Kharkiv – this is the city that is best known for its Soviet architecture. But there is much more to discover. After all, with 1.45 million inhabitants, Kharkiv is larger than Munich or Detroit and even the second largest city in Ukraine after Kyiv. We collected the 20 best things to do in Kharkiv.
Admire the Dershprom – the first skyscraper of the Soviet Union
In a top 10 or 20 of Kharkiv, of course, the Dershprom always should be at number 1. In my opinion, the huge building should become a Unesco World Heritage Site, because it is at least as innovative as the Bauhaus buildings in Weimar and Dessau. It is also one of the best examples of Soviet Constructivism and was the first skyscraper in the Soviet Union. At 63 meters (108 meters with antenna), it doesn’t look particularly tall today, but in its day both the height and the architecture, with its floating passageways, were revolutionary in the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, there are still no guided tours through the building. I hope the city of Kharkiv will change that soon.
Run once across Freedom Square
It is one of the largest squares in Europe and still half the size of Alexanderplatz in Berlin – Freedom Square in Kharkiv. The square is up to 750 meters long and up to 125 meters wide and has a total area of 12 hectares. Originally named after the founder of the Soviet secret police Felix Dzherschynski, the city’s 23-meter-high Lenin monument also stood here from 1963. However, after the start of the war in eastern Ukraine, the Lenin Monument was toppled in 2014 and the pedestal was later removed. The square often hosts concerts and the Kharkiv Christmas market.
Enjoy the view from the Ferris wheel in Maxim Gorki Park
For me, one of the most beautiful discoveries in Kharkiv is the Maxim Gorki Park in Kharkiv. Originally created as a forest for riding horses and designed after the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, it is still the largest park in the city and also includes an amusement park. A roller coaster, which is quite good for Ukraine, runs there. And here is also the largest Ferris wheel in Ukraine from which you can enjoy a fantastic view of the city.
Ride on one of the best cable cars in the world in Kharkiv
And yet another thing to do in Kharkiv begins in Gorky Park – or ends here, depending on your point of view – the Kharkiv cable car. The British Guardian even named it one of the ten best cable cars in the world. Even though I personally wouldn’t go quite that far now, the cable car is definitely a nice experience. The small gondolas are suitable for two people and therefore especially good for couples. The ride takes about 20 minutes, but you cover a distance of about 1.5 kilometers. So it’s like walking, except that you float above the city and can enjoy the view of Kharkiv.
Snacks Ukrainian sweets in candy store Vedmedyk
The history of the Soviet Union was mainly bitter for Ukraine. But this does not mean that there weren’t any sweet things. Especially the sweets of the Soviet Union were not as bad as people think. The best of them at that time were available in the candy store Vedmedyk. However, this was founded much earlier, in 1908. Nevertheless, inside it still looks like it did in the Soviet Union or shortly after. But the sweets still taste good!
Measures the temperature on the giant thermometer
You want to know how freezing cold or how super hot it is in Kharkiv right now? The normal temperature range in the city is exactly in between, but often more at the extremes than in the middle. You can see all this on the largest thermometer in Ukraine, maybe even in Europe. It was attached to the Institute of Meteorology in 1972 and today serves mainly as a meeting place for evening appointments. Therefore, everyone in the city knows it and you should definitely have seen it!
Celebrate Ukrainian independence at the monument to independence
There used to be another monument here, which was often referred to as the refrigerator. However, due to decommunization, i.e. the law on the removal of symbols of communist oppression, it was removed. Instead, there is now a monument to the independence of Ukraine.
Climbing on the world war tanks at the Kharkiv Historical Museum
One of the technical sights in Kharkiv is right in front of the Historical Museum. At the glass cube of the museum you can admire two real world war tanks. The older of the two tanks is a British Mark V. After the First World War, the British supplied the White Army in the Civil War in Russia with 70 of these fighting machines. Due to the victories of the Red Army, the tanks were captured and initially used by the Red Army after the Civil War. Later, the Communists displayed them in various places in the Soviet Union to commemorate the October Revolution. Next to the Mark V is a T-34, the most produced Soviet tank in World War II, which helped the Soviets defeat the German forces.
Admire the lights at the “Mirror stream” fountain
The Mirror Stream fountain is one of the most famous sights of the city. It is especially fun to watch in the evening, when the lights change color every few seconds. In summer, children often jump into the large fountains to cool off. The fountain was built during Stalin’s rule but doesn’t make it any less popular..
