The Ultimate Travel Guide to Lviv, Ukraine.
Updated November 11, 2019 after having spent 3 months in Lviv
Lviv has our vote as Europe’s most underrated city. We loved it so much that we decided to write a very comprehensive guide on it. This is the Ultimate Travel Guide to Lviv, Ukraine.
This Guide is aimed at people (like us) who want to spend some time getting to know the city. Besides the tourist highlights (I cover them in detail so even the 2-3 day tourist can use this guide), I cover “healthy living” in Lviv – the health food stores, vegan restaurants, fruit and vegetable markets, the yoga, and the gyms. Lviv fit our slow travel lifestyle perfectly. But Lviv is more than that. If you love Coffee culture you won’t find a better place for coffee anywhere (other places talk about coffee culture. We’ve never seen a coffee culture like Lviv’s). It has craft beer, wine bars, and international cuisine. We found a vibrant, cosmopolitan city containing the services and conveniences of a large city – but in a smaller, more accessible package.
Where to Stay in Lviv
Things To See (click on the sections below to be taken there)
The Best of the Best of Lviv (Best Views, Best Cafes, Best Restaurants)
Tours – and Visiting the Castles outside Lviv
Healthy Lviv (Vegan Restaurants, Vegan Shops, Gyms, yoga)
Getting There and Getting Around
Some Final Words on what Makes Lviv Special – and why we love it.
Where to Stay in Lviv
Nobilis Hotel. Gorgeous 5 Star Hotel on Shevchenko Avenue across from the Mykhailo Hrushevskyi square.
Hotel Atlas Deluxe. Right next to the above Nobilis Hotel, overlooking the roundabout at the end of Shevchenko Avenue.
Grand Hotel Lviv Luxury and Spa. In the heart of everything, historic building but very modern inside.
You can’t go wrong with any of the above if looking for luxury.
Ibis Styles Lviv Center. I’m always a fan of Ibis Styles hotels, I find they’re excellent quality and good value. This one is well-located, a quick walk to the old town and Shevchenko Avenue.
George Hotel. The rooms are a bit worn but this is a beautiful historic building with a great location.
Luxovski Apartment. You’ll be blown away by this apartment and the excellent value.
Avenue Apartment. Clean, modern, beautiful apartments at very affordable prices.
Things to See
A. In The Center
You’ll see a lot of highlights listed below. It might make you think that Lviv’s center is large. It isn’t. It’s quite small and all the sites are within easy walking distance from each other. A 10 minute walk will take you from one side of the old town to the other.
You’ll see different architectural styles around the city. Many of the palaces in the old town date back to the 1600’s when Lviv was under Polish control and almost all were designed by Italian architects. In the late 1700’s Lviv came under Austrian rule and was capital of the Austrian province of Galicia. You’ll see the Austrian influence in many of the buildings around the city, including the grandiose buildings along Svobody and Shevchenko Avenue.
Rynok Square (Market Square)
Life in Lviv revolves around this square. It is full of cafés and restaurants and always lively with music and dancing. The square has some of the city’s prettiest buildings, monuments, and is centred by the city hall building (the tower has the best views in the city). On each corner of the square is a fountain dedicated to the Greek gods – you’ll see statues of Neptune, Diana, Adonis and Amphitrite (all sculpted in the early 1800’s). Note: the main Tourist Information Office is on the Rynok, with an entrance on the west side of the city hall building.
The most impressive buildings are on the Eastern side of the square. There you’ll see a few palaces built in the late 1500’s. The Bandinelli Palace (the yellow building on the Northeastern corner) contains the post office, first opened here in 1629. Along that side of the square you’ll see a few other examples of great architecture: the Blackstone House, Korniakt Palace (with the overrated Italian Courtyard, one of the few ripoffs in Lviv), and the touristy but must-see Lviv Coffee Manufacture on the Southeastern corner (where you can go underground with a miner’s helmet and have a coffee cooked by blowtorch in front of you).
But it’s not just the Eastern side of the square. The whole square is full of colorful buildings with old wooden doors, impressive sculptures, and balconies laced with intricate iron railings. We loved coming here and having a drink, watching the locals and listening to performers singing and dancing.
below: statues of the Greek gods around the square
This church was build where the Austrians demolished the previous church that was in this spot. Completed in 1898, this Greek-catholic church looks simple from the outside but the interior is stunning with its light, airy colors and the gold Iconostasis.
