Founded by Catherine the Great towards the end of the 18th century, Dnipro (formerly Dnipropetrovsk) is a city that grew on the back of a burgeoning manufacturing industry. Foundries, vehicle factories, weapons manufacturers and later an aerospace industry have been the backbone of Dnipro’s economy. And the plush mansions for the 19th-century industrialists and the longest promenade in Europe speak to the city’s fluctuating prosperity.
Up to the Second World War Dnipro had a rich Jewish heritage: A hundred years ago more than a quarter of Dnipro’s population was Jewish, and in the last few years a bold Jewish mixed-use development has cropped up. The Menorah is like nothing else like in Europe, a humungous complex combining shops, hotels, a museum and synagogue.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Dnipro:
1. Dmytro Jawornyzkyj Avenue
For 84 years up to 2016 Dnipro’s record-breaking avenue was named after Karl Marx.
But under a law to prohibit “Nazi and Communist propaganda” the honour was handed to the esteemed historian and lexicographer Dmytro Jawornyzkyj.
This broad, six-lane artery is flanked by rows of horse-chestnuts and is five kilometres in length, beginning in the east at the Monument of Eternal Glory and finally ending at Dnipro Central Station.
If you’re up for walking the entire length you’ll be compensated with a neat summary of Dnipro.
The avenue has all the city’s main historical monuments, parks, shopping areas, cultural amenities and colleges, as well as scores of cafes if you need to make a pit stop.
2. Menorah Center
The largest Jewish cultural centre in Europe opened in Dnipro in 2012 and it’s a dazzling complex, made up of hotels, banquet halls, an art gallery, kosher shops and restaurants, a synagogue and museum.
The project was jointly led by the presidents of the Dnipro United Jewish Community and Jewish Community of Ukraine, while the Sephardic Grand Rabbi and the Israel Minister for Information and Diaspora were in attendance when it opened.
On an everyday visit the main destination will be the Jewish Memory and Holocaust in Ukraine Museum.
The largest museum of its kind in the former Soviet Union, it retraces the events of the 1930s and 40s and studies their repercussions using cutting-edge multimedia displays.
3. Monastyrsky Island
The city’s own river island has been occupied for at least 2,000 years and was a staging post for early Christians and medieval merchants.
You can get to it on foot via an elegant metal arch footbridge, or on a panoramic cableway.
If you do walk, keep your eyes peeled for the soviet stars on the bridge’s panels as you cross.
Stepping onto the island you’ll be in the Taras Shevchenko Park, which we’ll talk about next.
On the far side of the island there’s a beach stretching for more than a kilometre down to the southern tip and packed with sunbathers in summer.
You’ll come across a couple of bars here, while on the near side is a freshwater aquarium and a centre renting out rowboats and kayaks.
4. Taras Shevchenko Park
The park at the upper end of Monastyrsky Island merits another entry because of how much is squeezed into such a small space.
One of the first things you’ll see is a Ferris wheel and a kitsch Soviet-style amusement park aimed at the smallest members of the family.
Turn left after the bridge and you’ll be at a statue of Taras Shevchenko.
This 19th-century poet is considered a Ukrainian Shakespeare for his lasting impact on the Ukrainian language.
And lastly, on the city side of the park is a dramatic man-made waterfall, built under the cross.
According to legend St Andrew stopped at this very place during his voyage along the Dnieper in the 1st century.
5. National History Museum
In a dignified Neoclassical mansion, Dnipro’s National History Museum follows the story of the city and region back to the Stone Age.
As well as prehistoric tools there are some riveting artefacts recovered from local Scythian burial mounds, which are up to 3,000 years old.
Where the museum really shines is in its galleries for Dnipro’s Industrial and 20th-century history.
You can peruse the fruits of Dnipro’s manufacturing industry, like weapons, a mine cart and a tractor.
There’s also an engaging exhibition of propaganda posters, the most disturbing from the man-made Holodomor famine that killed up to 10 million in 1932-33.
6. Transfiguration Cathedral
The foundation stone for Dnipro’s cathedral was laid by Empress Catherine the Great at the city’s inauguration in 1787. But that proved to be a bit of a false start, as construction didn’t begin until 1830. The church ended up having more modest proportions than the spiritual centre intended by Count Grigory Potemkin, but it’s beautiful all the same and is a Ukrainian national monument.
In a tale echoed by many churches in the country the Transfiguration Cathedral’s decoration was destroyed by Soviet troops, although the building did survive the Second World War unharmed.
A full restoration has returned the iconostasis and frescoes to their former glory, and you can spot Catherine the Great’s foundation stone on the right side of the nave.
7. Battle of the Dnieper Diorama
A modern concrete hall on Dmytro-Jawornyzkyj Avenue holds the largest diorama in Ukraine.
It depicts the crucial Battle of the Dnieper, which was fought between Nazi Germany and the Soviets in the autumn of 1943. Some 4,000,000 troops were engaged in the fighting on opposite banks of the Dnieper River, in the largest battle of the Second World War.
