Kharkiv is associated with production and trade, a reputation that has continued since it was the third-largest centre of industry in the USSR. As for tourism, Kharkiv was never directly affected by the recent dispute in eastern Ukraine, and life has returned to normal. Below are the top 10 things do in Kharkiv.
Something helpful about the city centre is that all the landmarks and attractions are on or near the main route, Sumska Street. You will be able to walk to nearly everything on this list. Right from impressive Soviet-era squares to a whole roll-call of kid-friendly outings like the action-packed Maxim Gorky Park and the Nemo Dolphinarium.
Top 10 things to do in Kharkiv
- Maxim Gorky Park
- Annunciation Cathedral
- Taras Shevchenko Gardens
- Mirror Stream Fountain
- Freedom Square
- Kharkiv Fine Arts Museum
- Assumption Cathedral
- Constitution Square
- Kharkiv Historical Museum
1. Maxim Gorky Park
A few minutes away from the centre is a 130-hectare park that has a few days out rolled into one. First, it’s a complex and well-maintained city garden, bound with tree-lined avenues, expansive lawns, ponds carvings, a gazebo and a Temple of Diana. But there are also plenty of family-oriented entertainments. The park also has a Ferris wheel that overlooks the skyline and has a far-reaching view of the city. You will also be able to find an aerial ropeway, carousels, a haunted house and even a roller coaster. Everything is covered in clean woodland and during the summer holidays, there are live shows for kids on the stage.
2. Annunciation Cathedral
By the Lopan River, Kharkiv’s Neo-Byzantine Annunciation Cathedral is huge. When it was constructed in the late 19th century, it was one of the most magnificent churches in the Russian Empire. The tallest structure is the bell tower, which crests at 80 metres. The construction was completed in 1888 which is 12 years before the church was consecrated. Also do not forget to note the candy-stripe effect of the classic Byzantine rings of red bricks and white stone. The interior has space for 4,000 worshippers and a couple of the things to visit are the seated image of Athanasius of Alexandria in the south aisle and the iconostasis made from white Carrara marble.
3. Taras Shevchenko Gardens
This grand park situated at the very centre of the city has a web of paths and alleys while it is edged by towering oaks and delivering you to fountains and sculptures. The most prominent of these is the monument to Taras Shevchenko next to Sumska Street. Among the hundreds of monuments for the 19th-century poet, this one, dating to 1935, is also considered to be the finest. Despite its size, it took only one year to create. Famous actors from Kharkiv’s Berezil Theatre also posed as characters from Shevchenko’s works. Strolling around the park you will also note the size and age of the oak trees. They are the remains of an oak forest that protected the northern approach to the Kharkiv fortress in the 17th century.
4. Mirror Stream Fountain
Across the way from Kharkiv Philharmonic on Sumska Street, this fountain was constructed in 1947 to celebrate the Soviet victory in the Second World War. If you are wondering how a Soviet-era war monument could have such a romantic design, there is a long back-story to describe it. At that time, the Secretary of the regional communist party had a long-term unreturned love. After the war, he sent her on vacation to the Russian resort of Kislovodsk. In a letter, she sent a photo back of a gazebo in Kislovodsk that she had taken a shine to. So when the time came for Kharkiv to build a war monument, he tried to recreate that display for her. This did not go down very well and the official disappeared soon after but the monument is still there. You need to visit this monument at night when it is illuminated.
5. Freedom Square
Bordering Taras Shevchenko Gardens to the north is this eighth-largest city square in Europe. Freedom Square comprises of 12 whole hectares while it is up to 750 metres long and 125 metres across. One reason for the absence of monuments is because its statue of Lenin was ripped down by protesters in 2014. No charges were brought and the statue decided not to rebuild. Instead, there is going to be a new 86-metre column, with an angel and orthodox cross, watching over famous figures from the history of Sloboda Ukraine (Kharkiv’s historical region).
You do not have to be an architecture student to be succeeded by the Constructivist Derzhprom (State Industry) complex that banks up on the west side of Freedom Square. When it was completed in the year 1920, it became the largest building by floor area in the world, seized only by New York’s skyscrapers. Made from concrete and comprising a number of overhead walkways, it is one of those buildings that need you to step back to enjoy both its size and the fact that it is completely balanced. The Derzhprom has 45,000 windows and 17 hectares of glazing.
7. Kharkiv Fine Arts Museum
The city’s art museum is located between the Mirror Stream Fountain and the Lovebirds Monument. The venue is a Neoclassical palace from 1913. But the collection goes back to the start of the 19th century when Kharkiv University acquired a variety of works by European masters like van Dyck and Albrecht Dürer. The museum took damage in the Second World War, but its most worthy pieces had already been placed in a safe room. Some of the masterpieces include Russian artists like the Romantic, Ivan Aivazovsky, the Modernist Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, and the Realist Ilya Repin. The museum has a version of Repin’s famed Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, which he designed while working on the original.
8. Assumption Cathedral
Built-in the 1770s, this eye-catching golden-domed church combines Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. It was Kharkiv’s main Conservative place of worship until the construction of the Annunciation Cathedral. Unfortunately, the cathedral was gutted by the Soviet authorities in the 1930s but has been restored in stages since the 1970s. The gilded iconostasis is believed to have been the work of the praised Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The cathedral’s separate Neoclassical bell tower measures 90 metres in height. It is also said to be Kharkiv’s tallest building until the 21st century.
9. Constitution Square
This plaza is roughly where the Kharkiv Fortress used to stand in the 18th century and is a site for public gatherings. Bounded by some 200 years of architecture, the variety of styles reflects the varying age of these buildings. There is also a fine four-storey mansion built for ministry visiting the Assumption Cathedral. A few metres from the city’s historical museum is the Freedom Monument.
10. Kharkiv Historical Museum
This museum stranded on Constitutional Square has a slightly odd position as it seems to be facing in the wrong direction, fronting Universytetska Street instead of the plaza. You will know the museum by its glass facade, and historic cannons and tanks guarding the entrance. One of these is a British-made Mark V, dating back to 1918 and captured by Soviets in the Ukrainian War of Independence in 1919. Holding 3,00,000 exhibits, the museum is also one of the most comprehensive in its field in Ukraine. You will also be able to find weapons, medals, coins, uniforms, paintings and photographs from its collections.
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