After living in Lviv like a local for a few months, I got to know the city inside and out. Lviv is such a wonderful city, filled with stunning architecture (it once was part of Austria, as well as Poland), incredible traditions, deliciously comforting food, and all for very low costs. If you ever find yourself in Easten Europe, don’t hesitate to come to Lviv. It’s a diamond in the rough, and well-worth a visit, whether for a short vacation, or to live, like I did.
I’ve come up with the top 20 things to see & do in Lviv, ranging from cultural institutions, to off-the-beaten-path sights & activities.
I’ve mapped everything onto my favourite interactive travel map device, Zeemaps:
Or use this link here: http://bit.ly/183JZkF
Here’s my insider’s guide on what to do and see in Lviv, Ukraine.
1. Circle Around Rynok Square
Rynok Square is the heart of downtown of Lviv, as well as the historical centre of the city. With pastel candy-coloured row buildings, it’s reminiscent of Vienna, and is one of the most picturesque urban areas in Ukraine. Although I love wandering aimlessly around the entire square followed by the picturesque side streets, if you prefer a little more structure to your sight-seeing use this self-guided walking tour.
2. Climb to the top of City Hall
Although Rynok Square alludes to being a large open area, in the centre of it actually lies the City Hall. Enter the building from the Square and make your way to the tower ticket area, on an upper floor. Pay the minimal fee before making the trek up hundreds of stairs that finally open up to a large terrace at the top with a 360 degree view of Lviv.
3. See a Ballet at the Opera House
The Lviv Opera House puts on breathtaking professional shows, ranging from Traditional Ukrainian dancing, to Opera, to Tchaikovsky’s Ballets. The building itself is iconic, with the main boulevard, Svobody Avenue, leading up to its doors. A night out at the Opera House is an absolute must. With tickets being so affordable, going to a show became one of my favourite excursions. The best seats in the house cost between $15 to $20. During intermission, make your way to to the basement, that houses an underground bunker-style bar and order a glass of wine before the bar fills up. See the show schedule here.
4. Set off Balloons at Shevchenko Square
Every weekend, volunteers gather around Shevchenko Square, handing out paper lanterns in exchange for a small donation. When the clock struck 9, they would go around helping everyone light their lanterns, before letting them go up into the night sky. We sincerely enjoyed watching the event unfold weekly, participating ourselves a number of times.
5. Visit The Kornyakt Palace & the Italian Courtyard
There are many intriguing museum buildings framing the historical centre of Rynok Square. This one is my favourite, and is especially spectacular in the Summer when there is a cafe open in the Italian Courtyard. Make your way around the Palace, which dates back to 1580 and used to be the home of the wealthiest man in all of Lviv. The exuberance sure shows in the architecture and interior furnishings. After touring around, be sure to check out the centre courtyard, and if it’s in the summer months, order a coffee and pastry and look up!
6. Wander through Lychakiv Cemetery
We weren’t quite prepared for the scale and grandeur of this famous cemetery. Some tombstones could house a small family, and are intricately decorated. Take a walk through the serene grounds during the day (the cemetery closes in the evenings), and be sure not to miss the Polish War Memorial towards the back.
7. See the Potocki Palace (my favourite building)
I could stare at this building forever. You could simply do the same, or you could also go inside to discover exhibits of European paintings from the 14th – 18th centuries housed in the Lviv Art Gallery.
8. Gaze Up in The Chapel of The Boim Family
This may be in every guide book and “to-do” list, but it’s quite an impressive sight for such a small little space. It’s a unique renaissance monument, with an elaborate exterior facade, and an equally stunning interior. Visiting will only take a few minutes, but it’s well worth it if you’re in the area (it’s right off of Rynok Square).
9. Watch break dancers and street performers
The street performers in Lviv are actually great. Every evening in Rynok Square, a crowd gathers around a group a performers watching them sing, dance, or do magic tricks. Our very favourite were the break dancers, that we would stop and watch almost daily. Keep a look out for the piano in square, and listen for a little boy that would play it like a pro every evening.
10. Go Horse Back Riding
Lviv must be one of the only urban centres to offer horse back riding right in the city. The multitude of vast green space and parks make this possible, and for an enjoyable riding lesson. Here are a list of Equestrian Sport & Horse Back Riding Centres in Lviv.
