31 May,2018 By Jagabond
Lviv has been a target destination of mine for years. Travel to Ukraine has sometimes been difficult due to the recent conflict with Russia. I finally jumped at the chance of visiting my 42nd country in Europe, and was glad I did. Lviv exceeded all my expectations and is a European hidden gem. This is an incredibly unique city with a deep history, quirky restaurants and a bright, youthful population.
I was only there for two nights, yet still found ten things to recommend. If I was there a few days longer I could’ve found ten more. In my opinion this is the next Krakow. Within five years bloggers will be putting this near the top of their lists for a budget holiday in Europe that is both fun and culturally rich.
1. Pay your respects to lost toys
This was definitely an odd attraction. Years back a stuffed animal turned up on a residential lawn. The owner left it there, thinking the forgetful child would return to retrieve it. Instead, others started leaving their own toys. The end result – the ‘yard of lost toys’ – is something resembling a twisted Sesame Street.
The toys are out in the open, unprotected from the elements. Weather damage has thus creepified many of them. I think I remember this animal terrorizing me in a nightmare.
2. Explore the Lviv underground
Nothing good happens underground. Whether it be catacombs, prisons or places of torture, people often go low to hide dark secrets. Such is the case in Lviv, where presumed witches had their feet burned in hot oil.
Another sad tale involved Princess Elizaveta Ostrogska, of Polish descent. After inheriting many riches, she gained many suitors. Forced into marriage at fourteen, she became a widow shortly after. Wishing to avoid another marriage against her will, she hid with monks in the Lviv underground. The King had other ideas, starving the monks of food and water, compelling them to turn her over. Her unhappy life continued as she widowed twice more. Confined for years in ‘the tower of the black princess’ she died alone and insane in her early forties.
3. Learn the tragic Jewish history
Lviv once had a booming Jewish population of over 100,000…then the Nazis invaded. After a horrific and rapid operation of murder, there are now only 1,000 Jewish inhabitants in Lviv. The monsters burned most of the synagogues to the ground, except for this one which they converted into a horse stable.
I walked through the Jewish district with much sadness, seeing a history nearly wiped from existence. There were still reminders, like the Jewish owned haberdashery and houses with inserts for a Mezuzah.
One of the more famous synagogues in Lviv was the Golden Rose, named for a woman who sacrificed herself to get the property back from the Jesuits. Today only charred ruins remain.
This was also the home of a famous Jewish legal mind. Raphael Lemkin studied law at Lviv University, and participated in the Nuremberg trials. He was the inventor of the term genocide. Though he survived the holocaust, he lost 49 of his relatives.
4. Drink beer and watch a mini-orchestra
Lviv is a very progressive city, so no surprise craft beer has found its way here. The Pravda Beer Theatre boasts a Trump Mexican lager, a Putin golden ale, and a stout named ‘Obama Hope’. Every night they have live music with a horn section. They do a very diverse set, even a pretty cool Michael Jackson medley.
5. Marvel at the street art
I’m open about my love for street art, even writing a blog about it. The street art scene in Lviv is growing, and they have an annual festival celebrating the local artists. If I had to pick my favorite, it would be this tiger mural.
Second place? There is a street artist specializing in avian themes. I particularly liked this battle of the birds.
There is also a hipster homeless man by the name of Slavik. A local photographer got the idea to do a fashion spread of him. Hopefully Slavik will be taking his talents to Milan!
6. Check out a Ukrainian Easter egg
I was lucky to be here around Easter time. Lviv is a good trip over Catholic Easter, as they’re on the Orthodox calendar so everything is still open. Easter eggs in Ukraine are ornately decorated with traditional folk designs. The communists outlawed them for being too colorful and fun. Since Ukraine independence in 1991 the practice has seen a rebirth.
7. Enjoy hot dogs and champagne
Did you ever imagine these two things going together? I didn’t either. Champagneria, a restaurant in old town Lviv, thought otherwise. I had the hot dog topped with a fried egg, and a bubbly glass of the Odessa Rose. Lovely combination!
8. Visit one of the many churches
Due to the cultural diversity of Lviv, the city has places of worship spanning many different religions. I particularly loved the Armenian Virgin Mary’s Dormition Church, originally erected in the 14th century. The Soviets expelled the Armenians in 1945, and unceremoniously closed it. It re-opened after Ukrainian independence. The renovated building has some peculiar yet beautiful frescoes.
I also took note of the Greek Catholic Dominican Church. Built in the 13th century, it was ravaged by many fires and rebuilt over the years. The Soviets converted it into a warehouse and a museum for atheism. The façade has the Latin words “Soli Deo honor et gloria” meaning glory and honor to God alone. It was originally written to never be fully observed by man, so only the Almighty could read the full inscription. The advent of high-rise apartments obviously made the full phrase visible to all.
9. Find the hidden jazz club
What is it about prohibition days that seem so raucously festive? The Libraria Speak Easy Bar takes you back to those times. You need to search to find this place as there are absolutely no signs. Once you enter, amazing jazz music greets you while you enjoy one of their many modestly priced cocktails.
10. Embrace your masochistic side
The Masoch Café celebrates the life of the inspiration for the term masochism, who was from Lviv. Servers dress provocatively and carry whips. The whips aren’t just props, as they whack you upon entering. I took this in stride, though the elderly couple behind me looked confused.
How to get there: There are direct flights from Munich, but if living in Italy you have an easier option. Ernest Air is a new airline flying direct to Lviv. The Ernest employees were among the nicest I’ve encountered, but there can be long lines due to no online check-in option.
Where to stay: The Leopolis Hotel sits conveniently within the old town, and is five star quality. There is an onsite bar, restaurant and spa.
The perfect tour guide: I give two giant thumbs up to Lviv Buddy Tours, owned by Peter, a true expert on history. They offer many different tour options, including focused tours on Jewish history, street art and local food/drink.