21 Unique Things To Do in Lviv, Ukraine
In the span of about two weeks, we went from having never heard of Lviv, Ukraine to spontaneously looking for an apartment to rent because we didn't want to leave. Even after spending a month exploring this beautiful European city, we left feeling like we had only scratched the surface. There's a lot more to Ukraine than meets the eye so we're sharing 21 unique things to do in Lviv that we loved and hope you'll enjoy too.
1. Have a Flaming Coffee at Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacture
Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacture Rynok Square, 10 Open Daily: From 8am to Midnight
Hands down my most memorable coffee experience ever was in Lviv at the Coffee Mining Manufacture. It seems like a normal cafe until you go downstairs and visit their dark underground coffee mine. The fact that there's no actual mine doesn't stop them from handing you your very own helmet complete with light bulb. Be sure to order their specialty coffee and brace yourself as the server comes to your table with a blow torch for a full on fire show. Flaming coffees start at 42 UAH.
2. Use the Secret Password to Get Into Kryivka
Kryivka Rynok Square, 14 Open 24/7 Password: “Slava Ukraini”
I was pretty skeptical when I first heard about Kryivka. Wouldn't you be if you learned that the only way to get in was to chant "Glory to Ukraine!" (in Ukrainian, mind you) to a man standing guard at their unmarked entrance? But there we were, on our last night in Lviv saying "Slava Ukraini!" before being welcomed in with a shot of vodka to boot. You might not be getting the best of food or beer at Kryivka but it's the atmosphere you just can't miss if you're looking for unique things to do in Lviv. The whole restaurant will break into song at least once and the energy is pretty contagious. You can also wander to the back for a chance to fire a pellet gun at the current Russian president or explore the upper observation deck for great views of the city.
3. Coffee with Kitties at Lviv Cat Cafe
Cat Cafe Stepana Bandery Street, 47А Open Daily: 8am to 10pm
There are so many places to enjoy a good cup of coffee in the city but the second Wes found out about the cat cafe in Lviv, we were on our way. It's a bit outside of the city centre but all of the cats we got to see made up for the walk in no time. Most seemed to hang out in the lower level and they're not afraid to jump right on your table. The cafe offers a variety of drinks, desserts and some snacks but the cats are definitely the highlight.
4. Savour Lviv's Handmade Chocolates
Lviv Handmade Chocolate Serbska Street, 3 Open Daily: 9am to 10pm
A place to visit in Lviv if you love chocolate like I do. You can watch how it's made on the ground level and explore the various floors for treats and souvenirs. Create your own custom box of chocolates to take home and have a coffee on the rooftop for views of the city. It can get pretty crowded with school groups and tourists, especially on weekends. If you're really into chocolate, you might also like the Ukrainian brand, Roshen. They have a couple of stores in the city centre with lots of sweets to choose from and fun window displays.
5. Enjoy the Live Music at Pravda Beer Theatre
Pravda Beer Theatre Rynok Square, 32 Open Daily: 10am till late
We spent our very first night in Lviv at the Pravda Beer Theatre and were not disappointed. Good service, yummy food and a great atmosphere right at Rynok Square. It's a fun place to go for drinks and enjoy the live daily music that starts at around 7pm. It gets a bit loud so you won't always be able to hold a conversation but it's very affordable and we went back a couple of times during our month in Lviv. Their craft beer is made in house and free brewery tours are also available.
6. Get a Beer Sampler at Robert Doms Hop House
Hop House of Robert Doms Kleparivska vul. 18 Open Daily: Noon to Midnight
The Robert Doms Hop House is actually right by Lviv's Beer Museum (which was closed for renovations during our visit) and is a great place to stop for some beer and food. The restaurant is in an actual cellar and they have live music some evenings. It kind of felt like a German beer hall and I would recommend a beer sampler (or two 🙃).
7. Embrace the Atmosphere at Rynok Square
If you want to understand why Lviv is the cultural capital of Ukraine, spend a sunny afternoon at Rynok Square. The architecture is beautiful with colourful buildings and European facades that you'd expect to see in the old towns of Italy and France. You'll likely spend quite a bit of your time around this area and with good reason. There are shops, cafes and restaurants all over the place. On weekends it seems like the whole world comes out to meet friends, enjoy the street performances and socialize. Have a go at salsa dancing in front of Cafe Diana during the summer or visit in the winter for ice skating in the square.
8. Say Yes to All of the New Foods
With so many amazing food options in Lviv, you definitely won't go hungry. Try the traditional galician cuisine and local specialties like blood sausage, borsch, vareniki, potato pancakes and strudels for dessert. One of our go-to places for Ukrainian food was Українське подвір'я on a small side street near the Opera Theatre. They have so many things to choose from on their menu that we probably could have tried a different meal each day for a month.
