Unusual things to do in Kyiv, Ukraine
After living here since 2017, we’ve seen a lot of the places to visit in Kyiv. After the Chernobyl TV show came out, this became a popular city and lots of blogs sprung up with lists of what to do in Kyiv etc. often based on a couple of day trips. However, as well as visiting the site of one of the World’s biggest nuclear disasters, there are lots of other unusual things to do in Kyiv, including visiting a nuclear missile base, the ex-President’s home and some stunning metro stations. Read on for more weird things to see in Kyiv.
2022 update: We don’t live in Kyiv anymore, having left because of Russia’s invasion. You can read our experiences of the outbreak of war in our post We need to talk about Ukraine.
Unusual places to visit in Kyiv
Kyiv Jellyfish Museum
7 Kreshatyk Street.
It could be argued that this is more like an aquarium than a museum, but the designers decided to use the name ‘Museum’. This small building on Kreschatyk Street, close to Maidan Square, has lots of glass tanks with different species of jellyfish inside. They are all lit up with multi-coloured lights, meaning lots of cool photos. Whoever created this had Instagram in mind.
It’s not just an amateur photographer’s place to visit though, it’s educational too. There are information boards in Ukrainian and English depicting the life cycles and biological details of jellyfish. It’s really interesting and we learned things, even though we used to be zoologists/ecologists.
As ex-zoologists, we love wildlife watching around the world. Read the story of how we went to search for manta rays off the coast of Bali in Indonesia.
A cemetery might not be one of the first places to visit in Kyiv that you think of, but it’s definitely something unusual. Baikove Cemetery is the home of the final resting places of many famous Ukrainians including poet Lesya Ukrainia, composer Oleksandr Bilash, historian and politician Mykhailo Hrushevsky and many other politicians, artists, sportspeople and scientists.
Ok, you may not have heard of any of these people. I’d hazard a guess that if you know about famous Ukrainians, you don’t need to read a post on what to do in Kyiv. However, what makes this one of the interesting places to visit in Kyiv is the actual graves. They are incredibly elaborate, with statues of those buried there, with decor to signify what they were famous for.
Another interesting thing to see in Baikove ceremery is the crematorium, with it’s weird circular design. It was supposed to be part of a whole park of commemoration, and a long bas-relief wall was built next to it, but in the 80s this was covered in concrete and destroyed.
Coming to Kyiv? You’ll need our tips for travel in Ukraine
The Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise
St Sophia’s cathedral, St Sophia’s Square.
Yaroslav the Wise was ruler of Kievian Rus, and a famous name in Ukrainian history. He was buried in St Sophia’s cathedral, and his sarcophagus was found there and is now on display. It’s unclear on whether or not he is still inside, we haven’t looked. The coffin was opened to examine the contents just before the 2nd World War and he was inside then, but we aren’t clear if they put him back.
If you’re the sort of person who thinks the Baikove cemetry is a great place to visit in Kyiv, the sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise should probably be on your list.
The Toilet History Museum
22, Rybalska St
Kyiv has the largest collection of toilet-related memorabilia in the World. Really. It’s in the Guinness Book of Records. It’s a relatively new museum, opened in 2007, by a couple who apparently used to run a bathroom plumbing business.
It seemed that their friends all decided to buy them bathroom-related gifts, and they ended up with a huge collection of stuff from all over the world – toys, ashtrays, souvenir toilet seats etc.
Part of the museum is a tour of the history of toilets, with Egyptian toilets, one designed by Leonardo di Vinci and a toilet throne. There’s an excellent guided tour in English explaining the history of sanitation around the World.
The Water Museum
Mykhaila Hrushevskoho St, 1В
On the same theme as the Toilet Museum, the Water Museum is an educational space to teach you all about water. It’s housed in one of the towers that used to be part of the water supply system and takes you through the history of Kyiv’s water supply and sewage system.
We did another guided tour in English through the small museum, which included playing with giant bubbles. Who doesn’t like playing with giant bubbles?
The Museum of Unnecessary Things
Slightly out of the way, on the left Bank of Kyiv, the Museum of Necessary Things is basically a room of random junk, but interesting random junk. There are old machines, and statues, including some Lenin heads which for obvious reasons, aren’t used anymore, and Soviet posters and signs. It might be a bit off the beaten track but it’s one of the best weird things to see in Kyiv.
