lviv: the “little paris” of the ukraine


A country’s seventh largest city usually doesn’t promote a lot of fanfare [in the U.S. it is San Antonio]. But when a city has such a rich history as the Ukraine’s Lviv, even UNESCO had to take note.

The city of just over 750,000, located in the westernmost regions of the Ukraine, is approximately 42 miles [70 km] from the Polish border and 99 miles [160 km] from the eastern Carpathian Mountains. It is considered one of the main cultural centers of the Ukraine. Over the centuries it has served as a major Polish and Jewish cultural center, as Poles and Jews were the two main ethnicities of the city until World War II and the resulting population transfers in the mid-1940s.

The historical old town with its old buildings and cobblestone roads has miraculously survived World War II and the Soviet era largely unscathed and is now UNESCO world heritage listed. It is home to many world-class cultural institutions, including a philharmonic orchestra and the famous Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet.

Lviv was founded in 1256 by King Danylo Halytskyi of the Ruthenian principality of Halych-Volhynia, and named in honor of his son, Lev. Together with the rest of the region, Lviv was captured by the Kingdom of Poland in 1349 during the reign of Polish king Casimir III the Great, and belonged to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland 1349–1772.

By the 17th century, Lviv was one of the most important cities in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, along with Krakow, Warsaw, Gdansk and Vilnius. In 1772 the city was taken by the Habsburgs and in Austrian times it was known under the name of Lemberg, the capital of Galicia, and remained under Austrian control until 1918. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, it was returned to Poland under the Second Polish Republic [1918–1939].

With the Invasion of Poland during World War II, the city of Lviv with adjacent land were annexed and incorporated into the Soviet Union, becoming part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic from 1939 to 1941. Between July 1941 and July 1944 Lviv was under German occupation. In July 1944 it was captured by the Soviet Army and the Polish Home Army. According to the agreements of the Yalta Conference, Lviv was again integrated into the Ukrainian SSR. Most of the Poles living in Lviv were resettled into Polish territories annexed from Germany.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the city remained a part of the now independent Ukraine, for which it currently serves as the administrative center of Lviv Oblast.

Because of its Polish and Austro-Hungarian history, Lviv has a Central European flair in its architecture that makes it one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe. This has led the city to be referred to as the “Little Paris of the Ukraine.”

The easiest way to reach Lviv is by air, with its airport only 7km from the downtown area. For more information, check out the Lviv Tourist Information page.