Lviv – Ukraine’s most cultural and elegant city
In the far west of Ukraine, just 40 miles from the Polish border, lies Lviv, a grand old dame of a city worthy of its Unesco World Heritage status.
Not only is it Ukraine’s most cultural and elegant city, it’s also its most tourist friendly, where prices are considerably lower than in the capital, Kiev, yet standards of hospitality are surpassed.
Capital of the historic region of Galicia
Lviv founded in 1256 by King Danylo Halytski, Lviv has seen much turbulent history and been ruled by Poland, Sweden, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Miraculously, the city itself has come through remarkably unscathed. Not so its citizens: in 1939, one in three of its inhabitants were Jewish; almost none survived.
Though Livivians of today are known for both their fervent nationalism and for their churchgoing, their city has an easy-going, almost frivolous air, filled with university students, embellished by its frothy confection of Renaissance, Baroque, Belle Epoque and Art Nouveau buildings and scented with aromas from its hundreds of Viennese style coffee houses. We only had to step out from our hotel, the Opera, and stroll with the crowds along Lviv’s central spine, Svobody (Liberty) Avenue, to find out how relaxed the place is.
We began our exploration at the lavish Opera House and then wended our way to exquisite Rynok Square, centrepiece of the historic old town, where every entrancing building deserves close inspection (Lviv’s doors, balconies and stone carved façades are particularly absorbing).
On the way, we dipped into some of the dozens of churches and cathedrals, each a feast for the eye: the Greek Catholic churches of the Transfiguration (violet and blue, decorated with traditional embroidery) and of St Andrew (a riot of Baroque gilded carving); the Armenian Cathedral (austere and contemplative, founded in 1370); Latin Cathedral (soaring, with marvellous stained glass); and the Mannerist Boim Chapel, topped by an unusual depiction of The Sorrowful Christ, sitting moodily beneath his cross.
In Rynok Square, we entered Korniakt Palace (No 6, now a museum), whose Italian Courtyard is an almost impossibly romantic slice of pure Italian Renaissance, worthy of Romeo and Juliet. No 4, known as The Black House, also draws the eye, as does the wonderful old Pharmacy, still operating but also part of the Pharmacy Museum, on the corner of the square and Drukarksa St. Off the square to the southeast lies Rus’ka St, heart of the former Jewish Quarter.
Round the corner, at 54 Staroyevreyska St are the faint vestiges (part of the northern wall) of the Golden Rose synagogue, a ghostly reminder of the tragedy and violence that took place in this district.
Nearby we came across Halytska Market, manned by sturdy farmers’ wives in headscarves. Others stood on the pavement outside, offering plastic cups full of fraises des bois or perhaps home made yogurt, walnuts, herbs or a pair of kittens. It made us long to explore the countryside around. Instead we contented ourselves with a stroll to the Lychakivs’ke cemetery, reminiscent of Père Lachaise in Paris for its elaborate stone-carved monuments, its vast size and enigmatic air. And then it was time for coffee and pastries – again.
|Did you know?|
|Lviv was the birthplace of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch from whom the word masochism derives.|
Ukraine International Airlines (flyuia.com) offers flights to Lviv via Kiev from £254 return. If pausing in Kiev, a good option is to take a comfortable sleeper train from there to Lviv.
First class compartments (2 berths) costs about £45 per person (020 3327 0812; railbookers.com) or (seat61.com). The train takes around 4.5 hours by day but the night services, which leaves at 10.30pm and gets in at 6am, is popular. Alternatively, the flight frrom Kiev to Lviv is an hour.
Regent Holidays (020 7666 1244; regentholidays.co.uk) offers a three-night package to Hotel Opera, Lviv, including return flight, b & b and transfers, from £515 per person. A six-night two-centre package to Kiev (Eleven Mirrors Hotel) and Lviv (Hotel Opera), including first class overnight sleeper train, return flight, b & b and transfers costs from £995 per person.
Where to stay in Lviv
George Hotel £
One of Ukraine’s oldest hotels, this dignified Baroque building has great character and a useful range of prices (00380 32 232 6236; georgehotel.com.ua; doubles from £32).
Hotel Opera £
Breakfast in the modern rooftop restaurant is a treat in this otherwise traditional, very central hotel (32 225 9000; hotel-opera.com.ua; doubles from £92).
Lviv’s newest and most elegant luxury hotel: a restored 18th century building close to Rynok Square, with a spa (32 295 9500; leopolishotel.com; doubles from £232).
Where to eat
U Pany Stefy £
Quaint family owned restaurant on Liberty Avenue with live folk music and satisfying Ukranian home cooking (10 Prospekt Svobody; 32 2721602).
An all white interior, a bird’s-eye view of the Opera House and creative modern European dishes make this top floor restaurant a good choice for lunch (45 Prospekt Svobody; 00380 32 2259009).
What to avoid in the city
Unless you love a heavy-handed theme, Lviv’s clutch of “museum restaurants”. One is devoted to salo (pork fat) fashioned into hideous “art”, others to freemasonry, Ukranian resistance fighters and kerosene lamps, invented in Lviv in 1853.
Drawing a distinguished crowd, with traditional dining room, pretty terrace and notable Galician menu (7 Katedral’na Pl; 00380 32 2615022).
The inside track
Cycling is a good way of getting around. A fun place to hire bikes, with or without a guide, is from bakery/café Videnski Bulochky (3 Katedralna Pl; 50 1708926).
There are ATM machines in most hotels.
Signage is good with city centre signposts in both Ukranian and English. Two highly recommended guides are Diana Stupak (00380 67 9110694) and Olha Vuytsyk (00380 97 2303289).
Catch a sung prayer service: Church of the Transfiguration 7pm, Wed-Fri.
What else to read about Ukraine
Thank you for your interest in Ukraine and we hope that you will love this country even more when you will visit it.
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