Be impressed by the atmosphere in the Pokrovsky Monastery
Pokrovsky Monastery is the oldest monastery in the city. The local Pokrovski church was first built by Cossacks as early as 1659, only five years after the foundation of the city. Initially, only the church stood here, which was an integral part of the Kharkiv fortress and is the only part of the fortress preserved to this day. In 1726 the monastery was founded here. Closed and severely neglected during the Soviet times, the monastery was transferred back to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in 1992. Today the monastery shines again in its old splendor and is one of the most impressive spiritual experiences in Kharkiv.
Jump over the 50th parallel
Imaginary borders are always a tourist magnet and popular photo motif. And so it is hardly surprising that in Kharkiv you can find a monument at the place where the 50th parallel crosses the city. During my visit I crossed it several times. This pigeon did not care much either.
Buy delicious delicacies in Sumska market hall
Market halls in Ukraine are usually not particularly inviting places. Meat is lying around openly, there is sometimes a strong smell and they are rarely nice to look at. In Kharkiv it is quite different, because here you can find not only delicacies from Ukraine and the world. Here there are also many food stalls in between selling delicious food. So it’s a pleasant incentive to feast! Here you can also pick up some nice souvenirs, such as delicious jams or honey, which the sellers will also be happy to let you try.
Discover the zebra stripes of the Annunciation Cathedral
I find its shape and appearance quite appealing: the Annunciation Cathedral in Kharkiv has red and white stripes. It is definitely worth a few photos and glances. The cathedral is the main church in Kharkiv and with its 80 meter high tower also one of the landmarks of the city. It was built in 1888 in neo-Byzantine style.
Blush in the Sex Museum
Probably the most curious museum in the city is the Sex Museum. The museum is actually called Research Museum of the Sexual Cultures of the World and is an institution of the Sexology Department of Kharkiv Medical Academy of Postgraduate Studies. The museum was founded in 1999 from the personal collection of a professor and deals with sexuality in the cultures of the world. Therefore, here you can learn not only about Kama Sutra, but also in many other cultures. The friendly lady in charge of the museum will be happy to show you around the exhibition and give you lots of useful information that you can put into practice elsewhere.
Enjoy a ride on the Kharkiv Metro
Subways, especially in the former Soviet Union, are quite fascinating. The metros in Moscow and Kyiv were built a long time ago and are veritable cathedrals of the working class. The metro in Kharkiv, on the other hand, was built only in the Seventies and comes across as somewhat more plain. Nevertheless, the trains rattle just as loudly as in Moscow and Kyiv, and some reminders of the Soviet Union can be found here as well.
Smell the spring flowers in the Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden of the Karasin University is the central research garden of the city. Over 2,000 species from all continents are cultivated here. The collection also includes 15 species that are threatened with extinction. Besides exploring the plant life, the Botanical Garden is simply great for a nice walk and to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Listen to the latest records in Kultura Zvukha
The most beautiful record store in the city wants above all to revive the “Culture of Listening”. Hence the name of Kultura Zvukha. The founders not only run parties under this label, but also distribute records they import from the hottest labels in the world. DJ courses are also organized here. If you want, you can also buy a stylish record player here.
Strain your neck at the sight of the Dormition Cathedral
The Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary has been the highest church in Ukraine since the Napoleonic period and is surpassed only by the great bell tower of the Kyiv Cave Monastery. It towers a full 90 meters into the sky to this day. However, this was not always safe, as the Soviets misused it as a radio tower in the 1920s and destroyed large parts of the inventory. It has been properly renovated only since Ukrainian independence. Its height has only been surpassed by two residential buildings in recent years.
Get inspired by the street art of Gamlet
If you walk through the streets of Kharkiv and you are not completely blind, you will hardly be able to miss the street art of the artist Gamlet. And that is good, because it is one of the best Kharkiv sights. Gamlet expresses many thoughts with his paintings, which are all in grayscale. However, it is advisable to photograph the pieces and ask someone with knowledge of Russian and Ukrainian to translate them. Gamlet, by the way, refers both to Hamlet, which is pronounced Gamlet, as there is no letter H in Russian. On the other hand, it also means “sound of time.” His artworks are as poetic as the name, as you can see.
Discover the hip art of tomorrow at the Yermilov Center
One of the best museums of modern art in Eastern Europe is the Yermilov Center. It is located in the building of Karasin University. The ever-changing exhibitions are always revisiting new themes. I particularly enjoyed an exhibition on Constructivist theaters in 1920s Soviet Ukraine, which was extremely interesting. But there are also contemporary artworks from Eastern Europe and the West on display. Be sure to stop by!