DUBAI: The brutalist Soviet architecture that dominates Ukrainian cities is almost entirely absent in Lviv (or Lvov in Russian). Instead, this city’s cobblestone streets and historic buildings look like they could have been lifted from the heart of medieval Europe — transporting visitors into the heart of a fairytale.
Lviv has a rich and diverse history. It was the heart of the Ukrainian national resistance movement, and previously the Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia — part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. King Daniel named the city Leopolis, in honor of his oldest son Leo.
Naturally, then, Ukrainians call Lviv the Lion City. Statues of the animal can be seen throughout the city, but there are also depictions in unexpected places — on benches, walls, and even manholes.
Lviv’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described by the organization as “an outstanding example of the fusion of the architectural and artistic traditions of eastern Europe with those of Italy and Germany.” At its heart sits Rynok Square, the city’s central market, which is surrounded by old pastel-colored buildings, separated by narrow streets.
The Black House stands out among the rest of the buildings in the square. The formidable structure belonged to an Italian tax collector during the Renaissance. Today, it houses the Lviv Historical Museum, which comprehensively covers the storied history of Ukraine.
Nearby is the Apteka Museum, located in a still-functioning chemists. The pharmacy dates back to the 18th century, and displays a number of antique machines used by chemists in that era.
The largest art museum in Ukraine, the National Art Gallery, is a must-see for art lovers, housing a wide variety of works by German, Dutch, Spanish, and Flemish artists. The gallery is also home to the biggest collection of Polish art outside of Poland.
Don’t forget to pass by the magnificent Lviv National Opera, constructed by Zygmunt Gorgolowski in the neo-Renaissance style at the end of the 19th century. Three sculptures sit at the top of the building, representing Glory, Poetry and Music.
Myths and mysteries run deep through the walls and buildings of Lviv. From a lovers’ bench that can make dreams come true, to the golden nose of a statue that can make you rich, the fables of the city are fascinating. And it is the labyrinthine tunnels underneath the city — stretching over 100 kilometers — that hold the most stories; tales of love, faith and torture.
House of Legends restaurant plays on the city’s reputation for myth. The building is adorned with a dragon and a watch that purports to show the “true time of Lviv.” It was, so the story goes, the home of a chimney cleaner and his family who still watch over the mythical creatures in the city.
Lviv is rightly renowned for its coffee culture, and you should definitely try some local brews while you’re there. Head to the Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacture in Rynok Square. The ground floor is a fairly generic café, but head downstairs into the ‘coffee mine’ and you’ll be given a hard hat and invited to wander the tunnels and pick a table. If you order the ‘flaming coffee,’ be prepared. A waiter will appear armed with a blowtorch.
The city is home to hundreds of other cafés and restaurants, too. All tailored to a variety of tastes. Enjoy handmade truffles in the Lviv Handmade Chocolate Café, where we’d also recommend the local hot chocolate. And if you are interested in sampling some traditional Ukrainian fare, then visit Kryivka. The restaurant is modeled on the underground bunkers used by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and offers a variety of traditional dishes, like varenyki (the local take on ravioli) and borsche (classic beetroot soup). You’ll need to know the patriotic password to gain entry, though.
For some great views, climb to the highest point in the city; Castle Hill — on which stand the ruins of, yes, a castle, but also an observation platform.
For accommodation, Lviv offers a wide range of places from luxury hotels to bargain hostels. On The Square Guesthouse is an affordable option in a great location right in the heart of Rynok Square. If you want something a bit more upmarket, then the George Hotel, built in 1901, is a luxurious (though still well-priced) choice, just a few minutes walk from the city center.
Lviv is a fascinating blend of eastern and western Europe that offers mesmerizing views, historical insight and delicious food, all at very reasonable prices. And it’s well worth considering for your next European trip.