Is Lviv the most underrated city In Europe?
After our month in Krakow we were a bit wary about going further east into Ukraine. What would the people be like? Would they be tolerant and friendly?
I don’t think we’ve met friendlier people than the people in Lviv. Incredible. We’ve just spent a month in this wonderful city. But there’s much more than the people. We love Lviv. We basically love everything about it. Regular readers know how “grouchy” we can be (I don’t call it grouchy, I call it having an opinion and being honest about it). But we LOVE Lviv. And that’s amazing considering that a year ago neither of us had heard of this city.
So what do we love so much about this city?
The Vibe. From the moment we arrived we felt a whole different vibe in the air. This is a happy, relaxed, vibrant little city. The streets of the old town are bustling, there are tons of cafés, there’s a mix of both foreign tourists and locals walking around. It feels cosmopolitan, it feels tolerant…it feels totally un-Krakow-ish….
The buildings. At one point I told Lissette “this is like a mini-Prague”. Colourful buildings, most with decorative sculptures in their façades, with balconies laced by intricate iron railing and held up by crumbling supports. The streets are stone paved – black, uneven stones that kill the feet and wreck the suspensions of cars. But they add tons to the charm factor.
Quirky and original. A café with a car on the roof, a bar where you need a password to enter, another café that has an underground mine that you can explore while wearing a miner’s helmet (and have a coffee made by blowtorch). A restaurant that looks like it came straight out of medieval times and where they’ll put you in a cage and drop you in the cellar. There are plenty of wine bars, places that make craft beer, lots of hookah bars (which we’ve never tried). On the streets there are Russian made Ladas, old cars we’ve never heard of, interesting statues and monuments. Lviv is not big – but there are lots of quirky places/things/ and monuments that make the place really interesting and unique.
Lviv is a hilly city with a lot of parks. It’s a green city and you’re never far from nature or from views over the city. The geography adds to the relaxed vibe of the city.
It’s a cosmopolitan city. Close to our apartment we had a store selling Bio products (tofu and soy milk are things we buy a lot and which can be hard to find when travelling). There are numerous yoga studios, we’ve also spent the last month going to the best gym that we’ve encountered during our travels (Eurosport). Near our apartment we had an upmarket store selling wine from all over the world at Ukrainian prices: imagine, a quality French wine for less than $8 USD. There’s a fruit/vegetable market where I pick up everything we need. You can find vegan restaurants, Sushi restaurants, Georgian restaurants, anything from simple to fancy. The only thing Lviv misses is a good Indian restaurant (which is usually a requirement for us loving a place). In short – Lviv fits our lifestyle perfectly and it just made for a great base for a month (please read our Slow Travel post if you can’t figure out why the heck we would spend a month in a place like Lviv).
Coffee. I’ve heard places being touted for their “coffee culture”. Sorry, anywhere else pales compared to Lviv. We’ve never seen as many coffee shops anywhere as there are in Lviv. And the coffee is great. In Lviv we became coffee addicts, often drinking it late afternoon. I’ll be writing a post on the best cafés in Lviv in the next little while.
Size matters. Some people enjoy big cities. Lissette and I enjoy small to medium sized cities. You can walk anywhere in Lviv, nothing is really too far. You can walk from one side of the old town to the other in about 15 minutes. We really like that – being able to step out of the apartment and walk anywhere we want to go. It’s a very manageable city.
The most beautiful women anywhere. I don’t know what it is about Lviv and its women. There seem to be women all over the place and they seem to be all really attractive. I’m not sure if they’re genetically really good-looking or if they really just try really hard (and they really do try very hard. Unfortunately there’s also a lot of Instagram posing going on here). Have a look at the photo from the gym. Yes, they actually dress like that.
But the most important thing is that people are incredibly open and welcoming in Lviv. I mentioned that Lissette often got mean looks from old women in Krakow. During our first week in Lviv we were walking close to Lviv’s St. Nicolas church when this old lady stopped to talk to us. She was probably in her 80’s, wearing the headscarf that you see most older Ukrainian women wearing. She had beautiful blue twinkly eyes and ruby cheeks. She seemed fascinated by Lissette and started talking to her in Ukrainian, a smile on her face. Lissette tried to explain that she didn’t speak Ukrainian. That didn’t stop the lady who just kept on talking. She even took Lissette’s arm and gave it a little affectionate squeeze. She was very sweet.
