While I was in Lviv, I wanted to visit one more place before leaving Ukraine. I was given a few ideas by some of the locals I met along the way. One of the ideas was to head to the Carpathian mountain region. I loved that idea, but I didn’t fancy a long journey because I wanted to spend the time exploring rather than sitting on a bus or train. I scanned my Eastern Europe Lonely Planet guide, but I just couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I moved on to the Internet. I started using Google, searching for places in Western Ukraine and checking where they were on the map and how long it would take to get there on public transport. That’s when I came across a place called Ivano-Frankivsk. I had never heard of it and it wasn’t in my guidebook, but it was close to the Carpathian mountain region. So, providing I could buy a train ticket the following morning, I would go because it sounded pretty interesting on Wikipedia. The next morning, I took a tram to the train station in Lviv, bought a ticket, and boarded a train bound for Ivano-Frankivsk.
After a couple of hours, I was there. When I arrived, it was pouring with rain. I had absolutely no idea of how to get to the centre or even how far away I was. I hadn’t found that out in advance because it was a last minute decision to go. So, with my rain gear on, I decided to follow the flow of traffic and hope that would lead me to the centre. Thankfully, within about 15 minutes, I reached the centre. As I walked down the main street of Ivano-Frankivsk, I realised that I had made the right decision. The buildings, although in need of restoration, were magnificent. As the days went by, I discovered a lot more I liked about this lesser-known city.
Ivano-Frankivsk has an interesting history, which explains why it has an air of grandeur with beautiful lush, green parks, lakes, and fabulous architecture. The city was founded in the 17th century as a private fortress for a prominent Polish noble family. In the 18th century, it became part of the Austrian Empire and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is when it gained prominence as a city. After the First World War, Stanyslaviv, as it was originally named, became part of Poland. It was annexed by Russia in the Second World War then occupied by Nazi Germany before Ukraine became an independent nation in 1991. In the 1960s, it was renamed Ivano-Frankivsk after the Ukrainian writer Ivan-Franko.
This is one of those cities where you need to take your time to walk around. There’s so much to discover – fabulous buildings, interesting sculptures, and green parks.
The first hostel I stayed at was only a short walk from the lakes. The weather improved, so I could enjoy this beautiful setting. I watched a paddling of ducks drift past and saw someone swimming across City Lake. Because the weather was so good, I returned another day and sat under a willow tree.
I moved accommodation and stayed in the only other hostel, on the other side of the city, near the Bystritsa Solotvynska River. That was great because I got a completely different perspective. It was another gorgeous day. As it was the weekend, lots of locals were down by the riverside, sunning themselves and relaxing. What I didn’t expect to see was a herd of goats, but that’s exactly what I saw on my walk back along the riverside. One was a very friendly goat, which came up to me for a bit of attention. So cute!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to really explore the Carpathian mountain region. However, as Ivano-Frankvisk is the gateway to this region, I managed to get a little taster and ventured out of the city with the help of Andriy, a local from Green Ukraine. The so-called Golden Ring of the Carpathians includes Ivano-Frankvisk, Kolomyya, Kosiv, Verkhavyne, Vorokhte, and Yaremche. In the short time I had, I visited Yaremche, a busy tourist town, which has a mini zoo and a waterfall close by. We also went to a village called Dora where there’s a wooden church, St Elias, which is traditional Hutsul architecture. It was cleverly constructed, without a single nail, in the early 20th century. It was closed after the Second World War, but reopened when Ukraine became an independent state.
You can get around the city on foot quite easily, although it appears to be a sprawling city. There are lots of city buses you can take, if you don’t fancy walking, which are incredibly cheap. For further information on the buses, there’s a great summary by a local on TripAdvisor.
There is a train station as well as local and long-distance bus stations. The bus station where you can take a local bus to Yaremche, for example, is situated by the train station. The long-distance bus station in Ivano-Frankivsk is in a completely different part of the city. It’s pinpointed on the map above to make it easier for you to find.
To get to Dora from Yaremche, you need to take a local bus from near Yaremche train station. You can get a direct bus from Dora to Ivano-Frankivsk, although they are infrequent.
Have your say
If you have been to Ivano-Frankivsk, which is your favourite part of the city? If not, is it a city you would consider visiting?