VILNIUS IN 3 WORDS
Vilnius is: quirky, modest, intellectual
MY TIME IN VILNIUS
Vilnius, in the Baltic country of Lithuania, is a very unassuming city and, honestly, at first I was completely underwhelmed by it. It has the feel of a former Soviet nation with its crumbling facades and understated buildings, and there is nothing opulent or flashy about the Baltic city. However, as I continued exploring the Vilnius Old Town, I found myself becoming charmed by the muted pastel-coloured buildings and the striking Baroque architecture. Everything feels slightly run down and dilapidated, but this only adds to the character and charm of the town.
Chip away at the austere exterior and you’ll begin to discover an intellectual, bohemian and tongue-in-cheek spirit which underscores the Lithuanian way of living. This is most evident through the self-declared artist republic in Vilnius city called Užupis, similar to the alternative Metelkova Mesto in Slovenia, and Freetown Christiania in Denmark. The eccentric republic of Užupis was conveniently formed on April Fools Day in 1997 and has its own President, army – albeit one of 11 people – and also its own Constitution which is proudly displayed on plaques in different languages near the town centre.
Overall, Vilnius is a city that slowly unravels its charms the longer you stay. You won’t be immediately blown away by its beauty, but you may find yourself becoming gradually mesmerised by its spirit.
THINGS TO DO IN VILNIUS
Vilnius Old Town The Old Town is an ideal place to throw your city map away as it’s compact enough to not get lost, and it’s in all of the little nooks and crannies down the winding side streets where you’ll find the real gems. Start at the Gates of Dawn, pass Town Hall Square and make your way down to the sprawling Cathedral Square.
I was lucky enough to have travelled to Vilnius in early September in time for Sostines Dienos, a weekend festival which celebrates the end of summer. The Lithuanians were out in hordes in traditional dress, and there were plenty of pop-up stalls, markets and concerts to enjoy along the Gedimino Prospektas boulevard and the Cathedral Square.
Literatų Street The celebrated Literatų Street is dedicated to literature and has a wall with memorial plaques paying tribute to those who have influenced the written works of Lithuania.
Stebuklas (miracle) tile Find the Stebuklas (miracle) tile between the Cathedral and the Cathedral Tower, which marks the end of the human chain that was formed through the Baltic States in political protest against the Soviet Occupation. It is said that if you step on the tile, close your eyes, make a wish and then turn around clockwise three times, your wish will come true…it’s certainly worth a try!
Užupis Republic A self-declared bohemian artist republic in Vilnius city.
Museum of Genocide Victims Visit the Museum of Genocide Victims which is set up in the former KGB headquarters and KGB prison. It is extensive with multiple rooms and floors to move through detailing the repressive acts committed by the Soviet authorities towards the Lithuanian population during the occupation.
Views of the city There are many vantage points including Gediminas Tower and the Hill of Three Crosses. I climbed the Gothic Church of St. Johns to get a glimpse of the city from above, and I would highly recommend it if not just for the thrill of climbing the wooden stairs to the bell tower – although, there is also an elevator for those less fond of climbing stairs.
Presidential Palace and courtyard
Day trip to Traka
During my time in Vilnius, I stayed at the Home Made House as I was solo travelling. It is not a party hostel by any means and has a very intimate and relaxed atmosphere – it can only hold 12 guests at a time – which is exactly what I was after. Lina is a proud Lithuanian and the most hospitable person you will ever meet, and she will provide you with very detailed advice as to what to see and do during your time in Vilnius. She also cooks a free delicious breakfast every morning! As soon as I walked through the door, I met some very cool travellers, which is easy to do as the kitchen/common area is teeny weeny, so it’s virtually impossible not to strike up a conversation with a friendly face. The Home Made House is in a convenient location and is an easy walk from the Vilnius Old Town as well as the bus and train station. And true to its name, after only 2 days, it did begin to feel a lot like home.
If you’re after something a little more fancy or travelling with a partner, stay at the Shakespeare Hotel which is a boutique hotel located right in the centre of Vilnius Old Town. Paying tribute to Vilnius’s literary spirit, every room is named after a literary figure – ‘Romeo and Juliet’ room, anyone?
I arrived in Vilnius from Amsterdam via Baltic Air. However, a lot of people would be travelling into Vilnius city via bus and I would recommend Lux Express as the coaches are extremely comfortable and clean, and also offer free wi-fi and a power supply by every seat, or pair of seats, to charge portable items.
The Vilnius Coach Station (Sodų g. 22, LT-03211) is a 15-minute walk to the Vilnius Old Town.
Once in Vilnius, there is a trolleybus network, but you won’t need to use it if you’re staying mainly around the Old Town.
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