It was the same throughout our month in Lviv. Everyone was nice, helpful and welcoming. I mentioned that we joined a gym for a month. Lissette was at first nervous taking classes at the gym with all the supermodels. But again, they were all welcoming. At first she’d get curious looks and smiles but pretty soon she’d have people talking to her. A special 2nd mention to Eurosport – a great gym with really nice people.
Meanwhile I made friends with our Airbnb host Yuriy. A super nice guy, we ended up playing tennis together a few times. By the way, if you have a beard he’ll give you a discount on your stay (I’m not making that up).
By the time we left we had made a few friends. In the end – at least the way we travel – the people we meet along the way makes all the difference. In Lviv the people make the city very special.
[Here’s an interesting note about Lviv: it’s referred to as “IT city” and it attracts a lot of investment in the Information Technology field. We were sitting at a cafe when we met an Irish woman from London. Her husband (a Canadian) was in Lviv on business, looking to partner with some businesses in Lviv. Who would have thought? Read more about that here].
Related: See our very detailed Guide on Lviv here.
We’ve been to some beautiful places since we started travelling full-time. Prague is still the most beautiful city we’ve seen. Cape Town has the most stunning geography (with Split a very close 2nd). Budapest has our vote as the most exciting city. But Lviv wins in the most charming city category. It charmed us and we love it.
Related: Our Best and Worst “Slow Travel” Bases over 5 years of Full-time travel
Is Lviv the most underrated city in Europe? We haven’t been in every city in Europe so I can’t really say. But it has our vote (feel free to suggest your picks).
Have you been to Lviv? What did you think of it?
Related: Impressions of Kiev (Kyiv). And comparing it to other European capitals
Related: Cafés to go to for the best coffee experiences in Lviv
Related: More images of Lviv (we went back for a full summer)
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Well, Lwów (Lviv) has more in common with Kraków than with Kiev. City of Lwów was to 1945 a part of Poland and was inhabited mostly by Poles. It also differs from the rest of Ukraine in architectural sense. When Stalin changed the borders it was given to Ukraine and in extension to USSR. It also has lovely Jewish Quarters but don’t ask the natives what happened to Jews.
Historically all true. But the ethnic composition changed after WWII with the forced deportations under Soviet rule, so today the inhabitants today are Ukrainian and not Polish. And the majority Orthodox and not Catholic. Otherwise, totally agree.
Interesting and whet my appetite to visit. We’ve been traveling for 7+ years and are hanging up our shingle except for 3 months out of each year when I need to find a warm climate to get out of England. My visa was approved to live here but you cannot be out of the country for more than 3 months or it is construed you may not want to be a permanent resident. Lived in CA for 52 years AND need to have sun! By the way—we spent time in Krakow and really loved it. Spent time in Prague and found it depressing and sad because of the people and a lot of uninspired graffiti. We were impressed with Budapest too and I spent an entire day in the historic baths there which were sadly deteriorating. One of MY faves is Rovinj and my all-time fave is probably San Sebastián. We are like minded about the qualities of a location and prefer the smaller cities. They offer as much without all the hassles of a big city. Italy is off our radar because the Italians are, in MY opinion, a pain. I know it’s probably an unpopular position but we’ve had too many unpleasant experiences throughout Italy. Of all the places, we would only go back to Lake Como. The Italians are fed up with the constant barrage of tourists and ONLY tolerant them for the £$. If you’ve got a similar recommendation to Lviv only in January, February, March, please let me know. Continued happy travels.
Nice to hear from you again. I remember you mentioning San Sebastian and based on your advice we’ll explore it early next year in our search for potential Spanish bases.
We couldn’t have more different opinions of Krakow and Prague. We didn’t like Krakow. Didn’t like the people and didn’t feel inspired by the city (we were there a month and it was waaayyy to long). Prague on the other hand we’ve come to love more and more with every visit and have spent a combined 7 months there. It’s a place where we could live…but if just visiting the tourists sites and being swarmed by the tourist hordes then I understand your point of view.
Budapest and Rovinj I agree with.
