Using Kiwi.com’s Where Next social media game, our users built their very own personalized tour of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, using a combination of our suggestions and their own tips!
Vilnius is an interesting place for the final stop on our Where Next tour. At once historic and forward-looking, classical and slightly surreal, its wonderful, Unesco-protected Old Town is great for walking or sitting, while investigating the city’s more playful side is equally rewarding.
The Old Town
We can begin at Vilnius Cathedral (or the Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Ladislaus if you like) which doesn’t necessarily look like a cathedral. You could be in Ancient Greece in fact, with classical columns stretching along its length, the lack of spire, and a separate bell tower making it one of the most unusual churches in Europe. It benefits from its surroundings as well, given space and room to breathe in the large Cathedral Square, surrounded by greenery, milling people and, hopefully, blue skies!
The rest of the Old Town — one of the largest preserved city centers in Europe — is more of what you might expect from this part of the world, all red-tiled rooftops, pastel-colored buildings and pavement cafes. In the maze of narrow streets you’ll find tiny shops with tinkling bells over the doors selling jewelry, local foodstuffs, boutique clothing and more, while craft beer bars and friendly local restaurants can refuel you when you’re done exploring.
The nightlife is good too. Bardakas, meaning “a mess”, is equally good for brunch and coffee or for late-night cocktails and partying. Šnekutis has a few locations, including one in the Old Town, and they’re great for local beer at decent prices, and the solid, affordable Lithuanian food makes it popular with students and backpackers. Or perhaps try Alaus Biblioteka, which fully throws itself into being, as it says, a library of beer (they even call their staff librarians). If you’re bamboozled by the vast drink selection, ask one of the librarians and they can offer you up a couple of samples based on your taste.
Take in the views
Have a day out of the Old Town and get your bearings by climbing up to one of the many viewing points around the city: the bell tower of St. John’s Church to the north of the Old Town is one option, or you could keep heading north across the Vilnia River to the Hill of Three Crosses, a 17th-century monument in a wooded park with splendid views over the city and beyond.
Digging a bit deeper into the soul of Vilnius means heading to the neighborhood of Užupis. This part of the city was always known for its artsy leanings and non-conformist way of life, so much so that in 1998 it declared itself an independent republic within the city. It published a constitution, including such edicts as “Everyone has the right to understand nothing”, “Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily”, “No one has the right to have a design on eternity”, and 38 more, outlining a plan for inclusion, non-judgment, taking care of animals, and generally being nice to each other.
For trips outside the city, it’s an easy 25 minutes to Trakai Castle. Begun in the 14th century, it’s a huge, imposing fortress on an island, its heft softened by the surrounding trees and glittering blue water. Inside it’s all courtyards, stairways and ramparts, and you can absolutely imagine knights on horseback clattering across the bridge to the gatehouse, fresh from a round of gallantry and/or slaughter, depending on the state of play at the time.
If you don’t have time for a day trip but still feel like a bit of castle action, Gediminas Castle Tower is the place to go. It’s located in the city and if you don’t feel like walking up the hill, there’s a funicular railway to drag you up. It’s home to a museum showcasing archaeological finds from the area, and models showing the various stages of construction of the castle.
The tower itself played an important role in the history of both Vilnius and Lithuania, having been depicted on former coins, been the subject of many patriotic folk songs, and it was here in 1988 that the flag of the country was hoisted during the anti-Soviet independence movement.
That, in a way, is the beauty of Vilnius. So many stories hidden in plain sight that simply investigating interesting-looking things is the best way to uncover them. A smallish city, in a smallish country, that maintains a fierce sense of pride and folk history, while welcoming travelers keen to find out more.
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