If Lviv were just 50 miles further west, it would be in the premier league of European tourist destinations. The problem is that while Poland oozes youthful chic from every cobblestone, Ukraine does not have the same hip reputation. Lviv’s attempts to style itself as the “the new Kraków” have yet to really bear fruit. While Kraków pulls the crowds, Lviv slumbers.
The two cities share a common history, both having been part of the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. And both have that same Italianate flair in their central squares and some of the surrounding courtyards. The center of Kraków was the very first place in Poland to be inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. That was back in 1978. Lviv had to wait another 20 years to receive the same accolade.
What to see
Lviv boasts a galaxy of fine churches and civic buildings. Must-sees include the Armenian Cathedral and the over-the-top baroque St. George’s Cathedral. The latter has served as the mother church of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which dominates religious affairs in western Ukraine. Its followers, often called Uniates, use Orthodox liturgies but are in union with Rome. It’s a detail that underlines the west European orientation of this part of Ukraine.
Above all, Lviv is a fine place just to wander. The Italian Yard, a sublime piece of Renaissance architecture with its balconies, is a spot to linger over coffee. Or head to Vysoky Zamok (Castle Hill) for sunset, when the view of the city takes on a dreamy quality. For a more macabre take on life (or death), don’t miss Lychakivsky Cemetery, a magnificent wooded parkland east of the city full of crumbling memorials to poets, philosophers and soldiers.
Where to stay
Lviv is happily very cheap. Get a place in a six-bed dorm at the Central Hostel, in a plum spot on the main square, for just 120 Ukrainian hryvnia. That’s about €12. Off-season is much cheaper. Or trade up to the George Hotel where the cheapest rooms are just €35 (including breakfast). The best of the hotels is definitely the Zamek Lewa (Lion’s Castle) in a leafy compound a 20-minute walk south of the center, which has doubles for €70 (including breakfast).
The city is blessed with a great hinterland that is well worth exploring. Lviv Ecotour organizes day trips and longer tours for English-speaking visitors. Apart from nearby spots like the handsome town of Zhovka, the Carpathian wilderness beckons.
Ukraine is open for business. Holders of passports from CIS or EU States need no visa. Nor do US, Swiss, Canadian or Japanese citizens. You can fly directly into Lviv airport from Vienna, Venice, Warsaw, Munich and Dortmund. Or take the daily overnight train from Kraków.