The internet is full of people questioning whether it is safe to travel to Kiev. The answer is yes – as long as you are sensible – as you should be when travelling to any city. Avoiding the troubled East of the country and the Crimea is wise but that is a fair distance from Kiev. Check the Government website for up to date advice. There did not seem to be a good up to date guide book for Kiev available so I used the internet and a five year old In your pocket guide as my main resources which was not ideal.
GETTING AROUND/ PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Be prepared to walk – lots! After all that is the best way to see everything. We walked around 14 miles each day on average! Unlike most cities we have visited there are not lots of free maps readily available to help you get around, but we asked at our hotel and they had a free map to give us [hidden under the counter]. There are trams and buses too which are cheap but we did not try those out.
You can get a cheap Skybus into Kiev or book a taxi in advance on the internet which is good value if there are a few of you travelling together. A taxi to the city should cost about £20. We used Safe Airport Taxi who were reliable and our transfer to the city was excellent. We were not happy about the return journey though as the driver was texting on his phone most of the journey which was worrying. I did email feedback and they say they are acting on my complaint.
The Metro system is excellent, efficient and cheap, costing under 30p per journey ! [8 UAH]. There are only three lines so it’s hard to get lost if you concentrate. There should be a big M above the station, if you hear an annoying clicking sound you know that you are near a Metro entrance.
You need to buy a plastic token which is valid for one journey from the ticket office. You can only buy a token for a single journey i.e. you cannot buy a token for your return in advance. The Metro’s are quite deep underground, Arsenalna is the deepest in the world! The moving handrails often go faster than the escalator which can be rather disconcerting.
The nicest way to visit St Michael’s Cathedral is to get the funicular up the steep hill. The lower station for this is next to Poshotova Plosha Metro.
The Hryvnia [UAH] -pronounced Grovniah, is a closed currency, which means you are generally unable to purchase any in advance which is a pain in the bum. My advice would be to take Euros or US dollars with you as they are easy to exchange in Kiev. If you want some local currency to get you by you can change money at the airport but the exchange rate is not that great. If you choose this option don’t head for the first exchange you see at the aiport but turn left in the arrivals lounge and you will see a small exchange booth which has better rates. You will find the best rates are in town where there are plenty of places to exchange money, sometimes in the most unlikliest of places – for example in a deli! You can use credit cards but there are some reports of cloning so we avoided this and just paid for the hotel by credit card and used cash for everything else. A little UAH does go a long way in Kiev. Regarding tipping, we rounded up when paying in restaurants and gave a bit more for good service when we felt it was deserved.
There do not appear to be any deals with Ukrainian networks with the UK, so if you use your mobile phone in Kiev you are likely to be in for a financial shock. We kept our phones on flight mode to avoid this and used hotspots and wifi when possible as well as relying on screen shots of Google Maps in addition to the paper map. You could buy a Ukrainian SIM card and preload it which may be a good option [kiosks sell them, so may the airline]. However, for these SIMs to work your mobile phone must not be locked to your UK provider. We got lost on more than one occasion and a friendly local was always keen to help, but as we were reliant on ‘sign language’ we soon got lost again! but that’s half the fun.
The Ukrainian language is closely related to Russian and has similarities to Polish. Their alphabet, consisting of 33 letters, is written in a form of the Cyrillic alphabet which means renders it it meaningless to Western tourists. Thankfully most road signs and most important information is written in English.
They may be clean and amazingly large but are also rather basic so are probably best avoided unless you are desperate! You may have to grab toilet paper from a dispenser before entering a cubicle, so bear that in mind! I would suggest a better option may be going to a cafe to have a rest and a wee in comfort.