The deepest metro station in the world, and one of the most beautiful
The Kyiv metro system has some unique stations, as many Soviet metro systems do. It is most famous for Arsenelna, because it’s the deepest metro station in the World. This often makes it into people’s lists of things to do in Kyiv. Honestly, though, it’s not much to see. There are two very long escalator rides. Other than that, it’s not much to look at.
Unless you just want to say you’ve been down the deepest metro station in the World, there are other stations we’d add on your list of places to visit in Kyiv. Zoloti Vorota, near Golden Gate, is known as one of the most beautiful metro stations in the World. It resembles an old castle, with Medieval looking chandeliers and mosiacs all over the walls. Take a look at our post on Zoloti Vorota
To really experience the metro stations of Kyiv, do a hop from one to another, or take a metro tour.
Kharkiv also has some amazing metros. Find out about the unusual things to do in Kharkiv, Ukraine, in our blog post.
Close to the Ukrainian History Museum, near St Andrew’s Church, is the start of the Landscape Alley, a quirky mix of children’s character statues, including characters from Alice in Wonderland, a cat with a ridiculously long body, the Little Prince and a pair of loving zebra heads. It looks over a beautiful view towards the river and also has a playground for children.
The Landscape Alley joins up with the Kyiv Fashion Park, which is a selection of modern sculptures by Ukrainian artists. Some of them area interactive, so you can balance with a friend on a see-saw like bench.
A new old area
Vozdvyzhenka is an old area of Podil which was redeveloped in the early 2000s into a luxury area of expensive buildings, made to look old but brightly coloured. Like the jellyfish museum, Instagram seems to have been in mind when designing it. Count how many photo shoots you see while walking around the area. Also count the luxury cars.
The House of Chimeras
10 Bankova Street,
This crazy looking building is one of the weird things to see in Kyiv. It’s covered in all kinds of strange-looking gargoyles like elephants, rhinos and dolphins. The architect, Władysław Gorodeski was apparently into big game hunting, hence the animals. It’s hard to get close to the House of Chimeras because it’s near to one of the Presidential buildings so it’s generally cordoned off. However, you can now do tours, and it is on our list of unusual things to do in Kyiv for next year. We’ll let you know when we get inside so follow our Facebook page for pictures…
A Cossack Village
Mykhaila Dontsya St, 2
To the north west of Kyiv, Mamayeva Sloboda is a replica of an original Cossack village. There’s a wooden church, watermill, blacksmith, potter and enclosures for farm animals. The restaurant serves a range of Ukrainian food and beer and it’s a cool place to sit outside and enjoy the summer weather.
For more places to try Ukrainian food in Kyiv, check out our post on the best Ukrainian restaurants in Kyiv.
A Monument to Corruption
In 2014, after the Maidan protests and the revolution, ex-President Victor Yanokovich ran away and left his mansion. When people went inside, they found what they call a ‘monument to corruption’, basically an estate full of unnecessary expense – gold bread, a boxing gym, Greek monuments and it’s own zoo. Now it’s open to the public and the grounds are a lovely place to walk around, marvelling at some of the things there.
We’ve visited Mezhyhirya twice, once in summer and once in winter. It was nice both times, but there weren’t as many places open in the winter to eat and drink.
Read more about visiting Yanocovich’s old house in our post: visiting Mezhyhirya.
A decommissioned nuclear missile base
During the Cold War, a third of the Soviet Union’s nuclear missiles were kept in the territory of Ukraine. After Ukrainian independence, these were given up, but one nuclear silo was kept as a museum. At the Strategic Missile Forces museum you can visit the control room of a nuclear missile base and actually push the button that could have destroyed the USA and started World War 3.
It’s possible to visit this on a day trip from Kyiv, although we did it independently overnight.
Read more of our trip to an ex-nuclear missile base.
A Museum of Space History
Did you know that the scientist responsible for putting the first satellite into space and Yuri Gagarin up there was Ukrainian? Zhytomyr, about 2 hours from Kyiv, has a museum full of cool space artifacts including landing pod and space suits. It’s another day trip which is worth doing if you’re looking for places to visit in Kyiv and around it.
Find out more about our trip to the space museum in Zhytomyr.
The Kyiv Sea
Yes, we’re inland. Quite a lot inland. But Kyiv has its own sea. Well, it’s a reservoir in the north of the city, but it’s wide, so you can’t see the other side. So it looks like the sea. It’s surrounded by beaches where people like to chill in the summer, and there is fishing and watersports.
You can visit the Kyiv Sea on a boat trip from the Kyiv Riverport between April and November too.
