Ukraine was my first destination after my Chile trip for my friend’s wedding. I was conflicted whether to spend more days in South America or come back to Europe. Ukraine had been on my mind for some time now. Lviv especially, since a colleague of mine when I was working in Amsterdam mentioned it a few years back.
I had my reservations about Ukraine.
I was thinking,
Is it safe enough to visit? What the media portrays, how far is it from reality?
For I’d been told not to trust the news and mass media at all when travelling.
From Kiev To Lviv By Train
I landed in Kiev first. I did not like Kiev very much. People were rude to me. They were not friendly.
I understand that people don’t owe me help, but if at all help was needed, I could not easily find help. Luckily, I’d gotten a local sim card when I landed, and the internet made my life easier.
It is not to say everyone is like that, maybe it was because they were overworked in the capital city.
I often worry about racism and physical harm when I travel, something that I am working on, in terms of my thinking and prejudices. I tend to project that on to what is happening. Taking extreme care in not jumping into conclusions is necessary in my case. Not everything is racism. These responses are mostly individual in my experience.
In the end, I ended up staying Kiev for 2 weeks. I will write a separate post about my Kiev experience.
I decided to travel to Lviv by train from Kviv. Working out how to use the train was easy. I came across this amazing blog seat61.com that has a lot of information on train travel across Europe. I booked the tickets using https://booking.uz.gov.ua/en/
I had to change the vouchers that I bought online for the actual tickets valid for the train. The lady at the counter, did not speak any English – and asked me something. I asked for help to two women friends who was standing there. One tried to help me, but the other kept dragging her away. I did not understand what her problem was. No help there. The lady repeated again, and I just nodded. She gave me the ticket.
The train compartment was hot because the air conditioning was not working. When I got into my cabin, it was just me. I was joined by three other people after a while. We did not talk much. I was not in the mood to talk either. One by one we decided to sleep and used the berths to lie down. It was an intercity fast day train that took only six hours to reach Lviv from Kiev.
When I arrived in Lviv, it felt like a much calmer place.
I took an Uber from the train station to the hostel I was going to stay. It costed me about £2, about $2.6.
First Hostel in Lviv
The hostel was in front of a beautiful park. I thought “this is my place, a park next to where I am staying in walking distance?” I was glad. The hostel is on the fourth floor of a building without any lift. Luckily, I was not carrying heavy bags. I travel with my small carry on osprey backpack and a messenger bag for my laptop.
I loved that the hostel was clean though the flights of stairs were a nuisance. I got my own single bed in the dorm. I tried the double room from time to time, for more privacy that costed me only £25 a night. I also got a discount for the private room.
There, I met an older American guy who had been living there for 3 months, a Turkish pair of friends, who I hung out mostly with. I was into one of that Turkish girls, she was young and beautiful.
She said “You are too old for me” when I asked her out. We had good times regardless.
Tip: If you want to your own room but at lower prices than a hotel and airbnb, look for double rooms and private rooms in hostels. Booking.com has a “double room” filter option and hostel world has the “private room” option in their searches. One thing that I used to do was, I would check in to a dorm and have a chat with the person at the front desk and I would ask for a discount for the double room. That further gets the price down.
Developing a Routine
I had a routine when I stayed there. I was starting to get serious about blogging and Lviv was cheap. More than just sight-seeing, I figured it would be a good place to hang out and work a bit.
For the two weeks I was there in that hostel, I went to this café called Cukor every single day. I liked the ambiance there. There were enough power points to use, and the staff were extremely friendly. Not in a polite phoney way – but genuine. And I liked the breakfast there.
Every day I ate lunch at Puzata Hata. It is a canteen style restaurant and you have a lot of options for food. The food was cheap and delicious. Not that healthy if you are watching your diet. I got fatter eating there.
Irritating homeless looking guy
After two weeks at that hostel, an irritating Icelandic guy – he was smelly and looked homeless moved in. He demanded that everyone talk to him and was aggressive. His childish behaviour annoyed me. I decided to move into another hostel.
