by Tim Campbell Nov 2020
As the capital of this ex soviet city, it’s difficult not to be amazed by Vilnius. I think it is probably one of the nicest, cleanest and picturesque cities I have ever been to. All areas seem to be full of tiny streets, each like going back to medieval times. It is very touristy though, so be prepared for some higher prices than your used to in the Baltic states.
Its uniqueness though, is the medieval angle. If you love castles and history there is no shortage to keep you occupied for a few days. The center has both a palace and a tower, and a museum, and a castle, all within walking distance. All attractions are reasonably priced for a capital, and there’s plenty of shopping as a distraction.
I arrived by bus but the International airport less than 10 kms away from the city centre serves plenty of cities across Europe directly with most of the major European airlines. It is also served by train from all European cities, usually via Warsaw which is a major hub in northern Europe.
Like any major city Vilnius has accommodations for any budget. I stayed at the Litinterp B&B / Guest House, a small boarding house where you get your own room but share a bathroom. It was tiny but adequate for three nights. It has no facilities other than the rooms, but the good new it is in the middle of everything within walking distance.
For a superior room take a look at the Railway Hotel at around 100 euros per night, or the mid-range Shakespeare Hotel at around 60 Euros. Both get superb status on booking.com and will be more than adequate for however many nights you spend in the capital. The good thing is that you won’t have to spend a lot to get decent accommodation in this remarkable city.
Must Do / Don’t Miss
As I’ve said before everything is within walking distance in Vilnius old town. Once you go into the main square there are the castle ruins on the hill called the Gediminas Castle Tower, Vilnius Cathedral (with some very impressive statues), and the cathedral tower (with some impressive views). The tower is very steep so don’t attempt it with children or if you have any kind of disability.
The KGB building on Auky street is now called the Museum of Occupation and Freedom. Like the one in Tallinn, this “museum” is where the Russian KGB tortured and killed dissidents and dissenters right up until they left Lithuania in 1990, just 30 years ago. Worth seeing though if you’re into Second World War history.
Other things to see are the Bastion museum, Radvila palace, the Art museum, the Holocaust exhibition, the Money museum and the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. There’s also a cold war bunker and an old arsenal.
If you are of Jewish heritage then there is a Jewish area in Vilnius that the Jews lived in before the war which features a holocaust museum.
I suggest getting a place in the old town and using that as a base for everything. The “life” of the city is in the old town full of restaurants and pubs, gastropubs, ice cream stands and clothes shopping. Everything else is within walking distance or a cheap taxi ride.
The cathedral is amazing, as is the cathedral tower. Inside St. Anne’s church is a wonderful way to spend an hour, half of that gazing admiringly at the architectural structure itself. Not much has an entrance fee. The tower was 6 euros when I was there.
Spend a couple of hours at the war museum and the holocaust museum. If it interests you go to the KGB museum too. Historically Vilnius has a lot to see in a long weekend but it’s not really a party town.
The local Kaimiskas craft beers are plentiful though and there are plenty of places to drink beer. Try the Beer Library, Dundulis, Genys, Alynas, Spunka, Snekutis, Nisha, Prohibicija, Busi Trecias, GAP and Alaus Nami to name a few.
Try the local food. Large dumplings full of pork meat or potatoes called zeppelins, Kibinai pies, Kugelis, a type of lasagne dish, and the sausages. Not a lot of gourmet choices, but good hearty food that sticks to your ribs, washed down with a local brew.
All in all, Vilnius is one of those destinations that you’ll enjoy but just for a few days. The sad thing is not many people will stay to see the rest of the country, which you should. The side trips are what will make up a great holiday in this far flung ex soviet satellite.
It’s an interesting city. The people’s choice of sport is Basketball, not football like the rest of the world. The older people are not very friendly and not very wealthy. Probably because of their soviet past and having to distrust foreigners.
The young people are friendly and well traveled as well as knowledgeable. It’s a totally different generation. The older people don’t speak any English, but the younger ones all do. If you need to find out anything just ask a young person, they are eager to use the English they’ve all learned in school.
Check out my next blog on Side Trips from Vilnius.