Another great day or overnight trip from Kyiv is Bila Tservka. Find out how to visit and what to see there in our post.
Weird things to see in Kyiv
The Pechersk Lavra is one of the most important Orthodox monastery complexes in the World and most definitely on of the key places to visit in Kyiv. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it covers a huge area overlooking the Dnipro River, with many ornate church buildings.
What makes visiting it one of the really weird things to do in Kyiv is the caves. The Lavra is also know as the monastery of the caves and is built on a cave complex. Reclusive monks who died in the caves were preserved and now monks are buried in glass cases in the caves.
You can go into the near caves and/or the far caves. Taking a candle that you buy for a couple of UAH, you walk down narrow tunnels which open into slightly wider areas with cases of mummified monks. They are covered in elaborate robes but hands are clearly visible.
A particularly odd thing about visiting the caves is that people around you, visiting for religious purposes, pray and kiss the glass cases with the preserved monks inside. We took a guided tour of the Lavra and our guide also pointed out small holes in the walls. Apparently, monks bricked themselves inside. Food was brought to them daily, until it didn’t disappear when it was assumed that the monk had died and the hole was bricked up too.
Remember that this is a really religious area so be respectful when you go down. You shouldn’t take photos, women need to have their heads and legs covered and men should take their hats off.
An unusual thing to do in Odessa is visit the catacombs under the city.
A flea in gold shoes
In the grounds of the Pechersk Lavra is the Museum of Microminatures. Artist Mykola Syadristy seems to have made it his life’s work to create tiny things that can only be seen under a strong magnifying glass. He created sculptures and engravings on hairs, the heads of nails and other tiny things. The Museum has several on display: a tiny boat with sails, chessmen on a chessboard, pictures of his mother and a row of camels in the eye of a needle.
Two things go through your head as you look down at the tiny exhibits: ‘Wow!’ and ‘Why?’. Apparently Syadristy has created over 100 tiny things over his career, which are displayed all over the World. Visiting his museum is a pretty unusual thing to do in Kyiv but since you’re already there to see the dead monks, why not?
After the Maidan Revolutions back in 2014, Independence Square was renovated and several fountains were installed. Every night, music plays and the fountains ‘dance’ to the music – various rock, pop and classical hits.
Ukraine in Miniature
Perhaps you only have a weekend in Ukraine and can only visit Kyiv. Well, you can see the rest of Ukraine in the Ukraine in Miniature exhibition. It’s part of Hydropark, one of the islands in the river and there are models of different Ukrainian buildings – the Odessa Opera House, Chernivtsi University, Chernobyl etc.
It’s seen better days, I think we have to admit. We visited in 2019 when we got bumped off a plane to Athens and had a day to kill in Kyiv. We wouldn’t go out of the way to see it, unless you’re a massive model village enthusiast.
Tiny statues of Kyiv
The Shukai are a set of small bronze sculptures around the city depicting symbols of Kyiv. You can find a Kyiv cake, typical Kyiv balcony and chess players in the park. One way to take a walk around Kyiv to get a little bit off the beaten track is to follow the Shukai map and go and find different pieces. The website tells you the story behind them so you can learn more about Kyiv history and culture.
In a yard just off Reitarska street, there’s a big aviary with some ravens inside. You can visit the birds Kirill, Karlusha and Korbin. People feed them and they seem quite friendly, but I wouldn’t put your finger in the cage. The yard has a little coffee shop and a huge piece of street art on the wall commemorating the ravens. I haven’t heard of many cities where you can visit ravens, and it is a pretty weird thing to see in Kyiv if you are passing the yard.
Speaking of street art, Kyiv has some amazing pieces of street art. Apparently it’s a relatively recent thing, post the 2014 revolution, when street artists were encouraged to design pieces to paint in Kyiv. There are now about 150 pieces of street art around Kyiv and honestly, you can’t miss them if you visit.
Try our self-guided tour, which not only has street art, but also some of Kyiv’s fantastic craft beer.
A metro station covered in street art
Still on the topic of street art, another of the weird things to see in Kyiv that’s off the beaten track is Osokorky Metro Station. In 2019, they commissioned several street artists to design street art pieces that represented Ukraine and painted them onto the metro walls. What used to be a plain, stark station is now bright and colourful as well as thought-provoking. Pieces include representations of occupied Donetsk, and the piano that was made famous during Maidan (see below).
See some of the pieces in our blog post on the street art in Osokorky Metro.
