Lviv — Ukraine's Western Capital
No tourist visit to Ukraine is complete without a trip to Lviv. Lviv is the largest city and cultural center of western Ukraine, with around 800,000 inhabitants (see map). If you are coming here from Kiev or other Ukrainian cities farther east you will definitely sense differences in the culture and architecture. Indeed, Lviv was a part of some five or so different countries over the past 120 years. The city has a noticeably more European flavor than those further east, with a historic center and wide variety of churches reminiscent of Krakow and less preoccupation with status symbols than, say, Kiev and eastern Ukraine. You will find numerous groups of Polish tourists roaming the old town who always seem to retreat back to the nearby border by night-time to save money on accommodations.
Tours around Lviv
There is a wide choice of English language tours available. Here you can browse a list and order free travel broschures, as well as book a tour.
Getting to Lviv
Lviv has a modest international airport with connections to Warsaw, Toronto, Manchester, Frankfurt, Moscow, and several other airports in the former USSR. At the airport, which is several kilometers away from the city, is a tourist information bureau where you can book a hotel room, city and regional tours, and receive free informational materials from friendly ladies. In this regard Lviv is ahead of Kiev and most big cities of Ukraine.
Lviv is very well connected with Kiev and other cities by railway. Buses connect Lviv with surrounding countries but are invariably uncomfortable for longer trips.
Lviv: good and bad
As is often the case in Ukraine, travel advertising tends to paint the city as a "tourist Mecca." Agreed, Lviv is probably the best-developed tourist center in Ukraine, with a sizable historic center and decent tourism infrastructure (at the very least Lviv residents are used to seeing groups of foreign tourists all the time). However, outside of the historic center and downtown area Lviv is dominated by decrepit gray Soviet buildings or, at best, run-down pre-Soviet facades. That being said, the picturesque central area of Lviv is larger than similar historic centers in other Ukrainian cities.
As long as we're talking about problems, let me mention the awful roads and traffic. Uneven cobblestone roads in the downtown and pit-holed streets almost everywhere else wreak havoc on cars and slow down traffic and the local economy with it. Air quality is pretty bad anywhere there are cars, as exhaust filters are not yet required on automobiles (or the law is not yet enforced).
Judging by people's complaints and the stories people tell, Lviv is also difficult place to do business or even find a job. Business-wise Lviv seems to be several years behind Kiev, with lots of corruption and interference that make free business very difficult.
However, you're likely to forget this as you stroll through Lviv's quiet and quaint old town and explore its many churches, wooded hills, cafes, and coffee shops. Few other Ukrainian towns are so ideally suited to walking and relaxing. A few hours spent in the old town is more than enough to make you forget about any of Lviv's shortcomings. Not to mention the people themselves — friendly and open and polite to strangers (which is not always typical of Ukraine).