Top 10 Places to see in Kharkiv, Ukraine
Updated: Feb 18, 2019
Kharkiv is an unexpectedly cool city. It blends Imperial Russia with Soviet era institutions, and fresh sprinklings of the West . For a very brief period of time it, was the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. More importantly though, once upon a time this was a place I called home.
The city centre runs along the main artery known as Somksa Street. Trendy clothing boutiques and restaurants now fill the buildings erected for much more serious endeavours over a hundred years ago.
Who'd expect to see a Bob Marley music lounge in eastern Ukraine? See what I mean, this city is full of surprises.
One of the most delicious restaurants I have ever been to is actually a national chain called Puzata Hata, translated as Fat Belly Hut. It's a buffet style joint where traditional food is made mouth wateringly well and absurdly cheap (by foreign conversion rates).
This is Kharkiv's Puzata Hata. If you don't come here for lunch while in the city centre, you're on the wrong tour friend.
Each Puzata Hata looks entirely unique inside but the food is always the same outstanding quality. My favs: chicken patychky (kebab), cucumber salad, borscht, kolbassa (sausage), fried mushrooms, olivye (potato salad), varenyky (like pierogi but better), and okroshka (a cold soup based on milk). Oh and the homemade drink made from berries is GOLD.
The red car in the foreground of the above picture is a Nissan Juke. These Jukes were ALL over Ukraine. Ever wondered where unsold cars go? Nissan sold its Jukes to Ukraine after the car was discontinued in 2017.
Despite being an atheist country for the better part of the 20th century, Kharkiv is full of churches and cathedrals. Their tall domes peek out from all directions. I am particularly fond of this outstanding stripy church because I was baptized in it. I actually remember the day because I was 9 when my parents thought, "Hey, why not?".
The proper name for this beauty is the The Annunciation Cathedral. It was completed in 1901 in the Neo-Byzantine style. Even though it was a weekday, there was a service inside and I received some serious cut eye when I busted out the camera.
During the baptism, I distinctly recall the priest winding a long strand of my hair on his finger and asking whether I want to have a lot cut off or a little. My panic directed him to unwind most of it off and only a little was cut off. I was definitely not as happy as I am standing in the picture below. Probably in the same spot I decided the whole baptism thing isn't for me.
These stripes remind me of the Cathedral in Siena although that one is several centuries older, and decidedly Catholic.
One of Kharkiv's highlights is the Opera House. It stands on the main Somska Street, opposite the famous Mirror Stream Fountain. I saw quite a few performances here as a kid and it was really nostalgic to attend a show again after so many years.
Because it was built during the Soviet era, there's of course a grand monument to the glory of the Soviet people. I had no idea until this trip, that my grandmother was actually part of the construction crew on this building.
Meanwhile, teenagers practice their BMX tricks on the front steps of the Opera.
Across the street is Kharkiv's famous Mirror Stream Fountain. It's a UNESCO protected monument as an outstanding architectural wonder. It was built shortly after WWII and is a defining mark of the city.
At night time, there is a wonderful light show on the fountain which you can sit and stare at for hours.
The cathedral behind the fountain, Khram Svyatykh Zhon-Myronosytsʹ, is actually a very new addition. It wasn't there in my childhood and was apparently built with private funds. It certainly looks at least a century old.
Religion was strictly prohibited in the U.S.S.R. so several generations would have been raised without attending church or learning about religion in school. Yet, religion persisted and as soon as the U.S.S.R fell, churches began to open up once again. Which goes to show brute force doesn't have as much of a lasting change as soft persuasion.
Just a little further up Somska Street, is a huge park with a large monument to Taras Shekvchenko - Ukraine's most well known poet and essentially a national hero.
There are monuments and statues to him all over the country, the university in Kiev is named after him as well as numerous roads, parks and places around Ukraine. Of all the monuments I've seen, Kharkiv's was quite memorable due to its sheer size.
Kharkiv's city centre is carved out by two rivers - the Lopan and the Kharkiv Rivers. It's a really beautiful stroll along the river edge, coffee in hand.
Back in the city centre, there are still more churches to see and more parks to peruse. This park near the Sobornyi Descent had a huge artists' market set up in the afternoon. The art works on sale were superbly done and very affordable.
Right in the city centre is a 17th century monastery complex - the Dormition Cathedral. It in full operational mode with service and patrons coming in throughout the day. Upon entry, every visitor is carefully analyzed for appropriate wear.
Major warning, if you're dressed in jeans and a tank top like me, you will have to cover your head with a scarf, your shoulders with another scarf and your jeans with a third scarf. And if your scarves fall off, you will get yelled at by an aggressively scrupulous guard.
Right next to the monastery is Kharkiv's Historical Museum. Thankfully, it does not have a dress requirement. The museum spans several floors, and entry to each floor is paid for separately. However, that makes is very easy to navigate as each floor is its own distinct era.
The exhibits have some great artifacts on display although not every plaque is in English. I was far too enthralled to be taking pictures inside.
Word to the wise if you're visiting the museum - bring your own toilet paper. And soap. And some coins to pay for the facilities.
One weird thing about Ukraine as a whole is people really love their coffee. I mean they are obsessed with it to the point of having conversations with strangers about a particular coffee shop. That stranger was me and I almost missed my Uber driver who waited outside for 10 minutes while my AirBnB host explained her favourite digs to get a cup.
Meanwhile, the best coffee shop was just across the street. It's called the "Breadery" in translation and has the coolest interior, most delicious baked goods and outstanding lattes. And bread makes a perfect wrap for the day.
My Kharkiv walking List:
1. Somska Street
2. Puzata Hata
3. Opera House
4. Mirror Stream Fountain & the new Khram Svyatykh Zhon-Myronosytsʹ
5. Shevchenko Monument and Botanical Garden
6. Sobornyi Descent
7. Dormition Cathedral
8. Historical Museum
9. Lopan River walk
10. Annunciation Cathedral