Across the street from the Transfiguration church, the Armenian Cathedral dates back to 1363…and looks it. It is stout and heavy, with arched passageways, incredible colourful murals and thick columns.
Just off the Southwest corner of the Rynok (market Square), the Latin Cathedral took over 120 years to complete (starting in 1360, completed in 1481). It is the only remaining Gothic Cathedral in Lviv and its bell tower dominates the city’s skyline.
Situated right next to the Latin Cathedral, this small Chapel has an incredible sculpted façade of sculptures, columns, and images from the bible . The interior (you have to pay to enter) is magnificent.
Jesuit Latin Cathedral
A few minutes walk from the Latin Cathedral is this massive church, located off a small, pretty square that is always bustling. Also called the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, It was built in the early 1600’s and was one of the first Baroque buildings in Lviv as well as one of the biggest structures in the city.
Bernardine Church (aka St. Andrew’s Church)
This incredible church is my favorite in Lviv. The complex, including the church and monastery, was actually built (it was consecrated in 1630) just outside the city walls. For that reason it was built with its own fortifications (go behind the church and you’ll see). I would see this church every day on my way to the fruit/vegetable market and its imposing presence would always impress me. The interior is beautiful, with huge murals adorning the length of the ceiling and multi-coloured stained glass windows adding to the warmth. It’s a magnificent church.
Behind the Bernardine Church are the fortifications that protected the city from attack. You can walk through the Hlyniany gate and over the moat. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back into the 16th century. Note: within the courtyard behind the church is a restaurant called “Meat and Justice” which is decorated in Medieval style. It has torture paraphernalia and you might get whipped, stretched out on a rack, or locked in a cage and dropped in the cellar.
Monument of King Danylo Halytskyi
Down the street from the Bernardine Church is this monument to the man who founded Lviv. Danylo Halytskyi (1201 – 1264) fought for the crown and spent much of his reign fighting threats from Poland, Hungary, and then battling the Mongols (who would eventually control the region of Galicia). In 1256 he founded Lviv and named it after his son Lev.
This Baroque Church is located a block east of the Rynok on a pretty plaza. It was built in the mid-1700s and the circular interior is unique among churches in Lviv. Amazingly, the Soviets used it as a warehouse after World War II. It now serves as a parish church.
Royal Armoury and Ivan Fedorov statue
A block behind the Dominican Cathedral is a small square where you’ll see vendors selling books and World War II memorabilia. The pink building on the square used to serve as the Royal Armoury where arms and ammunition were kept. The imposing statue is dedicated to Ivan Fedorov. He was born in Moscow and came to Lviv in 1572 to open a printing shop. He printed the bible and many other books.
This is Lissette’s favorite church in Lviv. Built in the late 1500’s on a spot where 3 other churches had previously burned down, it holds the small but magnificent Chapel of the Three Saints. From the chapel, you enter the church which is decorated by colourful stained glass windows and an intricate gold iconostasis. The old ladies who work in the church are very friendly and warm towards visitors.
Archangel Michael Church
It’s not technically in the center – but this church is a 2 minute walk across the street (and up the hill) from the Assumption church. The frescos on the ceiling are beautiful.
City Arsenal (Weaponry Museum)
The city Arsenal is a large building that was also part of the city’s outer fortifications. Inside was a factory where weapons were produced: swords, sabers, pistols and rifles. Today it houses the popular Weaponry Museum.
Along the moat on the outer wall is a meat restaurant where clients wear interesting bibs that seem to be popular on Instagram.
The Streets of the Old Town
The Old Town is small, all the highlights listed above are no more than a 10 minute walk from each other. It is also very atmospheric. Walk around, admire the buildings and statues, the cobblestoned streets and the street life. There are tons of cafés, wine bars and restaurants. Halytska St (which turns into Krakivska St. on the northern side of the Rynok) is the main thoroughfare. Serbska St. is the most touristy street and has some quirky bars and cafés (including Lviv Handmade Chocolate). Virmenska Street has interesting murals and sculptures.
Svobody (Liberty) Avenue
The Western edge of the Old Town is flanked by Svobody Avenue, a large boulevard with parks and monuments lined with some impressive buildings. The Avenue runs from the Adam Mickiewicz monument on the southern end to the Opera building on the northern end.
