With direct flights to Lviv now available from 41 foreign cities and with over a million international travelers passing through its airport annually, the unofficial capital of western Ukraine is truly living up to its motto of being “Open to the World.”
First-time visitors to Lviv are discovering what long-time fans have known for years–that the city center’s compact ensemble of historic architecture, combined with a wide array of delightful cafes and restaurants, create an amazing travel experience.
Speaking about the awesome beauty of the old town city center with its landmark churches, residences and commercial buildings, Lina Ostapchuk (photo above), the director of the city’s Tourism Office, notes that already two decades ago the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization acknowledged its global significance:
“It’s a unique thing, recognized by UNESCO and incorporated into their World Heritage List in 1998. The city is very walkable, the central part is closed to automobile traffic. Tourists can stroll the cobblestone streets and enjoy the views. It’s truly a unique concentration of monuments.”
As for the restaurants and cafes, it’s not just about the good food — it’s also about the experience, says Ms. Ostapchuk:
“Lviv restaurants are known not only for their gastronomic quality but there is also the emotional aspect where the focus is not only on the food but is also on the experience. Practically every restaurant has its own legend. Culinary concept creators say that you can’t really convey the taste of food. You can say it’s good or tasty, however it’s a matter for taste buds to decipher in the present. But you can always recall the history, the legend that you experienced in a restaurant. And that emotional experience will bring you back to relive it again. It’s a winning formula. It’s very creative. And Lviv has truly become known throughout Ukraine thanks to these kinds of theme restaurants.”
For example, there is the pub-museum Gas Lamp on Virmenska Street which celebrates the kerosene lamps invented by local pharmacists Jan Zech and Ignacy Lukasiewicz in 1853. The pub’s ceilings, walls, tables and shelves are adorned with what the owners claim is one of the biggest collections of kerosene lamps in Europe. A few doors down is the Bartolomey restaurant which purports to have been the site of the favorite local brewery of the city’s burgermeister Bartolomey Zimorowicz back in the mid 1600s. These types of restaurants seem to be the norm rather than the exception in Lviv. And the latest trend in Lviv dining, says Lina Ostapchuk, is traditional Galician cuisine, with the presentation of this simple, hearty food done in a “sophisticated fashion.” In this category visitors might take note of the Baczewski and Ukrainian Food Art restaurants.
So it’s no wonder that hanging out at a restaurant or café is the number one pastime of tourists in Lviv. The other favorite activities are walking tours around the city, visiting cultural sites and shopping.
At her office on Ruska Street, Ms. Ostapchuk shares some data about the city’s visitors. Last year, Lviv had 2.2 million tourists — 43% of them were from Ukraine, which means that more than half were foreigners: 16.6% from Poland, 7.1% from Belarus, 5.8 % from Turkey, 4% from Germany, 3% from the USA and 1.5 % from the United Kingdom, with Canada, Lithuania and Israel providing 1% each. For 67% of foreign visitors in 2018 it was their first trip to Lviv. Travelers give the city a 4.8 out of 5 rating for “tourism appeal” and a 4.4 out of 5 regarding “satisfaction with tourism services.” The average tourist spends 74 euros a day.
These statistics are good news for the Ukrainian economy. According to Knoema Corporation, travel and tourism contribute significantly to Ukraine’s Gross Domestic Product — a 5.7 percent share of GDP in 2017, per the company’s calculations. Taxes collected from tourism provide a boost to municipal budgets.
Thanks especially to its multiethnic heritage, Lviv is happy to host tourists from all over the world.
The tourism office is currently focusing on increasing the number of tourists from Scandinavian countries, Germany and China. And the addition of direct flights from North America in the future—something that Ms. Ostapchuk is hopeful about–would be a boon to members of the large and dynamic diaspora communities in the U.S. and Canada who would enjoy a more straightforward transatlantic route to Lviv compared to the options that are currently available.
When it comes to the North American market Lina Ostapchuk emphasizes that her office’s efforts are not limited to people of Ukrainian heritage. Lviv is also promoting itself as a great destination for quality and affordable dental and medical services. And besides medical tourism there is also business tourism. Thanks to the city’s leading role as an IT outsourcing cluster there is a significant flow of IT-related business travel from the United States and Canada, she says.
Still, the main reason tourists come to Lviv is to relax, have fun and be entertained while marveling at the wonderous historic architecture!
Travel and hospitality industry professionals are invited to attend the November 27-28 Win with the Lion Tourism Forum in Lviv, the theme of which will be sustainability in tourism, focusing on creating the optimal conditions in the city for stable and consistent tourism development.
Adrian Karmazyn is a communications advisor at the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, which sponsors a Travel to Ukraine booth at the annual New York Times Travel Show.
This article originally appeared on traveltoukraine.org