With very limited knowledge of Ukrainian and no Russian I travel to Ukraine. The first stop is Lviv in the northwest. Let the Ukraine adventure begin!
On the way to Lviv
After a short stay in Przemyśl I took the shuttle bus to the border checkpoint in Medyka. This is a popular spot for crossing the border on foot and therefore I expected a long waiting line. Holders of an EU, Swiss or Norwegian passport can usually skip that line, but not this time: the passport control booth for these passport holders was closed and so I had to wait with all the others. I was lucky though, because there were just a handful of travellers and clearance was quick. Instead of waiting times of up to 2 hours I got through both the Polish and Ukrainian passport control within 20 minutes. My luggage also hadn’t been checked. Looking around I found a different alphabet, a different language, different currency, worse road conditions than in Poland and the small busses called “Marshrutka”. Yep, I am in Ukraine (by the way for the third time)!
A typical Ukrainian Marschrutka
The next quest was ahead of me: getting to Lviv. Theoretically there are three options. The most comfortable and most expensive one is obviously a taxi. One taxi driver offered the transfer to Lviv for 25 zl (roughly 160 UAH) – per person. The second option is the aforementioned Marshrutka. A single ticket to Lviv bought at the ticket office costs 36.75 UAH. Then there is also a train station but I haven’t checked if it has any train departures at all. So I naturally opted for the Marshrutka.
Not all Marschrutkas look like this inside.
What? You have thought I would take the taxi? How non-adventurous (or maybe not?). The bus should make it to Lviv within 90 minutes. However I apparently took the slow bus which makes a few detours from the main road and stops at every milk can. So it took 2 hours. It was hot and sticky. In other words: The Marshrutka was a sauna on wheels. Luckily I had a seat while many others had to stand and squeeze more and more as there were more passengers getting into the bus at each stop until we stood in front of the glamouresque main train station of Lviv.
Lviv Main Train Station
From there it was a short ride on the streetcar to the center. A one-way ticket costs just 2 UAH and can be bought directly from the driver.
The first thing I did in the center: exchange money as I ran short of my leftover cash from the last Ukraine trip. You get better exchange rates in the center than at the train station.
The hostel in Lviv
So far I have stayed three times in Lviv and every time in a different hostel. The accommodation I stayed in this time was by far the best one until now. It goes by the name “Hostel” (no joke!) and is located in a side street near the Metro Club. From there it is a 20 minute walk to the central square of Lviv, the Rynok. The hostel is really clean, new and almost feels like a small modern hotel. The receptionist puts lots of effort to make you feel like at home. She is really friendly and (almost too) attentive. As I don’t speak Ukrainian or Russian, she also helped me to check my reservation in another hotel in Zatoka at the Black Sea coast which was part of my travel itinerary. Towels and bathroom slippers are provided, so you don’t need to bring them yourself. The Wi-fi connection is stable and password protected. And if you are hungry you can order a meal at the reception desk and it will be delivered to you within 30 minutes. I went for a chicken filet with roasted potatoes and salad accompanied by a coffee. The cost: 105 UAH, and it was good enough for not caring about food after arrival. I rented a room with a double bed for myself for two nights which had set me back by 800 UAH. And this is how the room looked like:
Small but cozy
The hostel also has some dorm rooms as well as a room with an own shower in case you want to spend less or more for your accommodation.
The only downside of this hostel is that all rooms on the first floor are facing the entrance hall and reception directly so if you don’t sleep deep you might get awake from the noise coming from guests arriving or leaving.
What I did in Lviv
The first thing I did after check-in was to find a supermarket nearby. I didn’t need to walk too far to find a convenience store with a satisfactory selection of food and drinks. In the evening I went to the Rynok which was full with tourists (mainly from Poland) and street artists of all kinds: musicians, street dancers, living statues and the like. The center boasts with lots of interesting cafe-bars. In fact if you go to Lviv, drinking coffee is a must! Because it was in this city that coffee had been popularized in Europe (despite Vienna always taking the cake for this achievement). I will present you some of these coffee houses in a separate article.
As I was tired I didn’t stay out for too long, just for two small beers (20 UAH each) in the Pravda Beer Theatre at the northwestern corner of the Rynok.
The front of the Pravda Beer Theatre which extends across a few floors.
The Beer Theatre has a brewery in the cellar and they sell beer named after current politicians. For example this Obama Black Beer.
On the second day I took the time to visit the Lichkovy cemetery. Sure it is unusual to visit cemeteries as a tourist, but I have explored the other tourist sights of Lviv in earlier trips (I will write about them in a separate article) and this cemetery is a tourist site in itself. If you want to rest in peace, don’t get buried here! As this cemetery is so vast and diverse I will share my impressions of it in another article.
In the evening I met some friends which I got to know on my first trip to Lviv. We met in the trendy Coyc Cafe hidden in a small passage near the Rynok. They are known for their cocktails and their sandwiches. And food was all I craved for at the moment as I didn’t have a proper meal yet (only those cinnamon buns which I bought in the Arsen supermarket near the center. Surely you can get even tastier ones in proper bakeries). So I went for a chicken and bacon sandwich and roasted potatoes (the latter turned out to be french fries which were nothing to write home about) accompanied by a beer. I didn’t take a cocktail because I only took limited amount of cash with me and left the bank card in the hostel on purpose. The night was still young and it was not clear yet where it will lead me and my friends. As it was a Saturday night it was party time. However one thing is apparently lacking in Lviv: Pubs and bars which are good for dancing and don’t charge you ridiculously high entrance fees. The crazy nightlife apparently happens in the clubs, but I am not really a club person (my impression of Ukrainian clubs: everyone pretends to be rich and snobby while dancing to the typical international party music. Not my style). As my friends were also not willing to pay for entrance we ended up in the Salo Bar, a fancy place with the kind of electronic music you typically hear in Berlin, always changing arts exhibitions and a collection of small sculptures made of fat. These sculptures are the namesake of the place as “Salo” is the Ukrainian word for fat.
I was back in the hostel at 5 am and had only 5 hours of sleep ahead of me before my departure to Vinnytsia, the next stop on my travel itinerary.
- If you can, exchange money in the center for better rates, not at the train station or the airport.
- Public transport tickets cost 2 UAH per person and the ticket and can be bought directly from the driver.
Where to stay in Lviv
When it comes to hostels I can recommend the “HOSTEL“. If you prefer a hostel smack in the center then check out the Cossacks Hostel which is just one block away from the Rynok.
Lviv offers a wide range of hotels in all categories. Here are my recommendations of hotels within a one mile radius from the central square, based on customer reviews on tripadvisor, booking.com, hrs.com and hotels.com:
3-Stars: Apart-hotel Horowitz
4-Stars: Astoria Hotel
5-Stars: Citadel Inn & Resort
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I will write more about Lviv and link these articles here as soon as they are ready. So stay tuned and follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Youtube. I will also share photos and videos from Lviv exclusively on these channels.