My family has lived in L’viv for two and a half years, and I’ve decided it’s one of the most interesting and beautiful cities you could possibly visit in Ukraine. I feel so privileged to live here and almost have to pinch myself sometimes when I’m walking around the historical downtown, looking at architecture and sites that look straight out of a travel guide – is this really home?!
City of Lions
The name “L’viv” means the “city of lions.” It has a population of over 725,000 people and is located in the far western part of Ukraine, just a few hours from Poland and Hungary. Founded in 1256, L’viv was a major trade center for medieval Europe. From its founding to present day, the city has been under the rule of many countries at different times, including Austria, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Germany, and others, and the architecture and culture reflect the diversity of its history. (1)
Today L’viv is sometimes called the “capital of Ukrainian culture…and national identity.” Residents of this beautiful city are strongly patriotic, almost singularly speaking the Ukrainian language, as opposed to Russian, often donning traditional Ukrainian folk clothing, and promoting their culture through many festivities year round. The religious atmosphere in L’viv is dedicated Catholicism, which differs from much of central and eastern Ukraine, where the Orthodox Church is the primary religion. If you want to read more about the unique culture here in L’viv, please check out this post: L’viv, A New Ukraine for Me.
Tourism is one of L’viv’s top economic industries. Over one million people visit each year, especially from Poland, Germany, Austria, Belarus, the U.S. and Russia. Our city boasts over sixty museums, one hundred churches, 700 restaurants or cafes, and at least one hundred festivals every year. Just a few of the favorite annual festivals are the Coffee Festival, Wine and Cheese Festival, and Jazz Fest. There are multiple theaters, concert halls and exhibition halls, and at any given time, you can see operas, ballets, concerts of varying music styles, and art exhibitions. (2)
Sites to See
Rynok Square is one of the best known sites in L’viv. This market square was built by German colonists in the 14th century as a foundation for a classical European city. As the years progressed, architectural contributions were made by Italians and Austrians, and the square took on a European Renaissance look. However, in keeping with the patriotism of L’viv, there are also definitive Ukrainian marks to the beautiful and unique buildings on this square. (3)
If you look up L’viv as a travel destination, you will inevitably see the L’viv Opera House among the first photos. It was built in 1901 in the Neo-Renaissance style and is compared to the opera theaters in Vienna and Paris. The outside boasts impressive columns, sculptures and balustrades, and the interior is decorated with gold gilding, various colors of marble, gorgeous paintings, and sculptures. While most major cities in Ukraine have opera theaters, L’viv’s is notably among the most impressive. (4)
Some other famous sites are the Potocki Palace, the Italian Courtyard, and High Castle. If you’re interested in more of L’viv’s beautiful architecture, you can check it out here.
Image by Andrey Okhrimets via Wikimedia Commons
For me and Josh, one of our favorite things to do on a date is simply to explore this beautiful city. We love to walk aimlessly through the cobblestone streets of the city center, looking for interesting buildings, cafes or architecture that we haven’t noticed before. Without fail, anytime we do this, we’re amazed at the intricate detail, the tastefully elaborate decor. The well-known tourist sites only scratch the surface of all that L’viv has to offer!
Coffee, coffee and more coffee!
I am an avid coffee drinker, raised by an even more avid coffee-drinking mom. When I was growing up, coffee was not only a staple to get you started on your day, but an important part of relationship building. When my parents moved our family to Ukraine, Mom brought her coffee maker with her. Back in the mid nineties, most people drank tea in Kyiv, rather than coffee. But in our house…coffee was part of Mom’s ministry. People would come to fellowship, and the smell of coffee was always in the air.
With that personal history, it seems very appropriate to now live in a city that is almost obsessed with coffee! I have never seen so many cafes and specialty coffee shops in another Ukrainian city, and I’ve already mentioned that we have an annual festival dedicated to this delicious beverage. In the winter and many dreary, rainy days of spring and fall, you can see people hiding out in cafes, chatting, working, studying. In the summer, nearly every cafe offers outdoor seating with quaint umbrellas, and you can sit in an almost Italian-feeling atmosphere to enjoy your coffee and the gorgeous city views.
Restaurants and Food
Restaurants are another important part of L’viv’s economy and relaxed culture. Some of our favorite spots serve Galician food (Galicia is a name that describes part of western Ukraine and Poland; its history dates back to the 1700s, when parts of these countries were under Austrian rule). Galician food is specific to this part of the world, differing from common foods in other parts of Ukraine. If you’d like to learn more about those foods, check out my earlier post, L’viv, A New Ukraine for Me. (5)
As I mentioned above, L’viv has a diverse culture that encompasses elements from many different countries. Our food and restaurants are no exception. In most of the world, strudel is a dish famously associated with Austria, or the Austro Hungarian Empire of old. L’viv boasts several well-known “strudel houses.” It’s a popular dish and is served in both sweet and savory forms. It can be made with mushrooms, cheese, various fruits…my personal favorite is warm apple strudel with a vanilla cream sauce.
