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European character and Cold War chic meet in Kyiv

Kyiv (or Kiev, if you prefer the old spelling) tends to get a bad rep. The capital of Ukraine isn't as well known as Moscow or St. Petersburg, so many tourists don't bother with it. Even our own columnists are occasionally guilty of lumping poor Kyiv in with Minsk, of all places. People think of Kyiv as Soviet and cold. But it's not.

Minsk is Soviet. Kyiv, on the other hand, is decidedly European with just a splash of Cold War chic thrown in for good measure. If you haven't figured it out already, I love Kyiv. In fact, for the past two months I've been calling it my home while I complete an internship here.

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An ancient city perched upon seven hills overlooking the Dnipro River, Kyiv is a city of contrasts. Golden domes, cobblestone streets, hidden synagogues, monolithic Soviet apartment buildings, and tacky riverside beaches all make this city what it is today.

And Kyiv is still changing—for the better. To spend time here is to live and breathe those changes. Just a few years ago, visitors bemoaned the fact that there was nowhere to get a cup of real coffee, only ramshackle stands selling lukewarm bottled beer. Now the kiosks are gone and coffee houses dot the leafy thoroughfares. New restaurants are popping up all the time, and service at many of them is on par with similarly priced places in the States. Western hotels are also joining the scene. A new Hyatt just opened its doors a few weeks ago.

Despite its growth, Kyiv remains a bargain for tourists. The best restaurants in town may cost a pretty penny, but when a kilogram of tomatoes only costs $0.50 you can afford to splurge. You can live like a king while traveling on the US dollar. What's not to love about that?

Granted, Kyiv isn't the easiest town to get around. Good sidewalks, let alone stable steps and (gasp!) ramps, are hard to find. But the future is bright. Everyone is talking about Euro 2012. For you non-soccer fans, that's the European equivalent of the World Cup. It's a big deal over here, even more so because in 2012 it will be co-hosted by Ukraine. A massive infrastructure overhaul is in the works—new roads, stadiums, hotels, and restaurants—to prepare for the games.

My advice? Visit now, then come back in 2012. I can't wait to see how things change. Based on the past few years alone, it should be remarkable.

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