Winter looks good on Lviv. This western Ukrainian gem of a city may well be the best destination in the whole of Ukraine to enjoy the snowy season. The romance of narrow medieval streets, the cosiness of fragrant coffee shops, the beauty of its architecture – all these things turn Lviv into a fairy-tale winter getaway. Here are a few tips for making the most of your stay despite the chilly weather.
Enjoy the Christmas markets
European Christmas markets are places where winter magic happens, and the main one in Lviv is no different: it’s a must if you’re visiting the city in December. Rows of small wooden houses grace the spectacular Ploshcha Rynok, a square dotted with colourful baroque and Renaissance buildings. Enter the market and you’ll be engulfed in traditional Christmas fare, from cute souvenirs and handmade crafts to cinnamon-infused mulled wine and local delicacies such as shashlyky (grilled-meat skewers) and mlyncy (small thick pancakes). Also not to be missed is the Christmas market organised next to the fantastic Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet, where you can take in a colourful performance based on Ukrainian folklore.
Take in a winter panorama of Lviv
Lviv's cathedrals and cobblestones are enchanting, but to really see the city in all of its winter glory you should seek out the best viewpoints. Start in the centre with a climb to the top of the 65m-tall tower of the Ratusha for a breathtaking vista over the Old Town, with its labyrinth of medieval streets and the bell towers of churches glistening in the snow. Next, combine a Ukrainian culinary experience with a rooftop view at quirky Dim Lehend restaurant. Finally, for a great outdoor walk that will reward you with the most impressive panorama of the city surrounded by wooded hills, head to the top of High Castle Hill (about 2km from Ploshcha Rynok).
Experience village traditions
Did you know it’s possible to visit a Ukrainian village without actually leaving Lviv? The open-air Museum of Folk Architecture and Life (aka Lviv Skansen) occupies a huge territory on the eastern edge of town. This unique place features original wooden farmhouses, churches, schools and even windmills that were collected and transported here from all across Ukraine. During winter the museum organises various thematic events including the celebration of St Nicholas’ Day (on 19 December), which is a great way to learn about the rural traditions of Ukrainians in an authentic setting. Make sure you dress warmly and be prepared for a fair bit of walking!
Warm up over hot chocolate
While in Lviv, you simply can’t escape the alluring scent of chocolate. And rightly so, as this is where Lviv Handmade Chocolate trademark started, and then spread all over the country flawlessly delivering the sublime product for cocoa lovers. While the central Lviv branch is popular with locals and visitors alike year-round, during winter it’s particularly enjoyable to while away an afternoon people-watching and slowly sipping the delicious melted chocolate or a spiced drink. Also treat yourself to the local dessert superstar syrnyk, a Lviv equivalent of a chocolate cheesecake. And, of course, there’s a shop so you can choose a box of exquisite chocolates for yourself or someone special.
Join in Orthodox Christmas celebrations
Unlike the majority of Europeans, Ukrainians (who are predominantly Orthodox) celebrate Christmas on 7 January, according to the old Julian calendar. The celebration is preceded by the erection of Didukh, an ancient Christmas decoration made from a sheaf of wheat that symbolises a household’s wealth, good upcoming harvest and family spirit. To experience the atmosphere of Ukrainian Christmas traditions, head to Javorskoho square in front of the magnificent Jesuit Church on 6 January and witness the festive event of assembling the Didukh accompanied by much-loved carol singing.