The most famous cafe in the city might be L’viv Handmade Chocolate, or the “Chocolate Shop.” This unique establishment includes a workshop where beautifully artistic, delicious chocolates are made by hand and sold. Just a few of their products include hollow and solid chocolates shaped like animals, hearts, and other forms, chocolate covered nuts and dried fruits of all varieties, and solid chocolate bars with interesting ingredients, like cinnamon, coffee, chili pepper, and more. They offer milk, dark and white chocolate.
In their cafe, they serve a wide variety of coffee and tea drinks, as well as lots of desserts. The trademark specialty dessert they serve is an espresso sized cup of melted chocolate (milk, dark, white or a mixture) that you literally eat with a spoon! My favorite thing to order changes on a regular basis – currently it’s the late with melted dark chocolate. L’viv Handmade Chocolate is now a chain that boasts several locations in L’viv, as well as in other Ukrainian cities and in Poland.
Rain, rain, rain, rain…Yep, that pretty much sums up the weather in L’viv for a good portion of the year! Spring and fall are dreary seasons, with lots of rain and days of sunshine here and there. But, L’viv is a very green city, with many trees and grassy parks, which help to lift the spirits on those drizzly days.
Summers are sunnier times, and temperatures are fairly moderate. L’viv’s climate is not too humid, so the summer heat, even when temperatures are higher, is not unbearable at all. The biggest challenge in the heat is riding on public transport, which is never air conditioned and is often jam packed with hot, sweaty passengers. Also, many people prefer not to open windows on moving transportation, fearing that drafts might cause sickness or neck aches.
Winters vary – some years it’s bitterly cold with blizzard-like snow, but others are warmer and bring – you guessed it – more rain! For me, the biggest challenge in the winter is the lack of color. Once the leaves fall and the grass and flowers die for the year, L’viv, like much of Ukraine, becomes a world of black, white and gray. Grayish-white skies over grayish streets and sidewalks, covered in the slush that is left when sand is used to reduce slippery conditions and roads are not well cleaned. I’m always anxious for spring and thrilled to see the first buds on trees!
What’s It Really Like to Live in L’viv?
Josh and I often comment that because we live here, it’s easy to get caught up in daily life and forget how spectacular this city is. It’s very true. We love to explore, and we often remind ourselves to stop and enjoy the beauty all around us. But, I can’t pretend that every day is like living in a tourism catalogue, sipping coffee lazily in a charming cafe, drinking in the sites and amazing architecture around us.
Real life in L’viv is challenging…amusing…difficult…pleasant…maddening…I could think of a bunch more adjectives to describe it, but you get the idea. I’ve shared in the past about some of the day to day challenges of living in Ukraine – like losing electricity, not having drinkable tap water, riding on public transportation with kids, and more. Honestly, most of the inconveniences are minor, but they add up to make each day challenging in different ways than we experienced living in the States.
Life is challenging, but at the same time, we are so thankful for the joys and rich experiences our family is privileged to enjoy in L’viv! We’re blessed beyond measure by the friendships and relationships we’ve developed with people, both in the church where we serve and in our community. We love that our kids are growing up with multiple languages and different cultures as a common part of their lives. It’s exciting to be able to travel, both within Ukraine and to nearby countries. It’s an honor to be residents of a country with such a long, hard, and moving history. Most of all, it’s simply a blessing to serve God in the place where He called us to be.
I won’t pretend that we love every day, every moment – any more than you love every moment of your life! But I hope that we are fostering an atmosphere in our family where we see the glass as half full, rather than half empty. Thank God that He brought an optimistic, fun-loving man to marry this realist and be an example to me in this area! I truly hope that the people we interact with see that we are real and that we have struggles, but that we try to walk joyfully through our days and be thankful for the many undeserved blessings God chooses to give us, in His grace.
(1) “History of the city.” History of the city – Key to the city – Explore Lviv – Lviv.travel – official city guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
(2) “Cultural Capital of Ukraine.” Cultural Capital of Ukraine – Key to the city – Explore Lviv – Lviv.travel – official city guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
(3) “Rynok Square.” Rynok Square – Architectural Lviv – Architectual Lviv – Things to do – Lviv.travel – official city guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
(4) “The Opera House.” The Opera House – Architectural Lviv – Architectual Lviv – Things to do – Lviv.travel – official city guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
(5) “About Galicia.” Gesher Galicia. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.