Discovering Lviv – The Hidden Gem of Ukraine

I lived in Ukraine for the first 14 years of my life. I went to school in Kyiv, I went to the seaside during summers and I’ve spent a fair share of time in the Carpathian mountains as a kid but somehow I never went to Lviv, the city of lions.

Lviv Opera

In front of Lviv Opera, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

In 2010 I drove through Lviv but I got so annoyed with the confusing streets and never ending cobble stones that I decided to not stop in the city. In 2014 I ended up in Ukraine once again. I was going from Warsaw to Kyiv and decided to stop in Lviv for a day so I could meet a local entrepreneur/travel blogger.

Little did I know that one day stop would make me fall in love with this beautiful city. Since I didn’t come by car the streets appeared as very cute and historical. The cobble stones made me think of old medieval towns and the whole city just had a very welcoming vibe. I spent the whole day walking around Lviv even though there was a pretty serious rain storm outside. I made a promise to myself to come back to Lviv and spend more than a day there.

One month later, after visiting Kyiv I went back to Lviv for a few days. Just 3-4 hours before arriving to Lviv I sent out a few CouchSurfing requests and surprisingly enough got a reply almost instantly, from Liliia. We took a tram from the train station to the center of the city and our awesome host. Liliia turned out to be not only a great host but also a great guide who showed us the city, introduced us to her friends and all in all helped us have a great experience.

First of all, Lviv is really different from all the other Ukrainian cities. Ukraine could have probably been like Lviv but the huge influence of the USSR made it different. Most ex-Soviet cities have the cold square architecture that looks quite boring. Lviv, however, perserved an interesting mix of Ukrainian, Polish,Armenian, Jewish, German and Austrian cultures. Somehow the city survived two World Wars and now offers us its architecture in the original form. In 1998 Lviv’s historic center became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of Lviv's Cathedrals,  photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

One of Lviv’s Cathedrals,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

I can keep on going about the old historical facts but you can find this info on wikipedia. Now let’s talk about what I have seen and liked in that city and what I recommend seeing when you visit Lviv, Ukraine.

 

Walking around Lviv

Right next to the Lviv’s Opera House (which you can’t miss) there is Lesi Ukrainky street where you can find a small market with loads of cool souvenirs: magnets, Ukrainian traditional clothing, paintings and a lot more. I couldn’t resist buying a t-shirt there. Remember that you can haggle with the vendors for a more authentic bazaar experience.

Lviv Opera Theater

Lviv Theater of Opera,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

From the market walk back to the theater and enjoy a relaxing walk through the Svobody avenue all the way down to Mitskevycha square. On your way you can grab some ice cream and enjoy it on of the numerous benches, if they aren’t taking up by a group of old men playing chess. Now you can head to Rynok Square (Market Square)  to see more beautiful buildings, street performers, cute shops and a lot more. You can easily spend 2-3 days just walking around the old town.

 

What to visit in Lviv

Lychakiv Cemetery is a must-see in Lviv. This cemetery is like nothing I have ever seen before.

Lychakivske Cemetery

Lychakivske Cemetery,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Lychakiv Cemetery, Lviv, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Lychakiv Cemetery, Lviv,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

The Lychakiv Cemetery (Lychakivs’kyi tsvyntar) is one of Europe’s oldest and most famous cemeteries. Along the regular tombstones you will find grand monuments and even small chapels. The place has a unique feel to it and you could spend hours there, wondering around and reading writings in Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Latin, Hebrew and some other languages.

Lychakiv Cenetery Lviv

Chapel,Lychakiv Cemetery,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

This is the only cemetery (in my experience) that charges an entry fee, unless you have relatives buried there. I think the fee is a couple of euros, although we went in for free. If you go through the main entrance, you will pay the fee. If you go through a different side, you might get in without paying.

Lviv High Castle

Right before the sunset you should start climbing up the High Castle (Vysokyi zamok). The hike to the top might make you sweat so bring a bottle of water with you. Most people get a little disappointed once they reach the High Castle since there is no castle… Once upon a time there was a castle but it was destroyed by different wars. The city considered reconstructing the castle but it isn’t possible at the moment (and I am sure it would be crazy expensive). This place is the highest point of the city and offers a great view, especially during early evening.

High Castle in Lviv, Ukraine

Lviv High Castle
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

When we got to the High Castle there were a lot of people, taking photos, enjoying the weather and even launching candle powered light balloons. This is another “must-see” place in Lviv.

Lviv has in incredible coffee culture. You can get a cup of coffee anywhere and everywhere. Besides coffee shops I’d highly suggest trying out Ukrainian food. There is no shortage of restaurants in the city. For a very unique coffee experience I would highly recommend the Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacture (Львівська копальня кави) located near the main square, Lemkivska Street 15a. If you are not in the mood for a coffee I still suggest going to his place and checking out their basement. Before going “to the mine” you’ll be handed an old metal helmet (for obvious reasons). Take a tour of the underground cafe, find a table in one of the poorly lit corners and enjoy the ambiance.

Lvivske Museum of Beer & Brewing  is very affordable and interesting. For $2 you get 2 freshly brewed beers and access to the museum. You can visit the museum by yourself, however a guided visit is a lot more interesting. You should contact the museum in advance to find out about their tours in English. The exhibition was cool, the short documentary about Lvivske beer was interesting and the beer was amazing. I don’t remember the last time I tasted such fresh beer.

Pharmacy Museum

Pharmacy Museum, Lviv,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Pharmacy Museum, Lviv,  photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Pharmacy Museum, Lviv,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

There is also a “Pharmacy Museum” which is pretty unique, loads of gorgeous churches, cathedrals and other historical monuments, even the main Post Office is worth walking into! I am sure I’m forgetting a lot of details and places, so Lviv is yours to discover. I am still surprised (but happy) that Lviv is not more known abroad. The city is simply amazing, a lot to see and do and prices are incredibly low, especially for Western travelers. There is a huge demand for cities like Lviv and I think now is the right time to visit, before the city gets ruined by the tourists and turns into another Prague…

"Something Interesting" gift shop in Lviv,  photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

“Something Interesting” gift shop in Lviv,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Besides the landmarks, restaurants and coffee shops Lviv offers a lively and interesting night life which you should not miss. More on that in the next post.

Have you ever been to Lviv? Would you like to go there? Let me know in the comments!

– Alex

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