I moved to hostel “Dreams” by the main Rynok square. It was a bit pricier than the previous one. But I loved it. It is a good hostel chain with a lot of facilities. The bed was comfortable and had an extension to each bed where you can put your phone, water etc. Something that I had not seen in other hostels. It was a little thing but was brought delight into my heart.
Sometimes, little things bring a lot of joy. When you are staying in hostels and little things like this bring me immense sense of gratitude.
They had proper showers and numerous toilets. I was happy.
The hostel has a café attached to it in the ground floor called Druzi, one of the most popular cafes in Lviv. It was mostly crowded in the evening but calm and quiet in the morning. Because I was staying in the hostel I had 10% off of my breakfast bill. I used to go there every morning and write. I was getting into another routine.
The hostel had activities like “Walk and drink”, pub crawl and Ukrainian Lessons. Walk and drink, as the name suggests, is simply visiting some points of interests and having a drink at the end. Everyone mistook it for drinking and walking through the town. To our disappointment it was just that – walk and a drink after.
I went for once or twice to these activities but stopped after that. It was repetitive but good ways to meet new people and make new acquaintances.
I also found a place to eat my lunch regularly – a restaurant called “Open”. It is by the square and had perfect meat options that I liked, veal cutlets, chicken, and sausages. And it was cheap.
Try Puzata Hata and Open fast restaurant for traditional and cheap Ukrainian food.
So that was my routine, breakfast, write, lunch and then some sight-seeing.
There were these small coffee stands at the fountain attached to bikes. Sometimes I would just grab a coffee from there and sit by the fountain. It was a simple and refreshing routine.
Sometimes, I would just walk through the square and randomly join a free walking tour there. I joined two such walking tours.
The two walking tour companies that I am familiar with are Lviv buddy and walkative.
They covered, more or less, the same monuments and historical spots. I would listen to them in the beginning and then would get distracted and do my own thing towards the end. For me it was just another way of meeting people more than the sightseeing. And to take some photos for Instagram.
During my stay, I visited some tourist spots and tried some local popular restaurants.
I recommend you checkout the below spots.
High Castle Hill
It is a hill devoid of the castle. There used to be one but not anymore. There is an observation platform in place of the castle today. Being the highest point in the city – 413 meters above sea level – you can have a good view of Lviv from here. Be sure to take some good pictures for your Instagram here.
If you are into sunsets, this is a great place to watch it from the observation platform.
This is a bar that is dedicated to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Though you might not know the name, you may now about Masochism. He is the founding father of the concept of Masochism.
You can spot his statue at the entrance to the café. If you put your hand in the statue’s pocket, you can feel his teeny tiny dick. When I did, I thought “This does not feel proportional to the statue size”
This guy is the father of masochism. Inside the restaurant the waitresses roam around carrying whips. They whipped as I went in, as I sat down and as I ordered.
And oh boy, it was painful.
People go there because it is fun. Once I watched a girl whipping her boyfriend. If you are game, there are other more intense activities where a guy is invited to have hot wax poured on his penis.
And the TVs inside played soft porn.
Kryivka means underground bunker and it is. This is a concept restaurant that is dedicated to the partisan soldiers of UPA, Ukraine insurgent army. It recreates those times. Even its address says somewhere in the Square without giving away the address. Though you can easily look it up on google maps.
Fun fact: Created by the Fest chain of restaurants, this one was a huge success and the very first restaurant in their name. It attracted 50 thousand visitors during the first month since its opening.
You need to say a password to get in for it is not just another café/bar. To get in, you need to say the password ‘Slava Ukraine’ and the doorman will give you a shot of honey liquor before he directs you down to the underground restaurant.
Underground, the tables are surrounded with the pictures of the solidiers in UPA, letters, some obscenities about Putin and GUNS!!! Automatic, semi, mounted machine guns – they have a bunch of them.