I can't even count the number of times we ate at Кафе Cisar when we didn't feel like cooking at home. I can't say it's the best food but it's cheap and convenient if you're spending a longer period of time in the city. Sidenote: we found service at the one on Bohdana Khmel'nyts'koho Street to be way better than at the one near Gallery Night Club.
Near Rynok Square, on Beryndy Street, there's a restaurant called Міжнародний вареничний фонд that we enjoyed a few times too. I've been craving their vareniki and Georgian cheese bread (khachapuri) ever since we left Lviv. Kumpel was recommended to us and there are a couple in the city. The interior is impressive and the menu looked good but we waited 30 minutes to order on a busy Friday night and were a bit too hangry to wait any longer.
You'll find more than just Ukrainian food in Lviv. There's a variety of Italian, French, Asian takeout and even Tex-Mex restaurants. And yes, they have McDonald's.
9. Visit the Unusual Yard of Lost Toys
The Yard of Lost Toys Mukachivska Street, 1 Open 24/7
Apparently this garden of lost toys came to be after a neighbour found a toy in his yard and left it outside so the child would be able to find it. I don't know whether that's true or not but you can see that the toy collection has grown over the years. At first it felt a bit odd and slightly creepy. You're essentially standing in the yard of a residential building in one of the city's older neighbourhoods taking photos of toys. But we weren't the only ones and it was neat to see. Donations (both cash and toy) are welcome.
10. Climb to the Top of the Town Hall
Lviv Town Hall Centre of Rynok Square Admission: 20 UAH
For great 360° views of the old town, climb up to the clock tower at the town hall building in Rynok Square. I'd say this is the heart of Lviv, practically right in the middle of the entire city. It's not the easiest of climbs up an old wooden staircase but you'll be rewarded for your efforts once you make it to the top with a bird's-eye view of the historic centre. Try to be there at 6pm for the trumpets.
11. View the Whole City from Castle Hill
Lviv High Castle Vysokyi Zamok Park (North East of the City Centre) Free and best on clear days
If you want to see more than just the old town, head to the highest point in the city for even better views of the region. Despite the name, there is no longer a castle but the top of the hill is a great (and free!) spot to catch a sunset over the city. It's a bit of a walk from the city centre so wear proper shoes for this.
12. Discover the Hidden Jazz Spots in Lviv
You'd never know it but there are a number of spots in the city to enjoy live jazz music. Libraria Speakeasy is where you'll want to go first if you only have one night to spare. Hrushevskyy Cinema Jazz has live music some nights and good wines to choose from. Herbie Hancock fans: he is set to perform at the 2017 Alfa Jazz Festival in Lviv this summer (!!!).
13. Board a Tram with the Locals
Sometimes the best way to see a city is through the window of a tram that is likely older than you are. The new ones might be more efficient but the old ones are where all the charm lies. Tickets are in the 2 UAH range and can be purchased from a Vysoky Zamok kiosk or from the driver. Don't forget to validate your ticket. If you're travelling with children, they might prefer Lviv's Chudo Train tour.
14. Search for the Street with Seven Names
If you look closely, you'll notice one street in Lviv with multiple street names. Confusing, no? Every year during the annual KinoLev Independent Film Festival, the city renames this street and adds a new plate onto the wall each time. It's most commonly known as Arkhivna but gets an annual name change to honour celebrities in film like Charlie Chaplin and Federico Fellini.
15. Enjoy a Night at the Opera
Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet Svobody Ave, 28
I would highly recommend catching a performance at Lviv's Theatre of Opera and Ballet. It's a classicly beautiful building inside and out. We watched the Ukrainian ballet Lileya from the very back row for 42 UAH and really enjoyed it. Most ballets and operas will take place over the weekend and you can view the schedules on their website. I had trouble buying tickets online but it's easy to walk in to their box office and buy your tickets there. The only other time I've been able to enjoy a budget night at the theatre was in Vienna where standing seats are available for as little as 3 euro. Sitting is much, much better.
16. Toss a Coin for Good Luck at the House of Legends
House of Legends Staroievreiska Street, 48 Open Daily: 11am till late
We went to the House of Legends for a drink and had no idea what to expect. The building is really unique and it's worth it to go up to the rooftop for the views. Here you'll also find a copper statue of a chimney sweep holding a hat and apparently it's good luck if you manage to get your coin in. We failed. There's often a man outside of the restaurant sharing the legends of the building but while we were there it was only in Ukrainian. Weekends can get pretty crowded and no photos are allowed inside. House of Legends is also known for hiring dwarf waiters but we only saw one while there.
17. Discover a Rare Find at the Book Market
Lviv Outdoor Used Book Market Pidvalna Street Daily
If you're a sucker for books and markets you'll really like the quirky book market in Lviv. You really never know what you might find among the scattered suitcases and boxes of books, records and other vintage trinkets. The market is centered around a large statue of Ivan Fedorov, known for having published "The Apostle", the first book printed in Ukraine. Enjoy your vintage book with a coffee from the nearby trolley cafe, Just Lviv It.
