In case you don’t know, Lviv is in Ukraine. Lviv ranks as one of my most favorite cities on this planet. It’s small enough for the whole city to be walkable. I just know that you are going to love Lviv as much as I did! I went to Lviv just after the big Maidan Protests in the beginning of 2014 and it was still on everybody’s minds.
A little History
Lviv has quite a history. Over the years it has been known as Leopolis, Lvov, Lwow, Lemberg and Lviv, depending on who had control of the city. Liviv was one of the main towns in the small Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia. This is not to be confused with Galicia in Spain. In the 14th Century Lviv became part of Poland. Today it is about 70km from the Polish border. You can see a lot of evidence of its Polish past. Then in the late 1700’s Lviv, then called Lvov, became a part of the Habsburg Empire. ts name was changed to Lemberg. At this time Lemberg was 28% Jewish. In fact, Lemberg became a major centre of Jewish culture, in particularly the Yiddish language and the very first Yiddish newspaper was established there in 1904.
After World War 1, Lviv belonged to Ukraine for a short time and became known as Lviv again. Unfortunately for Ukraine, Lviv was taken back by Poland in 1919 during the Polish-Ukraine War. At this time about 340 Jews were killed in the Lvov Pogrom. In 1920 Lvov was attacked by the Soviet Red Army but managed to withstand the attack. In September 1939 the Red Army attacked again and this time they took control of Lvov, changing its name back to Lviv. The Germans attacked on the 30th June 1941 and took Lviv away from the Soviets. What followed was a dark part of the history of Lviv.
After World War 2 in February 1946, Lviv became a part of the Soviet Union. About 120 000 Poles living in Lviv moved and resettled in Wroclaw in Poland. Not much remains of Polish culture which was a part of Lviv for so many years, although it is visible in old buildings, statues and the cemetary. So basically, after World War 2 Lviv lost about 85% of its pre-war population. As the population has increased in size, Lviv has become the centre for political movements. Today Lviv is the most important cultural centre of Ukraine for Art, Music, Literature and Theatre. Lviv boasts 100 festivals a year, 60 museums and 10 theatres. In addition, the cobblestoned Rynok Square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Getting to Lviv has never been easier. Obviously, you need to check on whether you need a visa or not beforehand. The airport is fairly newish and more than adequate. Wizzair, which is a low-cost airline, flies direct from both London and Berlin. Other airlines have direct flights to Lviv from Frankfurt, Warsaw, Munich, Vienna and Kyiv.
Bus trips are possible from Krakow or Warsaw, but are very tiring.
There are direct trains from Wroclaw, Krakow and Przemysl in Poland which take up to 11 hours. The train from Kyiv takes 8 hours.
Lviv has heaps of cheap accommodation that is really quite good. I rented an attic room in an old Austrian guesthouse for next to nothing. Obviously, the closer you stay to Rynok Square, the more expensive it will be. There is a great selection of affordable accommodation on Booking.com and Airbnb.
Food and Drink
Lviv is a foodie’s heaven. There are many themed restaurants and cafes scattered across the city centre. You can literally spend your time there hopping from one themed cafe or pub to another. The food is generally excellent. The cheesecake and apple strudel wherever you go, is to die for.
Kryjivka is also known as the Patriot Bar. It is believed to be the last hiding place of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in World War 2. Their motto is – ‘The fight continues.’ When you go there you have to knock on a large wooden door. The door is opened by an old man dressed in a UIA uniform. You have to say, “Slava Ukraina,” before he will let you inside. Inside it is decorated in war memorabilia and in some areas resembles an old army bunker. It is quite dark inside as there are no windows.
Lviv Galician Cheesecake and Strudel Bakery. I don’t need to say any more other than best ever.
Lviv Coffee Mining manufacture. Besides being a great coffee and gift shop, you can also do an underground tour of a coffee mine. Yep, there is such a thing as a coffee mine but you can see one in Lviv.
Lviv Handmade Chocolate. Not many people know that Lviv is famous for its chocolate. Chocolate shops are everywhere, but this is where you can see how chocolate is made in the big factory that resembles something from Willy Wonka.
Masoch Cafe is named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch who was a famous writer of erotic fiction. The cafe is decorated in lingerie and S and M paraphernalia. Your bill comes in a stiletto shoe. You can pay for the waitress to beat you if you want. Outside the cafe is a life-size statue of a man. Don’t put your hand in his pocket, is all I’m saying!
Golden Rose Galician Jewish Restaurant is next to the ruins of the Golden Rose Synagogue. Despite its name, it’s not strictly Kosher. There are no prices on the menu and you are required to haggle and barter when it is time to pay. Even trading whatever you find in your wallet or handbag.
There are many other great restaurants, cafes and bars, but the above are what stood out for me.
Jewish Tour of Lviv
Jews first arrived in Lviv in the 13th Century. For hundreds of years they were the merchants, financiers, craftsmen and intellectuals in the Lviv community, making up about 1/3 of the total population. Jews were allowed to live in two designated areas and were locked in at night for their own safety.
In 1940, the year before the German invasion, the Soviets sent many Jews to Siberia. As harsh as this was at the time, this saved their lives.
At the start of the Second World War, 270 of the 290 shops belonged to Jews. As the war raged on, Jews from Europe made their way to Lviv to escape the Nazis, increasing the Jewish population from 140 000 to over 240 000. During the war, most of the synagogues were destroyed, including the Golden Rose Synagogue that was built in 1582. At the end of the war, only about 800 Jews remained. There were quite a few stories of heroic acts by non-Jewish inhabitants of Lviv, who put their lives on the line to save Jews.
The Jewish Walking Tour is well-worth doing. You can book a guide at the Tourist Information Centre in Rynok Square. You will walk around the town seeing places where synagogues used to be, where famous Jewish people lived, where the Lvov Ghetto once was, etcetera. If you are into history, then this is definitely the tour for you.