Despite Ukraine only becoming an independent country in 1991, the destination itself boasts a rich history that goes back thousands of years and features the influences of numerous cultures and civilizations within its landscapes, with no less than 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites being found within its borders.
While there are several historical landmarks dating back to the Middle Ages, the country is also home to a rich modern history committed to making its mark on the world through several monuments dedicated to the independence of the young nation.
From centuries-old marvels to new monuments of national pride, these are the 15 most famous landmarks in Ukraine that all visitors to the country need to see.
The 15 Most Famous Landmarks in Ukraine
1. Independence Square
Known locally as Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square is one of the most recognizable views of Ukraine and serves as the central square of Kyiv, the country’s capital city.
While the site dates back over a thousand years, the square only became an important center of the city in the mid-19th century, at which point it became a critical commercial hub within the Russian Empire, known as Khreshchatyk Square.
Following Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the square was renamed to its current Independence Square. In 2001, the Independence Monument was added to the square to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the country’s independence, and it continues to be one of the most recognizable monuments in the country today.
Independence Square continues to be the political and social center of the capital city and is one of the most iconic attractions you have to see when visiting Ukraine.
2. Sophia Cathedral
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990, the Saint Sophia Cathedral was constructed in Kyiv in the 11th century to rival the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The construction was intended to instate Kyiv as the “new Constantinople” while ushering in the Christian principality of Kyiv.
Over a millennium later, the Sophia Cathedral is still one of the most impressive buildings in Ukraine’s capital city, and it is easily recognizable by its colorful green domes topped with golden crosses and its distinctive designs combining Byzantine architecture and Ukrainian Baroque styles.
Along with being one of the most iconic landmarks in Ukraine, the Sophia Cathedral also serves as a modern-day museum where visitors can explore relics from the city’s religious history.
3. Mother Ukraine Monument
Formerly known as the Motherland Monument, Mother Ukraine is an impressive 62-meter sculptor dating back to the Soviet era, with its initial construction meant to commemorate the soviet victory during WWII.
The titanium statue depicts the embodiment of Mother Ukraine with her arms outstretched above her head, holding a sword and shield in a moment of victory. The shield originally depicted the hammer and sickle of the region’s soviet heritage but was replaced in July 2023 to instead depict Ukraine’s coat of arms, the Tryzub.
Mother Ukraine is a part of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War in Kyiv and is a must-visit landmark when exploring Ukraine’s capital city.
4. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is perhaps the most infamous landmark in Ukraine and spans a radius of 30 kilometers from the nuclear power plant that played host to the most devastating nuclear disaster in history.
Established by the Soviet Armed Forces following the 1986 disaster, management of The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone passed to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine following the country’s independence in 1991 and continues to restrict access to approximately 2,600 square kilometers surrounding the site for nearly 40 years following the incident.
While visitors are unable to access the site on their own, they can arrange for a private tour of Pripyat, the abandoned city at the heart of the disaster. Among the landmark’s top sights are its iconic Ferris wheel, the remains of decaying buildings, and the eerie overgrowth of the deserted streets.
5. Kyiv Pechersk Lavra
Also known as the Monastery of the Caves, Kyiv Pechersk Lavra has served as the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe since the site’s conception in 1051.
As the name suggests, the monastery started within one of the landscape’s natural caves. However, as the monastery grew, several additions were added to the complex, including the Great Lavra Bell Tower, Dormition Cathedral, the Gate Church of the Trinity, and more.
Along with Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kyiv Pechersk Lavra was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990, cementing it as one of the most famous historical landmarks in Ukraine.
Today, Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is home to one of Kyiv’s most prominent museums and invites tourists to explore the site’s thousand-year history through a series of exhibits located within its historical caves and buildings. The exhibits display relics and artifacts that provide a further glimpse and insight into the region’s religious past.
6. Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle
Known as one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe, Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle is a picturesque construction dating back to the 14th century and is located along the Smotrich River in western Ukraine.
Originally built as a critical defensive bulwark protecting the country from invaders, the castle features several defensive fortifications along with numerous additions made over the centuries, with the complex boasting 12 towers, a fortified wall, and a castle bridge at the height of its glory.
Of its twelve towers, seven remain standing today, and the preserved castle remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in the western regions of the country, attracting thousands of tourists each year as one of the best medieval landmarks in Ukraine.
7. Golden Gate
The main gate of Kyiv’s 11th-century fortifications, the Golden Gate served as the entryway into the capital city of Kievan Rus and was designed to emulate the gate of the same name in Constantinople.
The gate proved a protective barrier against numerous foreign attacks over the years and received heavy damage during a Mongol invasion in the 13th century. Attempts of repairs were made, but further battles saw irreparable damages, and the gate was covered with dirt in the mid-18th century.
The Golden Gate that stands monumental over modern-day Kyiv is actually a 20th-century reproduction of the original gate constructed in 1982. While this proved controversial due to the conflicting recounts of the gate’s architecture, the Golden Gate nevertheless regrew into one of the most iconic landmarks in Ukraine today.
While the monumental building is a sight to behold on its own, the Golden Gate also serves as the home of a branch of the National Sanctuary “Sophia of Kyiv” Museum and contains many artifacts of the region’s past.
8. Potemkin Stairs
Also known as the Boulevard Steps, the Giant Staircase, and the Richelieu Steps, the Potemkin Stairs extend for 142 meters and serve as a formal entryway to the Ukrainian city of Odessa from the Black Sea.