This colossal battle is depicted in a diorama that offers a 230° view of the battlefield and is enriched with genuine military artefacts like weapons, equipment for crossing the river and pieces of fortifications.
Out front there’s also a display of military hardware from the battle, like howitzers, tanks and anti-aircraft guns.
8. Dnipro Quay
At 23 kilometres and encompassing the entirety of the city’s waterfront, Dnipro Quay is said to be the longest quay in Europe.
For Dnipro’s citizens and tourists it’s somewhere to meet up and go for walks by the Dnieper.
The riverside was enhanced in the second half of the 20th century when the quay was paved and trees were planted to provide a buffer from the road.
Before that it had been a bit of a post-industrial wasteland, but those times will feel very distant when you’re sipping a coffee at a cafe table or taking pics of the public art and monuments here.
The most beloved is the White Swan Fountain, just off the right bank and with moving jets that create the impression of a swan opening its wings.
9. Lazar Globa Park
The oldest park in the city is next to Dmytro Jawornyzkyj Avenue, and is a place of relaxation and fun for Dnipro’s residents.
Complementing the lawns and long, leafy walkways, there’s another small amusement park here.
The showpiece is the Ferris wheel, granting a complete view of the city and the Dnieper.
When it’s warm you can hire a pedalo for the park’s pond and the striking concrete “Summer Theatre” lays on entertainment for kids.
Also see if you can find the Little Prince Fountain, inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s character and installed in 2002.
10. Monument of Eternal Glory
At the eastern limit of Dmytro Jawornyzkyj Avenue is a powerful Soviet-era monument erected to commemorate the sacrifice of soldiers in during the Great Patriotic War (Second World War). At the top of the pillar is a stainless steel sculpture representing the motherland, seven metres high and weighing five tons.
And at the foot there’s an eternal flame.
The monument was completed in 1967 and is still emotionally charged, especially after the events of the last few years.
As recently as May 2017 there were scuffles and arrests here during the WWII Victory Day celebrations.
11. Holy Trinity Cathedral
The central church for Orthodox worshippers across the Dnipro Region, the Holy Trinity Cathedral was built in the middle of the 19th century in the wake of the Transfiguration Cathedral.
It started out as a rather modest monument, until around the 1860s when the new bell tower made it the tallest building in Dnipro.
Later the church was shut down by the Soviet authorities and turned into a warehouse, a job it filled until the Second World War.
The damage it sustained in that time has been repaired and the everything restored to the full splendour of a century ago.
Many of the 19th-century frescos that were covered with plaster and whitewash are now as radiant as they were before.
12. House of Organ and Chamber Music
This attraction requires a trip to the western outskirts of Dnipro, but if you’re an avid fan of classical and scared music you won’t regret coming to see a performance.
There’s a lively programme of recitals by choirs, chamber ensembles and soloists at a deconsecrated church.
The former St Nicholas’ Church was built in an Eclectecist style in 1915 and is distinguished by its unusual rotunda.
It suffered throughout the Soviet era but was preserved as a national monument.
A Sauer organ was installed in the 80s and the church became a music venue for its superlative acoustics.
13. Potemkin Palace
It might be confusing, but on the mainland beside the river and opposite Monastyrsky Island there’s another park named after Taras Shevchenko.
Known by the shortened “Shevchenko Park”, this green space holds the oldest building in the city.
This was commissioned by Count Grigory Potemkin, who held a lot of sway under the rule of Catherine the Great.
The Neoclassical palace was constructed in the 1790s, but Potemkin never got to stay in it as he died suddenly in 1791. The palace has gone through a lot of changes over the last two centuries, including a fire in the Second World War.
But it was quickly restored to become Dnipro’s “Student House”, which has a busy calendar of events and exhibitions if you’d like to see inside.
14. Kodak Fortress Ruins
For a day out you could track the Dnieper River for about 20 minutes down to the remnants of a 17th-century Polish stronghold.
The star-shaped artillery fortress was raised in 1635 and only existed for 80 years, but in that time witnessed an unbelievable amount of violence between the Poles and Cossacks.
The very year it was completed some 200 German mercenaries fighting with the Poles were put to death by the Cossacks.
The fortress was decommissioned and torn down in 1711 after the Treaty of the Pruth.
Later it was used as a quarry, but the natural, riverside setting, earthworks, information panels and obelisk give a sense of what came before.
15. Rocket Park
Dnipro was a hub for the USSR’s aerospace and armaments industries, and this heritage stands proud in a new park installed with obsolete hardware.
There are three long-distance missiles on show, each representing a leap in 20th-century weapons technology.
The oldest is the 8K11, which evolved from the German V-2 rocket.
Next there’s an 8K99, significant because it was the first that could be launched from a vehicle.
And then there’s the three-stage Tsyklon-3, rolled out in 1977 and measuring almost 40 metres in height.
This rocket model was still in service as recently as 2009. Beside the hardware there’s a pavilion with a video presentation showing the rockets in action.