Located on the Western side of Ukraine is the city of Lviv, a beautiful metropolis, founded by King Daniel of Galicia and named in honor of his son Lev. Since 1256, Lviv has belonged to a variety of nations/empires: Poland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Soviet Union, to name a few. With so many countries having conquered and controlled this city, it is no surprise that the influence of all of these places is visible in the architecture found throughout Lviv.
A short 45-minute flight from Warsaw, Lviv is the Ukrainian city you never knew you absolutely had to visit. Therefore, if Lviv isn’t on your bucket list yet, it’s time to include it as a must-see European destination…
What to Do:
Start exploring Lviv at Rynok Square.
Rynok Square literally translates to Market Square. The market square came into existence soon after the founding of the city as the center where people sold and traded goods. Rynok Square, along with the entire historic city center, is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. The buildings surrounding the square represent several styles of architecture, from Renaissance to Modernism. In each of the four corners of the square is a statue of a Greek mythological figure: Neptune, Diana, Amphitrite, and Adonis. At the center of the square is the town hall, with a giant observation tower.
Around the square make note of the windows on each building. Here, most buildings will have three windows horizontally. If a building has more than three windows, it means that the original owners of the building were very wealthy and able to afford to buy more land.
If Museums interest you, take an hour or two to visit the Historic City Museum. A ticket to the museum will also give you access to the Italian Courtyard, which is a beautiful sight to see.
Old Historic City Center
Continue walking away from Rynok Square near the Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacture, and fountain of Diana. Walk down Serbska Street toward the monument to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Masoch was the first writer to introduce “masochism” to the world. When you pass him, turn left onto Staroivreiska Street. On Starovireiska you can find several notable places.
The first is the restaurant Under the Golden Rose. This Jewish restaurant features a menu with no prices, where you must bargain for your meal. It is one of many thematic restaurants in Lviv.
The second notable place is the Golden Rose synagogue, adjacent to the Under the Golden Rose restaurant. There is not an actual synagogue at the site, just a few walls. The Golden Rose Synagogue was the oldest synagogue in Ukraine, prior to its destruction. However, on my free-walking tour of Lviv, we were informed that this was, in fact, the location of the Synagogue that was bombed during World War II. In front of the synagogue is a Holocaust memorial, a vague cubist statue of a tormented figure looking skyward.
As you follow Staroivreiska Street to its end, you will reach Arsenal Museum, a weapons and armory museum. Next to the Arsenal Museum, is Lviv’s famous rib restaurant, “Arsenal”. While I did not get to eat there, it did come highly recommended. Are ribs not your thing? I have plenty of other suggestions for you.
Near Arsenal, you’ll be able to see the old city walls and make your way down Ruska Street, where you’ll pass a square with four churches. Turn right on Ivana Fedorova Street and head towards Virmenska Street, which is at the end of Ivana Fedorova. Before turning left, take a look to the right. You’ll see a building with a long stairway on its top balcony. Guess where you are? That’s right Led Zeppelin fans! You are at Lviv’s Stairway to Heaven. Most importantly, Virmenska (or Armenian) Street is known for great coffee spots and cafes. Take a break before heading towards the Opera, one of Lviv’s most notable landmarks.
Fun Fact: In historic Lviv, streets names depended on the groups of people who lived there. Serbska street was home to the Serbs, Staroivreiska literally means the old Jewish street, and Virmenska was home to the Armenians. Likewise, Ruska Street, you guessed it, was the original home of the Russians!
Visit the Parks
Lviv has some of the most beautiful parks in Europe.
Across from the Ivan Franko University of Lviv is Ivan Franko Park. This park is just a typical city park, however, if you grab a coffee and walk around, you can people watch and learn about the style and fashion of the locals.
Stryiskyi Park is Lviv’s largest park, favored by most Lviv locals. There are hundreds of jogging and light hiking paths, an outdoor cinema, and a beautiful pond. I might even call Stryiskyi Park the Central Park of Ukraine. There is even a public greenhouse that features tropical plants including lemons, oranges, and cacti!
Where to Eat & Caffeinate:
I’m not going to create a long list of restaurants here since I have a whole post on where to eat EVERY meal in Lviv. However, I will give you a rundown of what foods you should try throughout your trip to Lviv.
- Pelmeni – Pelmeni are a Ural/Russian dish that has made its way into Ukrainian cuisine. Pelmeni are small dumplings filled with meat – usually pork. They are served with butter, sour cream, or vinegar.
- Vareniki – These small dumplings are half-moon shaped. They are more commonly known as perogies in Polish culture. Vareniki can be filled with meat, but are more traditionally vegetarian, filled with potatoes, sauerkraut, mushrooms, sweet cheese, or berries
- Syrniki – Syrniki are fried sweet cheese (tvorog) pancakes, usually served with jam, sour cream, or sweet condensed milk.
- Kompot – Kompot delicious homemade fruit punch, served hot or cold. The fruits used to make kompot depend on what fruit is in-season but typically include strawberries and apples, among others.
- Kava – Most notably, the one thing that screams Lviv is kava. (Coffee!) Get a cup everywhere! All the time!
- Medovik – Medovik is a honey cake that goes very well with kava or milk for the younger travelers. This is my favorite Ukrainian dessert and is served at many Ukrainian restaurants in Lviv.
- Chocolate- Lviv is a chocolate city, and your trip is not complete without eating (or drinking!) some chocolate.
Where to Stay:
- Atlas Hotel and Nobolis Hotel are located directly next to each other. They are a ten-minute walk to Rynok Square and are surrounding by more delicious restaurants and cafes. Both have received great reviews from fellow travelers.
- Grand Hotel – this hotel is located just a two-minute walk from the Lviv Opera House. This is the most upscale hotel in Lviv, but prices can be very low, compared to hotels elsewhere in Europe, depending on dates.
- Airbnb – This often is the most economical option. However, be cautious. Apartments may be advertised as having air conditioning, but be aware. Most apartments will only have air conditioning in the main room. Be prepared to walk up several flights of stairs, as most buildings do not have an elevator. Additionally, my Airbnb had TINY towels and very thin pillows. If you are a picky traveler, go the hotel route for peace of mind.
Have you been to Lviv?
Let me know your favorite places in the comments below!