When I was there, I heard gunshots – turns out this is a special treat for some guests. These guests with a gun to their head are taken to a secret room and a shot is fired. It is not a real shot, of course. But be prepared to be surprised, time to time, when you are enjoying your meal.
I loved the food there, the chicken dish that is served with two hot stones – can’t remember what it is called now – is my favourite there. The beer is cheap.
Be sure to check out the anti-aircraft gun at the rooftop of the bar and play it with a little. Take some photos.
There is also an artwork, that looks like a combination of a tank, a car, an aircraft engine and a spot light in the smoking area.
Listen to Live music in Pravda Beer Theatre
Owned by the same people who own Kryivka and Fest republic, this is another place that is not to be missed. It has multiple floors with a brewery, an orchestra, a restaurant and a bar. This is a must to visit in Lviv.
They have live music there. One of things that I liked – you are given an empty plastic bottle by the staff to smack against the table and make some noise. It was fun to do that.
The beer is brewed in their own brewery and they have funny names too, “putin bitch” etc..
In the ground floor you have a small souvenir shop where you can buy keychains, small bottles of honey liquor, beer etc.
I used to go there at night and used to get a bottle of beer and a glass from the bar and sat at the fountain and drank. It is also a good place to meet people at the fountain right in front of the bar, one time, I ended up playing cards sitting down at the square with some fun people. People kept joining us for rounds of games.
If you decide to stay at the dreams hostel, it is right next to it within 100 ft approx.
Visit the place where the gas lamp was invented
This is another concept restaurant and is dedicated to the invention of kerosene gas lamps. Part museum and part restaurant, it is a must visit during your stay in Lviv. Also owned by Fest chain – (well, most of the concept, touristy restaurants in Lviv are owned by this chain – including Masoch, Kryivka and Beer theatre).
At the entrance to this Lviv’s highest pub, there are two statues of the pharmacists who invented the gas lamp. There is a legend around one of the statues, local people say, if you touch his nose and wish for something, your wish will come true.
The pub has a quasi-rooftop and is worth visiting. The atmosphere is nice, with the smell of kerosene and explosions around – (when the waiter serves your bill, he lights it up with fire – the bill comes in a small container that looks like a grenade – there is a small explosion and then the container is opened to reveal the bill) It was fun to watch.
They have a special drink “chemical experiments”. The drink comes with several drinks in test tubes. Though good looking with different colours, blues, reds and yellows, the drinks were disgustingly disappointing. BUT! It is fun to order one of those.
Watch the sharks in Aquarium bar
Yes! There is a bar with an aquarium and with baby sharks in it. Looks a bit fancy when you enter but it is cheap. The tank is about three stories tall. You can watch them from any floor. The beer is cheap. Go for the 3Ltr pitcher version and split among a group of people to bring down the price even further.
Its dimly lit rooms and floors provide to its atmosphere of quiet and calm and is a good place relax and have a drink, next to the baby sharks.
Climbing the city hall and watching the sunset
When I first did it, I had a date with me. She was eager to show me around, so she agreed to go to the top with me. But it was really hot at the time and also it was a big climb with several flights of stairs. The view at the top is good, nothing extra ordinary. But a view nonetheless. At some point she was sweating and reluctantly said “. Maybe we can now go down and drink a beer” – with a smile. So, we went and did exactly that.
The fee is 20UAH to get to the tower. If you go there about 6PM you can hear the song played by some band in front of the city hall. Also try to time it around sunset if you want to catch that.
Visit the yard of lost toys and get a bit creeped out
I visited this place when I did my walking tour. The place is just filled with lost toys, and hence the name. The story goes, someone found a toy and wanted to return it to the kid who lost it. So, he placed it in this yard in the hope that it will be returned. Others followed this someone’s trail and placed the toys they found. That became a tradition.
You can take any toy from the collection, you just need to replace it with another one.
