Spring has sprung in Ukraine's cultured capital, a charming city of golden churches and gardens in bloom. As one of the host cities of last year's Euro football championships, Kiev enjoyed a makeover that includes a wave of new hotels and restaurants. Kiev is spread across three hills in central Ukraine and divided by the Dnipro River. The commercial and cultural heart is on the right bank, characterised by broad boulevards lined with poplar and chestnut trees. At the heart is Independence Square. Just up the hill is the historic quarter, where the city was founded by three Slavic brothers in the 5th century.
Below sits the vibrant district of Podil. The two are linked by a funicular, connecting the squares of Mykhailivska and Poshtova (every 10 minutes from 7am to 10pm). The tourist centre is at 19A Khreschatyk Street (10am to 7pm daily). Kiev's metro system is not only cheap, efficient and easy to use but it's also an attraction in its own right. Don't miss the stern statue of Lenin on the concourse at Teatralna. Trains run 5am to midnight.
Take a view
The centrepiece of Volodymyrska Hill, close to the Mykhailivska Square funicular station, is the Friendship of Nations Monument, a concrete rainbow-like arch. Lording over Podil, it offers excellent views over Poshtova Square, the river and islands – including Hydropark where locals sunbathe on the sandy beaches and swim in the river in summer.
Take a hike
Independence Square is notable for its eclectic architecture, some Stalinist, some neo-classical. Its statue of Berehynia, a Slavic deity, sits atop the 92-metre high column celebrating independence from the Soviet Union. A monument of Lenin once stood on the same spot. From there, wander up Mikhailovskaya Street: a gentle, uphill jaunt to Mykhailivska Square in the Upper Town. Stop for a coffee at Pellini Top at No 18A en route. At the top, you'll be greeted by two of Kiev's most impressive sights: St Sophia's Cathedral to the left and St Michael's to the right. Pop into St Michael's (7am to 7.30pm; free) for a glimpse of its Byzantine interior before visiting St Sophia's (10am to 6pm, to 5pm Wednesday, closed Thursdays; UAH53/£4). It is one of the oldest churches in Eastern Europe, famed for its 13 golden pear-shaped cupolas.
Lunch on the run
Restore flagging energy with a bite at Spotykach at 16 Volodymyrska Street, a cosy restaurant modelled on a traditional Soviet home. Try a bowl of Ukrainian green borsch soup made from sorrel or a chicken Kiev. Mains from UAH54 (£4). Window shopping lined with boutiques and stretching for 1.5km, Khreschatyk Street is Kiev's main thoroughfare and pleasantly pedestrianised at weekends. At the southern end is Bessarabska Square and its indoor market (9am to 9pm daily) with stalls specialising in caviar. Veer off the main drag for high-end goods along Pasazh. Passage 15 at No 15 (11am to 8pm daily) sells Louboutin heels and garments by Ukrainian designer Lilia Poustovit.
Dining with the locals
Pervak at 2 Rognedinska Street (pervak.kiev.ua) is popular with the locals. The ambience is inspired by life in the early 20th century. Mains from UAH79 (£6). With an emphasis on organic ingredients, Slavic restaurant Kultra at 4 Volodymyrska Street (kultra.org) serves Ukrainian cuisine. Dumplings with wild boar costs UAH95/£7.
Go to church
St Andrew's on Andriyivskyy Descent (7am to 6pm daily) is the most beautiful church in Kiev. Built in 1754 by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the man behind St Petersburg's Winter Palace, it is a Baroque masterpiece with gold-studded green domes and Corinthian columns. The incense-infused interior, full of flickering candles, is surprisingly small, with not a pew to be seen. Sunday service is at 10am.
Out to brunch
Every day is pancake day in Shevchenka Park. The informal eatery, Opanas, (opanas.com.ua) offers a dozen toppings and fillings, including pumpkin with apples and sour cream (UAH180/£14) and, if you're feeling plush, black caviar (UAH370/£29).
Among the museums across the road on Tereschenkivska Street is the Russian Art Museum at No 9 (kmrm.com.ua; 10am to 6pm weekends, closed Monday and Thursday; UAH25/£2), which houses over 12,000 pieces in the former home of industrialist art lover, Fedir Tereshchenko. If contemporary art is more your thing, visit the Pinchuk Art Centre at 1-3 Baseina Street (pinchukartcentre.org; noon to 9pm daily, except Monday; free). There's a special exhibition on Chinese art on display until October. Skip the lengthy queues by having an "art cocktail" of fermented sugar-cane, chilli syrup and fresh lemon juice (from UAH90/£7) at the Sky Art Café.
Walk in the park
Kiev is a city that values its open spaces. Acres of the Dnipro's right bank is devoted to greenery sprinkled with historical monuments. Mariinsky Park, on the fringes of the national parliament and a palace that was home to Empress Elizabeth I in the mid-1700s, is connected by trails to Vichnoi Slavy Park. Here, a white candle-shaped tower stands as a memorial to the victims of the Great Famine of 1932.
Icing on the cake
The Monastery of the Caves at 21 Lavrskaya Street (kplavra.kiev.ua; 8am to 8pm during summer; last admission at 7pm; UAH50/£4) is a complex of churches and underground caves that's an important pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians.
The caves, narrow and illuminated by candles, contain the mummified remains of saints and monks. Several glass coffins reveal glimpses of blackened hands and fingers.
(Nick Boulos/The Independent)