Next to Zhuliany Airport, the Oleg Antonov State Aviation Museum is a large collection of Soviet planes and helicopters. You can go into the cockpits of some to take photos and see some crazy looking planes.
Around Kyiv you can visit the remains of tunnels built by Stalin. Well, obviously not with his own hands, but ones he ordered to be built. Before the war he realised that there would be problems in Kyiv if the bridges were bombed. Bridges were the only things that linked the right to the left bank, and he thought there could be issues with transporting goods and services if they were destroyed. He therefore decided to tunnel under the river in a couple of places.
The project was abandoned in the end, but you can find parts of the tunnel in some areas of Kyiv. Google ‘Stalin’s metro’ and you’ll find them on the map.
Unusual things to do in Kyiv
Relax on the beach
Going to the beach might sound like a pretty unusual thing to do in Kyiv, given that it’s inland. The Dnipro River runs through the centre of the city and there are several islands in the middle. These islands have been kept pretty free of development and are surrounded by sandy beaches.
You can either take a metro to Hidropark, which is on one of the islands, or walk across the pedestrian bridge to Truhanov Island. There are beaches with sunbeds, full-on beach clubs with swimming pools and bars, and more remote beaches with nothing on them.
Workout on an outdoor gym
In the abovementioned Hidropark, you can find probably the most terrifying workout area you’ve ever seen. The huge outdoor gym there is a raft of metal machines generally being used by buff men with their shirts off, whatever the weather. Take off your shirt and workout there if you dare.
Dance in a metro station
Every Saturday night, old couples gather in the Teatralna metro station and ballroom dance. It’s beautiful to watch, or maybe join in?
Drive a tank
Are you a tank fan? In Kyiv you can actually drive a Soviet tank. It’s a pretty cool experience to have during your trip to Kyiv, although it’s not cheap at around $200 per person.
Do a bridge swing
On the pedestrian bridge between Podil and Truhanov Island are several places where you can swing from the bridge. Stand on the barrior with a harness strapped to you, jump off so you nearly touch the water and swing.
Personally, I’m not sure on the safety aspect of this, but if that doesn’t bother you, give it a go.
Do stand up paddleboarding
The Dnipro River provides lots of opportunities for watersports, which are probably unusual things to do in Kyiv on your holiday here, but why not? There are various places around the city where you can rent stand up paddleboards, including Truhanov Island, and X Park and it’s pretty reasonable at 120 UHA an hour. At X Park you can also go wakeboarding and rent jetskis.
Rub Gogol’s Nose
Close to Andriysvsky Descent, outside the Tryptich Art Gallery is a statue of the nose of Nikolai Gogol. If you rub it, apparently it will cure you of minor colds and runny noses.
If you are visiting Kyiv in winter, you can go skiing in the city. Ukraine is more famous for skiing in the Carpathian Mountains, but there is a ski slope in Kyiv and cross country skiing at X Park. At Protasiv Yar, you can rent skis or a snowboard and they use artificial snow when there isn’t enough natural white stuff.
Have your photo taken with a furrie
You can’t miss the guys around Maidan dressed as popular Disney characters from Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and Despicable Me. They’ll try and hug you and get your picture taken with them, for a fee. If you want a picture of you and a Minion as a souvenir from your trip to Kyiv, go ahead. It isn’t generally expensive.
Play the piano
In various places around Kyiv, you’ll see pianos in the street, often with people playing. They aren’t generally busking, just playing. These pianos are to commemorate the protests and revolution of Maidan in 2014, where a local young pianist used to play the piano on the barricades every night for the protesters. The actual piano is now in a museum, but other pianos area around the city to remember.
Climb the Motherland Monument
The Motherland Monument is something you won’t be able to miss in Kyiv, as this huge statue is visible from many locations. Standing with a shield in one hand and her sword aloft, she is protecting Ukraine from invaders. If you want to get close, the Monument is on top of the Patriotic War Museum, which is worth a look to learn the history of Ukraine’s conflicts, particularly during the 2nd World War.
You can go to the foot of the statue and look over Kyiv, which is a nice thing to do. However, one of the really unusual things to do in Kyiv is to climb to the shield, 91m up. You need to be over 18, fit and dressed in sports clothes and you can only do it in fine weather. The views up there look phenomenal though. If you want to do it, it costs 300 UAH.
Have your photo taken with Kyiv statues
Kyiv is all about the statues. They do love a good statue in Ukraine. You’ll find themed statues in many cities, including a gerkin in Nizhin and a dumpling in Poltava.
