The Baroque City
Unsure what it has, but it’s always nice to be back to Lithuania, and return to its charming capital city, Vilnius. Perhaps the 4th or 5th time here, and always as good as if the first time. Also in such a lapse of time since 2003 through 2020 I’ve seen how the city has reshaped itself, improved, restored and embellished after the continuous gentrification. I can still remember the times the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania was under reconstruction with merely some walls and now admiring in its full glory; and even used Litas, the currency before the Euro.
Lithuania and the Baltic Countries in general can be a great option to visit during the low season months. Winter is quite cheap to come, however there is something you must consider if planning a trip during this time, the weather. Expect below 0 Centigrade, sometimes really extreme, and snow. It can be very harsh to coop. I am for sure not prepared for that and do not have the appropriate clothing like they do. And all I can think is the horrible experience that was once Tallinn with minus 10, and that was already in spring.
Vilnius’ Old Town was listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its impressive and large medieval core, nowadays predominantly Baroque. No wonder why the city is nicknamed the Baroque City. Almost every building has been preserved, or reconstructed and restored therefore an incredible sight for everyone’s eyes. Colorful in every sense, elegant yet imposing. And since many areas are now car free, you will further enjoy walking along the streets. But gentrification and becoming popular comes at a price. Back in the times of the Litas, prices were relatively low, basically how they were supposed to be. Unfortunatelly after they joined the Euro, the cost of living and for everything raised dramatically as I have experienced every time I come, and the trend will not stop from the look of it. The country is rapidly booming, although the basics as salaries do still not reflect the reality.
It is a medium-sized hence a weekend is well enough to enjoy absolutely every sight and area without any rush, including the marvellous Trakai Castle half hour away. In the other hand, Lithuania is much more than just Vilnius. You have Kaunas and Klaipeda as the next largest cities, and around Nida by the Baltic coast the great beaches, landscapes and even the tallest sand dunes in Europe. A small country of what once was the Grand Duchy of Lithaunia from the 13th until the 18th centuries; from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, most of Ukraine, Belarus, parts of Poland and Russia.
Talking about food, that is the best part of all this while anywhere in Lithuania. You will find many great restaurants where quality is still prime, and not just average as unfortunately many countries turned to with the affluence of tourists. Here you can get real food as if your mum would cook it, and have it with one of the great Lithuanian beers as Švyturys. Said that, you can not leave the city, or wherever you are while in Lithuania, without asking for Cepelinai, the national dish. It’s a dumpling in the shape of a zeppelin hence the name, made from grated potatoes and usually stuffed with minced meat or variants of cottage cheese or mushrooms, boiled and served with sour cream sauce and bacon or pork small friend pieces. Another great very traditional dish is Carbonaras. This is not a pizza or pasta as you might think upon hearing or reading its name, but instead, breaded pork similar to Wiener Schnitzel served with cabbage, potatoes and mushroom sauce. Other dishes include Barščiai, which is hot beetroot soup done in pretty much the same way as neighboring countries do, or the cold version of the soup named Šaltibarščiai.
For more information about Vilnius check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Lithuania’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Vilnius
- Senamiestis The Old Town as the name suggests, it is where you will find the historical core of the city, an UNESCO World Heritage Site in its full.
-Gediminas Castle Also known as the Upper Castle, was originally built in the 9th century and expanded over the centuries until the 15th century. It is one of the landmarks in the city together with the Cathedral. The combined view of the Cathedral and the castle behind is the most representative view of the city.
-Gediminas Tower You can go up the solely survivor defensive tower from the former city walls which offers great 360 degrees view of the entire city. 5 Litas to get inside, also including the exhibition.
-Bleak Hill and the Three Crosses Right after the Gediminas Castle, perched on a hill are the three white crosses, re-erected in 1916 on the same site of the original wooden crosses that stood here from 1636 until 1869. The views of the Old Town below from the top are much worth the hike.
-Cathedral Square Located at the east end of the main avenue in the city, Gediminas Prospektas, is the most recognisable landmark in the city.
-Cathedral It’s origins trace back to the 12th century when a wooden building was erected. The current structure dates from 1801 in Classical Style, although it retained older structures and chapels untouched.
-Bell Tower Erected in the 16th century on top of the previous foundations of the Gothic Tower of the Lower Castle defensive walls. The tower base is round, while the Baroque belfry features octagonal plan. Entry 15 Litas to go up and the exhibition.
-Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania Also knows as the Lower Castle, currently in a Baroque style was the Royal Residence of the Dukes of Lithuania. Tours are available to see the interiors in 2 different routes. 10 Litas adults, 5 students and seniors.
