If you arrive to Vilnius by plane, the first thing that grabs your attention is the airport, which looks rather like an old train station than an airport arrival hall. It was built in 1950s in a typical Soviet style architecture. On the borderline of Europe, Vilnius is a wonderful, unique capital full of contrasts, churches, hidden shadowy courtyards, superb nightlife and most importantly cheerful faces. It is clean, safe, and small but also elegant and quirky.
What to expect?
- There are more than 200 courtyards throughout the city. Even though, this experience will surely be ‘hit-and-miss,’ don’t be scared to explore. If you are lucky enough, you will have some spectacular discoveries.
- The city is small; however, Vilnius being the capital of Lithuania, it has all important features of any other capital city with an added bonus of safety, elegance, and quirkiness.
- Vilnians are in general outgoing, friendly and happy. They love their city. Despite the cold climate, they tend to frequent the bars and cultural events. On weekends bars and pubs are buzzing with young and old, elegantly dressed residents and tourists.
- Entrepreneurs and small business owners are not scared to experiment with their creative ideas; they have a vision and drive Vilnius forward.
- Lithuanians are Europeans. The flag of European Union is proudly flying in front of many different buildings. European mood is present everywhere.
- Lithuania was the last country in Europe to accept Christianity. This seems almost impossible, as approximately 30 churches are scattered around old town alone.
- Basketball is considered a second religion.
- Old trolleybuses and buses that remind of some old times are still in use. They have not been refurbished and the drivers probably stayed the same – they did not get the memo that the life is good.
What not to miss?
Whenever we travel to a new place, we use Instagram to discover it. Vilnius was quite tricky in this regard, as we have not found that many interesting city Instagrammers to follow. Thus, this time around we relied on locals, and purely our own instincts. In four days in Vilnius, we experienced summer, fall and winter (yes, it was snowing in mid May!).
- Take a stroll along Gedimino street. This is the main avenue of Vilnius, which stretches from Eduardo Balsio Skveras to Cathedral Square. This 2km avenue is lined with cute parks, libraries, theatres, governmental buildings, cafes, restaurants, and high-end shops. It is the perfect place to start exploring the modern-day Vilnius.
- The Cathedral Square is the main square of the Vilnius Old Town. It houses neo-classical Vilnius Cathedral, and a Bell Tower next to it. The Cathedral Square seems to be a key location in city’s public life and reflects city’s rich diversity. Big parades, concerts and fairs are regularly held on the square. The Cathedral Square is one of the most important symbols of Lithuania.
- Walk behind and you will notice a steep hill with a fort on the top. The Gediminas Tower is well worth the climb because of breathtaking views, which you will enjoy as soon as you place your foot on the hill. At the time of our visit a funicular was closed; we suggest you climb up as soon as possible on your first sunny day in some very comfy shoes.
- Baroque Old Town is just below. This historic city is under UNESCO protection. You’ll find yourself in narrow, cute alleyways. Just roam around and be curious. You will discover some amazing churches, courtyards, and don’t forget to pay attention to the street names.
- You want to go a bit further? Take Boksto street and head to Barbakanas in order to see the remains of Vilnius city walls, as well as amazing and less-known views of Vilnius, but also a glimpse of urban redevelopment. Many private buildings and monuments were being renovated at the time of writing of this article, and you can feel that this neighborhood will soon get the ‘hype.’
- Of course, don’t miss the Uzupis, a vibrant creative neighborhood with lots of small artisanal shops. Residents of Uzupis declared this area an autonomous republic. Their constitution hangs proudly somewhere on the wall along the main street. Tip: go into the courtyards and small alleys whenever you see the gates open. Most of the hidden treasures are there, well-hidden from the main streets.
- Literatu street in the old town – ode to creativity.
Cocktails, coffee, snacks, anyone?
Vilnius has a lot of them. We chose some bad places, but we fell in love with others. The ones below deserve a mention.
The exotic spirit in the heart of Vilnius. Great rum cocktails, snacks and a very friendly bartender. He told us that he “definitely feel[s] the positive vibe of Vilnius, with many special bars, niche eateries and new concept stores opening here and there. Vilnius is a great place to be!”
Cosy atmosphere, great choice of cocktails and very nice music to get you in a proper mood. We were so comfortable there that we did not realize that more than 4 hours passed since we got there. The funny thing is that other people stayed as long as we did.
Just when we needed a sugar break (and some caffeine!) there it was – a sugamore. A lovely French-style decorated coffee bar, resto & pastry shop is located conveniently in one of the main streets leading from the city centre to the old town. The place has its charm and gives you a chance to observe both – locals and tourists who come in for a stylish break. We had several things on the menu – soup, a piece of cake, a coffee and a macha latte. It was all quite good and we learned that the same brand has a shop in Kaunas – the second largest city in Lithuania (just in the case you go there as well).
We heard a lot about this restaurant and we wanted to give it a try . The experience was ok, but not as positive as we expected – this is probably because we went there on a Tuesday afternoon. The atmosphere was rather cold, and maybe a bit snobbish. On the other hand, as with any haute cuisine, we got a super tasty, small and well served dish.
Check-in: Novotel Vilnius Centre
We have booked Hotel Novotel Vilnius Centre, which ended up being the best choice for urban travelers like us. The hotel was ideally located on one of the main city squares, close to Cathedral Square, and close to Old Town. We were beyond ourselves when we saw the view from our room on the 8th floor overlooking the city center. We were absolutely mesmerized by this view when waking up, as well as when falling asleep. Breakfast was good and the room service as well. If you are into active lifestyle you will love their gym too with more amazing views.