I had wanted to go to Lviv in Ukraine for a while, but I hadn’t made any set plans to visit. While I was in Poland, it made sense to pop across the border to Lviv. The thing is, plans change. I did eventually get to Ukraine, but it was via Slovakia rather than Poland.
As I wandered around the city, searching for the hostel I had booked, I walked past some of the grand buildings that had brought me to Lviv in the first place. What I didn’t realise at the time was the fact that there was so much more to discover.
Lviv is full of surprises. As I found out, it isn’t one of those cities you can rush through in a day or two, seeing the main sights before leaving. If you do, you will miss so much. It’s definitely a city to soak up the atmosphere by sitting in cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants, savouring the delights of what is put in front of you such as the incredible freshly-roasted coffee, homemade cakes, and chocolate while people-watching, marvelling at the architecture, and having a giggle at the city’s quirkiness.
If you do have the time to appreciate this city, here are some of the things you can see and do when you venture to Lviv.
Coffee and Chocolate Heaven
I was surprised to find out that Lviv has a big coffee culture. There are a few roasteries around the city, so it isn’t difficult to find great coffee. If that isn’t enough, it’s also a great place for those of you who are partial to chocolate, like me. Just make sure you aren’t on a diet when you go to Lviv. There are just too many tempting, mouth-watering delights on offer.
Lviv is quirky with a capital Q. It’s the quirkiest place I have been to by a long shot. There are some interesting bars and restaurants you can choose from that are… unusual.
One of these is Kyrivka. It’s an underground bar/restaurant, but that isn’t the most unusual bit. The unusual bit is that you have to knock on the door. When the doorman answers, you have say the code, ‘Slava Ukraini’, to enter. Once inside, it’s like a maze. You will need a bit of time to wander around before sitting down to enjoy the underground atmosphere. It’s on Rynok Square. Look for the building with a lion over the entrance.
I found three more themed bar/restaurants, which are owned by the same company. Dim Legend (The House of Legends) is one. It has seven floors and each floor is about one legend. If you go, it would be good to have a local or someone who can understand Ukrainian, so you can appreciate it better. I didn’t have either, so I couldn’t fully understand what each floor was about. Having said that, it’s still pretty cool, especially the roof terrace, where you will find a car. Yup, that’s right, a car.
The next is Masoch restaurant, which is… very different. I was with a local one day and, as we passed a statue in the street, she asked me if I knew who it was. I had no idea, but I vaguely heard her say, ‘S & M’. I thought I had misheard until she asked me to look inside the left pocket of the statue. I’ll leave what I saw to your imagination, but I realised that I hadn’t misheard her at all. The statue is of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who was born in the city. The term ‘masochism’ was derived from part of his name ‘Masoch’. The restaurant, which follows that theme, is only open in the evening. I won’t give too much away but, if you’re brave enough, check it out.
The final one is the First Lviv Grill Restaurant of Meat and Justice. As a vegetarian, this isn’t a place I would normally venture in to, but I went with a local, just to see it. I had no idea what I was walking into and was greeted by a man with a mean look on his face. Before I knew it, he grabbed my hand and pulled it towards a moving circular piece of stone. The look on my face must have been priceless. I was shocked and a wee bit scared for a minute, if I’m honest. I know; I’m a wimp! I’ll give ten out of ten for the unusual greeting.
Architecture and Squares
There are lots of squares, complete with statues and fountains, that you can wander around and sit and chill for a bit, as the locals do.
Apparently, there was some damage to buildings from the revolution in the 19th century, but none from World War II. In recent years, the buildings have been restored to their former glory and they look amazing. Some of the buildings date back to medieval times, although there are a large number from the Austro-Hungarian period. My favourite building in the city is the small medieval chapel, which is in the middle of the first column in the photo above.
Lviv may well be the cultural capital of Ukraine, but it is so much more. For me, it has it all: It is a vibrant, lively city which has an interesting history; great architecture; places to chill out and relax; wonderful, freshly-roasted coffee; chocolate; and a big dose of quirkiness.
There are two bus stations: an international and national bus station. The national bus station is beside the railway station.
If you are travelling to/from Lviv train station, use tram 9. It’s about a 15-minute journey. It’s a little bumpy, but it’s better than a 30-minute walk when you have luggage. When I did the journey in 2014, it cost 2 Hyrina. You can buy the ticket in advance, but I found it easier to buy it on the tram. Try to have the correct change because that makes it a lot easier. Place the money on the small tray in the driver’s door and push it in. The driver will take the money and replace it with a ticket. When you have the ticket, you must validate it. Up high, at various points on the tram, are little, red hole-punch machines. Put your ticket in one and pull the handle. That punches holes in the ticket and validates it. If you don’t do that, you could be fined 40 Hyrina. It isn’t a lot of money when you convert it into Sterling, but you could get a few coffees or beers for that money and, in Lviv, that’s half the price of a dorm bed in a hostel.
Have your say
Are you thinking of going to Lviv? Which city has surprised you the most?