The display of the toys was creepy to me and that is why I liked it. But I can tell you, I would not walk by this place in the night. It looks like chuckys everywhere.
Try the extremely sweet cherry wine at Drunken Cherry
There are two of these in the main square, I have seen two of them. There was one right next to the Dreams hostel that I was staying at.
I’ve been there only once. The wine was too sweet to drink. I was afraid it will give me a sugar crash, but in the end, I was drinking alcohol, and I was thinking about health. So that does not make a lot of sense.
The wine is served with cherries in them.
The place was crowded whenever I walked past it. I’ve heard that it is a good place to meet locals while drinking local wine.
To me, the drink tasted like medicine – cough syrup I think.
Try throwing a coin into the old guys hat and watch the dragon at the house of legends
A dragon, a chimney, a small jail and a car on the rooftop and an old guy with a hat. That sums up house of legends.
This is a place of imagination. Here lives, the chimney sweeper and his family members, his duties being – collecting books about lviv, protecting the water level in the river and sweeping the chimneys. He takes the car on the rooftop to easily pass through the traffic, when the chimneys need sweeping. In the night the dragon protects the Lviv legends.
There is a good viewpoint as well on the top floor. When there, throw a coin into the chimney sweepers hat at the top wishing for something. It will come true, the locals say.
Visit the cat café and pet the cats.
I love cats. My visit to the cat café was well worth it. I did not get to pet them a lot because most of them were sitting on the shelves where I could not reach. Occasionally they came down and greeted us. They were cute cats.
Visit Fest Republic on an event night
This is the chain that owns a lot of quirky tourist attractions in Lviv. Once when I asked a local, he said, “Yeah they kind of have a monopoly here”.
For a full list of restaurants owned by them visit this link. http://www.fest.lviv.ua/
The rooftop bar is a little outside the town. It is a 20 mins walk from the main square. I took a Mashrutka (local bus) and then walked to get there.
This is a converted plant, multi storied and spacious. Various themed parties happen here with a chilled and relaxed atmosphere.
With a nice rooftop and a club downstairs it is a good place to visit when you are in Lviv. Pet and kid friendly, they sell ice creams along with Vodka! That was a combination that I had not come across so far.
Check their facebook page to see if there are any performances happening to make your evening even more fun.
Indulge yourself with meat at the Meat and Justice
This place is my favourite place to eat meat in Lviv. Lot of grilled, barbecued and delicious meat. It is not expensive to eat here either. If you are with friends, you can get one of the platters that is more cost effective. I could easily have a chicken shashlik and a beer for under 5 pounds.
The story around this place goes, the lviv executioner when lost his job opened this restaurant (of course not a true story – it is yet another creation by Fest) because he knew more about meat than anyone else. “Meat and justice”, get it?
Ribs Arsenal for Ribs
Next to Lviv’s weapons factory, medieval themed, the rooms are dimly lit, and the food is served without any cutlery. So, you eat with your hands. Fun! The ribs are cooked in open fire, another fun thing to watch while you wait for your food.
It can get a bit crowded in the weekends, but you still can get in.
Have a flaming coffee from Lviv coffee mining manufacture
This café, though from outside looks like a place that sells coffee apparatus and coffee has a fun coffee drinking ritual for one of their specialty coffees. Go down underground taking the stairs, you will arrive at place that is the ‘coffee mine’.
Their signature drink is the flaming coffee.
The waiter sets fire to the coffee upon serving using a blow torch, melting the coat of sugar on top of the coffee thereby solidifying it.
I did not think the coffee was delicious, but it was yet another fun thing to do in Lviv for me.
Grab a coffee and enjoy the atmosphere at the Rynek – UNESCO world heritage site.
One of my favourite things to do in the square was to get a coffee from one of the small coffee stands on wheels and then sit by the fountain of Neptune. I enjoyed watching people walk by and it was easy to talk to people who gather around the fountain.
