Lviv (The City of the Lion) is probably the most Ukrainian from Ukrainian cities. With its beautiful buildings steeped in history, cobblestone streets and charming cafes it can also compete with Budapest and Cracow for the title of most romantic city in East-Central Europe. Why not to take your girlfriend there? I did and she fell in love both with Lviv and me! Read why you should go there and which cafes and restaurants you should hit. Me (Łukasz) and my girlfriend Alyona will be your guides!
(Ł)ukasz: It was our sixth time in Lviv. After spending all together nearly one month there, we can say more about its unique atmosphere, which is associated with its history. As a Pole I must admit, I can feel there kind of Polish atmosphere thanks to both architecture and cuisine. But before I start typical (and for Ukrainians highly controversial) Polish-perspective view on history of Lviv, I am giving you a chance to describe Ukrainian legacy in the capital city of the historical region Galicia.
(A)lyona: It’s no wonder why Lviv is called a cultural capital of Ukraine. It has unique, magnetic atmosphere, that can’t be found in any other city. Renaissance and Empire architecture with eclectic opera house – these are for eyes (and cameras). Temples and graveyards of many religions – these are for soul. And finally charming cafes and homestyle restaurants – these are for stomach. You can experience Ukraine with all senses.
Ł: Lviv is an intriguing city because with a unbelievably rich and even more unbelievably complicated history. The first record of Lviv in chronicles dates from A.D. 1256. It was established by Ruthenian king Daniel of Galicia and named after his son, Lev (Ruthenian/Ukrainian legacy), but just a century after it was conquered by Poles (Polish legacy). At the end of XVIII century when Poland was partitioned by Russian Empire, Prussia and Habsburg Empire and Lviv was taken by Austrian-Hungarian Empire (Habsburg legacy). Nowadays you can see legacy of all these different cultures!
A: Finally, in 1945 Lviv was incorporated into so-called Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. In theory it was supposed to be Ukrainian, but as we both know from history…
Ł: It became simply Soviet. Ukrainian language was prohibited at universities, books were printed only in Russian and in public places was better to speak Russian.
A: Fortunately with independence of Ukraine, we brought Ukrainity alive!
Ł: Not only Ukrainity, but kind of cosmopolitism, which was significant for Lviv for pretty long time. Remember that in medieval time sit was one of the very few cities in Europe, were Poles, Ruthenians, Jews and Armenians could practice their own religions. Poland was famous for its legally guaranteed religious tolerance then, and Lviv was the best example of it. It was and it still is a melting pot: Old Market is typical for Polish cities, while promenade leading to Opera House is surrounded by buildings in Austrian-Hungarian style. Armenian, Catholic and Orthodox churches appear one near another. People speak unique mix of Ukrainian and Polish language and cuisine combines best from Ukrainian, Polish and Hungarian. And last, but not least Cyrillic alphabet, which remind us that we are changed somewhere between Middle and Eastern Europe. That’s the reason why I feel so comfortable there.
A: Even if policemen fiddle with their AK-47 at the railway station?
Ł: Well, it was surprising for me at first, but war in Donbas excuse sit. On Euromaidan I saw Berkut officers and believe me, they were much more scary. And railway station in Lviv reminds me about Budapest, another city that I have fallen in love with.
A: Same as me. I knew I’m going love this city. By the way, did you know that railway station in Lviv was the first one in Ukraine?
Ł: I had no idea. Apparently citizens of Lviv love trains, not buses.
A: Definitely not buses. So-called bus station (with long distance buses towards Ukrainian-Polish border), which is just a parking lot in front of the railway station, is possibly the worst in whole Ukraine. No waiting hall, no timetables, no information in any foreign language. It can be hard for any foreigner, especially from non-Slavic country to figure out where and when catch a bus.
Ł: Yep. But it is fun to walk around bus drivers, snack sellers, hobos and all these people who create a unique railway-station ecosystem. I love it. But let’s move from railway station, take a tram and go to the downtown. It’s really bustling. Old Market is usually crowded with tourists, street performers and snack sellers. Much more crowded than market squares in Polish cities, maybe with exception of Cracow. And charming cafes all around!
A: Cafes are in abundance so there’s variety of delights to try. I think my favorite place is Lviv Handmade Chocolate (Львівська майстерня шоколаду). You can see with your own eyes whole process of makings chocolate, which flows like a water. They have countless kinds of pralines and chocolate bars. And don’t forget about happy quarter between 2:00 and 2:15 pm. You can buy plenty of chocolate bars for half price. And what about coffee houses?
Ł: Ideal place for coffee lovers is Lviv Coffee Manufacture where you can find different coffee species, even from distant Brazil. You can choose any kind of coffee beans and staff will grind it for you. But prices of coffee gear and souvenirs are pretty high comparing to other places.
A: My favorite place is strudels’ bakery called Lvivskyie Platskyi (Львівські пляцки). Actually strudels were introduced to Lviv by Habsburg dynasty, but citizens loved them at once. And I’m not surprised about it. Cherry, coconut or apple fillings hidden in delicious pastries… Mmm… You know I have sweet tooth.
Ł: I prefer lunch strudels with chicken, vegetables and salmon with spinach. But if it comes to lunch time I grant first place for low on budget, but high on taste Chiburekkna Hata (located on Lychakivska street, 19), which serves national dish of Crimean Tatars. Deep-fried turnovers filled with minced meat accompanying with wheat beer Bily Lev (The White Lion) are definitely worth to eat. I am lucky, that you also enjoy that kind of “man’s meal”, but for other men who want to invite girlfriends for romantic dinner I would recommend Galician restaurant Kumpel. Must-eat is julienne, where French cuisine meets Russian cuisine. It is delicious mix of chicken and mushrooms stewed in cream and baked in bread. Actually julienne is the only meal that is missing in menu of Puzata Hata (in English: The Paunchy House), my second favorite restaurant in Lviv. It’s also much cheaper than Kumpel, if someone is on a budget.
A: If you want to try Ukrainian cuisine you should definitely visit Puzata Hata. Ukrainian national barsch (beet and cabbage soup with a lot of meat) and vareniki (small pierogi made from unleavened dough with a filling from berries, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes or mushrooms. And bigos, which is mix of sour cabbage, tomatoes and meat. Actually that dish is widespread within Ukraine and Poland.
Ł: And which restaurants are better to avoid?
A: I didn’t like Yapi Sushi and Tiki Thai too much. They have relatively high rate on Trip Advisor, but they serve average Asian food for uncommonly high price. Although it is still cheap for tourists from Western Europe.
Ł: Lviv definitely needs its own Chinatown to improve Asian cuisine. But there is one restaurant famous from serving delicious fish – Trout, Bread and Wine. As we have never been there, we can’t say anything more than Trip Advisor’s. But dishes look really tasty. You know, next time in Lviv I invite you for romantic dinner in Trout, Bread and Wine.
A: I take you at your word!
Authors: Alyona Kononenko & Lukasz Szoszkiewicz