If you fancy European fairytale towns with cobblestone streets, charming city squares and Baroque architecture, Lviv in Western Ukraine should be on your list. A UNESCO World Heritage Site located near Ukraine’s border with Poland, the city has changed hands several times over the centuries. It’s also been known under the following names: Lwow, Lvov, Lemberg and Leopolis reflecting Polish, Austro-Hungarian and Russian influences over the years.
I visited some weeks back and I must say the environment reminded me of more popular destinations such as Prague or Krakow except that Lviv has a more authentic feel (think: buildings in varying states of disrepair, fewer touts and lack of people dressed up in tacky medieval costumes). If your impression of Ukraine is of a country with freezing weather year-round and gray, Soviet buildings; Lviv will surely change that.
There are so many things to see in Lviv that it’s hard to list them all. To make it simple, here are my suggested places to visit. I’ve decided to limit this list to 10 places which are must-sees in Lviv.
A visit to Lviv is incomplete without sampling its famous chocolates. There are several chocolate shops in the old town and the most famous one is Lviv Handmade Chocolate located not too far from the square.
The establishment is spread over several floors, with a café at the ground level serving hearty cups of hot chocolate and a shop at the upper floor with every imaginable type of chocolate available! Best of all, prices are reasonable and most types can be had for around UAH 8 (~ $0.30) per piece. You can practically have a small bag of chocolates for a dollar or two.
Getting There: 3 Serbska Street, a few blocks south of Rynok Square
Opening Hours: 09:00 to 22:00, Daily
You can climb up a hill located northeast of the old town for some amazing city views. The place is called the High Castle as a historic castle used to stand in the area. Today, a mound is all that remains with much left to the imagination. Good news is that it’s free to come up here and the views are gorgeous, especially at sunrise and sunset.
Getting There: The hill is immediately northeast of the old town and requires around a 20 minute climb. You can’t miss it!
Opening hours: 24 hours
For a taste of the Viennese life, check out the opera house of Lviv located at the northwestern edge of the old town. The building is arguably the most impressive opera house in Ukraine and was built in a distinct Austro-Hungarian style. Unlike the opera house in Vienna or Budapest, the only way you can enter is if you’re watching a show there. Good news is that tickets are generally inexpensive and one can be had for as low as $2 to $3.
Getting There: Svobody Avenue 28
Opening Hours: You can check out the opera house when watching a performance. These are usually held either at 11:00 or at 18:00 but hours may differ.
Located in the city of the Rynok or Market Square of Lviv, the Town Hall is another place to go for some wonderful views of the old town. By going up to the tower, you actually get to see views from four sides! Enter through the main entrance of the town hall, where several signs will point you to staircases that lead all the way up.
Getting There: It’s located right in the middle of Rynok Square
Opening Hours: 10:00 to 19:00
To be honest, I have not seen so many churches – in different architectural styles – located within one small plot of land but Lviv is host to hundreds of churches. Within the vicinity of the old town alone, you will come across at least a dozen and the great thing about them is that they’re all not of the same mold. Here are a couple you should check out.
Perhaps the most prominent of Lviv’s many churches, the Latin Cathedral is located just a stone’s throw away from the Market Square. Featuring wonderfully Baroque interiors, this is one of the few churches in the city that wasn’t shut down during the Soviet era. Its bell tower is quite prominent and can be seen from ground level in the town square or from the viewing deck at the town hall.
Getting There: Katedralna Square, 1, Lviv
Supposedly the church in Lviv with the most impressive interiors, the Armenian Cathedral was closed to visitors during the 2-days when I was there. However, I searched online for what the interiors might look like and saw some highly intricate murals.
Getting There: Virmenska 7
Opening Hours: Supposedly 08:30 to 20:30 but the church was closed during the 3 days I was in Lviv
My favorite among Lviv’s many churches, the Bernardine Church was built incorporating Dutch and Italian styles. It’s especially wonderful to see at night when the façade is floodlit.
Soborna pl. 1 – 3
Another prominent city landmark, the dome of the Dominican Church can be seen from miles away. It was originally built as a Roman Catholic Church which explains the appearance both inside and out. Today, the building now functions as a Greek Catholic Church and is one of the best late Baroque examples in Lviv.
Getting There: Museina pl. 1
This cafe is totally touristy but well worth a trip if it’s your first time in Lviv. You need the password to enter (tip: it’s “Slava Ukraini”) and armed guards will escort you down some empty passageway into what looks like a bunker. There’s an undeniable military theme going on here. Food is served in stainless steel bowls and plates while military medals, guns and vintage radios add a distinct ambiance to the place. The food here admittedly is not one of the best I’ve tried in Lviv but do come here for the experience!
Getting There: Located at 14 Rynok Square. Kryjivka is across the entrance to the town hall.
Opening hours: 24 hours
Museums in Lviv
If you enjoy looking at exhibitions and centuries-old artifacts, you’re in luck. Lviv has a treasure trove of museums with themes such as medicine, religion, art and history (not necessarily together). Most are located within the old town but one farther afield that you should check out is the Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life (Shevchenkivsky Hay). It features the different architecture styles around Western Ukraine. If you have time to go to only one museum, I suggest paying this place a visit.