Vibrantly-painted examples of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture rise up above me on all sides. I think to myself, I need blinders to walk through the cobblestone alleys in Lviv’s UNESCO old town. My eyes were constantly being drawn away from the uneven path directly in front of me to the magnificent buildings in my peripheral vision. For centuries Lviv was on a major trade route, attracting the best architects from all over Europe. I almost lose my footing on the uneven cobblestones, the pull to gaze up at the beauty and variety is irresistible.
Just 40 miles from the Polish border, the vibe of the Ukrainian city of Lviv is decidedly un-Soviet, not even typical Ukrainian, more like Prague or Budapest, but without the elbow-to-elbow crowds or the high prices. But that is starting to change. Lviv, Eastern Europe’s undiscovered jewel is blossoming. While their unabashed Ukrainian patriotism is fervent, and English has not yet taken hold, they stand with open arms to embrace visitors, as curious about us as we are about them.
Lviv has had a turbulent past, having been ruled by Poland, Sweden, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. Amazingly, the city is remarkably preserved. It’s more like what you’d find in Western Europe, and as such, it’s been known as Ukraine’s “capital of culture” for three centuries. But unlike Europe’s popular tourist cities, you’ll seldom find Lviv crowded. Somehow this enchanting destination has remained a secret.
Lviv Old Town: The Paris of Ukraine
I arrived in Lviv after a 6-hour train ride from Kiev. After quickly depositing my bags at the British Club Apartments, I walked a couple of blocks to the old town section. My destination point was Rynok Square, the heart of the old town. It wasn’t far, but it took me quite a while to get there; I had to keep stopping to admire the stunning buildings, like the 19th century Opera House, an eclectic fusion of Baroque and Renaissance style architecture
One of the first things I like to do after arriving in a new city is going to the highest vantage point to get a bird’s eye view and overall bearing of the city. In Lviv, that’s the bell tower in the City Hall building. The tall turret is old, and the 220 dizzying spiral steps to the top are foot-worn and uneven. Visitors on their way back down squeeze by in the tight shaft space. But I persisted. At the top, I stooped to emerge from the small door on to a narrow terrace. Surrounding me is a 360° panorama of the colorful old town.
The “New Town” of Lviv is a bit of a misnomer. There are many interesting sights here, built in the past, though not as old. The House of Scientists is an 1898 neo-Baroque palace, once used as a casino as well as a shooting site for films. Potocki Palace, which houses European Art of the ХІV-ХVІІІ centuries, is easy to find – just look for the multi-colored “umbrella ceiling” on the street in front of the 18th-century Parisian-style building.
Read the rest of this article about Lviv in International Living Magazine.
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of JayWay Travel during her stay in Ukraine, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.