friends. We were only there for a short time though and not over the weekend, so it could be that during the week is a little slow. Overall, I would definitely recommend this hostel.
Since the pound goes very far in Kiev, Conor and I were able to go to a couple really nice meals for relatively cheap. There are definitely cheaper places to go to than we went to as well – we hit up a couple cafes during the day. But since it was a vacation, we splashed out a bit – and by that I mean we spent £50 total on a meal at the nicest hotel in town…rooftop sushi. It was so delicious and an incredible experience for super cheap compared to the equivalent in London. Moral of the story, you can travel to Kiev and spend almost no money and still have a great time, or you can spend a bit more money and also have a great time! Depends on your budget and what you’re looking for.
Walking through Kiev was time consuming – the city is HUGE. And hilly. But I got more than enough steps in and I loved every second of it. There is always something new around the corner, and usually something very different from what you just saw. Kiev is a beautiful mix of old and new, having the feel of a Western European city yet proudly Eastern European. It was different from anything I’ve ever experienced, but it also felt slightly familiar. Yes, the language was a bit of a barrier, but most people spoke English from passable with hand gestures to as fluent as I am. Armed with Google Maps and a Ukraine SIM card, Conor and I were unstoppable tourists. We virtually ran into no problems, there’s even Uber in case you’re far from your hostel late at night! Overall, I would 100% recommend putting Kiev on your bucket list.
Below are some of the highlights from our sightseeing. I felt like we saw a lot, but there was still so much we didn’t see, so it’s not an exhaustive list but you should definitely add at least a couple of these to your itinerary.
- Look for cheap flights and carry light to make the most of your budget.
- Stay in a hostel for the social experience.
- Take time to just wander the city – there’s something new around every corner.
A Gallery of More Pictures Because I Love Them All