I recommend a visit to Puglia Jann. People is this region much different, the food is fantastic, prices much more affordable. Can’t blame the rest of Italians, I would get sick of all the tourists as well. Another place I hear is great is Sicily, again it doesn’t attract the masses and the people and food great. It’ll be our next destination in Italy.
Hmm, so you’re looking for warm (non-European) destination for Jan – Mar? Is that what you’re asking? Two areas I love are Cape Town and Central Mexico. Both will be sunny and dry, avr temps in CT about 30C, in Central Mexico about 25C. These would be 2 I love but not knowing enough about your interests (outside Europe) I’m not sure what I can recommend you.
I have read so much good about Lviv that when I visited Lviv I was a bit disappointed.
I love old small historical cities and I wasn’t so impressed by Lviv.
I can see the value of such amazing patrimony, the mix of cultures and architectures, etc. But sorey, it didn’t match my high expectations after reading so many articles like this one.
I definitely prefer Kiev with its golden domes and colourful tsarskiy buildings.
But well you know, everyone has its own tastes.
I think it depends what you are looking for. Kiev IS more impressive if you are visiting as a tourist. You’re right there’s more to see. But as far as a place to stay longer, we loved the vibe in Lviv and found it culturally more interesting. We spent a month in both cities and it’s because of the way we travel that we loved Lviv so much.
So really I think it comes down to how you travel and how much time you’re spending.
Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂
I love this post Frank.
I’ve seen you & Spanky around on social media, but this is my first time to visit your blog!
I haven’t yet been to the Ukraine. I was invited to visit Lutsk a few years ago, but I felt it was too close to the East Ukrainian troubles, and declined!
I have wanted to go to Lviv for ages though, so perhaps 2019 will be the year.
Nice one mate!
Thank you very much Victoria. I was actually working on a very detailed guide to Lviv over the last few days when my computer went dead today. I’m sure our IT guy here in Prague can retrieve what I need so hopefully I’ll have that guide online by next week.
Well, Lviv not far from the border. No problems in this region. But I hope for everyone’s sake things get better and not worse. Ukraine is a great country and we enjoyed our time in both Lviv and Kiev and found the people very welcoming. I really recommend a visit if you have a chance.
I think your statement “It’s not often we say we absolutely love a place” is what makes reading your posts fun. Your remarks are real and credible when the honeymoon glasses and gloves come off. And now Lviv and the Ukraine are near the top of my list for future places to visit. And you’re right – when all the pros and cons of a place are weighed against each other, it’s the feeling of being welcomed in a city by people genuinely happy to meet you that make a place all the more special. I love your photo of the woman selling those huge flower bouquets. How can you not smile when you see someone like her?!
Thanks so much Anita. Yes, she was sweet. We bought some garlic from her (she sold garlic and flowers) and she and her friend were all shy when it came to having their photo taken. But we liked her sweet smile and the colourful flowers.
I’m happy to have discovered your site … we have also travelled to the Balkans and to Ukraine, and found L’Viv to be memorable and friendly and so special. This is the closest city to where two of my grandparents were born, raised and married, before they came to Canada, and we were able to go to L’Viv and to the village of Slowita, to meet some of my surviving relatives. L’Viv is so beautiful and unique and friendly, and we hope to go back again. Did you go to the absolutely amazing Lychakiv Cemetery there? We have been to many different cemeteries in various countries worldwide, and this one was so spectacular – the best we have ever seen. So many statues and headstones that were pure ART. And – of course L’Viv has an intense history, both before and during WW II … if you get a chance, find and read a book called “The Sewers of L’Viv”. It is both inspiring and heartbreaking. Did you go to the former ghetto there?
The reason that it has different names is that it has been held by several different countries over the years, including Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Austria. When my grandparents lived there it was Poland. (they left in 1927). Thanks again for sharing these thoughts … we also loved Kyiv — enjoy!
Thank you for your comment. Where abouts are you in Canada?
Great that you felt the same about Lviv. Yes, we went to the cemetery and it IS amazing. One of the most beautiful we’ve seen anywhere.
