What to See from the Lviv High Castle?

Interested in a tour of Western Ukraine?

To get to the High Castle Hill, following the map, walk for about 25 minutes generally north-east from the Town Hall on the Market Square.

The High Castle Hill, 413 m (1355 feet) above sea level, is the best vantage point for a panoramic view of Lviv. The base of the steel flag mast in the center of the viewing area shows the cardinal points to help in orientation. This is one of the highest spots of the low range of hills stretching through Lviv and across the border into Poland. These hills are also part of the main European water divide that splits rivers feeding the Baltic and the Black seas. As a result, Lviv is divided into the Baltic and the Black Sea parts. When weather conditions provide good visibility, the vague outlines of the Carpathian Mountains can be seen from here to the south-west.

You may be wondering where the castle is on the High Castle Hill. The explanation is simple:

The highest part of the hill, from where the circular footpath begins winding its way to the top, was man-made at the initiative of the city’s Polish community almost 150 years ago to mark the 300th anniversary of the unification of Poland and Lithuania into a single state. The stones of the nearby castle walls were recycled as construction material for the observation hill where you are standing. Today only a barren fragment of the castle wall with several embrasures remains and can be seen from the footpath leading to the top of the hill. From the 1300s to the end of 1600s the castle was an important stronghold where Lviv residents found protection during frequent sieges. The castle fell on only three occasions: to the Ukrainian Cossacks in 1648, to the Turks in 1672 and to the Swedish army in the early 1700s, after which it was never rebuilt.

At the northern foot of the hill runs the main railway line connecting Lviv with Kyiv to the east and Poland to the west. The area around that part of the city has many industrial enterprises and traditionally has been poorer. This part of town was designated as a Jewish ghetto by the Germans in the Second World War. Many of the factories were closed after the fall of the Soviet Union, but some survived and adapted to the new economic environment. Among them is the famous Lviv distillery visible at the north-eastern foot of the hill as a brick building with a tall smoke stack. From 1924 until the Second World War it was the Smirnoff vodka factory which the Russian Smirnov owners relocated to Lviv from communist Russia, only to flee again once the USSR occupied Lviv in 1939. Some of the oldest churches can be found in the north-western part of the old town, including the Churches of St. John, St. Nicholaus, St. Onufriy, and St. Martin and the Church of Good Friday. The latter two are visible from the hill when you look in the north-western direction. The area around these old churches was once the center of the old town, and even today one of the squares there is called the Old Market Square.

The bare hill with the cross at the top to the east is Bald Mountain. It has little vegetation because of its sandy character. In the 19th century it was part of a sandstone quarry which was eventually closed when the municipality created the park at the foot of the High Castle Hill and the horse chestnut alleys were planted along the park terraces. The tree-covered area beyond Bald Mountain is the Lviv Rural Life and Architecture Museum. It has many beautiful examples of Ukrainian wooden architecture.

The center of Lviv in its present-day old town, now on the UNESCO World Heritage List, opens to our eyes to the south-west. The town hall and church towers of the old town rise over the roofs of the residential buildings and present an amazing mix of architectural styles. Located in the valley of the small Poltva River, which now runs through the city in underground tunnels, Lviv center lies at a lower elevation compared to the newer areas of town, which makes navigation around the city simple: once you start going uphill, you move away from the center. Try to distinguish some of the most prominent landmarks of the old town: the tallest square tower with the Ukrainian flag to the south-west is the Town Hall. Looking to the left of the Town Hall Tower, you’ll see

  • the Polish Cathedral almost behind and just slightly to the left,
  • a large round dome of the Dominican Church,
  • the Korniakt Tower over the Ukrainian Church of the Assumption of Mary,
  • a single tower of the Bernardine Church,
  • and the twin towers of the Barefoot Carmelite’s Church.

Look to the right of the Town Hall Tower and you’ll see

  • the three domes of the Transfiguration Church
  • the black dome of the Opera House visible just over the trees of the Castle Hill.

Looking further to the south-west, try to distinguish

  • St.George Cathedral with a gold tip of the dome as the main Greek Catholic church of Lviv
  • the sharp dark steeples of the Church of Elizabeth and Olga near the main train station.

Also look past the left side of the television tower to see the Moorish dome of the former Jewish Hospital.

The television tower nearby was erected in the 1950s when the government made communist propaganda for the masses one of its priorities. The tower was built with the help of helicopters to stack its sections high above the ground. Even today the Lviv television tower is one of the landmarks of the city and on holidays is lit after dark to resemble a giant Christmas tree.

The skyline of Lviv further from the old town is typical of the towns of the former USSR. Buildings of similar design went up from Lviv in the west to the Pacific coast in the east. These apartment blocks were built between the 1960s and the late 1980s to accommodate the quickly expanding population of workers who came to Lviv from rural areas to work at the many factories in the city.