Whilst there are only three countries in the Baltic states, I feel Vilnius gets missed off a lot of people's itinerary's. When people plan their trips around the Baltic's there is a well trodden Scandi/ Baltic route, which often see's people coming into Tallinn from Helsinki (as I did), then going to Riga and finishing in Stockholm (or starting in Stockholm and going in the opposite direction). Vilnius is for sure a city that deserves your attention.
Not just that, I feel the time to visit Vilnius is now. It's super affordable, they've just joined the Euro this January. Trust me arriving several days after they'd joined it was hilarious helping shop keepers and waiter's sort change from those funny little coins they had yet to get used to. There are mixed feelings about joining, with people being of the opinion that they've just got out of one so-called union (The Soviet Union) so why should they join another, but it has been decided it is best.
Just to show a contrast of cost, I LOVE pizza (like it's all of the food groups, but we'll get into that another time). In Helsinki I went to a pizza place where I had the most gorgeous pizza I've ever eaten- this will partly be because it was the first one I had in months, and partly because it was that good I ate all the crusts and everything- but for that one pizza and a beer, I spent 26€. In Vilnius, I arrived late and my only option for food was at a chain pizza place, granted the pizza wasn't quite as good, but it was still pretty good. I had exactly the same, a pizza and a beer. It cost me 4,78€. Vilnius is really affordable right now, so that's a reason to go!
That said, what is so good about Vilnius? I stayed right there in Old Town, a pastel coloured paradise. The buildings are all huge and represent all the best bits of European architecture, with neoclassical, baroque, renaissance and gothic stood all along side each other. Complimented by the snow in January, the city really is something to see.
The city has the highest concentration of churches in Europe, too. I believe there are around 40 in the city, and 28 of those are in the Old Town- it means there is one per every 700 inhabitants. 21 of these churches are Roman Catholic, 4 are Russian Orthodox, and Lutheran, Eastern Rite Catholic and Reformed also have a church each. Some of the churches, take St. Casimir's for example has hosted as a Russian Orthodox church, as well as a Catholic church and was even at one point a museum of Atheism. It also lacks bells, they were melted down to make bombs for the Soviet Union, and then a designer came up with the idea of using.... wind chimes(!). It's interesting there are so many churches because Lithuania also has the highest number of people saying they're atheist or agnostic in the world. Most of their traditions date back to their Pagan days, still.
One of my favourite, kind of unusual things about Vilnius is Literatu Gatve. Yes, you would be right in thinking that word looks like the English word Literature. The street is full of dedications to writer's who have a connection with Vilnius, whether they've visited, are from the city or written about it. There are tons of artsy tributes to the writer's all along the street. The walls are decorated with things related to the writer's work.
Plus you should totally go and visit the statue of the Soviet version of Dr. Doolittle, Cemachas Šabadas. You'll find him near the Church of All Saints, stood with a little girl cradling her cat. The little girl came to the Dr because she was sick and he prescribed the same as he did for all children, a bar of chocolate and a glass of hot milk. She told him her family could not afford chocolate, so he told her to come back at the end of the day and he would give her chocolate. Each evening for a week she stopped by and chatted to the Dr whilst she ate her chocolate.
|Gedimina's Tower in the snow|
If you're a fan of viewpoints head up to the Gedimina's Tower. You can climb up the winding path around the hill to see the tower looking over the city, or you can get the funicular up. I climbed up, but wished I'd used the funicular, and my snow boots sucked so I slipped around the whole way up and coming back down was even worse. Gedimina's Tower is the last remaining part of the castle built there. Legend has it that the Grand Duchy Gedimina had been out on a long tiring hunt, and dreamt of a lone wolf howling at the spot on the hill where the tower is now built. It was explained to him that dream was an omen and here the capital city of Lithuania should be built, Obeying the gods, Gedimina started building the city here, the city was named Vilnius.
Are you a hipster? Fan of all things Bohemian? Well in the centre of Vilnius you will find an entire 'Republic' dedicated to the Artists, Uzupis. Separated from the rest of the city by the river, this republic has it's own feel, and definitely warrants exploration. You can even get your passport stamped when you pass into the Republic at a souvenir shop just behind the pub Uzupio Kavine. Just follow the river path and turn right at the edge of the building. Don't forget to say hi to, what the residents of Uzupis believe to be the original backpacker- Jesus! And yes, that is a backpack he is donning right there. The Republic even has its own constitution which you can read through on the walls in 21 different languages.
Where to Stay & Where to Eat
I stayed at Jimmy Jumps House, just off Town Hall Square, I think it's the most central hostel, and whilst it's pretty small it has a good atmosphere. I was lucky, and managed to get a single bed- no bunk for me whilst I stayed there, it was brilliant. Plus you don't get your usual breakfast there, oh no, there's no continental breakfast. Instead you are personally served waffles! What better start to the day could you hope for?!
|Chicken with cous cous and salad at kitchen|
My favourite places to eat, whilst the pizza was a good deal, there are tons of other places that you can visit that do more traditional Lithuanian fare than pizza. Plus, it's equally as a cheap everywhere. For example I had lunch at Kitchen, a second floor restaurant the opposite end of the Town Hall Square than the town hall, and had a two course lunch for 6,48€. Another place that I really loved was Busi Trecias. I had the village pan, which was potatoes and meat in a pan topped with cheese, but it was really good and there was loads of it. It's a pretty standard looking place when you walk in, just tables and a bar, but the food is really good, and they sell Lithuanian beer- and we all know how important that is to me. Plus, if you're feeling adventurous they offer beer cocktails, just check out their menu.
I am determined to get back to Vilnius one summer, and spend my days reading and drinking by the river in Uzupis. It was a seriously beautiful, chilled city. Definitely one of my favourite places.
Have you ever visited somewhere that bowled you over so much just when you weren't expecting it?