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Hidden Beauties of Ukraine: One Day in Lutsk 

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4 months ago

A charming city in Western Ukraine, Lutsk is one of the many hidden beauties of Ukraine.

As a compact, safe and walkable city, I am surprised that Lutsk doesn’t appear more often in Eastern Europe travel itineraries! With a history going back centuries and a historical mix of Ukrainian, Jewish and Polish cultures, one day in Lutsk draws you into the best of travel in Ukraine: the crossroads of empires.  

lubarts castle in lutsk ukraine
Lubart’s Castle – a highlight in any Ukraine itinerary

Before you go: Visiting Ukraine in 2024 

At the time of writing, Lutsk has been left relatively untouched by the ongoing war in Ukraine

However, if you are planning to travel to Ukraine now, there are certain things to keep in mind. Make sure to check out everything you need to know about air raid sirens, electricity and your safety before you book your flights!

destroyed russian tank in ukraine

One day in Lutsk 

9 am – Lubart’s Castle and Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul 

Begin your day with a visit to Lubart’s Castle (or Lutsk Castle), an imposing medieval fortress that has stood for centuries. Make sure to take the time to explore the well-preserved ramparts and take in panoramic views of the city.

lubart's castle one of the hidden beauties of Ukraine in Lutsk
Lubart’s Castle in Lutsk

Before heading inside the castle, make a short stop at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, a beautiful Baroque-style church nearby. It’s a serene spot to start your day.

Travel tip: Lubart’s Castle is on the 200 UAH note – keep one handy for a cool Instagram photo.

11:30 am – Choral Synagogue 

A short walk from the castle, you’ll find the Choral Synagogue, a testament to Lutsk’s multicultural heritage.  

the guard tower which formed part of the Lutsk choral synagogue in ukraine
The guard tower attached to the Choral Synagogue of Lutsk

The Choral Synagogue is one of the most unique synagogues in Europe. The Jews of Lutsk were allowed to build on a synagogue on the condition that it formed part of the city’s defence system. You will notice a tower attached to the rundown synagogue building, with guard stations above. As the synagogue walls were over two metres thick, even detonating bombs left by the Nazis could not bring the building down.  

As you stand in front of the Choral Synagogue, you can see the former Jewish hospital (now the Rhombus Hotel) and the ruins of five other synagogues nearby.  

Soviet-era murals in Lutsk

12:30 pm – Lunch: A Ukrainian feast 

For lunch you are heading back into town to Lʹoh u Svata restaurant – Lutsk’s best restaurant for Ukrainian food. Head downstairs into the cellar (useful if an air siren goes) and admire the walls lined with Ukrainian cultural paraphernalia which quickly transport you to the Ukrainian countryside.  

ukraine potato variniki

Tsar Peter I stayed in this house during a visit to Lutsk centuries ago!  

My recommendation? The fried carp and potato variniki (Ukranian dumplings)!  

interior of traditional ukraine restaurant
Traditional Ukrainian design at Lʹoh u Svata restaurant

2:30 pm – Volyn Jewish Museum 

After lunch, head to the Volyn Progressive Judaism Centre (Волинська релігійна громада прогресивного іудаїзму on Google Maps). This tall, light blue building used to house the Beth Din (Jewish Court) of Lutsk. Today, you can still feel the grandeur of the building, a small insight into what was once an important Jewish city.   

light blue building which was part of the beth din (jewish court) in Lutsk, Ukraine
The former Beth Din (Jewish Court) of Lutsk, Ukraine

Now, don’t fret: I’m not sending you to court. Rather, you’re going to the small Jewish Museum housed on the ground floor – another hidden secret in Lutsk.  

black and white photos from lutsk jewish museum

For most of Lutsk’s history, the city was around 60% Jewish, with the remaining population Ukrainian and Polish. While only a handful of Jewish families live in Lutsk today, the small museum contains a wealth of photographs and video content from a pre-Soviet, pre-WWII Lutsk. Even if you aren’t interested in Jewish history, I would recommend taking a look for the photographs and artefacts of the Lutsk of yesteryear.  

The staff here don’t speak much English, so I would advise to have Google translate ready (again, another reason to have a Ukraine eSim or local SIM ready to go).

Many of the staff are resettled people from Eastern Ukraine, with the community center forming an important part of the aid effort in Ukraine. If you’re looking at how to best assist in Ukraine, the staff may have some ideas!  

The car park memorial.

Local tip: Don’t forget to visit the Jewish cemetery memorial marker, located behind the center next to the car park. Lutsk’s centuries-old Jewish cemetery was paved over by the Soviet government to make way for a carpark. A small reminder of Lutsk’s difficult heritage.  

4:30 pm – Theatre Square 

As the sun sets, Theatre Square (Teatral’nyy Maydan) comes to life with skateboarders, young couples and buskers. Do yourself a favour and pick up a fresh donut (ponchyk in Ukranian) from the stall to your left – a little pre-dinner snack never hurt, and donuts are a cultural activity too. 

theatre square in lutsk ukraine

Enjoy some free time to explore Lutsk’s vibrant Lesi Ukrainky pedestrian street. Stroll along the charming avenue, lined with shops, cafes, and historic buildings.  

donut store in ukraine
The donut store on Theatre Square (or “Berlineri”)

5:00 pm – A moment of reflection 

If you have access to a car and are interested in delving deeper into the difficult Jewish stories of Lutsk’s history, consider visiting the mass grave of the 25,658 Jews of Lutsk.  

Over a two-week period in 1942, the Jews of Lutsk were murdered in two large ravines on the outskirts of town. Today, a small memorial serves as a poignant reminder of the city’s past and the atrocities of the Holocaust in Ukraine. This may not compare to the vast memorials of Babi Yar, or Ukraine’s unique pogrom memorial – but it is still an extremely powerful site to visit.

Recovered former Jewish gravestones, which had been used for building and construction

To get here, follow the Google Maps location which will take you through some old sugar factories (an extremely photogenic spot for those seeking Soviet nostalgia).  

6:00 pm – Dinner: Show Basilico 

Your one day in Lutsk ends with a delightful dinner at Show Basilico, a restaurant known for its upscale pan-European cuisine. Now don’t expect the vibrant dining scene of Lviv or Kyiv, but the menu here does have something for everyone, from sushi to pizza. If you have just started your Ukranian adventures, Show Basilico also offers some fancier fusion style Ukranian variniki

art nouveau architecture of lutsk
The Art Nouveau interior of Show Basilico

And if you’re lucky, live music will join your dinner!  

As the day comes to a close, you’ll leave Lutsk with a deeper appreciation for its cultural heritage, the resilience of its Jewish community. In my opinion, Lutsk is one of the hidden beauties of Ukraine for its enchanting blend of history and modernity

traditional craft work from ukraine folk

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