Vilnius, the perfect European city escape
We’ve all been there, sat around the table or hanging out at the bar discussing holiday hot-spots and upcoming weekend getaways. But ask yourself, when was the last time you heard a friend or family member excitedly and eagerly tell you about their latest trip to Vilnius?
Now be honest, had you even heard of Vilnius? Did you know it was Lithuania’s capital before you clicked on this post or did you have to Google it?
Travel should be all about immersing yourself in unique and exciting experiences, about creating memories that will be with you forever, and stories to share with passion and enthusiasm with friends, family, and anyone that is willing to listen.
You might be forgiven for thinking that Vilnius, a former Soviet city at the heart of the Baltics, has little to offer. How could a trip to Vilnius compete with the likes of Barcelona, for example, with its combined city-and-coastal pleasures, or the ancient charms of Athens? Why would you risk your precious holiday time by travelling somewhere relatively unknown?
However, with many European cities now complaining about over-tourism, you could argue that there’s never been a better time to stray from the worn, weary and well-trodden cities of Paris, Rome, Amsterdam or London to name a few.
And if you’re going to sample something fresh and new, Eastern Europe – and Vilnius in particular – offers the perfect balance. A treasure-trove of unique heritage, lively and culture-rich character, and baroque Insta-worthy scenery. Every aspect of your travel needs can be more than fulfilled by this beautiful city.
You’re also pretty much guaranteed to return home with all the glittering kudos that come from discovering somewhere new. Not to mention all the never-heard-before stories you will be able to share!
Don’t believe me? Here are my top reasons why you need to head for Vilnius.
It has outstanding access, making it easy to get to
With its prime position at the crossroads of East and West, Vilnius could very well have been commissioned for international travel.
The city is easily accessible from all major European as well as several major UK cities, with direct flights from London under three hours. Once you’ve touched down, the heart of the old town and its cobbled, friendly streets are a mere fifteen-minute drive.
It’s here, centred around the old town, that you’ll find the majority of Vilnius’ main attractions – most within walking distance. That’s a large dollop of culture, heritage, and culinary delights, right on your doorstep!
The climate is perfect for summer sightseeing
Many people mistakenly think the Baltics are cursed with freezing Siberian conditions. In fact, from May to October you can expect to enjoy the welcome continental warmth with temperatures ranging from 25°C (77°F) up.
Bathed in sunshine, you can explore acres of ancient woodland, relax with a beer or a local berry-wine in the cobbled Old Town, or simply take in the beauty of the endless green space Vilnius has to offer – most of it peppered with intriguing history.
There’s even a city centre hill, home to Gediminas Tower – the remaining part of the 10th century castle that once defended the city from attack. Naturally, you can expect awe-inspiring views, as well as a prime sunset-watching spot.
Or, you could head for the Three Crosses monument in Kalnai Park, just across the river from the Old Town. This is a second gloriously green hill that offers yet another supreme vantage point of the city from which to soak up the views and discover a legend regarding the supposed beheading of seven Franciscan friars.
The city is rich in unrivalled heritage and culinary culture
The exquisite, medieval Old Town (UNESCO World Heritage-protected, no less) is just the beautiful beginning of your cultural journey through Vilnius – known by many as Little Rome.
Get ready to feast your eyes upon incredibly chameleon-like architectural styles as you wander those romantic cobbled streets, from the neoclassical Cathedral (that looks more like a museum), to the jaw-dropping Gothic St. Anne’s Church.
In fact, if you’ve got an appetite for a church tour, you’re in luck – there are 28 of them here. There is also a rich Jewish history to be discovered, as well as intriguing links to the city’s Soviet past.
When you factor in the thriving café and restaurant culture to be found here, holiday life gets even better! Vilnius is the perfect place to get ‘lost’ in, as you discover the myriad of bustling courtyard cafés and bars on your travels.
Plus, if you thought Lithuanian cuisine was all stodge and no substance, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Head to Sweet Root for a three-hour dining experience with an ingredient ‘scorecard’, or the street art-surrounded hipster’s paradise Keule Ruke for something a little more laid-back. For vegans and vegetarians there is Rosehip, an exceptional Vegan Bistro that left me salivating for more as well as a number of other restaurants serving up delicious, seasonal meat-free menus.
Not only are the restaurants delicious but the bars offer up some fascinating options too. With the night starting much later and going on into the late hours of the early morning you can be sure to find something to suit your palate perfectly. For experimental cocktail lovers head over to Alchemikas or Love Bar, or if you prefer to sip amongst the clouds, try the Sky Bar which offers some of the best views to accompany a creative cocktail. My personal favourite by far was King & Mouse, offering an exceptional collection of whisky and cocktails hidden down a decorated side alley – this spot is a must-do.
Shopping is amply covered, too – from hand crafted porcelain to glistening Baltic amber jewellery, there are so many options from which to choose the perfect souvenir to help you remember your time here.
It offers a seriously quirky side too
Fancy something a little different? The quirky region of Užupis declared itself an independent republic in 1997.
Read its displayed constitution for hipster-style ‘rights’ that include “a dog has the right to be a dog”, and “everyone has the right to be unique” as you enjoy drinks in its ‘parliament’ by the river – a wondrous precursor to viewing the spectacular graffiti and street art you’ll find all around.
And take a look at the Užupis mermaid. However, don’t stare too long – legend has it that those who look at her for too long become too enamoured with Vilnius to leave!
Not only is it one of the friendliest Euro-city breaks around, it also offers exceptional value
A city break in Vilnius represents plenty of cultural and culinary indulgence – all without breaking the bank. Allowing you to lounge longer, travel farther and truly experience the best the city has to offer.
Not for nothing is Vilnius often mentioned as one of the cheapest European city breaks, and it’s also home to some of the friendliest locals you could meet.
So, simply fuel yourselves with kibinai – traditional Lithuanian pasties that taste delicious! – and get ready for a unique experience in a still relatively unknown city.
There’s just one problem – you might have trouble keeping all the secrets of Vilnius to yourself!
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