The whole idea to visit Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine came from one picture I’ve found online. A picture showing a grand railway station, a perfect example of architecture from the times of Austria-Hungary.
If a train station, a spectacular building with green domes, looks so impressive then I assumed the rest of the city must be pretty special too. This was already a very good reason to plan a stop in Ivano-Frankivsk during my annual trip to Ukraine.
Short history of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine
The only thing I knew about the place was that until recently it was named “Stanisławów” and for years the history of the city was strictly connected to what was happening with Poland.
The city was founded in 1663 and got its name after Stanisław Potocki. It was meant to be a fortress, guarding Poland from the Tartar invasion. The city was budding, sometimes being called “A Small Lviv“.
A prosperity lasted only for a little bit over 100 years when Ivano-Frankivsk as well as big part of Poland was incorporated into the Austrian Empire. The fortifications and many of the grand buildings were demolished or run-down.
At the beginning of 20th century the city was again part of Poland for a short period of time but eventually, after World War 2, it became territory of USSR and finally independent Ukraine. The majority of Polish inhabitants of Stanisławów was uprooted to southern Poland, the remnants of Polish culture were destroyed. On 9th November 1962 the name of the city was changed from Stanisławów to Ivano-Frankivsk.
First impressions of Ivano-Frankivsk
The first impressions of Ivano-Frankivsk weren’t the best, even if at one point the cityscape reminded me a little bit of Yerevan – one of my favorite places (I blame the shape and color of television tower for that).
I arrived late in the evening, the city was badly lit and I felt rather unconfident when walking from the train station to the market square where my hotel was located. I was telling myself that it’s Ukraine, a very safe place and nothing will happen but unknown dark streets really played tricks with my mind.
Of course I was being paranoid, Ivano-Frankivsk was as safe as every other city I’ve visited in the country and there really was nothing to worry about.
Things looked much better in the day light. Even if I went to Ivano-Frankivsk totally unprepared and had no idea what to expect from the city deep down I was subconsciously looking forward to yet another amazing Central European city. The location half way between two among my favorite cities, Lviv and Chernivtsi, also put my hopes very high.
But Ivano-Frankivsk was different and pretty amazing in its own way. I didn’t find all that many interesting sights there but I still had a wonderful time in the city.
What to see in Ivano-Frankivsk
The center was rather small, easy to walk around in few hours but so very pleasant and most of all – lively. Even with not the best weather it was full of people, doing their businesses or just enjoying the stroll through the main pedestrian street – Nezalezhnosti Street (known also as “one hundred meters” street).
I walked around a lot too, trying to discover all attractions of Ivano-Frankivsk and see what the city has to offer. The main square – Rynok is different than in other Central European cities. The architecture was rather new, mix of 1950s and 1990s I’d guess but altogether it didn’t look as bad as it might sound.
As a big fan of this architecture style I couldn’t stop raving at the structure, it was just the prettiest! If you visit Ivano-Frankivsk that’ll be your must stop too as you will find a tourist information equipped with useful maps there!
Not far from the market square a former palace of Potocki family (founders of the city) is located. Its history was troublesome (i.e. the family lost the place because of their debts) and eventually the building hosted a military hospital that was shut down in 2004.
Now the property is simply decaying, losing its former charm. Only the gate with the family’s coat of arms is a reminder of the great past.
From the palace it’s only a short walk to my biggest surprise of Ivano-Frankivsk – a market hall. The building is a perfect example of the Soviet architecture, reminding me a lot of the circus buildings I kept finding in former USSR countries or the market hall in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Visiting a market hall is a real treat for all the senses as you can admire the whole color palette and smell all fresh products!
The monuments of Ivano-Frankivsk aren’t breathtaking or very impressive but they are pleasant enough for you to enjoy the city. There aren’t any “must sees”, all you have to do is walking around in the center and looking everywhere around as you might find some true gems.
The random houses of the city are really beautiful, similar to the whole Central Europe (or the former Austria-Hungary) with amazing art nouveau decor. Numerous parks and green oasis were more than perfect to sit down and relax after all the walking.
Wandering around with no purpose or map, taking random streets right or left was so much fun and the best way to get to know Ivano-Frankivsk. With some money investments the city can really shine!
Ivano-Frankivsk (street) art
Ivano-Frankivsk had a pretty decent amount of art around too! I found so many modern sculptures either in the park or on the main pedestrian street, until now I’m not really sure what they were supposed to show. But still, they looked good and together with more classical sculptures of famous people they definitely lightened up to place.
To my pure pleasure I’ve found a decent amount of the street art around too! Murals, stickers, stencils – it was all there!!
Incredible cafes of Ivano-Frankivsk
But the best thing about Ivano-Frankivsk and the reason why I enjoyed the place so much were cafes. Like in every city with Austria-Hungary past also Ivano-Frankivsk has a solid cafe culture. Here, however, it had more of the modern and hipster twist and well, everyone knows deep inside I’m a hipster.
Since the day wasn’t the best weather wise I set out for a quest to find as many cool Ivano-Frankivsk cafes as possible. The fact that Ukraine is now the cheapest ever definitely helped me.
I’ve visited 7 places on that day, had numerous coffees, teas, lemonades, beers, cakes and lunch. When I counted how much money I’ve spent I couldn’t believe it myself – around 13€, for everything!! That’s how cheap Ukraine is!
Sometimes I think where I would be if I was a digital nomad and Ivano-Frankivsk definitely is high on that list, I haven’t seen so many great cafes in one place for such a long time! As always I found Foursquare app to be the best source of information for Ivano-Frankivsk cafes.
Ivano-Frankivsk – a getaway to the Carphatian Mountains
One more good reason to visit Ivano-Frankivsk is a great nature nearby. The city can be your base when exploring Carphatian Mountains!
I went for a day trip to Yaremche (a little bit over one hour away with marshrutka) and it was beautiful! The views around were breathtaking with lush mountains around! The day spent there made me even more curious about the area as it seems to be amazing with lots of hiking trails and nature wonders.
The main reason, however, why I went to Yaremche was the railway line, one of the most impressive in Europe. When it was built at the end of 19th century it was the most modern in Europe and afterwards engineers working on railway lines in the Alps based many of their solutions of Carphatian railway!
These days many of the viaducts and tunnels are gone or redesign but those that are left are still pretty amazing! And since there are only few trains per day going there you can easily walk on the viaduct in Yaremche – such an unforgettable experience! A friend of mine has traveled further south by train and apparently it’s even more amazing there!!
Is it worth to visit Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine?
Ivano-Frankivsk (or well, better to say Stanislawow) used to be a grand city, at least that’s how it looks on the old photos. But even if it’s not so packed with attractions like Lviv or it’s not as pretty as Chetnivtsi it’s still a wonderful place to visit.
The laid-back atmosphere of the provincial town and the exceptional cafe culture make the city such a great place to visit. After Bardejov, Slovakia it was another place I’ve visited this year that I really felt I’m having a rest there.
If you’re travelling in western Ukraine make sure to visit Ivano-Frankivsk too! You won’t regret it!
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