48 Hours In: Kiev

Spring has arrived in the Ukrainian capital, shining fresh light on the city's cache of cathedrals, museums and glorious green spaces, says Nick Boulos

Travel Essentials

Why go now?

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. From 18 June, it's set to become more accessible than ever with the national carrier, Ukraine International, offering twice-daily flights from Gatwick.

Touch down

The easiest approach is from Luton by Wizz Air (0906 959 0002; wizzair.com) to Kiev's "city" airport, Zhuliany, eight kilometres south of the centre, from where you can take bus No 213 to Shuliavska metro station (1). Buses leave every 15 to 30 minutes and cost 2 Ukrainian hryvna (UAH2/16p). A taxi is UAH50 (£4).

The main Borispil airport is inconveniently distant, 35km to the south-east of the city centre, but has more links – from Heathrow on BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and from Gatwick by Ukraine International (01293 596609; flyuia.com).

Bus 322 (dubbed "Skybus") departs every 20 to 60 minutes and takes 45 minutes to reach Vokzalna railway station (2) for UAH25 (£2). A taxi booked through the booth in arrivals will cost you UAH280 (£22).

I travelled to Kiev with Regent Holidays (020-7666 1244; regent-holidays.co.uk), which has a three-night package with flights and B&B from £515 per person.

Get your bearings

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 (3), the focal point of the 2004 Orange Revolution in which protesters gathered over allegations of electoral corruption.

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 (4) and Poshtova (5) (every 10 minutes from 7am to 10pm; UAH1.50/12p). The tourist centre (6) is at 19A Khreschatyk Street (00 380 44 278 8004; 10am to 7pm daily).

Check in

Supremely sited between Kiev's two iconic landmarks – St Sophia's Cathedral (7) and St Michael's Monastery (8) – the Hyatt Regency (9) at 5 Alla Tarasova Street (00 380 44 581 1234; kyiv.regency.hyatt.com) is Kiev's top hotel. Rooms have heated floors and walk-in showers and doubles start at UAH3,481 (£280), including breakfast.

The Alfavito Hotel (10) at 35D Predslavnska Street (00 380 44 220 4577; alfavito.com.ua) is handy for the Olympic Stadium (11) which hosted the Euro 2012 Final. This new hotel has plenty of flourishes, from the grand piano in the lobby to king-sized beds and corridors decorated with replica signatures of the famous – from Monet to McCartney. Doubles start at UAH1,948 (£157), room only.

The Oselya Hotel (12) at 11 Kamenyariv Street (00 380 50 380 7756; oselya.in.ua) only has seven rooms but each is individually decorated with classic touches such as wooden beams and heavy drapes. Doubles start at UAH893 (£71), room only.

Take a ride

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 (13). Trains run 5am to midnight.

Take a view

The centrepiece of Volodymyrska Hill, close to the Mykhailivska Square (4) funicular station, is the Friendship of Nations Monument (14), a concrete rainbow-like arch. Lording over Podil, it offers excellent views over Poshtova Square (5), the river and islands – including Hydropark (15) where locals sunbathe on the sandy beaches and swim in the river in summer.

Day One

Take a hike

Independence Square (3) is notable for its eclectic architecture, some Stalinist, some neo-classical. Its statue of Berehynia, a Slavic goddess, 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 (4) in the Upper Town.

Stop for a coffee at Pellini Top (16) at No 18A (00 380 44 279 4492) en route. At the top, you'll be greeted by two of Kiev's most impressive sights: St Sophia's Cathedral (7) to the left and St Michael's (8) to the right. Pop into St Michael's (8) (00 380 44 279 2248; 7am to 7.30pm; free) for a glimpse of its Byzantine interior before visiting St Sophia's (6) (00 380 44 228 2083; 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 (17) at 16 Volodymyrska Street (00 380 44 586 4095), 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 (18) (9am to 9pm daily) with stalls specialising in caviar and salo (cured pig fat). Veer off the main drag for high-end goods along Pasazh. Passage 15 (19) at No 15 (00 380 44 591 2608; 11am to 8pm daily) sells Louboutin heels and garments by Ukrainian designer Lilia Poustovit.

An aperitif

Shato (20) at 24 Khreschatyk Street (00 380 279 3704; open 24 hours) brews its own cloudy beers on the premises. A pint costs UAH99 (£8).

Dining with the locals

Pervak (21) at 2 Rognedinska Street (00 380 44 235 0952; 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 (22) at 4 Volodymyrska Street (00 380 44 331 5948; kultra.org) serves Ukrainian cuisine. Dumplings with wild boar costs UAH95/£7.

Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

St Andrew's (23) on Andriyivskyy Descent (00 380 44 278 5861; 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 (24), (00 380 44 585 0523; 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).

Cultural afternoon

Among the museums across the road on Tereschenkivska Street is the Russian Art Museum (25) at No 9 (00 380 44 234 6218; 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 (26) at 1-3 Baseina Street (00 380 44 590 0858; 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 (00 380 44 561 7841).

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(27), 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 (28). 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 (29) at 21 Lavrskaya Street (00 380 44 280 6646; 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.