A weird quirk of the Ukrainian bureaucracy system for foreigners is that if you want to keep a non-Ukrainian car in the country you can. You just have to drive it outside the country once a year, and somehow, magically, everything is fine and you’re good to go for another year. A quite nice side effect of this requirement is that you’re basically forced to go on a road trip out of the country once a year. This year we decided to go to Lublin, Poland, and stop at a few Ukrainian cities along the way (Rivne, Lutsk, Kovel’). Lutsk might not be right at the top of the to-do list of most Western tourists, but for me it was a surprisingly cool little place, and actually quite touristy (with probably the majority of visitors coming from elsewhere in Ukraine or nearby Poland).
But what is there to do and see if you too happen to pass through this compact Ukrainian city? Read on to find out…
See the House with Chimeras
This is a really unusual and quirky sight that isn’t exactly a typical piece of Ukrainian architecture. The building is a house owned by an architect named Nikolai Golovan, who apparently has a passion for all kinds of gargoyle-esque sculptures and statues and has basically covered his house, garden and surrounding area with them. As such, the house has become something of a curiosity among locals and even attracts a decent crowd of tourists on a daily basis.
The architect is constantly working on his unusual masterpiece, and is always adding new features and sculptures to his work, so if you go and see it you might find something new. Definitely a really interesting must-see while you’re in town.
Visit the Castle
Lutsk’s most famous sight and biggest attraction is probably its castle, also known as Lubart’s castle. Ukraine is not well-known for its castles, and most of the remaining ones are not especially well preserved or spectacular to visit. However Lubart’s castle is certainly among the most popular and worth visiting. It’s famous enough to be featured on the Ukrainian 200-gryvnia note, so I’d definitely rank it as a must see. It’s also notable because the castle was never successfully sieged by invaders during its entire history, having been built in the 1000s and renovated between the 1340s and 1540s.
We decided not to enter as when we visited there was a beer and meat festival going on, and we were already completely stuffed from lunch so didn’t want to pay to go to a food festival (I also don’t eat meat)… It seems a lot of different fun cultural events are held there though, so it’s definitely worth checking it out, and I’m sure it’s also interesting to see inside the castle if it’s open.
From the hill where the castle stands you can also get a nice view of the city.
See St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral and the Lutheran Church
In any European city and especially any Ukrainian city, there’s always a church or two to visit. I have to preface this by saying that Lutsk does not boast the most impressive churches of all Ukraine, but they are still worth a look on your way around.
As Lutsk is on the Western side of Ukraine and was once part of Poland, the style of churches is quite different than the golden-domed architecture you see more often further East. The St. Peter and Paul Cathedral is a large Roman Catholic cathedral with a relatively simple facade. It’s worth a quick look inside too though, as there is a beautiful interior with yellow walls and ceiling.
The Lutheran church wasn’t open when we visited so I didn’t see inside. It’s not overly spectacular to look at, and has a more usual European style. However it is interesting to see to get an idea of the different architectural styles of this part of Ukraine. It’s also very close to the House with Chimeras, so make sure to walk past it on your way.
Check out Trinity Cathedral
If you were wondering where the more typical Ukrainian Orthodox style churches or cathedrals were, then look no further than the Trinity Cathedral in the centre. If you’re familiar with the Ukrainain Orthodox style you’ll definitely recognise it here, with its gold domed roof and decorative facade.
Pay homage to Lesya Ukrainka
Lesya Ukrainka is one of Ukraine’s most famous and beloved writers and poets, just second in popularity after the ubiquitous Taras Shevchenko. If a street, building, monument or park wasn’t named after Taras, chances are it was named after Lesya instead. I personally think it’s nice that so much respect is paid to a female writer, who was also a feminist and activist to boot. Go Lesya! Although she was born in Novohrad Volynsky, she moved to Lutsk at the age of eight, and is therefore the city’s main icon and muse. As such, there are several pieces of Lesya history to spot around the city.
Near the entrance tower to Lubart Castle there is a tree which it is believed Lesya wrote her first poem underneath at a very young age. The city’s park is also named after her, and is a large and nice park for a stroll while you’re in the city. She also has a street (Lesi Ukrainy Boulevard) named after her, and a monument just off the Theater Square. If you have even a passing interest in Ukrainian culture or history you should go and check her out.
Stroll and eat on Lesy Ukrainky Boulevard
Yes it’s another place named after Lesya Ukrainka… This street is actually one of the nicest streets in Lutsk and home to quite a few restaurants and cafes, some with outdoor terraces so you can eat or drink out on the street and watch people go by. We ate at Bravyi Shveik, which was a kind of German themed place with good beers. In any case it was a nice location to sit outside during summer and check out the city life.
That covers most of the main things to do and see in Lutsk, but feel free to let me know if you have anything else to add! It’s a small city so you can certainly see it all in a day, but if you’re in the area it’s definitely worth a stop!