The KievTravelBlog team travelled to the city of Ivano Frankivsk in Ukraine’s South West, renowned for being the “Gateway to the Carpathian Mountains”. Like its neighbouring city, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk holds much in common with cities in Poland, Slovakia and Romania: colourful market squares, majestic churches coffee culture and history-filled cobbled streets which have long since been the frontier between Europe’s East and West. IF as it is affectionately known, holds many interesting places to experience which are often overlooked by tourists rushing southwards towards the National Park. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the best of this city’s unique beauty and calm atmosphere as we strolled through its streets. Getting aquianted with this city couldn’t be easier with Beinside Ukraine, for now here are 5 things not to whet your appetite…
Climb the Ratusha
Located in the centre of the city’s emblematic Rynok Square, the Ratusha’s wedding cake-like design is sure not to escape your notice! Just like Lviv, IF’s Ratusha is home to the seat of the City Council and the tourism office, with a 50 metre-high, 360-degree viewpoint on top. Having been destroyed and redesigned several times since the city was founded, the current design, completed in 1935, is the only example of an Art Deco state administration building in Ukraine. The building, fascinating to look at over a coffee in a nearby coffee shop, has stood the test of time- witnessing the city’s passing from state to state, empire to empire. It is reported that German Nazis were unable to blow it up as the Rathaus as was built out of reinforced concrete! A modest 20₴ (less than €1), will gain you access to the winding, gradually narrowing staircase until you emerge onto the wooden platform, with a panoramic view from the colourful buildings of Rynok Square to the distant mountains.
Support the community whilst drinking coffee at Urban Space 100
A short walk from the Rynok Square is the Urban Space 100 coffee shop, Made in Ukraine gift shop and general social hub. With all you’d expect from a modern coffee shop, from the freelancer tapping away to a group of young men catching up on the previous night’s events, this spot has an unusual story. 100 active citizens of the community invested €1000 into the creation of the Urban Space 100, with 80% of each month’s profits being reinvested into the community through projects and charity work. As you enjoy your cottage cheese pancakes or browse for your handmade IF souvenir, you can listen to the local community radio, admire the quirky art or read the names of the original 100 investors adorned on the wall. This place is a perfect pit stop and an innovative and unexpected initiative, even for those used to Kyiv’s quirkiness.
Listen to street performers on Nezalezhnosti Street
IF’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, Nezalezhnosti Street, has all you’d expect from a city: shops selling everything you can imagine and coffee houses and restaurants with guests watching over passers-by. This city enjoys all of this to the sound of street artist spontaneously singing, playing a musical instrument or break dancing. You’ll be sure to be tapping your feet as you stroll aimlessly down this street where the shopping is as diverse as the music genres exhibited.
Discover the history of the city’s name
As with many cities in border regions, they have changed hands over the course history, being used as a buffer zone for their neighbour or a jewel to conquer. IF spent most of its history under Polish reign, then under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then under the Nazis, then under the USSR and now independent Ukraine. Versions of its name can be seen in many different languages: Івано-Франківськ (Ukrainian), Ивано-Франковск (Russian), Stanisławów (Polish), Stanislau (German) and סטאַניסלעװ (Yiddish). Glancing at the different plaques, museums, monuments and administrative buildings across the city will reveal the city’s turbulent history, one which has had a new name each time it changed occupier! The current name being that of Iván Franko, famous poet, writer, critic and intellect from the then Austro-Hungarian Empire- you’ll see his face depicted as street art from your Ratusha vantage point!
Art nouveau meets Soviet architecture
Having spent time walking around the Ratusha viewing platform, looking at the different architecture styles present in IF- you feel like you’re in a visual history book! Each new street seems to change in style, depending on its age, with each one embodying a different charm tha the previous. All you have to do is walk from the Rynok Square to the St Basils Cathedral to the Oblast Administrative Building to the facia of the railway station to pass through four different architecture styles! So, look up and explore far and wide, knowing that some gems are found off the map!