“The Sewers of L’viv” – I’ll look into that before a return trip. And no, we didn’t go to the former ghetto. But the history is terrible. We’v been in Kiev and went to the World War II museum. Imagine, between 8-10 million Ukrainians alone died in World War II. It’s hard just fathoming the numbers…
I just wrote about Kiev. We’ve been very impressed, it’s much more than we expected.
Thank you for taking the time to comment Lisa 🙂
Hello! We are in Kamloops, BC. Glad to learn that you didn’t miss the cemetery in L’Viv – it really is so special, isn’t it!
Most of my relatives of that generation died during WWII there so it was a bittersweet visit for me. Fabulous, interesting and friendly city, though.
I am very interested to continue reading your blog, detailing the other places you have stayed and lived. We like the “slower” travel as well – lived in Chile for about 9 months at one point, and had a winter home in Nicaragua for 10 years. My husband’s family is from (and almost all of them still live in) the Balkans, so we have travelled there as well.
Frank – Aren’t we so incredibly lucky to be able to explore this amazing planet!? Thanks for so excellently bringing us along with you on your travels.
Hi Lisa. You live in a beautiful part of the world! BC is gorgeous. I went to private school in Shawnigan Lake many, many years ago and have been into the interior a few times – but the last time was many years ago.
You’ve done a lot of travelling! You’re very right – lucky. But it’s also a choice we all make and requires sacrifices. I sometimes get people saying “you’re so lucky, I wish I could do that” but they have a huge home, 3 kids and 2 cars…it’s the choices you make.
Welcome to Kharkiv!
Please contact me.
I will be glad to meet you in Kharkiv and introduce the youngest city to 2 million people 🙂
That is extremely nice of you!
Thank you so much. I hope to come next year and we will contact you if we do.
Thank you again for the very generous offer.
As a local I’m happy that you liked my city and I hope next time you’ll be even more impressed ? So Lviv has all chances to become a place where you will settle in the future? 🙂
Hmmm. I just asked Lissette and she said “YES”. I’m not sure – I don’t know if I can handle real winters. It’s one of the reasons we left Canada. But we’ll start with a few months next summer and take it from there 🙂
Lviv, is the Best Kept Secret in Europe. If you haven’t been there you are missing a lot. Wonderful city and people.
You need to see Lutsk. A few days I think )) People are very friendly 🙂 And sity very interesting ))
In 1429 Lutsk was the meeting place selected for a conference of monarchs hosted by Jogaila and Sophia of Halshany to deal with the Tartar threat. Those invited to attend included Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor, Vasili II of Russia, the king of Denmark Eric of Pomerania, the Grand Master of the Livonian Order Zisse von Rutenberg, the Duke of Szczecin Kazimierz V, Dan II the Hospodar of Wallachia and Prince-electors of most of the countries of Germany. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutsk
We are planning to come back next summer Mariana. Yes, we’ll see Lutsk. People have also mentioned that we need to see Odessa.
Thank for your information, sounds very interesting.
Also, interesting thing. Here in Ukraine experienced travellers think that Lviv is overcrowded with tourists 🙂
We’re experienced travellers – and everything is relative. Try going to any Italian city 🙂
But yes, Ukraine doesn’t see as many tourists so maybe it would seem that way. And it’s true that the Lviv city center can get busy in August. But that’s a very concentrated area and if you go a few blocks away there are not so many people…
yep, I know – I’ve been there ten times, maybe. Last time in April – and it looked like busy even then. And I remember that city far in 2001…
Thanks for ineteresting story, I’m lloking forward to read about Kiev (because it’s my native city and I live here). Also feel free to ask anything about Kiev and Ukraine, I’ll be glad to help.
Thanks very much Alex. Do you work at “Interesting Kiev”?
I’ll be writing about our experience so far in Kiev over the next couple of days. Appreciate any feedback you have.
No, I don’t work there.
Hello, Frank! I’ve read you are in Kiev now. I think you should try one of the excursions with “Interesting Kiev” – it is a local travel agency and they speak english as far as I remember.
A great post, Frank. I’m very glad for you and Lviv.
What language those girls in the gym spoke with Lissette: English or Spanish?
I’m waiting for your impressons of Kiev.
English when they could. But the funny thing is that the teacher would always talk to her in Ukrainian even though obviously Lissette couldn’t understand. Language was a factor but everyone was nice and welcoming so it wasn’t an issue.
