As anyone who reads or watches the news knows, Ukraine is a mess. The Euromaidan demonstrations began in Kiev in late 2013. Violent protests broke out over the election in early 2014. Armed Russian soldiers arrived. Then a passenger airplane was shot down last week. Now one of Eastern Europe’s most charming cities is empty. At least of tourists. Families fleeing the bloodshed in Eastern Ukraine are arriving in Lviv, and the city recently withdrew its bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Lviv is known as the “little Paris of Ukraine.” It’s the largest city in Western Ukraine, and it sits near the Carpathian Mountains and the Polish border. Like the rest of the country, Lviv has a history of being occupied. The Poles, the Germans, and the Soviets all claimed the area. But unlike Eastern Ukraine, which is still closely connected to Russia, Western Ukraine feels very European.
You arrive in Lviv to find cobblestone streets, sprawling markets, lots of little coffee shops, and tiny chocolatiers. The architecture ranges from Rococo to Baroque to Renaissance to Gothic. And the churches are just as varied—everything from Ukrainian Orthodox to Russian Orthodox to Roman Catholic. No wonder it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Start in Lviv’s historic center. Rynok Square is full of fountains and statues of Greek gods. It’s surrounded by 3- and 4-story buildings, including the sandstone Black House and the Lviv History Museum, with its huge painting of the old walled city. Climb to the top of Town Hall’s tower for a bird’s-eye view of the square. Wander through Krakivsky Market, where babushkas sell pickled vegetables and varenykys (potato dumplings). Then find Kabinet Café for a strong cup of coffee. The café has antique sofas and book-lined walls, but you prefer to watch the crowd from an outside table.
In the afternoon, ride the tram to Lychakiv Cemetery. Its overgrown grounds and ornate tombstones feel like one of Paris’ Gothic graveyards. Visit the nearby Museum of Folk Architecture and Life. The open-air museum has farms, windmills, and churches depicting Ukrainian rural life. Do a tour and a tasting at the Lvivske Museum of Beer & Brewing. Ukraine’s oldest brewery will turn 300 years old next year. Return to the center of the city for an early opera performance at the Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Don’t miss the Mirror Hall inside.
End the evening by climbing the wooded Castle Hill. Little is left of the 14th-century stone fort, but you have an amazing, 360-degree view of the city as the sun sets. The rooftops glisten, the church steeples sparkle, and the mountains stand protectively in the background. Lviv, and the rest of Ukraine, will rebound. Hopefully in time for the 2026 Winter Olympics.