To be honest I didn’t know what to expect when Mr. Lavin told me that for Christmas he had gotten me a trip to Vilnius. But I was blown away by just how cool and hip Lithuania’s capital city actually is surrounded by the breathtaking architecture of Medieval Old Town. In fact, the old town of Vilnius is the largest in central and eastern Europe. With it’s bustling cafe scene, hip pub culture, beautiful architecture but most noticeably it’s warming sense of history it is not hard to completely fall in love with Vilnius.
And here’s why…
1: It’s Cheap and fried bread is a thing
The first thing that stood out to me in Vilnius is that your Euro stretches a long way! Flights to Vilnius are super cheap and Ryanair flies directly into Vilnius airport so no annoying extra bus journeys needed. The airport is also only 10 minutes outside the city so win all round! You will get really nice accommodation for around €50 a night. We had the most magical apartment on the edge of the old town complete with a wood burning stove and supply of logs for €55 a night for 2 of us. We stayed here. I can’t recommend it enough and Milad our host was kind enough to get up at 4am to drive us to the airport.
The first day we arrived was the opening game for Ireland in the Six Nations Rugby and we could not miss it! After almost a full day in the pub drinking pints and stuffing our faces our bill came to €38. You would have to take out a second mortgage if you did that in Ireland. A pint of beer is €2 so you can imagine it was a fun day. We also looked at each other in shock (Did she just say €6.66?) when we booked 2 return journey’s to Trakai on the train for a grand total of €3.33 return each. You can see you get a lot of bang for your buck in Vilnius. Also fried bread with a cheesy dip is a thing here and is quite possibly one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.
2: Graffiti is cool
I used to think that graffiti makes a city look messy but I’ve completely changed my mind since visiting Vilnius. They take street art to a whole new level. Think Putin and Trump sharing a joint cool!
3: Hidden Speakeasies
The pub scene in Vilnius is vibrant and whatever your scene there is plenty to choose from. Whether it’s a cosy pub with home brewed beer that you can stay in all day and drink pints like Busi Trečias , a champagne only bar or a hip cocktail bar like Alchemikas or Distilerija. There are also a few hidden speakeasies around Vilnius and if you ask some of the more serious bar tenders they will point you in their direction. Without a doubt our favourite was Lokstauk which the minute you enter it all your senses will be heightened. Think industrial vibes, the coolest leather bar stools I’ve ever seen, mood setting musty incense burning and the most unusual cocktail menu you will ever see. Prices here are a good bit more than your €2 pint but it is so worth it for the experience. Our cocktails came on a tray of grass with it’s own incense burning buddha! They were nearly too pretty to drink. Nearly!
4: All the pretty churches
I’m not very religious but I do love a pretty church. I also have the tradition of visiting a church in every new city I visit to light a candle for loved ones gone before me. It must be the Irish Catholic in me. There were so many pretty churches in Vilnius. Every corner is filled with the most breathtaking pink baroque churches which are just as beautiful inside.
5: Rooftop views
If like me you like a good rooftop view then Vilnius is for you. Many of the churches have bell towers that can be climbed to give you the most striking rooftop views of the city. Gorgeous church spires, red tiled roofs all surrounded by the rolling hills of the countryside. There are two natural panoramic viewing points within the old town centre but they require a bit of a climb. The first is Gediminas Tower which is an old defense tower that is the last remaining piece of the castle. It is just off the old town square. The second is the hill of crosses which is spectacular looking over the entire city. The trio of monuments there today were erected in 1989, replacing the three destroyed by the Soviets in 1950, the concrete remains of which can be seen, torn and twisted, beside the path up. Crosses of some design are believed to have occupied the crest of the hill since the early 17th century, marking the spot, according to legend, where seven Franciscan friars were beheaded. Unfortunately because of my Lyme disease I still do not have the strength to make the climb so I can only image that the views over the old town would be breathtaking.
6: A country within a city
Užupis is its own self declared Republic within the city of Vilnius often compared to the Montmarte region of Paris. In 1997, the residents of the area declared the Republic of Užupis, along with its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, a constitution written by Romas Lileikis and Thomas Chepaitis, an anthem and an army (numbering 11 men!). The locals celebrate this independence annually on Užupis Day, which falls on April 1st. I even got my passport stamped here, albeit in a pub! It was the most surreal experience but the best thing about it is the constitution they follow, which can be seen below in the mirrored panels on the wall in every language you can fathom. Some of my favourites include:
- Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.
- A dog has the right to be a dog
- Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance
- Everyone has the right to be idle
- Everyone has the right to have no rights
- Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies
- A cat is not obliged to love its owner but must help in time of need
This area is awash with trendy shops, bars and restaurants. I had the best pizza of my life here but if you are looking for something a little fancier be sure to check out Sweet Root which focuses on home grown (many of their ingredients are grown in their own garden) locally sourced products. Also in the summer sitting outdoors at the riverside bar Užupio Kavinė (which incidently is the local barliment …not a typo…and where we got our passport stamped!) and just people watching is a must.
7: Streets to get lost in
One of my favourite things to do in a city is throw away the map and just wander. The streets in Vilnius old town which are Unesco-protected, are a cobbled labyrinth of parks, squares, bars, cafes and restaurants. You can’t really get lost lost in Vilnius as everything interconnects and you somehow always end up where you wanted to go. We walked everywhere in Vilnius. The only time we needed a taxi was to go to the Alt J gig that we had tickets for and travelers tip here, on the way out we asked a local restaurant to call a taxi for us and it cost us €3.50, on the way back we hailed a cab and the same journey cost us €28! Ok we may have asked him to stop at a McDonald’s on the way home to feed our drunken hunger but still! The trick is to call a taxi and not hail one from the street.
8: Act like a kid for the day
We were in Vilnius for a week and my favourite day was the day before we left. We had done all of our sight seeing and shopping and were at a bit of a loss how to spend our day. We wanted something fun to do, so we visited the Illusion Museum. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in a long time. Sometimes it is fun to just act like a kid for the day.
9: Trakai Castle
No trip to Vilnius is complete without visiting the castle in Trakai. As I mentioned earlier train tickets are extremely cheap and the journey takes about 45 minutes. We visited in the winter and the lakes had completely frozen over so I would love to go back and visit in the summer time when I imagine that it would look completely different. You will get some gorgeous photos here. Vibrant colourful cabins line the streets and the castle itself, situated on its own island, is simply breathtaking. We stopped for a bite to eat in a fabulous Georgian restaurant called Argo which overlooks the lake. It was my first time eating Georgian food and it was yum! They even barbecued our meat out in the snow.
10: It still bears its scars
The Museum of Genocide Victims is a grim but important visit. As well as dealing with the systematic murder of Jews by the Nazis, it studies the brutal treatment of the nation by the Soviets during both the war and subsequent occupation. Housed in the former KGB building, the museum retains in its basement the prison used by the Russian secret service, as well as the original execution chamber, where bullet holes still scar the walls. It was a truly sobering experience and myself and Mr. Lavin could barely speak to each other after it. Despite this, the Lithuanians are a proud culture and do not harbour a victim mentality. It’s pride is warming and despite its turbulent history Lithuanians are proud of the independence they achieved in 1990, being the first Soviet republic to do so. It was so heart warming to see the flags hung so proudly and at night see the buildings light up in red, yellow and green.
There are so many more reasons to love Vilnius and each one probably deserves its own blog post. If you have been or are planning to go let me know in the comments what you loved the most. And as always please share this post.
Until next time you crazy kids!
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