Below are a few highlights of Svobody Avenue including the extraordinary Taras Shevchenko Monument (he is known as Ukraine’s greatest nationalist writer). Further below, on two opposite corners, are two bank buildings built in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. The one on the left is now the Museum of Ethnography and Arts while the 2nd is still a bank (Prominvest Bank).
Svobody Avenue starts from Mickiewicz Square on its southern end. The statue and square is dedicated to Adam Mickiewicz (1798 – 1855), a Polish poet who many consider one of the greatest European poets.
One of the most prestigious addresses in Lviv, this hotel was opened in 1901. It sits on Mickiewicz Square, looking across at the Old Town and at the top of beautiful Shevchenko Avenue (which I’ll cover below). The George Hotel is one of our hotel recommendations – only in Lviv can you stay in a historic hotel of this caliber for about $70 US. The George Hotel sits atop the very popular Glory Café.
This beautiful Opera House was built between 1897-1900. It sits on a large square with a fountain and is connected to the southern end of the avenue by green spaces where you’ll see old men playing chess. This whole area has a lot of charm between the parks, monuments and the Opera house and fountain.
B. To The South
Just south of the old town, Shevchenko Avenue exemplifies the best of architecture of the early 20th century. The avenue is wide, split by a green spaces where you can sit on park benches. All along the avenue are stores, restaurants, cafés and some of the best hotels in the city. It’s not a long avenue, a 10 minute walk from the George Hotel (on the northern end of the Avenue) will bring you to Mykhailo Hrushevskyi square on the southern end.
Below: Mykhailo Hrushevskyi square, the statue dedicated to an academic and politician who was one of the most important figures of the Ukrainian national revival of the early 20th century.
Other sights to the South
There are less “must see” sites in this area but it is filled with impressive buildings including a few government buildings, a church (the Holy Virgin Church), and some impressive buildings up Drahomanov Street on the way to the National Museum (a 10 minute walk up the hill from Mykhailo Hrushevskyi square). This area of town was actually our favorite and where we stayed – we were close to the gym (Eurosport) as well as to a few favorite restaurants and health food stores. More on that later in this guide.
.C. To The West
This palace was built in the 1880’s as the home of the Minister-President of Austria. If you think it looks Parisian you’re right – it was designed by a French architect.
On the street in front of the palace you’ll see umbrellas over the street. Behind the palace you’ll see an array of miniature castles modelling real castles in the region. If you’re in the mood for art, the Lviv National Art Gallery is right next door. It is the leading art gallery in Ukraine with over 60,000 artworks in its collection from European artists.
A few blocks up from the Potocki Palace is a small street – go up and follow the signs and you’ll end up at the Citadel. Today it houses a luxury hotel and offers great views of Lviv. It was built in the mid 1800’s by the Austrians as a fort but is best known as having being used as a camp for prisoners of war by the Nazis during German occupation.
If you want to book a stay here.
I. Franko University
Back down the hill and a few streets north is the very lively university district. There are many very impressive Austrian-era buildings in this area but none bigger than the I. Franko University building. Built in 1871-1881, its purpose was as a government building. In 1914 the Polish Jan Kazimierz University was transferred here and it has been a university building since.
Across the street is a huge monument to Ivan Franko a poet, writer and politician and a founder of the socialist and nationalist movement in Western Ukraine. Behind the monument is a large park, also in his name.
One of Lviv’s most beautiful buildings used to be a casino. Now it’s a museum. The building is empty, but you can get a sense of its former opulence walking up the staircase and wandering through the large rooms.
St. George Monument
In front of the main police station is this statue of St. George slaying a dragon. The monument is dedicated to the policemen of Lviv who lost their lives in the line of duty. It’s one of many beautiful statues you’ll find all over Lviv.
St. George’s Cathedral
This huge church located on a hill dates back to 1760. It’s an important church, having served as the mother church of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Church of Saints Olha and Elizabeth
This church is a 15 minute walk from St. George’s Cathedral (it’s located near the train station) and its architectural style is in complete contrast to that of St. George’s. It was completed in 1911, by a Polish architect, in neo-Gothic style. The exterior is impressive and it’s worth climbing the bell tower (some great views of St. George’s Cathedral and the Old Town in the background)
Other sights to the West
The few blocks from Svobody Avenue to the I. Franko University building is full of beautiful architecture. It’s a lively area with lots of restaurants, bars, and cafés as well as some of the accommodations ranging from cheap hostels to some of the city’s finest hotels. One of the walks we suggest coming from the old town is on Mykoly Kopernyka St: see the Potocki Palace, deviate to the Citadel, come back down and continue up the street to the Lviv Organ Hall…then come back towards the University along Petra Doroshenka Street. There’s beauty everywhere.
