Earlier this year, we visited and really enjoyed western Ukraine though many of our friends thought we were crazy for going there.
But the lovely city of Lviv lies 1,200 km away from the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine where fighting continues today.
Lviv – how could you not love a city that is full of beautiful architecture, delicious food, friendly locals and thousands of lions on cobblestone streets?
Here’s a brief summary of the city’s history: Lviv was captured by Kingdom of Poland in 1356 and belonged to this region until 1772. Then, Lviv became part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. After World War I ended, Lviv again was part of the Second Polish Republic; and until WWII broke, Poles and Jews made up a majority of the city’s population. From 1945-1991, Ukraine was part of Soviet Union.
Because Lviv is so close to Poland and we could get cheap flights, we booked a long weekend in Lviv. You'll find that it is easy to fall in love with this historic city!
Here are my 11 Reasons to Visit Lovely Lviv:
It’s very cheap to eat, drink and sleep in Lviv especially when compared to other major European cities. When we visited in February, one U.S. dollar equaled 26 Ukrainian Hryvnia; today, the exchange rate is about $1=22 UAH. A glass of good wine costs 20-24 UAH and local beer Obolon costs even less. Our breakfast of local pancakes with fruit compote and a coffee drink cost 30 UAH or $1.15. Our small hotel, On the Square Guesthouse, located in a historic building from the 1600s, cost only $36 per night.
|Find a historic café like this one and enjoy a simple, inexpensive breakfast in Lviv.|
Locals are friendly
Despite all the troubles happening on the eastern front in Ukraine, the locals in Lviv were very welcoming and were surprised to have Americans visit. If you speak Polish, you’ll notice many similarities in the language and you’ll be able to get by just fine. Even if you don’t speak Polish, the Ukrainians often seemed to speak English well enough especially in the Old Town area.
|These two friendly chaps were happy to pose for a photo with me.|
Lvivians absolutely love coffee! A Ukrainian war hero, Yuri Kulczycki, brewed the first cup of coffee in Vienna sometime after the Battle of Vienna in 1683 against the Turks. Kulczycki helped win the battle since he could speak Turkish, snuck into the enemy camp and later requested the burlap sacks of green coffee beans for his reward. You can experience an original coffee experience at his namesake café called Under the Blue Bottle (Pid Synioyu Plyashkoyu) or try Svit Kavy or Lvivska Kopalnya Kavy. The local coffee is very similar to the thick, strong Turkish brew, but lattés are just as popular.
|Cake and coffee at Veronika.|
Ukrainian food seems to be heavily influenced by its Austro-Hungarian, Polish and Russian roots. We enjoyed the hearty, paprika-flavored goulash, fried potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage leaves and borscht soup. For a traditional experience, sit at the long, wooden tables and dine at Trapenza, located in the cellar of a former monastery, or at the popular Kumpel Gastropub where you should definitely order the creamy garlic soup and a local beer.
Lviv also is known for its delicious cakes and pastries since they were influenced by the city’s former ruling powers – Austrian-Hungarian and Poland as well as its Armenian and Jewish traditions. You’ll find apple strudel, chocolate candies and European-looking layered cakes at the 500+ cafés in the city. Stop by and enjoy a slice of cake at the historic Viennese-looking Veronika or the Wein Hotel.
City of Lions
The lion has served as a traditional symbol of the city since the 1300s. The Latin name for Lviv is Leopolis, meaning “Lion City.” Today, you’ll find thousands of lion images on buildings and park benches as well as sculptures, door knockers and business signs.
Culture and Churches
Since Lviv is full of so many cultures, you’ll also find churches of every religion – Armenian, Jewish, Greek and Russian Orthodox, Jesuit and Roman Catholic. Many of the churches are quite historic and date back to the 1400s to 1800s. To help understand Lviv’s complex history, I recommend our tour guide, Julia Kardash, firstname.lastname@example.org or +380954780441. Her rate is 150 UAH per hour. We hired her for a private tour around Old Town and enjoyed learning more about the local history.
|Inside the historic Armenian Church in Lviv.|
|The Dominican Church, built in 1749, now serves as the Greek Catholic church of the Holy Eucharist in Lviv.|
I loved wandering around Lviv’s Market Square area! The architecture reminded me of our previous trips to Vienna, Budapest and other Polish cities. It’s no wonder since Lviv was previously part of Poland for more than 400 years and then the Austro-Hungarian empire for nearly 150 years. You’ll find Baroque and Art Nouveau buildings, ornate fountains, red-roofed houses and green-domed churches.
|Buildings dating from 1700s-1800s located around the Market Square.|
|Pretty Potocki Palace, built in 1880s, served as a fancy house for a nobleman and is now a museum in Lviv.|
Whenever we travel, we always try to find hills or buildings that we can climb up for spectacular views. In Lviv, try climbing up the 200+ stairs either at the Town Hall Tower or the Lviv High Castle. With either location, you literally have the whole city in front of you, its numerous churches, dazzling architecture and surrounding hills.
I had no idea that Ukraine has a growing wine industry! I enjoyed several glasses of pinot gris as well as other local varieties I’ve never heard of before and couldn’t pronounce. You can even sample wines from the hotly-contested Crimea region. Chleb i Wino was our favorite place, so much so, that we stopped there twice during our 3-day trip. We also had some good wine and appetizers at Atlas Café, located on a corner in the Market Square. Lastly, another wine bar we enjoyed was located in the former Jewish neighborhood, Trout, Bread & Wine (Пструг, хліб та вино), under a giant clock.
We had really hoped to see a performance at the Lviv Opera, built in 1897. However, the website wasn’t easy to navigate and by the time, we arrived in Lviv, tickets were already sold out for the weekend. If you have time though, the ornate Opera house looked beautiful inside and has a hidden bar/restaurant underneath the building. It’s possible to visit (the entrance is 10 UAH) and immediately be transformed to the fancy world with golden rooms and extravagant statues.
Hopefully my 11 reasons will give you more than enough inspiration to visit Lviv! Would you visit western Ukraine?