Destinations Europe Ukraine

Christmas 2017: My First Christmas in Kyiv

2017 was an interesting year for Ukraine. For the first time ever, the 25th December was a holiday and I happened to spend Christmas in Kyiv. During my time in Kyiv, I stayed at Dream House Hostel. You can read about my review of the hostel here. I arrived in Kyiv via train from Lviv to find the city covered in snow. It looked liked it had been snowing for days but it had actually only started snowing that day! It was a nice introduction to travelling around Eastern Europe and Russia in Winter that’s for sure!

 

One day of snow

One day of snow

 

It wouldn't be Christmas in Kyiv without snow!

It wouldn’t be Christmas in Kyiv without snow!

 

One of the advantages of travelling somewhere when it is cold and snowing, is spending time warming up in coffee shops and eating deserts. If you are in Kyiv, then you have to check out Milk Bar. This place has the best cakes in Kyiv. Sadly, they didn’t have Kyiv Cake which the city is famous for, but they did have their own called Kyiv Triffle and it was very good indeed! If you want to try Kyiv Cake, then do what I did. Go to the Roshen shop on Khreshchatyk in the centre of the city and buy one there. A ‘small’ one as below costs 130 UAH which is approximately £4.

 

Kyiv Triffle courtesy of Milk Bar

Kyiv Triffle courtesy of Milk Bar

 

Milk Bar Mascot :)

Milk Bar Mascot 🙂

 

Kyiv Cake. So good. You have to try this!

Kyiv Cake. So good. You have to try this!

 

Churches and Religion

This was my 3rd visit to both Ukraine and Kyiv. However, my Ukrainian friend Anna told me “You have not been to Kyiv if you haven’t been to Lavra”. As I hadn’t visited on my first two trips, I had to go this time. And she was right, of course! If you dont know, Pechersk Lavra was initially founded as a cave monastery in 1051 by St Antoniy, and is still in use today. The caves, and lots of mummified monks almost 1000 years old, are visited by locals and tourists alike. It is one of the 7 wonders of Ukraine and is definitely a must see in the city! The easiest way to get here is via the Arsenalna metro station. You can easily walk from here to the complex in 15 minutes. That is when you get out of the station because this is the deepest underground station in the world and it takes about 5 minutes to reach the ground from when you get off the metro.

 

Pechersk Lavra - A must see!

Pechersk Lavra – A must see!

 

Pechersk Lavra - One of the 7 wonders of Ukraine

Pechersk Lavra – One of the 7 wonders of Ukraine

 

Impressive decorations

Impressive decorations

 

Alter decoration

Alter decoration

 

The Lavra complex has a lot of buildings. You could easily spend a full day here

The Lavra complex has a lot of buildings. You could easily spend a full day here

 

Tower at Lavra

Tower at Lavra

 

I stayed at Dream House Hostel in Kyiv, which is on Andriivs’kyi descent. You can walk up this street towards St Michael’s Monastery and then to one of Kyiv’s most famous buildings – St Sophia’s Cathedral. The street is easy to climb despite how its name sounds. Just take your time, especially in the snow.

 

St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery

St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery

 

Looking up at the top of Andriyivskyy Descent

Looking up at the top of Andriyivskyy Descent

 

Saint Sophia's Cathedral

Saint Sophia’s Cathedral

 

The Bell Tower of Saint Sophia's Cathedral

The Bell Tower of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral

 

Looking down on Saint Sophia's Cathedral from the Bell Tower

Looking down on Saint Sophia’s Cathedral from the Bell Tower

 

Sofiiska Square from the Bell Tower

Sofiiska Square from the Bell Tower

 

War and Famine

Walking from Arsenalna towards Lavra, I recommend going to the Park of Eternal Glory. There are a couple of things in this park which I recommend seeing. I saw the two figures below on plinths but I was unable to find any information about them sadly.

Sadly I have no information on these figures

Sadly I have no information on these figures

 

Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub was a Ukrainian fighter pilot in the Soviet Air Force during World War 2. He flew over 300 missions and shot down 62 enemy aircraft during the war, more than any other Allied pilot. He was also made a Hero of the Soviet Union on three separate occasions – only Georgy Zhukov and Leonid Brezhnev were awarded this four times. A military university in the city of Kharkiv is named after him.

 

Monument to Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub - Ace fighter pilot

Monument to Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub – Ace fighter pilot

 

 

Sadly my Ukrainian is not good enough to translate this

Sadly my Ukrainian is not good enough to translate this

 

The Monument to the Unknown Soldier. I think this translates something like “Glory to the resting soldier”.

 

Monument to Unknown Soldier

Monument to Unknown Soldier

 

The ‘main’ monument in the park is the Holodomor Monument. This monument is part of a museum dedicated to three Ukrainian genocides/famines between 1921-1947 which claimed between 7-10 million lives. The total number of deaths is impossible to determine, with some estimates even higher. Important to remember.

Holodomor Monument

Holodomor Monument

 

 

Holodomor Monument - In the shape of a candle

Holodomor Monument – In the shape of a candle

 

 

Christmas Market on Sofiiska Square

Sofiiska Square is where the main celebration of Christmas in Kyiv is located. The city’s Christmas tree is also located on this square which featured a Christmas market as well. The market was packed with stalls of hot Ukrainian food and drinks such as Uzvar – a traditional hot, sweet Ukrainian drink made from dried fruit – apples, pears, cherries, raisins, as well as fresh fruits and berries. There were also stalls selling Ukrainian products which would be good souvenirs/presents for family and friends at home. Looking at these photos is bringing back memories of the great smells of all the food and drink!

