I’ve recently come back from a long weekend in Vilnius, and I loved it! I could definitely have spent a few more days there exploring everything the city has to offer, but here’s my quick guide to Vilnius:
What to do
Like many European cities, the Old Town is one of the most popular spots for tourists to wander around. As well as an abundance of coffee shops, a stroll around the Old Town will also pass the Town Hall, Cathedral, a wall dedicated to Lithuanian literature and around 30 churches.
On the edge of Old Town you can also visit Užupis, an artistic district which is actually an independent republic with its own constitution – a constitution which includes statements such as “a dog has the right to be a dog”, “everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation”, and even “everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat”! Try and visit on April Fool’s Day if you can, where everyone celebrate’s Užupis’ independence…
For a standout view of the city, head to Kalnai Park, near the Cathedral. From here you can climb the (many) steps to the Three Crosses monument, where you can glance out and admire the panorama of Vilnius. It snowed on the last day of my trip so it was the perfect time to venture up there, and looking out over the snow covered roofs was beautiful!
There are a number of free walking tours around Vilnius, departing from either the Cathedral or the town hall. The one we took leaves the town hall at midday, and was around two hours long which, in my opinion, is the perfect length for a tour – especially when the temperature drops to zero and you’re wearing very unfit for purpose socks. For history buffs there’s also the Museum of Genocide Victims which is housed in the former KGB building, and comes highly recommended; unfortunately I missed out on visiting as I hadn’t checked the opening times and it is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but if I return it’s definitely at the top of my to do list.
Where else to go
There are a number of places you can visit from Vilnius, and a quick and easy day trip is to Trakai; for just a couple of euros you can get the bus or train to the city, admire its famous lakes and walk to the castle which is the main tourist attraction in the area. The walk takes around thirty minutes but goes past a few of the lakes, so really isn’t that bad (even for someone who hates walking!) – if you can, try to arrive mid afternoon if the weather is nice so you can watch the sun set over the castle, as it truly is a stunning sight.
There are also multiple buses and trains per day to Lithuania’s second city of Kaunas, again only a short distance away so perfect for a day trip. Travelling on a British passport? The good news is that Belarus allows you in for five days without having to sort out a Visa, as long as you go through Minsk airport. This is a popular route for tourists, probably because the flight only lasts thirty minutes! To explore more of the Baltic states, Riga is around four hours away by bus and again is a popular tourist route.
Where to stay
If you’re counting the pennies then the best place to stay is the wonderful Jimmy Jumps hostel; priced at less than 10 euros per night, Jimmy Jumps is located slap bang in the middle of Old Town – less than a five minute walk to the town hall. The friendly staff serve free waffles and tea for breakfast, and there’s evening activities like beer tasting, a bar crawl and movie night to keep you entertained; it was an incredibly social hostel and I would certainly be happy to stay there if I was travelling on my own. The only downside I could find though was that the rooms were baaaaaking hot in December (as so many hostels are at that time of the year) so make sure you pack your summer pyjamas!
What to eat
What would a guide to Vilnius be without a ‘what to eat’ section? When in Lithuania, eat some potatoes! Most of the dishes are based in some way around the potato, whether it’s the popular Cepelinai/Zeppelins which are large, somewhat stodgy potato dumplings often topped with sour cream or the mashed potato accompanying beaver or rabbit stew. If you want a taste of home, Kibinai resemble our good old British pasties filled with various meets and cheeses. Rather eat as the locals do? You can try other popular dishes including herring, beetroot soup or fried rye bread topped with cheese, chilli or capers which is often served with beer.
It surprises me how welcoming and friendly the people of Vilnius really are, in comparison to some other European cities; nobody minded our terrible pronunciation and mis-attempts at speaking Lithuanian, and absolutely everyone spoke some English which I wasn’t expecting. As it’s on the Euro it isn’t the cheapest city to visit (Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary for example are somewhat cheaper) but is still of course less expensive than Western Europe. If you can grab a cheap flight I highly recommend visiting the city, and would suggest five days at least to fit in all the day trips that are available and to fully explore all that Vilnius itself has to offer.
Have you been to Vilnius? I’d love to know what you think about it – let me know in the comments!