Beat the crowds to Lviv, Ukraine

Tom Masters | Issue 100 | December/January 2009

The city panorama

The remains of Lviv’s 14th-century Vysoky Zamok (High Castle) stand on the city’s highest point. It’s a steep climb or short taxi-ride up, but well worth it for the views of the old town’s cupolas and spires. Come in the evening when the sunlight on the city’s painted roofs is at its most sublime, or in winter, when the trees are bare and the views at their best.

The hidden coffeehouse

Catch a slice of laid-back Lviv life in dreamily relaxed and cosy cafés – locals are fanatical about good coffee and passionate about pastries. Cult favourite is dark and brooding Under the Blue Bottle (Pid Synoyu Plyashkoyu; vul Ruska 4), five seconds from Ploshcha Rynok but so well hidden you’re likely to be the only foreigner. For sinfully delicious cakes, grand style and outdoor seating, head south to Veronika (pr Shevchenka 21).

The atmospheric cemetery

On the outskirts of Lviv, Lychakivske Cemetery is an overgrown but ornate mausoleum packed with literary legends, star gymnasts and freedom fighters from all over Eastern and Central Europe – but you don’t need to name-check to soak up the Gothic atmosphere. Come early in the day to have the place to yourself. To get there take tram 2 or 7 four stops from vul Lychakivska and walk 300m down the hill. 

The 14th-century survivor 

A pillar of Lviv’s Armenian community since the 14th century, the beautiful Armenian Cathedral has miraculously survived centuries of war. Today it’s usually only open for services, though its headstone-paved courtyard and large 150-year-old wooden statue of Christ on the cross can be seen from the street. 

The bustling square

Ploshcha Rynok is the old market square and heart of the old town; museums and cafés cluster around its Greek-god-fountained town hall. Follow winding cobbled arteries to tiny churches, forgotten grand mansions and yet more caffeine-fuelled drinking holes, or climb the town hall’s tower for a bird’s eye view of the action below. 

The cheap-as-chips Opera

The city’s most celebrated building is the exuberant Viennese-style Solomiya Krushelnytska Opera and Ballet Theatre. Marvel at the ornately gilded, marbled and mirrored interior during an evening show – tickets start from as little as 25 hryvnia (£2.65), rising to just 125 hryvnia (£13.25) for the best seats. 

The lavish cathedral

The green dome landmark of the Dominican Cathedral and Monastery (below), now a Greek Catholic church, dominates Lviv’s skyline. The gloomy Museum of Religion in its basement was a museum of atheism in Soviet times and provides a stark contrast to the interior’s gilded statues.

The quirky museum 

A working pharmacy for over 250 years, the Apteka Museum (vul Drukarska 2) still boasts the original wooden counter, pestle and mortar and terrifying potion-filled vials of yesteryear. Be spooked and get to view the interior of an old Lviv house at the same time.

The locals’ market 

If you want a change of pace from the ornate old town, head west from the opera house to bustling Krakivsky Market. This mercantile maze of free enterprise touts everything from honey, cheese, fresh fruit and raw meat to DVDs, clothing and general junk. 

The best facade

Don’t be surprised if your jaw drops at the heavily carved black-stone front of the Boyim Chapel. The Boyim family’s idea of a small shrine, it took the wealthy 17th-century vintners six years to build. Don’t confine yourself to gawping at its incredible exterior, though; for a small fee you can go inside and see the intricate dome, complete with mouldings of 36 Catholic saints. 

Tom Masters, author of several books on former Soviet states

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