It is also a good place to ask strangers out for a date too. I once met a woman who I was casually chatting to and she asked for me Instagram. When I asked her if she wanted to go out for a coffee she said, “Can I bring my husband too for the coffee”. That really confused me, haha..
Anyway, coffee and sitting by the fountain in a UNSECO protected heritage site – you can’t beat that.
Try the Varenyki
I was introduced to these delicious dumplings from Puzata Hata by someone and I was hooked. Of course, it is not the only place you can get it from, for me it was convenient and cheap to eat there. They have mushroom, meet and sweet versions of the dumplings. I used to be addicted to the cheese and the cherry version when I was in Kiev but could not find that version in Lviv. Try them all one by one – that is my advice.
Visit the Armenian cathedral
This 13th century cathedral is an easy visit from the main square. Most walking tours will take you to this place as everyone goes there and is a touristy thing to do.
Next to the cathedral is a red building, now a restaurant, used to be the very first Armenian bank in Lviv.
Behind that building is a cocktail bar, which is a hidden gem. One of the tour guides swore by this bar for its variety of cocktails and music.
Lychakivske Necropolis – Lviv cemetery
Open air fine art museum or graveyard? Older than London’s Highgate cemetery and with its numerous life-like sculptures, it is worth to go there.
There is an entrance fee to the cemetery, but it is about a dollar.
Many famous poets and other important figures reside here. The gravestones have a mix of polish and Ukrainian names. It was made a historical place in 1975 after much of it was destroyed in the polish – soviet wars.
Visit Lviv’s parks
If you want to spend time outdoors Lviv has some good beautiful parks.
Ivano Franko park
I often went to the Ivano Franko park as I stayed in a hostel right next to it. There were some performances happening there when I was there. Lviv yoga day coincided with my stay and also Lviv Jazz festival.
Grab a coffee from one of the coffee stands at the entrance, find a quiet bench and maybe read a book. Ivano Franko park was my spot for that.
This park is a national monument of landscape architecture and is considered to be the most beautiful park here. The park is about 150 years old and it was designed by an Austrian landscape architect.
If you are into watching swans swim by, a relaxing walk or just some quiet – this is the place to go.
Plan your trip
Note: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that I earn a commission should you book a hostel, tour or a buy a product at no extra cost to you.
- Currency – Ukrainian hryvnia – About UAH 22 = $1 UAH 32 = £1 (at the time of the writing)
- Transport – Though a walking city, you can walk to pretty much anywhere, you have the option to take the local trams and mashrutkas (fixed route buses).
If you have a bank card that is equipped with contactless/paypass you can simply touch the kiosk on entering. The alternative is to pay the driver.
In Mashrutkas, simply pass the required monies (usually 5UAH to the person in front of you and the crowd will make sure it reaches the driver)
- Download lonely planet’s guide to Eastern Europe
- Book hotels in Lviv – Booking.com
- Book hostels in Lviv – Hostelworld.com (best hostels – dream hostel and park plus)
- Book apartments – Airbnb
Tip on hostel booking – I used booking.com to book my hostels here as it has a “genius” option which will give you rewards and certain benefits as you use the app more often. I got discounted prices because of this in both hostels I stayed. Booking.com is better for free cancellations as in the case of Hostelworld you have to pay a deposit at the time of booking.
Also, in booking you can see the pictures of the specific rooms that you are booking if you want to whereas hostel world only has one group of photos.
If you are travelling solo, use the “best for solo travellers” sorting option when using booking.
- Book train tickets – https://booking.uz.gov.ua/en/
- Uber and Uklon – taxi apps
- Cutlure Trip/Triposo/Google trips – To decide where to go, where to eat etc.
- Google maps – (download offline maps if you don’t have data)
- Kiwi/Skyscanner/Kayak/Momondo – (Flight booking)
- com/Agoda/Hostelworld/Airbnb – for accommodation
- Couchsurfing/Tinder/Viber – Meeting people and dating