D. To The East
The highlight of all highlights East of the center is the Lychakiv Cemetery. It is one of Europe’s oldest cemeteries and has over 3000 gravestones, monuments and vaults. It is a beautiful cemetery and almost rejoices death in its beauty. Many of the people buried here were rich or famous: writers, poets, politicians, scientists, members of the clergy. Lychakiv Cemetery is one of the places you have to visit when coming to Lviv.
Other sights to the East
Unlike the Western part of the city, the eastern part is less built up and the highlights more spread out and harder to reach by foot. Things to see: St. John Chrysostom’s Church, the St. Peter and Paul’s Church and the Holy Trinity Church. Another highlight is the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life, an outdoor “museum” in a park setting featuring traditional wooden Ukrainian homes, farms and churches. The Museum was high on our list but events and weather conspired against us on this visit.
E. To The North
To the north of the old town are churches (more churches!) as well as a few outdoor highlights.
High Castle Hill
A 20 minute walk (if you’re a pretty fast walker) will bring you from downtown Lviv to the top of Castle Hill. The castle is in ruins and there’s really nothing to see…but people come here for the views over Lviv from the top of the Hill. It can get pretty crowded up there. But the whole park is pretty and there are a few different spots with viewpoints.
Coming from the old town, you just have to walk a few minutes to come across several small and historic churches.
Below: Church and Nunnery of the former Benedictine order
Below: St. Nicolas’s Church dates back to 1292 and is the oldest church in Lviv
Below: St. Onuphrius’s Church and Monastery
The Best of the Best of Lviv
High Castle Hill
Partyfon Restaurant/Bar on on top of Roksolana Shopping Center (right across from Bernardine Church).
Ukrainian Food Art restaurant (right on the Rynok)
Panorama Restaurant (in the Panorama Hotel next to the Opera House)
House of Legends (quirky restaurant in the old town, with a car on the rooftop terrace)
Lviv handmade Chocolate (go to the top floor terrace)
Citadel (covered up top)
Valentino restaurant (a fancy place for a drink or dinner)
This is a hard one because Lviv is coffee heaven. There are so many Cafés serving great coffee.
Have a look at our post Cafés to go to for the best coffee experiences in Lviv, Ukraine
A few mentions
For the best coffee – Lviv handmade Chocolate. Incredible Cappuccino. And the place is known for chocolate…
For the best coffee experience – Lviv Coffee manufacture (on the Rynok). Put on a miner’s helmet and go through the underground. Find a table and order a sealed coffee – they’ll brew it using a blowtorch.
For the best cake – Cukiernia. Fantastic cakes.
The best place to watch people walk by while having a coffee – Lviv Coffee Manufacture (at the southern end of Halytska St) and Glory Café
“Coolest” cafe – Glory Café. A place to see people and be seen while smoking Hookah. Technically a cafe but you’ll see more people drinking beer than coffee.
Most beautiful cafe – Kawiarnia Mikolasha. Beautiful old Style cafe. Fixage and Vienna Coffee House also get a mention here.
C. Best Restaurants in Lviv
None of our recommended restaurants appear on any Top 10 Trip Advisor list. All are simple restaurants but all were good and inexpensive.
Akhali. Excellent Georgian restaurant, we came back a few times. Fantastic.
Green Garden. Very good sushi and stir-fries, nice ambience, good value.
Oh Nom Nom. Excellent and very affordable Vegan cuisine. Love the Asia wrap.
Tours – and Visiting the Castles outside Lviv
Lviv is pretty small and if you’re using this guide I don’t think you really need to book a tour to explore the city center. If you’re limited for time and don’t want to sweat it, you might consider doing this walking tour of the city. But, as I say, Lviv is very walkable and you can easily walk between all the highlights I’ve listed above.
BUT if you want to visit the 3 famous castles of the “Golden Horseshoe” outside Lviv then you really have to book a tour. This 6 hour tour takes you to the castles of Zolochiv, Olesko and Pidhirtsi. I really recommend it.
