It is actually Lviv.
Of course, I will be biased because Lviv is the city where I was born and lived for quite some time. Years later, when I’m no longer its resident, I continue to discover something new each time I visit.
This year I visited Lviv in August, after Euro Cup 2012 fever was already gone. The festive atmosphere gained a bit serious tone – the city is preparing for the upcoming elections. While the rest of the Old Town is sipping cappuccino at the cute cafes, the center (Svoboda Avenue), covered with Ukrainian flags and public speakers, is demonstrating to the rest of the country its desire to remain Ukrainian and speak its traditional Ukrainian language (vs. Russian).
In fact, most of the events (political or social) take place in the Old Town. Lviv is divided to the New City, Old Town and a segment, often referred to as a “Sleeping Region”, which is a purely residential area, full of apartments high-rises, and far from the rest of Lviv’s world.
As a tourist, you’d want to stay in the Old Town. It’s beautiful, convenient, and walkable. Founded in the middle of the 13th century and added to the UNESCO world heritage list in late 90’s, the city is full of history. Not really sure about the quality of the museums as many historical items were sold after the collapse of the Soviet empire. Last time I checked Lviv’s museums in the Old Town was 3+ years ago and I remember not being impressed.
However, Lviv’s churches, cathedrals, and old buildings around Market Square alone can easily substitute the museums. Most remarkable places of historical importance located in the area of the Old Town include Armenian Cathedral (14th century); Latin Cathedral (15th century); The Boim's Chapel (17th century); Church of the Assumption (16th century); Church of Body of Christ of the Dominican Order (18th century); St. George Cathedral (19th century).
History is also intertwined with contemporary, creating an intricate pattern in Lviv’s artsy scene. The Opera House is outstanding not only because of its stunning building (and a famous mirror room), but also because of its classical performances. The House is pretty inactive during the summer when the traditional performers are vacationing somewhere outside Lviv, so be sure to check the schedule. Across the street, right by Zankovetska Theater there is an open-air art market, Vernisaz, where local artists sell their work. Buying art at the market is often less expensive than buying it at the local galleries. However, I highly recommend exploring both – Green Sofa Gallery (or Zelena Kanapa in Ukrainian) is my favorite.
Lviv is all about coffee and chocolate. Every café around Market Square offers different kinds of coffee and freshly baked delicious desserts. Lviv Handmade Chocolate Factory actually makes chocolate in any form and shape in front of you. You can taste it first at the café and then buy your favorite box of chocolate or coffee from the shop.
Outside of the sweets world, local cuisine is delicious as well, especially at my favorite restaurants: Panorama that sits atop of the hotel Opera and in addition to delectable food offers great views of the Old Town; Amadeus is in the square surrounded by 3 different churches has a great patio, music, and menu (fondue, risotto, local dumplings); Chorniy Kit (located on the outskirts of the Old Town in an upscale residential area); Veronika (on Shevchenko Ave); Kryjivka, a restaurant where you’ll learn a lot about Ukrainian history through a witty set of glasses; Tsukernya.
Quality of customer service is improving with every year I visit – Lviv has been under a communistic rule for 70 years where such a concept did not exist. Today, waiting personnel is trained not to bother customers and you’d have to ask for a check once you are ready to leave. Tipping is not mandatory at the restaurants, but I usually leave a few hryvnya.
The highest point in the city is Vysokiy Zamok (translates to High Castle) and a path to it runs through the streets of the Old Town. An observation area sits atop the hill and opens beautiful views of the entire city.
A few practical points:
1) Best time to visit Lviv is mid to late August when the weather is soft without too much rain.
2) You can easily stay in a hotel, hostel or rent an apartment depending on your budget. You should stay in the Old Town.
3) If you have an unlocked cell-phone, get a local SIM card as there are no contracts for the cell phone services – you pay as you go.
4) ATM machines and banks are everywhere so you can either exchange money or get it directly from your card in a local currency.
5) You can get to Lviv by train, a car, or flying – the new airport is quite nice with a free Wifi. If you are staying in Lviv only – you can walk everywhere or take a taxi – there is no need to rent a car. Note that taxis are less expensive if you book them via phone vs. catching one on the streets.
6) It is worth doing a guided walking tour of the Old Town. I actually enjoyed the stories shared by my guide.
7) When you go out – don’t forget to dress to impress – no sneakers and shorts.
8) Night life is fun – all depends on the amounts of cash you are willing to spend☺
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It is actually Lviv.