Lviv travel guide: the top sights to see
Lviv, I have been very fortunate to visit this beautiful city in Western Ukraine a couple of times. With its amazing history, transport connections, and culture, I found that this city, the country’s seventh largest with a population of 720,000, is very different to those in the centre and the east, like Odessa, Kiev, Donetsk. I have been in here in the summer months and also in the bitterly cold winter months. Despite the weather, I loved exploring this city. The locals are very welcoming, the food is good, don’t get me started on the beer and for my bank account, I hardly touch it. It was a budget destination to go to and I wasn’t bored one bit. Here I tell you what you can do for a couple of days before moving on to another destination.
A bit of history first….
The city was founded in 1256 and named after Leo, the eldest son of Daniel, King of Ruthenia at the time. When I was walking around the city with a local for a few hours, she basically said that Lviv means ‘lion’. Meh, same thing, Leo, Lion. The city was conquered by Poland in 1349 and managed to hold the city well into the Eighteenth century when it got sucked into the Habsburg kingdom. When the First World War came about, it was the capital of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic for a short time before getting sucked into Poland (again for a short time). The Second World War came along, the Nazi German’s and the Soviet Union invaded, the Soviet’s won the right to claim the city and Lviv became part of the Soviet Union. It was only in 1991 the city became part of a free, independent Ukraine.
The people here speak Ukrainian which is very similar to Polish and Belarusian, that language group. However a lot of people can understand Polish but don’t really speak it (Lviv is only a couple of hours drive away from the Polish border). The second language is Russian whilst English is becoming popular in the region. Ethnically the people are Ukrainian here whilst other major cities like Kiev, there are more Russian people there (if that makes sense). Most Ukrainians live in the west of the country and Lviv is the stronghold for the locals. However most people get along despite the terrible political situation which has occurred since 1991 and the country is divided whether to go Pro-European or Pro-Russian, violence has broken out in the east of the country and Crimea is now a part of Russia. It is a sad time for the country and I hope the country moves on. However despite the problems, Lviv is so flung out to the west, the people still get on with their daily lives and when visitors come to check out the city, they will always go out of their way to make sure they receive a pleasant experience. I sure got that on both of my visits.
The city centre is on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its history, culture and buildings. Also to note, Lviv is also known by other names (because of the different backgrounds of people who have conquered, lived and worked in the city). In Polish its Lwów, German it’s Lemberg, Romanian its Liov, Latin its Leopolis, Russian its Львов, Hungarian its Ilyvó and Yiddish its לעמבערג.
What to see and do in Lviv
Away from history, the city is brilliant for sightseeing. It may be small compared to other cities in the area like Minsk, Kiev, Krakow so a couple of days is enough. However the region is beautiful and worth exploring especially to the south. There is the city of Uzhhorod (to which I have explored a couple of times), Mukachevo and the national parks with their small mountains and stunning scenery.
Starting off in the centre of the city on Svobody Avenue (проспект Свободи), is the Lviv National Academic Opera House which has stood here since 1900. At the time it was one of the first buildings in the city to get electric heating.
Svobody Avenue itself has the main river, Poltva running underneath it. Like other parts of the city, the river was covered over so the city could build more buildings. In the middle of the avenue is a wide park and pavement area for locals to relax in. In the winter the Christmas market is held here and towards the southern end is a statue of Taras Shevchenko, a Ukrainian poet, writer, artist, public and political figure, as well as folklorist and ethnographer. His literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and to a large extent, the modern Ukrainian language. This explains the graphics on the massive wave beside him.
One of my favourite buildings in Lviv is the House of Scientists located on Lystopadovoho Chynu St, 6 (вулиця Листопадового Чину, 6). This place is one of the most amazing and perfect architectural structures I have come across in the world when it comes to Neo-Baroque. Built by the Austrians in 1898, the building was first used as a casino. Part of the design can be seen straight away at the entrance which is ‘guarded’ by two magnificent atlantes who hold the first floor balcony with their shoulders. Walking around inside reminded me of some old royal palaces I have come across in the world. The ground floor has a huge lobby which has a unique oak staircase with carved railings. The staircase leads to the first floor (of course) where there are many luxurious rooms including one with a marble fireplace and black grand piano, another room with crystal chandeliers, other rooms had antique furniture and one which caught my eye was the library with a gallery and balcony. However in 1939 when the Nazi Germans came to town during the Second World war, it became a youth recruitment point. In Soviet times since 1948, the building is now known as the House of Scientists. However during the bleak periods, the rich interiors and facades were not destroyed (thank god!) and in recent years the building has been used in several movies. I also had the pleasure to see an amazing Christmas Tree here on my winter visit. Truly amazing building and one I would highly recommend going to.
A nice place to take a stroll in the centre is Rynok Square which the current buildings have stood here since 1527. They were all rebuilt after a great fire destroyed most of the city centre. The City Hall is located here and around the area there are forty-four private buildings with their facades having the Renaissance, Baroque and Classicist designs.
