Oh Lviv. You came, you saw and you conquered my heart. For a few weeks back in 2015 I could call this city in Ukraine my temporary home. During these weeks Lviv flew to the top of my list of favorite cities in Eastern Europe. This city has everything you could possibly want out of a city trip. A nice market square? Check. Beautiful old architecture? Check. A good cuisine? Check! And the best part is that you can wander around the city without seeing the big groups of tourists. And so I did. From the Armenian quarter and Castle Hill up to the old Jewish area, I saw it all. Not just my eyes were blown away, also my ears and mouth were treated with all that is pretty about Lviv. I enjoyed Lviv, and I still enjoy it while writing this post. Curious what to expect when visiting Lviv? Then keep on reading!
Hearing: from guitars to salsa dancing
Lviv is a city that’s never quiet. It starts early in the morning with the sound of the babushkas trying to sell their fresh fennel and jars of blueberries. They are there every day and always lined up next to each other. Around 7 in the morning they arrive by train from the rural villages outside Lviv. Their trade is sometimes their only income, because their pensions keep on getting less and less. If you go the market square in the afternoon, you will be greeted by some cheerful music. The street musicians play their guitars and saxophones to make some extra money. Enjoy them, because they are popular. Even the people of Lviv often stop to sit down for a moment and to enjoy the sun and music. Speaking about the sun, or actually the sun set, when day turns into night the salsa dancers come out on small stages and dance the night away. It made me jealous. I wish I could dance like that, but I’m not that gracious. For people like me, no worries! Sometimes there is also a dj on the square that gives you beats everyone can dance on.
Seeing: from an Armenian church to a Vienna-like opera
Lviv is a city with a long multicultural history. It exists for over 750 years, but only since 1991 the city is part of Ukraine. Before that it was Polish, Hungarian, again Polish, Austrian and once again Polish. And between 1945 and 1991 Lviv, just like the rest of Ukraine, was part of the Soviet Union. A difficult time where most of the Polish inhabitants of Lviv were deported to Poland. A twisted history of this city, and one you could notice in the many names for Lviv. The Russian-speaking citizens call it Lvov, in Polish the city is called Lwów and in German and Dutch the city is known as Lemberg. All these multicultural influences you will also notice in the city itself. For instance, in the city center you can eat at the Strudel Haus that offers all kinds of strudels you want. Also the Opera at the end of the Svoboda Prospekt is a big reminder of the Vienna architecture. You can see the Polish influences at the thirteenth century Ploshcha Rynok, which reminded me of the squares I saw in Poznan, Wroclaw and Krakow. You can also find in the city center some old pieces of Polish advertisements on the walls of the buildings. In addition to the Central European influences, Lviv also has an Armenian quarter. The Armenians first came to Lviv in the thirteenth century when their own country was under attack of the Mongolians. Today the Armenian community is one of the oldest in Lviv. If you want to go the Armenian quarter, then you should start at the Virmenska street where you can find all sorts of lovely cafes and a beautiful Armenian church.
Tasting: from strong espresso to chocolate
Lviv is the Eastern European city of coffee and cafes. This is something you might not expect of Ukraine, but it is true. There is even a story about a merchant from Lviv that brought coffee for the first time to Vienna in the seventeenth century. This merchant opened a cafe in Vienna that instantly became a hit under the Austrian people. Today Lviv has over 600 cafes and most of them you will find in the old city center. The most popular one is the Lviv Coffee Manufacture where the names on the menu remind the customers of the Austrian age. For instance, I ordered a Franz Joseph espresso, a reference to the emperor Franz Joseph I from Austria.
Besides coffee, Lviv is also known for its chocolate. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. The people of Lviv have been eating chocolate since the Middle Ages and it was even popular under the rich aristocracy. Also today the people of Lviv are still in love with their chocolate. Tip: go to the Lviv Handmade Chocolate store. A true heaven with a chocolate shop, restaurant, a beautiful winding staircase and a splendid panoramic view from the top. Of course I had to try some chocolate and ordered a chocolate cheesecake, which was already heavy because of the cheese. But I loved it!
Would you like to visit Lviv?
Stay tuned! More posts on Lviv are coming up, e.g. what to do in this city? And believe me, it’s a lot you can do here 😉