Mysterious, edgy and architecturally lovely, Lviv boasts that it's Ukraine's least Soviet city. It may have a point. The city's Unesco World Heritage–listed centre was built like a rich layer-cake of neoclassical architecture in rococo, baroque, Renaissance and Gothic styles.
Volyn & Rivne Regions
Lutsk, capital of the Volyn region, is a good spot to base yourself during any adventures in the wild and woolly terrain of Ukraine's 'Lake District', 160km northwest of Lutsk. Lutsk itself is nice and removed from the beaten path. It has a Roman Catholic Church built in 1610 which also has an entrance to the city's labyrinth of underground tunnels.
Infinitely more charming than Ternopil to the south and Rivne to the east, Volyn's chief city of Lutsk has a split personality. The modern town is a relatively successful example of Soviet architecture, with broad boulevards and monumental squares creating a feeling of freedom and space. But the real jewel in Lutsk's crown is its historic quarter.
This triangular-shaped region at the heart of Western Ukraine may have some stunning countryside, but it's fairly difficult for independent travellers to reach. Not many foreigners even make it to the larger population centres, although a couple of the smaller towns like Pochayiv and Kremenets are worth the effort.
Arrive in Ternopil on the right day, and this city, which lends its name to the wider region, has a laid-back, leafy almost European feel, rather like an anonymous piece of Poland or the Czech Republic. Its signature feature is a huge artificial lake that's pleasant enough to stroll around of an evening, and the tiny old-town centre is quite appealing, but that's about it.
The remains of a hill-top fortress overlook picturesque Kremenets' cluster of pastel-coloured, freshly renovated churches. The Mongols never managed to capture this castle during their sweep through Kyivan Rus in 1240–41 (despite reaching Kremenets' outskirts), but today it's easily breeched by individual hikers and day-trippers.
Some 50km south of Lutsk, Dubno is one of several towns in the region with a castle, making it a relatively interesting stopover.
Known today primarily for its striking natural hilltop standing stone, the village of Pidkamin was once most celebrated for its huge fortified monastery. This was founded at the same time as Pochayiv by monks hightailing it from Kyiv before the Mongols hit town in 1240, and was later beefed up to protect the icon of the Blessed Virgin.
Its ornate golden domes rising up from the surrounding plain, Pochayiv Monastery is a beacon of Ukrainian Orthodoxy (Moscow Patriarchate) on the edge of a largely Ukrainian Catholic region. Indeed, it's the country's second largest Orthodox complex after Kyiv's Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra and was founded by monks fleeing that mothership when the Mongols sacked Kyiv in 1240.
The Ternopil region is home to dozens of karst caves, including the 212km-long Optimistic Cave, one of Europe's largest. These are all 100km south of Ternopil, near Borshchiv. It's not really safe to visit without a tour, but unfortunately, as with so many Ukrainian sightseeing gems, tours are sometimes tricky to arrange.
Once home to Jewish-Polish writer and artist Bruno Schulz, Drohobych is of most interest to his fans, who might hope (possibly in vain) to recognise the town from his magic-realist novella The Street of Crocodiles (1934). Otherwise this quiet provincial town is mildly diverting if not gripping.
Standing in Rivne's central maydan Nezalezhnosti, you couldn't be anywhere else but Ukraine; the statue of poet Taras Shevchenko and the golden-domed Resurrection Cathedral (1895) are both emblematic national features.
Shatsky National Nature Park
The Shatsky National Nature Park lies 160km northwest of Lutsk in the corner between Belarus and Poland, and has some 200 lakes, rivers and streams. However, while fascinating to scientists, Ukraine's wild 'Lake District' and its deep Lake Svityaz is a long way from appealing to all but the most adventurous of (camping and rafting) tourists.
Truskavets is an old-fashioned spa town that in another country and another time might have given the Czech Republic's celebrated spa town Karlovy Vary a run for its money. Unfortunately, that sort of rivalry is a long way off, but the town still makes a fun day trip from Lviv.
Some 70km east of Lviv, Olesko boasts a French chateau-style hilltop castle visible for miles around. The current castle dates back to the 18th century but it was built on the site of a medieval fortress, destroyed by Tatar attacks in the 15th century. To get to Olesko, take a bus (1½ hours, eight daily) from Bus Station No 2 in Lviv.
With your own wheels, the most impressive day trip from Lviv is probably Pochayiv Monastery. However, it's too difficult to visit quickly on public transport, leaving the fairly low-key historical town of Zhovkva at the top of the list. Its cluster of pastel-coloured buildings, handful of impressive churches and city-wall remnants will happily occupy you for an hour or two.