18. Visit Ukraine's Largest Cemetery
Lychakiv Cemetery Mechnykova Street, 33 Open Daily: 9am to 6pm Admission: 25 UAH (extra for cameras)
Even if you don't like cemeteries (are there people who do?) you'll appreciate this one. Roughly 400,000 people are buried at Lychakiv Cemetery and you can easily spend hours roaming the grounds. It feels like a museum garden with beautiful gravestones and memorials throughout. Guided tours are available but we opted to go on our own and found it very moving. You can take a tram (#7) from the city centre but it's not too far of a walk either.
19. See the Weapons on Display at the Arsenal Museum
Arsenal Museum Pidvalna Street, 5 Daily but closed Wednesdays: 10am to 5:30pm Admission: 10 UAH (extra charge for cameras)
The museum isn't all that big but for 10 UAH we thought it was worth it. The well-preserved collection is spread over two floors and information is displayed in various languages (including English). Right next door there's a restaurant called Arsenal Ribs and Spirits that was recommended to us. We didn't get a chance to eat there but Wes had a good time with the restaurant greeter.
20. Explore the Parks of Lviv
If you want to maximize your time spent outdoors, there are plenty of parks to enjoy in and around the city. Stryiskyi Park is a favourite among locals and a great place for a morning run, afternoon stroll or even a bike ride. It's fairly large and can be reached by public transit. There's also Ivan Franko Park for something closer to the city centre.
21. Watch a Show at Lviv's Puppet Theatre
Lviv Regional Puppet Theatre Danyla Halytskoho Square
About a block away from the Opera Theatre, you'll notice Lviv has its very own Puppet Theatre. Performances are only in Ukrainian and nearly all are geared towards children but it would be a fun experience for the young at heart.
Other Tips for Travel in Lviv, Ukraine
Currency: Local currency is the Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH) and we had no problem withdrawing money from ATM's in the city centre. Keep in mind that small convenience stores, market stalls and bus drivers may not have change for large bills. We arrived by bus from Lublin, Poland and made sure to exchange some Hryvnia to tie us over on the first day in Lviv. At restaurants, check your bill prior to tipping as a service charge may already be included. We were told tipping is not common practice but this is changing as cities like Lviv, Kiev and Odessa grow in popularity among tourists.
Language: Ukrainian is spoken throughout the city and we noticed several locals are fluent in Russian as well and some also speak Polish. As far as communicating in English, we found it was relatively easy with staff at restaurants but can be tricky at times outside of the service industry. A lot of menus have English translations but Google Translate will definitely come in handy, especially with the Cyrillic alphabet.
Where to Stay: Before renting our apartment we stayed at a central hostel (Cossacks Hostel) and would definitely recommend finding a place in the old town. Anywhere near Rynok Square, the Opera Theatre, Bernardine Church, Potocki Palace, etc. Lviv is a very walkable city and you'll be able to see the majority of tourist attractions on foot. Hostel dorm beds are around $7-10 CAD per night and you can find nice hotels for as low as $50 CAD. You should be able to find a comfortable place in the city centre for under $500 CAD per month and even half that at a hostel. Book in advance for the best deals.
When staying in a new city for a month, we almost always book through Airbnb. If you're new to their site, our signup link will save first-time users up to $35 CAD on their first qualifying stay. But our decision to stay in Lviv past the initial 4 days was pretty spontaneous and coincided with the weekend of a book convention and a weekend festival meaning the city was pretty full so pickings were slim. We managed to find a great apartment in a building near the Opera Theatre through a local site and really enjoyed our stay.
Grocery Stores: We were used to the Lidls and Tescos of Europe and found grocery shopping a bit of a challenge at first. We usually went to the small corner store at Vahova Street, in the old town at Krakivska Street or (for a greater selection) the large Silpo supermarket on the lower level of Forum Lviv mall. For a real local experience, head to the Stryisky Bazaar and get your fresh fruits, veggies, meats and cheeses.
Free Walking Tours: Another way to experience the unique things to do in Lviv (especially when you're pressed for time) is to join an English walking tour. Tips are welcome at the end of a tour that usually lasts 2-3 hours and is led by a local with insider tips on the city. They used to meet outside of the Opera Theatre every Sunday afternoon but Couchsurfing would be the best place to check for the latest tours and events going on specifically for travellers.
In a city like this, you could easily spend months exploring the hidden alleys, uncovering interesting stories and enjoying all that this capital of culture has to offer. With so many unique things to do in Lviv, we have plenty left to see for next time. Like getting whipped by the staff at Masoch Cafe or trying to solve one of the world's largest crossword puzzles just south of the city centre. Meat lovers can get locked up by an executioner at the First Lviv Grill Restaurant of Meat and Justice and those interested in culture can learn more at the Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life. Lviv, dyakuyu for the memories. We'll be back.