Park Natalka is one of the many hidden park gems of Kyiv. Photo: Olena Borysenko
Tourists rarely have any definite expectations when they visit Kyiv, and I always rejoice upon hearing revelations that the city is very clean and green. Indeed, according to several surveys, Kyiv is rated as one of the greenest capitals in Europe. There are hundreds of parks, gardens, green zones, and boulevards. Descriptions of its well-known central parks can be found nearly in every guidebook. However, there is a bunch of green sites off the beaten track, which might conquer a spot in your memories along with the popular Mariyinskyi and Taras Shevchenko parks. So, here is my personal collection of seven atmospheric places for an autumn stroll in Kyiv.
The mighty VDNH
If you are looking for a place to visit as a family, or group of friends, VDNH would be a perfect location to keep everyone excited.
The abbreviation stands for the National Economy Achievements Exhibition, which opened in 1958 spearheaded by Nikita Khruschev to boast Soviet Ukraine’s achievements in agriculture and industries. It is the biggest exhibition complex in Ukraine, located on 280 hectares (about 700 acres) of land. Its central square is surrounded by a number of monumental buildings, which make up a unique architectural and palatial complex, the only one in Europe which represents all traditional architectural styles and orders.
VDNH was a mighty propaganda tool advertising all the advantages of socialist life, and it had to serve the purpose by its mere appearance.
It is a great place to admire Soviet art (sculptures, bas-reliefs, ornaments on the buildings) and nature, as most of its territory is covered by greenery. You can engage in various activities here all year long, having at your disposal an equestrian school, petting zoo, outdoor swimming pool and skating rink, high ropes course, paintball club, spherical projection theater, Museum of Science, park of swings, exhibits of ice sculptures, robots and butterflies, picnic grounds and much more.
You can also explore the woods going along an ecological trail which begins by the 600-year-old Oak of Glory and is marked with information stands to tell about plants and animals of Holosiyivsky nature park, the only Ukrainian park of national importance located within city borders.
You will forget about the 5-million City of Kyiv as soon as you set your foot on the trail.
The hidden botanical gardens
Another special place can be found within a 30-minute walk from VDNG. It is the botanical garden of the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, which is very little known to the residents of Kyiv. It has around 3,500 taxa of plants, and all of them are mentioned by name in Latin on little signs. There are 4 ecological trails, nice paved paths, all kinds of little alcoves and bridges, beautiful sculptures and carved forest creatures watching steps visitors.
As you walk under vines hanging from tall trees or step aside from the pavement to take a closer look at one of the installations, it feels like falling under a spell of this Fairyland. And then you suddenly find yourself standing next to dinosaurs at a fight, and at the next turn meet a Yeti and huge mammoth. The botanical garden has been reconstructed recently and shall be open again with free entrance, while tours in a company of a dendrologist have to be arranged on request.
If you would like to feel the beauty of the mighty Dnipro River, the third-longest in Europe, you should come to Natalka Park.
It is located by the Obolon embankment in one of the biggest living quarters of Kyiv. Here you can go fishing, rent a kayak and have a small chat with locals. The park’s biggest playground by the main entrance leaves children literally speechless, offering parents a chance to relax.
If you decide to walk towards the Northern Bridge, you will pass a zen garden with 24 rocks and a bronze mermaid. While moving in the opposite direction will bring you to the Kyiv aquatics stadium, a golf club, and an unusual concrete structure.
The latter is a caisson, nicknamed “steam train” or “submarine” due to its shape. It stands as a reminder of the secret Soviet project of the 1930-s, which presupposed the construction of tunnels under the river to connect the two banks in case of aerial bombardments. The project had to be suspended after WWII because of the invention of nuclear weapons.
A mini-train in a park
If you plan to visit Kyiv with kids, you may consider taking them to Syretsky Park, which has modern playgrounds and a new musical fountain with touch buttons to change the height of streams of water and colors. Moreover, there is a unique Kyiv Children Railway with a miniature copy of the Kyiv Central Railway Station.
The line is 5.6 km (ca. 3.5 miles) long and is operated by children who undergo training in railway specialties. Schedules of the fountain light shows and the Children’s Railway are updated according to season.
A Kozak village in central Kyiv
Another great place for a family visit is Vidradny Park. It is located at the source of the Lybid River, which bears the name of the sister of the legendary founders of Kyiv. There are labyrinths, swings, and slides to the taste of everyone, also, a sun-dial, viewing platform, lake in the shape of integral, sculptures, the Alley of Journalists, and Mamaieva Sloboda heritage museum, which is a reconstruction of a traditional Kozak village of the 17-18th centuries offering various activities.
Kyiv has its own Hogwarts. At least, the late 19th-century central building of the Sikorsky Polytechnic University with a wizard-like sculpture in front of it looks very much like Hogwarts. You can even go to the top of the tower (on the left from the main entrance) to take a glance at the campus.
The backside territory is just as attractive. There is a small outdoor exhibit of aircraft next to the university Polytechnic Museum, and a number of monuments set along the Alley of Scientists in honor of the famous graduates. If you like street art, you will be mesmerized by the mural “Growing-Up” (by Marat Morik, building #7) devoted to the father of practical astronautics Sergei Korolev. Another mind-blowing mural can be found on the wall of the university Culture and Arts Center – “The Impact of Discovery” (by Aaron Li-Hill).
A park for victories
If you decide to explore the Left Bank of Kyiv, don’t miss Peremoha (Victory) Park near Darnytsia metro station. It was opened in 1965 in the name of the victory gained in the Soviet-Nazi war. There are several old-style monuments bearing Soviet symbols, as well as new ones, including floral sculptures based on “The Alice in Wonderland.”
The Immortality Tumulus and tanks exhibit mark the central alley, which leads to adventure parks, a skating rink, and a Ferris wheel offering a birds-eye view of the Eastern part of the city. The park is very attractive all year round with a river flowing across, nice playgrounds, n exhilarating scent of pine trees and red squirrels running everywhere. It’s definitely worth a stroll if you are in search of new places away from the city center.
Exploring Kyiv does not necessarily mean visiting popular touristic spots. It is more about insight into the local life, and walks in parks are an inherent habit of Kyivites.
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