There are statues all over Kyiv so you can’t miss them. Some to have your photo taken with are:
- The cat, Panteleimon, who used to live in a restaurant opposite the Golden Gate, and charmed guests
- Characters Svirid Petrovich Golokhvastov and Pronya Prokopivna Sirko from the comedy film The Two Hares.You’ll find it near St Andrew’s Church at the top of Andrivkii Descent. Apparently if you rub it, you’ll get married soon.
- Yaroslav the Wise, holding a model of the Golden Gate.
- The hedgehog in the fog – this is a character from a famous Soviet cartoon of the same name. You can find it with English subtitles on Youtube, but basically, the little hedgehog goes to see his bear friend and gets lost in the fog. It’s very symbolic apparently.
- Wladyslaw Horodecki – sat drinking tea on a street just off Kreschatyk. He was the architect who designed the House of Chimeras mentioned above and the Gothic style Roman Catholic cathedral.
Take a tram ride through a forest
The Kyiv tram system was the first in the Russian Empire and the third in Europe, but it’s had its heyday and much of the route has been replaced with buses and electric trains. If you head to historic Podil, the old-fashioned trams are still in use and take you back in time next to the old buildings.
The most picturesque route to take is route 18, which takes just over an hour on a journey though a forest. It ends up in Pushcha-Vodytsia, an area of forests and lakes which is popular for BBQs in summer.
Take the furnicular Railway
Another old form of transport here and one of the unusual things to do in Kyiv is the furnicular railway. It opened in 1905 and the stations at the top and bottom have a beautiful art deco style. Taking you from Podil to the Kreschatyk area, it saves you from walking up the steep Andriivsky Descent again. It only costs about 8 UAH too.
I love to take the funicular railway, but Kris thinks it takes a bit too long because you have to wait for the carriage to come up and down. Watch out for the driver, who comes down the hill, the gets out of the cabin and back in the other side to go back up again. If any job could be done by a machine….
Buy coffee from a snail
Something that surprises people when they visit Ukraine is the coffee culture. Ukrainians love their coffee and the city is full of coffee shops, in the same way cities like Vienna are. Ukrainians don’t drink coffee at home, they prefer to pick up coffee from little coffee stalls. Some of these are quite quirky, like coffee buses and small Soviet cars that serve coffee out of the back.
Coffee snails are all around the city – a snail-shaped truck serving a variety of different coffees. Don’t miss it.
Eat typical street food
Typical street food doesn’t sound like an unusual thing to do in Kyiv, does it? Well, the most popular Kyiv street food is Kyiv peripichka, which are sold out of a small window on Bogdan Khemelnysky Street. This street food is basically a frankfurter sausage in a savoury doughnut. Yep. Doesn’t sound good but there are generally huge long queues to buy them.
Related post: What food you need to eat in Kyiv and where we suggest you try it.
Have a tarot themed cocktail
In the Witch Bar in Kyiv, the waitress will bring you a pack of tarot cards. What you choose dictates what drink you’ll have as well as your fortune. Finding your fortune in alcohol is a pretty unusual thing to do in Kyiv, right?
Have your head set on fire
On the theme of weird drinking experiences, a popular theme pub in Kyiv is one where the themed cocktails include having a helmet pub on your head and set on fire. Look for Palata Number 9 and Bunker Bar to have this experience.
Dress up in traditional clothes
Want to dress as a Cossack or in a typical vyshyvanka top and headdress? There are several places in Kyiv where you can do this. One of our favourite Ukrainian restaurants to take visitors to is Taras Bulbar, where they dress you in a typical hat and the staff drag you into the street to dance. At the Ancient Kyivian Rus Park, outside Kyiv, you can also get dressed up and have your picture taken.
Watch horseback archery
At the Ancient Kyivian Rus themepark, they also have tournaments in horseback archery. It’s incredible to watch, how they manage to hit a target while on a moving horse is baffling.
Learn traditional Ukrainian painting
On many souvenirs for sale around the city and in museums, you’ll see the traditional Ukrainian petrivka painting. You can learn how to do this yourself at many workshops around the city.
Well, that’s a lot of unusual things to do in Kyiv, isn’t it? Don’t just come and visit Chernobyl and then leave. It makes us sad when people ask for advice on places to visit in Kyiv for their two half days either side of a Chernobyl trip. There’s so much more to do here. You could spend a week or more experiencing all the weird things to see and do.
Why not pin it to your Ukraine or Travels Pinterest board?