Ukraine City Guide: Ternopil For Foreigners
Does that name sound weird? Ternopil is still better known by it’s Russian name Tarnopol. It is one of the major cities in Western Ukraine with plenty for you to see, do, and eat. Although, to be honest, that is Ukraine in general.
Why Does Ternopil Sound So Familiar?
There is no doubt that Ternopil is a historical city.
It has been Austrian territory, then it was a part of Poland, then Ukraine, then the USSR, and now Ukraine again. During the Second World War, it was occupied by the Nazis. As a city with a large Jewish population, it suffered some horrible atrocities during the three years of the Nazi occupation. Following the fall of Hitler’s Germany, Ternopil’s Polish population was deported with force to post-war Poland.
So no, Ternopil’s history is not fun.
But if you are interested in history, this is one of the best places to see and learn about the tragedies. And more than learn, to meet, to feel living history on the cobble covered streets.
The Legends Around Ternopil’s Name
Ternopil sound kind of Greek, right? Well, it actually has nothing to do with the root polis. Legend has it that the city was founded on lands where a lot of blackthorns grew. The word tern is the Slavic root for thorn and that is where the name came from.
Another theory says it was named after the Grand Crown Hetman Jan Tarnowski, who built the first fortification here in the 16th century.
So… This Is A Polish City?
It’s kind of a mess to explain. Yes, Ternopil was a Polish city. During the Middle Ages, it rose to prominence as an important trade hub at the intersection of key routes. It then became a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was not returned to Poland until the end of World War I.
At the onset of the Second World War, Ternopil was invaded by the Soviet army. Their first priority became destroying Polish culture and repressing the intelligentsia. They even renamed the place!
On 2 July 1941, the city was occupied by the Nazis. Thousands of Polish Jews were murdered, while others were sent to the Belzec extermination camp.
In 1944, the Red Army occupied the city once again. The Germans resisted so the Soviet resorted to using heavy artillery against Ternopil. The city was destroyed and nearly all Germans were killed. Out of 4,500, only 45 survived. There were, of course, many casualties among the civilians, too.
Shortly after Ternopil fell, ethnic Poles were forcibly relocated to Poland. The city was rebuilt in the Soviet style that you see today. So, while Ternopil was once ethnically and culturally Polish, today it has more in common with Ukraine (and yes, Russia, too).
The People Of Ternopil Today
Let’s finish off this unreasonably long “introduction” with a word on the people you’d actually meet in Ternopil. Though this is not a large city (it’s still fairly big by Ukrainian standards), Ternopil is very young. You know what that means – an exciting nightlife.
Other than being a buzzing student city (there are four universities here), Ternopil has a calm, Western European vibe. Visitors praise it for being safe and clean. It’s actually a great place to relocate to, whether you are a solo digital nomad or you have a family with kids.
The main issue for Ternopil these days is alcohol. Substance abuse is still rampant in Eastern Europe, especially among men. You’d be surprised at how much liquor Ukrainians can handle but it comes with the flipside of actual alcohol addiction, which remains undiagnosed and untreated in many people.
This is where the “Ukrainian girls are desperate for Western dudes” myth comes from.
In many cases, Eastern European men are simply unreliable for a long-term relationship.
Serious and depressing issues aside, let’s talk some practical tips for your trip to Ternopil:
Where To Stay In Ternopil
Choosing nice accomodation is sometimes a struggle in Ukraine. Here are three of our favourite hotels in Ternopil:
- The Avalon Palace Hotel has the perfect location. It’s just a couple of minutes away from the city centre (and the railway station!) and it has a great price to quality ratio. The staff is very helpful and they speak great English and the rooms are clean and recently renovated.
- Sapsan is a neat and centrally-located hotel with a bit of an outrageous interior design (but a delicious buffet breakfast and perfect amenities to make up for it). It leans toward the “pricey” side of Ternopil accommodation but would still be considered affordable by Western standards.
- Kamelot Hotel – just when you thought that one Arthur-themed hotel per city is enough. The Kamelot hotel boasts a beautiful garden, friendly staff, and some of the highest speed Wi-Fi you will find in Ternopil. Definitely the digital nomad dream spot.
I would definitely suggest looking at apartment hotels, too. These give you more privacy and the same (if not better) quality of the amenities.
Historical Must-Visits In Ternopil
Start by a long stroll through the city streets. Though they may not be super old (remember the Soviets had to rebuild the place after burning it to the ground), the colourful architecture and the relaxed atmosphere are worth savouring. For some actual can’t miss it’s though…
Start by the Church of Exaltation of the Cross, built in the early 16th century. It is a miracle the church has even survived. Legend has it it was built on such holy ground, it could never be destroyed. There might be some truth in that since the church you see now was constructed over an old Kievan Rus temple.
Continue your “church tour” with the Dominican Church, built in the 18th century in a spectacular late Baroque style.
Finally, don’t you even dare miss the Old Castle! This is the oldest surviving structure in Ternopil, dating back to when the city was founded. There are some ghost stories surrounding the place, ask a local to hear their version (or ask a Ukrainian girl… I swear actual conversation is a hundred times better than any pickup lines).
Within the castle walls, you will find a man-made lake with a gorgeous garden around it. This will be your new favourite picnic spot. Pick up some Ukrainian delicacies and end the long day of exploring in style.
Eating Out In Ternopil
You wouldn’t be at lack of cool restaurants and bars in Ternopil. Ukrainian students may be diligent and all but they have sure encouraged a booming service industry.
One of our favourite Ternopil eateries is the Synok restaurant. It’s fairly big so you can always find a spot (even without a reservation). Make sure to try the meats. Their barbecued specialities are to die for!
For a trendier, if a tad more pretentious spot, go to Bunkermuz restaurant. It is a local favourite, especially among younger people. Check out their Instagram tags, this is one of the most popular places in town. But yes, they have good food, the prices are decent, and the décor looks cool, so who can blame people for loving it.
Finally, if you really want an immersion in Ukrainian cuisine, why not check out the Balagur restaurant. They only do the classics but they do them so well! Plus they get extra points for the authentic, folklore-inspired design.
And After Dinner…
The nightlife in Ternopil is fun and colourful. Your first stop should be the Maxim restaurant. They work late and serve great cocktails, making them the perfect place to transition from dinner to clubbing. Have something greasy, you will be having a lot of alcohol later!
From there, head on over to the Siyesta (yes, this is the Ukrainian way of spelling Siesta, apparently) nightclub. If it’s a weeknight, the Diamond club would be a better bet. It’s a little more show-offy but the great thing about it is you can go dancing any night and it would be crowded.
Another student favourite is the Allure club. It’s not very close to the centre (still a walkable distance but not what you’d want to walk when drunk) but it is always buzzing. The music leans more toward house and EDM, rather than the top 40 style stuff you’d hear elsewhere.
Oh, and if you score a date, apparently bowling is a nice option. The Podolyany Club is fun, it’s in the centre, and it doesn’t cost too much either. You could do a movie and bowling sort of thing, just double check that the film is not in Ukrainian!
Ternopil is a great place for the history geek and the simple fun-loving type. You can do it as a detour on your trip to Lviv or Poland or dedicate a couple of days to Ternopil alone.
Either way, let me know if any of the tips were useful and add your own in the comments down below. For any questions and thoughts, of course, also share them in the comments.
PS: If you’re looking to meet girls in Ukraine, you can’t go wrong with Ukraine Date. Click here to browse the girls of Ternopil.