When planning to visit relatives in Ukraine, I was constantly reminded to make sure I fit in a visit to Lviv during my trip. After several days in Kiev, I took an 8 hour train to Lviv which ended up being one of the most uniquely beautiful places I had ever seen in Europe. Although just a train ride away from Kiev, I felt like I was transported to a completely different country.
From 1256 to today, Lviv had been under Hungarian, Austrian, Russian, Polish, and German rule. In 1991 Lviv became part of the independent Ukrainian State. Having been located at the crossing of two bustling trade routes, Lviv was influenced by the culture and architecture of its many invaders. This can be seen in all the architectural and historical monuments there today, making Lviv the cultural capital of Ukraine.
From the 16th to the 18th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth rulers were big fans of the Counter-Reformation and took Baroque and Rococo to intricate extremes. When you walk around Lviv, you can see neoclassical squares, baroque domes, and fin-de-siecle gardens.
The Bernardine Church
The Dominican Church in the late Baroque style
Interior of the Dominican Church
With so many churches built in different styles, you don’t have to travel far for diverse design! The walk from the high baroque Bernardine Church, to the later, more serene Dominican Church and Monastery is quite short.
The heart of Lviv is in the Rynok Square which is framed by colorful, gabled townhouses, full of sgraffito and reliefs, surrounding the renaissance tower of the Town Hall.
Rynok Square (Central market place)
Rynok Square with the Black House (Czarna Kamienica)
As per the building codes that were in place during the construction of the buildings around the square, most townhomes in the square have three windows per floor except for the Korniakt Palace which has six per floor. This displayed the wealth of King John III Sobieski who remodeled the townhome into a Renaissance palazzo, completed in 1580.
Lions are the symbol of Lviv and can be seen all around the square. There are some that mark the entrances to secret bars where one can experience an underground war bunker - but only if you know the password to enter!
Lion in front of Lviv Town Hall
Lviv Town Hall
The Armenian Cathedral
North of the market square you can find the Armenian Cathedral of Lviv, located in the Armenian Quarter. The cathedral dates to the 14-15th centuries and is a monument to Eastern culture. It combines a typical Armenian sanctuary with the Western European Romanesque-Gothic style, and the traditional Ukrainian Halychyna style.
Boim Family Chapel
The famous Boim Family Chapel is a unique example of the late renaissance style. It is decorated with organic motifs and figures carved on a sandstone façade that has darkened over time.
The Potocki Palace is the grandest residence in the city, built in the 1880s for Alfred Potocki who was the Minister of Austria. French architect Louis de Verny incorporated Beaux-Arts stylistic devices to produce an imitation of a French hôtel particulier. The open gardens add depth and grandeur to the Palace.
Lviv Opera House
A stunning and very recognizable building in Lviv is the Opera House. Constructed at the start of the 20th century, this beauty has been ranked among the Paris and Vienna Operas. Built in the Viennese Neo-Renaissance style, the Opera has classical elements with details of Renaissance and Baroque architecture. But, most impressive of all, it was constructed on top of the Poltva River using a concrete foundation - a first for Europe!
Cherry infused Vodka Bar
Aside from the incredible and diverse architecture of Lviv, there is a bustling night life, tasty beer, and delicious coffee. Coffee has been a big part of Lviv’s culture dating back to the 18th century with the arrival of the Austrians. You can enjoy a cup with some rich Lviv chocolate - both made locally!