Lithuania is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Even some travelers focusing their trip on the Baltic countries seem skip Lithuania since Latvia and Estonia are more easily accessible via air travel. This is a huge mistake! Vilnius is a cute, quirky capital that was a delight to experience and explore. Although I could list many, here are 8 reasons to travel to Vilnius, Lithuania:
8 Reasons to Travel to Vilnius, Lithuania
1. Vilnius has a beautiful historic Old Town filled with baroque architecture.
You could easily spend a day leisurely exploring Vilnius’ charming Old Town, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Europe’s largest baroque capital. Pop into shops, stroll the winding streets and admire the impressive baroque architecture. Don’t forget to saunter around Vilnius University’s picturesque courtyards, admire the gothic architecture of St. Anne’s Church and wander through the impressive Gates of Dawn before you head down Vokiečiu gatvė to settle into a cafe and people watch.
2. You can admire breathtaking views of old and new from above.
You’ll find Gediminas Hill looming over the city. If you’re looking to break a sweat you can climb up the hill starting from the steps behind the cathedral, or you can purchase a ticket and take the funicular up. You’ll be treated to sweeping views of both Old Town and Vilnius’ modern day city center once you arrive to the top.
It was a neat experience gazing at the cobblestone streets and historic buildings to my left and skyscrapers and city lights to my right. I’d recommend planning your trip to the hill later in the day so you can catch sunset. Head to SkyBar or the TV Tower for more panoramic city views.
3. Vilnius is super inexpensive.
One of the many reasons I have always loved eastern European countries is because of how affordable they are. By Western standards, Lithuania is very inexpensive. I found Vilnius to be the least expensive capital city on my trip through the Baltics – prices were much less than in Riga and considerably cheaper than Tallinn. You can grab a cheap meal for around €5 and a beer for €1 if you’re on a budget, or you can splurge on luxury travel experiences, like a hot air balloon ride, for far less than you will pay in other countries.
4. But, the city also offers luxury.
If you happen to fancy the finer things in life, Vilnius also has you covered. Stroll down the posh Aušros Vartų gatve filled with high-end shops, upscale hotels and mouth-watering restaurants. (As an added bonus, the street is also home to several beautiful historic churches). Seeking a “refined” spot to grab a local brew? Try Alaus Biblioteka, a posh library themed bar where your drink options are “cataloged.” (Tip: Move the bookshelf in front of the main bar for access to a “secret” room and sitting area).
5. Vilnius is brimming with history and museums.
Aside from gorgeous architecture, the city also has several interesting museums. The Museum of Genocide Victims is housed in a former KGB Headquarters and is dedicated to the Lithuanians who were imprisoned, deported or murdered from WWII through the 1960s. I’d also recommend visiting the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum which documents the shocking details of Lithuanian Jewish Life during the Holocaust. The museum is small and the exhibits are simple, but it was an extremely moving experience.
6. Lithuanian food is delicious.
Before my trip, I knew nothing about Lithuanian food, but now I can say it’s delicious! Be sure to try blyneliai (sweet or savory pancakes) and cepelinai (potato dough dumplings filled with cheese, meat or mushrooms).
My favorite Lithuanian specialty was saltibarscai, a cold beetroot soup which closely resembles Pepto-Bismol, but is refreshing and rather addicting. Try Foto Dvaras for a fun and tasty experience, even if the cave-like atmosphere comes off a bit kitschy.
7. Vilnius is quirky and rebellious.
Did you know that there is a self-proclaimed independent state inside Vilnius’ city limits? Just outside Old Town and across the river you’ll find the quirky artist’s quarter of the “Republic of Užupis.” The micro-nation of Užupis has its own constitution, national anthem, a bishop, four “official” flags and will even offer to stamp your passport for you. This curious area is definitely worth the short stroll from Old Town.
After you’ve perused the hippie commune shops and walked the graffiti-lined alleyways, grab a bite at Uzupio Kavine’s giant riverfront patio.
But, you don’t have to “travel” to Užupis to experience Vilnius’ cool, off-beat culture. “In-town” you can literally “hug a tree” wearing a sweater or sample local alus (beer) at popular Snekutis, a dive bar in vogue with hipster locals.
8. Vilnius is a great base to explore Trakai’s fairytale island castle.
Just 30 minutes from Vilnius you’ll find the village of Trakai. Trakai is best known for its stunning medieval castle situated on an island surrounded by lakes. You could drive or take the bus to Trakai, but in my opinion, the best way to see the castle is from the air! You can read about my hot air balloon ride over Trakai Castle here.
Where I stayed in Vilnius:
While in Vilnius I stayed at LINTiNTERP Guest House. The apartments are centrally located down a quiet street in Old Town and most of the city’s attractions were just a short walk away. The guest house felt cozy and secure and the staff was friendly and helpful. I would recommend LINTiNTERP if you’re looking for a great value.
Would you like to visit Lithuania? Are there reasons to travel to Vilnius which appeal to you? If you’ve been, what else would you add to this list?
Although I was guest of LINTiNTERP Guest House, as always, all opinions are my own.