 

Uzvar - Traditional Ukrainian Christmas drink

Uzvar – Traditional Ukrainian Christmas drink

 

Many market stalls on the square

Many market stalls on the square

 

Food, glorious food

Food, glorious food

 

Hot drinks and hot food

Hot drinks and hot food

 

Hot drinks, with and without alcohol

Hot drinks, with and without alcohol

 

I don't know where to start....

I don’t know where to start….

 

Hot wine

Hot wine

 

I tried the Lviv style (2nd on left) which means with coffee. It was very good.

I tried the Lviv style (2nd on left) which means with coffee. It was very good.

 

So many delicious pastries to try

So many delicious pastries to try

 

A carnivores heaven!

A carnivores heaven!

 

 

 

Orchestra

I think it would be impossible to celebrate Christmas in Kyiv without involving music. Of all the countries I have been to, Ukraine really loves music. You will see musicians performing all over the city. When I was here during late Spring, I even stumbled across a karaoke competition outside the University. Ukrainians really love music and at the market they had a stage which included an orchestra and singers. Check out the videos below. I was a very happy man this day!

Have I tempted you to spend Christmas in Kyiv? I had such a great time there. Maybe I will go back again in 2018…….

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Marteen
    March 10, 2018 at 11:20

    It’s like a Winter Wonderland! It seems like a great place to stay at Christmas. The cakes look delicious 😋 The architecture is just awe inspiring.

    • Damien
      Reply
      Damien
      March 12, 2018 at 12:32

      The food was certainly delicious and Kyiv can be a beautiful city. I think I got lucky with the weather too!

  • Reply
    Chris Behrsin
    March 8, 2018 at 21:01

    Looks absolutely wonderful. So many places further north are sadly neglected in winter. But in the snow they can also be at their most stunning. I particularly liked your photos of Pechersk Lavra — the gold against the alabaster walls and snow. The music is beautiful as well and the street market food looks tantalizing. I now want supper all over again :).

    • Damien
      Reply
      Damien
      March 9, 2018 at 11:03

      No matter how full i am, thinking about food makes me hungry too haha.

  • Reply
    Rashmi and Chalukya
    March 8, 2018 at 06:19

    Stunning pictures! The Pechersk Lavra is magnificent and the interior is breathtaking! The Christmas market at the Sofiiska Square sounds awesome to try some local delicacies and to buy some great gifts and souvenirs.

    • Damien
      Reply
      Damien
      March 9, 2018 at 10:53

      Thank you! The Lavra is the number one site in Kyiv and it is easy to see why. Kyiv has fast become one of my favourite places to visit as well. I am actually back there now looking for some souvenirs for friends at home.

  • Reply
    Bernie
    March 7, 2018 at 17:50

    What a beautiful and fascinating place! That’s definitely going on my list. I was amazed how much snow had fallen in that one day, and much admired your dedication to keeping warm by testing the local cakes. Architecture and history are two of my loves, and your pictures of both are stunning.

    • Damien
      Reply
      Damien
      March 9, 2018 at 10:50

      Thank you very much. If you love architecture and history, then I think you will love Kyiv!

  • Reply
    Jing
    March 7, 2018 at 12:45

    The variety of food at the Christmas market looks overwhelming! Would be a nice way of finding something warm for the stomach under a cold weather. I’m so intrigued at the hot wine!

    • Damien
      Reply
      Damien
      March 9, 2018 at 10:47

      There was a lot of food to chose from. I had to go back several times to try more 🙂

  • Reply
    Christine
    March 7, 2018 at 12:28

    Ukraine looks like such a cool place to spend Christmas! From the snow to the Christmas markets and the tasty looking food, what more could you want? I’d like to visit Kyiv someday!

    • Damien
      Reply
      Damien
      March 9, 2018 at 10:43

      I agree! Though after 4 months of snow and minus temperatures, I am dreaming of a beach!

  • Reply
    Jenn and Ed Coleman
    March 4, 2018 at 01:06

    Kyiv looks like a beautiful city to spend Christmas in. Newly fallen snow, especially Christmas snow is so magical. I bet there was a claymation movie I watched as a kid that said exactly that. I love how joyous the city looks and feels with with the markets and festivals. We always went to the Kiev both at the Balboa Nights Christmas celebration in San Diego. Their food and drinks were always top notch, especially the hot spiced wine.

    • Damien
      Reply
      Damien
      March 7, 2018 at 10:48

      I know exactly what you mean. Ukraine is in some ways moving more towards the west and I suspect that the markets at Christian Christmas as opposed to Orthodox Christmas in January will only get bigger each year.

  • Reply
    Nicole Lewis
    March 3, 2018 at 20:11

    What a beautiful city and steeped in such a rich history! And the food, wow. I am always drawn in by history and food and have now added it to my must see list.

    • Damien
      Reply
      Damien
      March 7, 2018 at 10:46

      I think people think of Kyiv and get the wrong idea because of other events in the east of Ukraine. It really is a fantastic city.

  • Reply
    Danik
    March 3, 2018 at 15:51

    I love Kyiv, such an amazing city. I have been there a few years, once in the summer and once in the winter (last year) and by god it was so bloody cold! Looking at the photos brought back a lot of memories. Cant wait to get back to Ukraine soon.

    • Damien
      Reply
      Damien
      March 7, 2018 at 10:45

      I really like the city too. It was cold but I was in Siberia recently where it was only -20C so Kyiv seemed tropical by comparison. I am actually in Moscow now waiting to go back to Kyiv tonight.

  • Reply
    Delisa Zak
    March 3, 2018 at 12:55

    Great article! Love all the photos of the market and all the food! I definitely want to go visit Kyiv someday.

    • Damien
      Reply
      Damien
      March 7, 2018 at 10:44

      Thank you. The market was certainly great and the food was amazing!

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