Sometimes people say that “maybe people didn’t seem friendly because of the language factor” (we’ve heard that argument in a few places). Whether in Thailand, Croatia, Ukraine there’s always a language factor. When people smile at you that is all that’s needed. And in Ukraine they’ve been very nice.
Kiev is quite nice. Modern, hilly, lots of parks and some incredible churches. We’re impressed. A lot more beautiful than many places that get many more visitors…
I am sure a Spaniard from Canada who had a workout with them was incredible exotic for every girl. I imagine how they told about it at home or work.
I think Spanish guy is from Spain and not Canada.
But yes…when I was younger I had a Latina girlfriend from Venezuela and she taught me Salsa/Merengue/Bachata. I thought Venezuelan girls were pretty hot. In hindsight I’m glad I never moved to Venezuela because a car right now costs about 3 billion Bolivars and dance teachers are a dime a dozen…
I was in Lviv this summer for few days. I really liked the city, and especially the atmosphere: a lot of musicians in the street (I like to hear music in the streets…), young people, pretty girls, etc. A city with austrohungarian architecture (like Prague or Krakow) but with much less tourists… I would say with a much authentic vibe. I have to say that I also liked Kiev. It’s completely different than Lviv, but I was pleasantly surprised with the capital of Ukraine: it’s a much more beautiful and interesting city than I expected… actually I think that is a city that has a lot to offer. I know many other capitals in Europe that have much better reputation than Kiev, but in my opinion are much less atractive and beautiful. I guess, all it’s matter of taste… each person like a different thing. It’s the same with our experiences… talking in a hostel in Skopje few days ago with a French guy, he told me that Ukraine has been the only country in his life (he has been in many countries, he is a flight assistant), where he thought that most people were rude and unfriendly with him. My experience in Ukraine was totally different, I felt really welcomed. It’s interesting how sometimes each person has a completely different experience (I remember your post about Poland.. and how different was my experience there)…
Hi Spanish Guy! I remember you from the Krakow post…
Totally agree with everything you say. While we don’t love Kiev the way we loved Lviv, we’ve been really impressed. The churches and monasteries – wow! And it’s a pretty, modern city, with lots of hills and parks. You hear about Ukraine being poor and you come here thinking it’ll be like Belgrade, Sarajevo or Skopje…and it blows those ideas out of your head. Tons of fancy cars, modern skyscrapers, incredible shops where you can find the best from all over the world, women who think they’re the housewives of Beverley Hills with their Daffy Duck lips. I totally agree, it’s attractive, even beautiful. And again, people have been very nice. We’ve been in Ukraine almost 2 months now and we’ve had nothing but good experiences…in Krakow we couldn’t go through a day without Lissette getting nasty looks. It’s difficult to understand sometimes.
The French guy. I really don’t understand that.
Thanks for the great comment, you obviously do a lot of travelling and I enjoy your perspective.
Hi Frank….glad to hear you guys really enjoyed Lviv. I was in W. Ukraine for 2 months in 2016 including 3 weeks in lovely Lviv. I also took lots of interesting day trips outside the city. Food was pretty good (how about the Puzata Hata buffets?) wherever you went including the super modern Silpo supermarkets. Overall, the Ukraine was incredibly cheap place to travel – I didn’t expect that. Travel by train was challenging with the language limitations but also fun and relatively easy. Yes, I agree about those beautiful Ukrainian women….whew! Definitely will be returning on a future trip.
Wish I had spoken to you before Don. Never heard of Puzata Hata but I just googled it. Next time. We also didn’t do any exploring outside the city, again, something we’ll do next time.
BUT we did take the 9 hr slow train ride to Kiev and that was an interesting experience. Half the train was taken up by soldiers, drinking and smelling up the place. It was a really rustic train experience but we got lucky meeting a few people and having conversation in English.
One thing we found out. There are really slick, modern inter-city train called the Hyundai train (I guess made by Hyundai) that does Lviv-Kiev in 5 hours. I’m told they’re like flying in a 1st class plane and if you google it it looks nice.
So that’s the train to ask for. We’ll know next time.