11. Climb up to the top of High Castle Park
The top of High Castle Point is exactly how it sounds – the highest point in Lviv. I won’t lie, this one is a bit of a trek. I suggest stopping at the mid-way point and grabbing a beer before heading up the stairs the rest of the way.
12. Lviv Pharmacy Museum
Not only is this a museum, is still in operation as the oldest pharmacy in Lviv, dating back to the 18th century. The collection of medicines and medical instruments is impressive, if only for the interesting apothecary jars they’re preserved in. Don’t miss the reconstructed underground alchemy workshop in the basement.
Lviv actually has many small-scale museums dotted around town. For more options, see this Lviv Museums list.
13. Visit the Stryiskyi Park
The park itself is massive. There’s the swan pond (popular for wedding photos), a dilapidated green house, a large fountain that children swim in, some cafes, a toy shooting range, and many trails. On a sunny day with not much else to do, make you way outside of the city centre to this park and just walk the entire circle around, which could take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours.
14. Explore the Shevchenko Open Air Folk Art Museum
Perhaps it was all the Ukrainian school lessons growing up that made me so interested in Ukraine’s folk life. Either way this open-air museum is definitely worth the distance from Lviv’s downtown. If you time it right, some houses will be selling goods and food done the old school way, from fresh honeycomb to some delicious dishes bubbling in huge iron vats.
15. Stroll Through the grounds of Lviv Polytechnic University
I may be biased, having lived right across the street from Lviv’s Polytechnic University. However, day after day I was still in awe of the campus’ architecture. Pretend your a student and dip into the main building and snoop around, where you’ll be greeted by what must be the most gorgeous lecture hall I have ever seen. Also a worthy scholarly visit: The Ivan Franko National University of Lviv.
16. Pop into Dzyga Art Gallery
Although Lviv has a great creative culture, you’d be hard pressed to find contemporary art amongst the traditional galleries & venues. Dzyga, in the heart of the historical centre, is on of the few, with exhibitions rotating constantly. It’s free to enter, but after you’ve perused be sure to sit in the street cafe outside and get a big pot of their Karpathian tea (or beer, of course).
17. Go To Sunday Mass at the Armenian Church
The Armenian Church is argubly one of the most famous in Lviv. Our friend living there loves going to the Sunday Mass, not because she is Catholic, but just to experience the collective prayers and organs playing. Even if you can’t make it on a Sunday morning, be sure to pop in to see the vaulted ceiling adorned with colourful mosaics.
18. Test your steady hand at a Gun Range
I was hesitant to put this on the list. Admittedly, guns are not something I condone, ever. My boyfriend, on the other hand, was all too eager to shoot his first gun. So we visited a gun range recommended to us by our favourite American restauranteur. The first time we went there, I just sat back and watched, violently jolted every time J pulled the trigger at his faraway target. The second time, I soon found myself convinced by a bunch of burly Ukrainians to try out a Fort 17 Pistol. I aligned myself with the target, and boom, bullseye after bullseye, I was hooked on adrenaline. There are a number of shooting ranges around the city, as well as guided tours where a tour company will pick you up, bring you there, provide all equipment, and take you back. It’s a good idea to book the tour if it’s your first time, as the ranges themselves are quite hard to find, and at first sight a little forbidding to say the least.
19. Visit a Bazaar
There are a few main bazaars scattered around Lviv. All of them are an experience. One in particular became our go-to grocery store, where we stocked up on
fresh veggies, soft breads, nuts, eggs, meats & kolbasa (sausages), and gorgeous flowers that were so cheap I was tempted to fill my entire apartment up with them weekly. You can barter with the (predominantly) women selling their goods, but be forewarned: not many (if any) speak English. My Ukrainian haggling skills, as well as my Canadian boyfriend’s, become really great fast.
20. Stroll down Shevchenka Ave (my favourite street)
This picturesque street reminds me of Paris, with the green boulevard, and Parisienne-style row buildings. Every single time I step foot onto it, I have to stop and take a picture, of which I probably have a hundred by now. There are many great cafes on the street (the best of being Veronika’s ) where you can sit alongside the side walk on a Sunday afternoon and people-watch.
Along the same lines, this is a great area to just wander around and get lost in. I especially like walking through the streets directly west of Shevchenka Ave. Lviv is full of hidden treasures, and although most of the are out in the open and clustered around Rynok Square, it’s worthwhile to stray off the beaten path every once in awhile and discover, like I did, how it is to live like a local.