In recent years we’ve really been trying hard to stay in shape and also eat better. That’s not always easy when travelling and many destinations – especially in Central and Eastern Europe – it can be difficult finding things like tofu, soy milk, quinoa, cottage cheese etc. It can also be difficult to find a good gym, much less a yoga studio (Lissette likes to do yoga).
So we were surprised when we came to Lviv and found everything we needed.
A. Healthy Restaurants
Oh Nom Nom (mentioned above in our Top Restaurant Picks). Vegan cuisine. Excellent.
Green in the old town. Vegetarian cuisine. Note: Lissette and I are not fans but it seems popular among a lot of Vegans
Gooseberries in the University area gets good reviews (we haven’t tried this one). Vegan.
Green Garden for sushi and stir-fries (mentioned above in our Top Restaurant Picks)
B. Health Food Stores
Green. It’s a vegetarian restaurant but they also have a selection of tofu, soy, and other organic produce. Not a big selection and some of it is overpriced – but if you’re in the old town and in a pinch you can get it here.
Dogs like Ducks. A small vegan cafe in the old town. They also sell tofu, soy, etc…
Silpo is a large grocery store in the modern Lviv Forum shopping Mall just north of the center. It’s like Billa – they have things you might not find in regular grocery stores in town (cottage cheese for example).
C. Fruit and Vegetable markets
Halytsky market across from the Bernadine church is great. You can buy all your fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, bread, and flowers here. All very fresh and very inexpensive. If you’re anywhere central it is very convenient.
Stryjskyj market is more out of the way but offers much of the same as Halytsky market.
Eurosport is the best gym in Lviv. It’s actually one of the top 3 gyms we’ve joined during our travels (the other 2 being Viding in Seville and Virgin Active in Cape Town). It has a large modern gym and rooms where they have classes throughout the day. They have a pool, sauna, even tennis courts. Great gym.
We didn’t do yoga this time around, concentrating instead on getting in shape at the gym. Here are some of the yoga studios in Lviv (again, the number of yoga and meditation studios in Lviv is surprising for a city of this size).
Hatha Yoga at Forever Fitness Club
Integrated Yoga at Birdie Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga at Ashtanga Lviv
Hatha Yoga at Yoga Art Studio Korali Lviv
Getting There and Getting Around
Air. Lviv has a modern international airport and is served by direct flights from cities like Munich (Lufthansa), Vienna (Austrian Airlines), Istanbul (various airlines), London (Luton. Direct flights with Wizz Air), Warsaw, Tel Aviv. We usually use Expedia when booking our flights.
Train. There are trains from the major Polish cities, Moscow (which I’ve been told will soon be discontinued), Prague, and Budapest. The Man in Seat 61 is the best website on train travel and you can find detailed information on all those routes here. We took the train from Krakow, leaving Krakow at 8:45 am, changing trains at the Polish town of Przemysi, and arriving on schedule in Lviv at 4:00 pm. Note on trains from Kiev (Kyiv): there are slow trains that take 9 hrs between the 2 cities. They are very basic. But there are also modern high speed intercity trains that do trip in 5 hours. See this site. The intercity trains are marked as IC – you can buy the tickets online, print them out, and present them on the train (thanks to Olha for providing this information).
Lviv has a public transportation of trams and mini-buses (called marshrutky). Cost 5 hryvnia. Have a look at this site for a map on Lviv tram routes. Uber is very widely used and it’s what we used to get anywhere. Usual cost was 40 – 60 hryvnia to anywhere in the city (that’s $1.50 – $2.15 US. So very inexpensive).
Some Final Words on what Makes Lviv Special – and why we love it
Part of the reason we love Lviv is because of the way we travel. If you’re Slow Travellers like us you’ll find a comfortable, cosy town with all the amenities of a larger city. We like small-sized cities.
The people in Lviv really made us fall in love with it. We were there a month and everyone was friendly and helpful. We met so many nice people in Lviv. Not everyone speaks English and sometimes they’ll only speak a few words. But I always say “where there’s a will there’s a way” and the language barrier didn’t matter.
I wrote more about all the reasons we love Lviv here.
The objective with this guide was to help people – through all the photos we have above – get an impression of Lviv. Before coming here I had no idea of what the city would be like. It’s not a place many people write about.
We intend to come back and spend more time in Lviv and I want to update the above with more information when we do. So if you have constructive advice or tips and recommendations please leave a comment below. It might make it into an updated version of this Guide.
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