Constructed between 1837 and 1841, the massive staircase was designed to connect the elevated city directly to the harbourfront and originally consisted of 200 steps. Renovations in 1933 reduced this number to 192 but also added ten landings.
The staircase itself was made famous in the 1925 movie Battleship Potemkin, considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time, and has served as an iconic landmark in Ukraine and specifically in Odessa for nearly a century.
The colossal staircase continues to be the most popular attraction in Odessa among tourists, who flock to the site to walk along its iconic steps to the foot of the Duc de Richelieu statue that sits on his perch atop the stairs.
9. St. Peter and St . Paul’s Cathedral
St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral and its associated Jesuit college were built in the 17th century for the Society of Jesus in Lutsk and have grown to become one of the most iconic landmarks in Ukraine.
Upon its opening, 150 people studied at the college, but that number more than doubled as the school grew in popularity as a site of higher learning. Teaching subjects of moral theology, philosophy, physics, mathematics, fencing, languages, dancing, and theater, the college attracted students from the city and nearby Lviv, Ostroh, and Kyiv.
The college was closed by order of Pope Clement XIV in 1773, and the church was elevated to Cathedral status to replace the Holy Trinity cathedral that had burned down on the same street.
Now known as St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral, the complex continued to thrive over the following century and a half despite the region’s brewing religious conflicts. However, the cathedral was eventually closed by the soviet government in 1946, and many of the religious artifacts were lost.
The site has been restored following Ukraine’s independence, and St. Peter and St. Paul’s cathedral continues to hold mass to this day and has even become a national landmark in Ukraine.
10. Lviv High Castle
Set atop Castle Hill, the Lviv High Castle is the ruined remains of a 13th-century fortification that marks both the center of the city as well as its highest point. Also known as Vysoky Zamok, the castle was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times throughout its existence between the 13th and 19th centuries.
While not much of the complex remains today, exploring the historical ruins has become one of the most popular tourist activities in the city, with the hilltop promising some of the most beautiful 360-degree views of the region.
Lviv High Castle may not be as well preserved as other sites featured on this list, but they are nonetheless one of the most iconic landmarks in Ukraine today.
11. St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
One of the most iconic structures peeking out over the landscapes of Kyiv, St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery was initially constructed in the Middle Ages and had several renovations added to the complex in the following centuries, particularly in the 1700s.
The historic monastery was largely destroyed in the 1930s by the soviet government, but the complex was ultimately rebuilt following the Ukrainian Independence, with the cathedral once again opening to the public in 1999.
Dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Michael the Archangel, the extensive complex was named the headquarters of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in 2018 and has served as a religious center of both the country and its capital city ever since.
Marveling at the impressive architecture and iconic golden domes of the monastery has become a quintessential tourist activity in Kyiv, but tourists should also plan to stop by the museum in the complex’s bell tower for an insightful look into the monastery’s history.
12. Pidhirtsi Castle
Located in a small village within the Lviv Oblast province, Pidhirtsi Castle is considered one of the most valuable palace-garden complexes in the eastern borderlands and is famous for being one of the most haunted castles in Ukraine.
Built between 1635 and 1640 atop an older fortress that occupied the area, the castle was a part of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland.
The castle was sieged numerous times over the following centuries, but it managed to withstand all attacks thanks to its strong fortifications. The site remained within Polish borders until the end of WWII, at which point the region was annexed to Ukraine.
Today, Pidhirtsi Castle belongs to the Lviv Art Gallery and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region, attracting visitors to marvel at its Renaissance-influenced architecture while exploring its historic halls, which are said to be haunted by a mysterious lady in white.
13. Olesky Castle
While the first historical record of Olesky Castle is from 1327, the original construction of the complex is believed to have occurred during the Middle Ages, making the landmark one of the oldest castles in western Ukraine.
Located near the Ukrainian-Polish border just outside of Lviv, Olesky Castle has a tumultuous history and is known to have been passed between Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary throughout its existence.
Throughout the centuries, the castle was devastated by fires, earthquakes, wars, and vandalism. Finally, in 1975, the site was awarded the status of museum-reserve by the Lviv Art Gallery, preserving the site for modern tourists.
Today, visitors can explore the historic complex, which includes a surrounding park and a series of exhibits throughout the castle.
14. Odessa National Opera House
For over two centuries, the National Opera House has served as one of the most iconic buildings in Odessa and has been the heart of Ukraine’s entertainment industry.
The first opera house constructed on the site was built in 1810 but was destroyed by fires a few centuries later. The current structure that occupies the site was completed in 1887 in the neo-baroque style, with a series of renovations occurring in the following century and a half.
Today, the Odessa National Opera House is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Ukraine and continues to host operas, ballets, and other live performances, making it one of the top attractions in the city.
15. Khotyn Fortress
Nestled along the right bank of the Dniester River in Khotyn, the Khotyn Fortress is another iconic fortification and is one of southwestern Ukraine’s most famous landmarks.
With the site’s oldest fortifications dating back to the 10th century, the site is considered one of the oldest fortresses in Eastern Europe and received numerous renovations and additions over the following centuries.
Today, the site is one of the most extensive fortresses in Ukraine and consists of five defensive towers, a castle, and a courtyard. It has been featured in numerous movies in recent years, making it one of the most famous historical landmarks in the country.