Just outside the city centre, (it’s not far to walk) is a park located on the highest hill which overlooks the area. Known as High Castle Park, it was in the good old days, a favourite place for a walk among the city elite. There used to be a fortified castle located here which was used by the Austrians. The views from up here are truly wonderful and I would recommend a stroll here. However be careful of some scammers here (there maybe one or two). One scam is a local who has an eagle or a hawk and wants to put it on you for a photo opportunity. I got sucked into this and afterwards the scammer demanded about ten euros worth in the local currency. I didn’t have much cash on me and only had two euros. After a bit of arguing, he had no choice to accept and I walked off. So that’s a little warning from me.
For eating one of my favourite restaurants is 36PO – Ukrainian Food Art. The restaurant is located on a few floors but the heart of the building has a massive fish tank which can be seen from all the floors. They have their own brewery here (amazing beer, it is a must!) and the food is amazing. Filled me up, tasted good and for me, it was affordable. With its cosy atmosphere, lounge music and quality service, 36PO is a place worth checking out. Located on Rynok Square (36).
I was fortunate to come across Hotel Taurus whilst staying in the western Ukrainian city of L’viv in the middle of winter. With temperatures very cold and snowfall heavy on my first day back in the city after a five year break, I wanted to stay in a hotel on the outskirts of the city centre which wasn’t too far to walk. In the end I choose this hotel. It maybe a twenty minute walk to where the Opera House is located in the heart of the city but when I came across this hotel online, I knew I had to check it out.
With my previous stays in Ukraine not a great one, Hotel Taurus soon became one of my favourite places to stay in this region and would return in an instant. On my last visit to L’viv, this hotel was just about to open in 2014, so I missed out. This time around, it wasn’t going to happen. Arriving at the main entrance after a twenty minute taxi journey from L’viv airport, I was welcomed by the front of house staff. The check in area maybe small but the lounge area next to it had very comfortable seats, modern television screen and a pretty Christmas tree (well, it was that time of year). Check in was swift and before I knew it, I was whisked up in the elevator to the floor where my room was located.
The room itself was very modern and clean. First impressions are a must with me and Hotel Taurus did not let me down. Plenty of luggage space (and floor to that matter), with a clean washroom with the necessary towels and toiletries. There is a desk/table in the room and I found this area to be very useful during the daytime as I was doing a lot of work on the laptop in between leaving the hotel for visits around the city. I even ordered room service at lunchtime whilst working and the food didn’t let me down. In fact, it was delicious. I love the fish here and how it was cooked, it was that good, I had it two days on the trot! The bed itself, large, cozy, comfortable and was able to get a good night’s sleep. As it was winter, heating is a must and it worked! OK, the room wasn’t like an oven but it was warm enough to get a good night’s sleep.
Breakfast I found a bit unusual but was enough to give me satisfaction to get through the day. There were the usual breakfast food like sausages, eggs, tea etc but there were also some food which you would eat at dinner team like pieces of meat, vegetables etc. I just found this a bit weird but other guests seemed happy enough to eat this.
One of my favourite things about the hotel is the SPA-center. A fantastic place to come into late in the afternoon after walking around in the cold and on icy pavements to restore my energy balance and the harmony of the body. I didn’t go for a spa treatment but I did check out the pool, sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi and must have spent over two hours done here relaxing. I was the only soul down here so I stayed here for a lot longer than I usually would and enjoyed the hours of joyful peace. I love the interior design here, the colours are so natural. The sauna was filled with herbal aromas and there was relaxing music being played in the background. The guys here have really put a lot of effort into the SPA-center.
As my regular readers know, I love fitness and running. So of course every morning after breakfast, I would be in the fitness room. The room consisted of the usual weights, treadmills, exercise bike, cross-trainer as well as towels and water provided. There is even a large television screen on the wall so users can watch whilst on the machines. A great way to start the day.
In terms of bars, there is a lounge bar on the top floor but I didn’t get to check this out as I was out in the center every evening and returned to my hotel room a bit tipsy from a good night out. However I have been told a good view of the city can be had up there as the hotel is located on a hilltop on the western side of town. The hospitality and service here was fantastic as well as a comfortable stay was to be had. Would recommend anyone visiting L’viv to stay at the Hotel Taurus and check out all the facilities it has to offer. A great location, not far to walk from the centre (also around a five minute taxi journey), ideal for a quick getaway to the airport if on a morning flight (like mine was at stupid o’clock in the morning) and the perfect place to relax after a day’s sightseeing.
A personal note from me – my time at the Taurus Hotel was paid for by myself and was not sponsored in anyway by the company. The opinions in this post are my own and is totally honest. I would like to thank the staff for making my short stay here an enjoyable one.
Lviv is a truly amazing city and worth checking out, even if just passing through the area. If doing a couple of weeks traveling in this region, combined it with visits to Uzhhorod, Kiev (in Ukraine), Krakow, Zamosc, Lublin (in Poland) and Eastern Slovakia – The lower Tatra Mountains. Or even Minsk (Belarus)! There is no excuse for missing out on Lviv. If I am back in the area, I could certainly go for a third time.