But we had language issues at the train station ticket office. I think the “average” person speaks better English than the tellers who work there…
Frank, you can buy tickets on-line here https://booking.uz.gov.ua/en/ and pay by credit card. The ticket will be sent to your email address as a pdf file . you will have just to print it somewhere… I’ve seen already people showing their ticket on phone directly, but I don’t know if it’s accepted in all trains.
And yes, thanks for nice words about my favorite town . I spent there 10 years studying and working later on. And I still, miss it even after 25 years living abroad. We used to say “who liked it once will love it forever” 🙂
PS If you come to Lviv in September when students are coming back from vacations, you will be even more amazed with beautiful girls around 🙂
Thank you so much Olha for that info. Next time for sure.
We’re in Kiev now and while we enjoy it but miss the charm of Lviv. Special city and as I say we are planning to be back next year.
Students? Ok, now you’re making me sound like a pervert 🙂
Great article Frank. I had never heard about Lviv, but want to visit it in the future. I also loved your article on Mikulov and Lednice.
Keep up the good work 🙂
Very much appreciated. Thank you, always love feedback (especially when it’s positive 🙂 )
lUkraine compte actuellement 15 bases biologiques américaines à Odessa, Vinnytsia, Uzhhorod, Kharkiv, Kharsen, Lviv (3), Keiv (3), Ternopil et quelques autres près de la Crimée et de Luhansk. Croyez vous etre en sécurité?
15 American biological bases in the Ukraine?
I don’t know if that is true, but even if it is it would not prevent me from being here. I can go to Paris and get killed by Islamic terrorists, I can go to the US and get killed walking down the street…there are always risks, everywhere….
Dear Frank! Thank you for your very warm review about Lviv! I am very happy that you liked our city!! As I live here all my life I must say that I have never heard about any of 15 american bases in Ukraine!! That’s nonsense!!! Or somebody wants to change your opinion about Lviv!
P.S. You are very welcomed to Lviv again!
Yes, thank you Solomia.
I thought it sounded pretty silly and I would usually erase such a comment – but I was hoping a local would write and say exactly what you wrote.
There’s always going to be people like that unfortunately.
We will certainly come again!
Sorry for the remark, but correct writing is “in Ukraine”, and not “in the Ukraine”
You are correct…but where did I write “the”? Can’t spot it…
As the citizen of this beautiful city – I’m glad you liked it. Cheers
Thank you so much Roman! Your comment is very much appreciated.
I keep hearing great things about Lviv! Glad your experience was better than Krakow 🙂 I’m looking at going to both next year, but I guess I won’t get a discount on apt since I refuse to grow a beard hahaha
Maybe you can work towards having hairy armpits Paula? Has to count for something, right?
i think if we didnt need a visa for the Ukraine (and I should check on that but last I knew we still did) I would have already visited. And I’ve hear Lvov or Lviv (seen it written both ways) is amazing. So it’s high up there on the list. I reckon it might be a really nice place to spend 3 summer months. Hope you give it a go!
Really? A Visa for Aussies?
Just looked it up Andy: Australians have to pay 2550 Hryvna (about $100 US) for a 15 day stay. That’s weird. I wonder why.
We met a Chinese guy the other day and he told us the same applied for Chinese visitors.
I think only Russians call this city Lvov.
Yes, I believe that’s correct. And the Poles call it Lwow. Gets confusing.
And the Germans called it Lemberg.
I agree! Lviv is an awesome little city. We were there in the middle of summer and we still drank a lot of coffee. It just seems like the thing to do, and you are right there are so many choices. I liked it much more than the capital of Kiev, that’s for sure.
Great to hear someone agree about Lviv!
We’re in Kiev right now. It has some spectacular sights and is more attractive than I expected – but doesn’t have the same charm for us either. Still prefer Lviv 🙂
Although I am from Slovakia, which is not too far, I have never been in Lviv. It’s been on my list for a long time as I have been trying to visit all important cities/regions of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire in order to understand more about “my” central Europe and ourselves. It’s fun reading your comments.
If you like smaller cities – have you been to Bratislava yet?
Here a recent article by Rick Steves that you may have heard of:
Thanks for the comment. We had a very short day trip to Bratislava from Vienna…although maybe not a spectacular city, we found Bratislava charming. Would like to see more of Slovakia – in fact I was recently looking at Košice as a place to visit…