Lviv’s Troubled Past Made it What it is Today
By Sarah Hartshorne
Have you ever listened to a supermodel complain that no one wants to date her?
That’s how I felt talking to the tourism board in Lviv, Ukraine. Everyone in my tour group agreed it was one of the most beautiful, interesting cities we’d ever been to and that three days wasn’t enough- we could have spent weeks wandering around the meandering streets, exploring all the food, history and art that it had to offer.
So why isn’t Lviv swarming with tourists? Because Russia is her terrifying ex-boyfriend. And, obviously, Lviv isn’t unaffected: the city graveyard has too many graves of young men. But it is a beautiful, charming, and completely safe place to visit so I decided to make Lviv her very own dating profile.
However You Say It
First of all, some basics. To start, she doesn’t care how you pronounce her name. Because Lviv has been a part of so many countries, it’s been pronounced a variety of ways over the years. The Ukrainian pronunciation is “Luh-viv,” but “Luh-veev” is fine, too.
That’s not to say that she isn’t proud of her namesake. It means lion, which is definitely her spirit animal. The city may be fiercely independent but it also has a strong sense of community.
It was National Embroidery Day while we were there, and all over the city people were dressed up in their finest Ukrainian embroidered garb.
What she does care about is how your pronounce her country: it’s not the Ukraine. It’s just Ukraine. You don’t say Paris, in The France. The “the” is a remnant from their Soviet past.
Speaking of Lviv’s past, it’s….complicated. In the last century alone, it has been part of Russia, Austria-Hungary, Poland, Germany, and Russia again before becoming independent. It can be hard to keep it all straight, so I’d recommend starting your trip with a walking or bus tour.
Cobblestone Freeway Tours brought us to many of Lviv’s beautiful, historical sites our first day: the Opera House, the High Castle (a great place to get a view of the whole city), the Jewish District and St. George’s Cathedral.
All of these sites showed us glimpses of what makes Lviv tick, and I learned that being influenced by so many outside countries and forces has only made her stronger, more independent, made her art and architecture more diverse, and her food more flavorful.
Now that you know a little bit about her, here are a few of her likes and dislikes:
Like any cool girl, Lviv loves craft beers and there are a bunch of good local companies to choose from. The Beer Museum is in the oldest brewery in the city. The original building burned down in the 1700s, but the “new” structure has a beautiful bar featuring art from local artists and flights of beers from all the local breweries.
Lviv has been shipping out confections to all of Europe since the Medieval Times, so it has a lot of shops and places to see candy being made.
And, as it turns out, it’s a hell of a lot more fun than seeing sausage being made. Two such places are the Chocolate Factory and Masterskaya Karameli.
The latter has hard candy in all shapes and sizes- big, elaborate, candy houses, and tiny sweets with elaborate designs. The Chocolate Factory has a viewing area where you can watch your dessert being made, and then you can enjoy it on their rooftop deck, which offers panoramic views of the city.
Lviv loves coffee. It was the first European city to open coffee shops after stealing the beans from invading Turkish troops. Coffee carts, trucks, and one of the oldest coffee shops in Europe, and it even has a coffee museum!
It documents the fascinating, if completely fictitious, history of how coffee was found deep underground in Lviv and mined there for hundreds of years.
Strapping men in suspenders make you a specialty drink with blowtorches that tastes like a creme brûlée mixed with the best cup of Irish (or should I say Ukrainian?) coffee you’ve ever had. Then, on your way out, you can get a pamphlet on the actual history of coffee in Lviv.
Every family, restaurant, and bar in Ukraine have their own recipe for what they call “home brew” aka moonshine. You can even buy gallon jugs of it at souvenir stands- plain or flavored with fruits or herbs. It doesn’t just put hair on your chest- it curls it, grooms it and sprays it into a bouffant.
The best home-brew in Lviv is at the Drunken Cherry. They serve it in delicate glasses along with the cherries they flavor it with in a beautiful, red-lit and tiny room. The Drunken Cherry attracts a crowd every night and it’s easy to see why- besides the delicious signature beverage, the sitting area outside is a perfect place to take in the city square.
Everyone has their quirky interests, and Lviv’s is themed restaurants. I’d been bracing myself for cheesy costumes and bad breadsticks but they were actually awesome. The first one we went to had a torture theme: the First Lviv Grill Restaurant of Meat and Justice.
There’s also a place called Dim Legend spread over 5 floors, all with different themes. The building where gaslights were invented is, obviously, gaslight themed. And Mons Pius is a restaurant inside an old bank. You can even dine in the vault! If you’re short and not claustrophobic.
Although opinions on Russia and independence vary throughout Ukraine, Lviv is fairly united against Russia and for Ukrainian independence. In fact, most of the gift shops sell toilet paper with Putin’s face on it.
One of the most popular places to eat for locals and tourists is another themed restaurant and bar: Kryjivka (pronounced Kree-yiv-kah). It’s in an old WWII resistance bunker, and the waiters all wear resistance soldier uniforms, and you need a password to enter.
Once inside, you cheer to the independence. The banosh (a Ukrainian dish made of cornmeal, cheese, and crispy pork) was especially delicious. The website claims it’s the most visited restaurant in Europe, and I don’t know if that’s true but it’s definitely a must-see in Lviv.
When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, any churches or synagogues that didn’t get destroyed were turned into Atheism Museums and were not maintained. Lviv, home to many beautiful, historic churches that they’ve been working to restore, is still a little sore about it. The Armenian Cathedral was built in 1363 and is in the Old Town, near the Jewish Section.
It’s stunningly restored and opened for visitors, as is the St. George Cathedral, which used to be the mother church for the Ukrainian Greek Church. The Jewish section of town, in the Old City, is definitely worth a visit. It has the best book markets, beautiful restaurants, and city squares with street vendors and musicians.
Sarah Hartshorne is a writer, producer, and comedian in New York City. She is best known as the plus-size contestant on Cycle 9 of America’s Next Top Model. Her writing has been featured on GoNOMAD, the Guardian, Bustle, and more. She and her dog were once in the same talent show as Kurt Vonnegut.