-Gediminas Avenue Is the main avenue crossing the old city from the Cathedral Square towards the west up to the Žvėrynas Bridge by the Neris River. By far the most elegant street where many institutions and banks are found such as the Bank of Lithuania, the National Drama Theatre, National Library and the Academy of Music.
-Presidential Palace Dating back to the 16th century was back then the Bishop’s Palace. By the 18th century after refurbishment and enlargement became the Governor General’s residence. Since Lithuania’s independence in 1991 is the official residence of the President of Lithuania. You can see the changing of the Guards every day at 18.00pm, and on Sundays, a longer ceremony with soldiers raising the flag. You will need to book by appointment only should you want to have a tour inside. Located meters away from the Cathedral Square.
-University Complex Also near the Cathedral Square and Presidential Palace is an architectural landmark with many buildings and 13 courtyards.
-House of the Signatories Located next door to the University complex, is where the 1918 Act of Independence of Lithuania was signed.
-Town Hall Tracing back its roots to the first Gothic style building in 1432, the current is of classical style from 1799.
-Saint Casimir’s Church Beautiful Baroque church almost next to the Town Hall named after Saint Casimir, the only Lithuanian monarch to be canonised and the country’s patron saint.
-Saint Anne’s Church Located east of the Cathedral Square is one of the most beautiful churches in the city, in Hanseatic Gothic style. Legend says that after the conquest of the city by Napoleon, he liked it so much that he wanted to bring it to France.
-Saint Francis and Saint Bernard Church Literally next door to Saint Anne’s Church, built also in Gothic style in 1564.
-Gate of Dawn Marks the south entrance to the medieval city, while represents one of the most important monuments in the city. Original part of the defensive fortifications it is the solely remaining of the 9 gates that ever existed.
-Our Lady of the Dawn Chapel In the forefront of the Gate of Dawn is this small chapel containing an icon of The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy, venerated for centuries in the same spot.
-National Philharmonic Beautiful classical style building meters away from the Gate of Dawn.
-Užupis District On the eastern edge of the Old Town, was declared an Independence Republic within the city in 1997, is not as nicer as it could be since many parts are decaying, yet still nearby are important beautiful buildings and churches and retains a rather bohemian atmosphere.
-Saint Peter and Saint Paul’s Church Behind the Castle Hill to the north east of the city, is considered a Baroque masterpiece in Lithuania. Don’t get confused for the rather austere exterior, as usual, Baroque architecture is shocking from the interiors.
- New Town Most of it located on the other side of the Neris River, either in the north or west of the city. Not much to see around yet still you can get beautiful views from along the Neris riverside and parks.
-Europa Centre Is the business district where the highest buildings in the country are, and so the largest shopping centre in the city. There are great views from the bridge linking it across the Neris to the old town.
- Trakai Not far from Vilnius is the small village of Trakai where you will find one of the most beautiful castles you might have ever seen. Entirely in an island on a lake and connected by bridges, the red bricks and characteristic roofs of the towers are a great picture when in good light and reflected over the waters.
From the airport the easiest way to reach the city center is by taking any of the frequent buses running at around every 15 minutes or so. Check the most convenient bus number towards your destination, as there are 5 different routes, all of them passing through or near the city center, towards the Europa Center Business District and farther to the northern neighbourhoods. The fare is 1 Euro which you can pay to the driver.
A cheaper option but more limited in destination is taking the train, connecting the airport with the main train station in just 7 minutes, but are not that frequent as buses, with frequencies of 1 train every 45 minutes.
Should you be landing after 23.00pm, then the only option you have left is to take a taxi. It costs between 10 to 15 Euros to the city center. Very accurate information can be found in the official Vilnius Airport website here.
Within the city center there is no need to take any public transportation, which is composed of buses and trolleybuses. The World Heritage Old Town area is very compact and distances are short therefore the best way to enjoy and see the most is by walking through along the sights. Outside of the Old Town is the Europa Center Business District where you can find the largest shopping mall in the city and nice new architecture overall, yet still it’s not far and there is no need to take a bus to reach it.
As usual rule of thumbs, whenever you travel out of season guarantees almost 100% of the times much lower hotel fares. Vilnius was no exception. First of all, there was a great and big choice of quality hotels to choose from, continuously rising as it becomes more and more popular not only in tourism but in businesses too; and secondly, their fares were surprisingly low for the quality provided. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
For the most recent trip we decided to stay at the Ratonda Centrum, a 4* property right by the main avenue of the city, Gediminas Prospektas. Not in the east side near the Cathedral where many pubs and discos are, but towards the west hence in a much more quieter area. Nice small hotel with comfortable beds, clean and contemporary design, nice and friendly staff and nice breakfast.
Album of Vilnius
Album of Trakai