Vilnius is probably not on everyone’s bucket list but I think it should definitely be given a chance! We visited Vilnius for Abel’s birthday. Actually, he did not know about this at all – he found out where we are going to at the airport! I told him to pack his bags for two days and when we got to the gate he got to know the destination. Vilnius was very special not only because it was to celebrate his birthday but because it was my 50th country I have been to and the 18th country that we have visited together. I think it was the perfect timing for that. So let me take you on a weekend trip to the intriguing and unique city of Vilnius!
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and is the biggest city in the country. I think it’s an underrated city as it has its unique and intriguing characteristics. You have to go there yourself to see what I am talking about. It has a profound history that is still present in the city itself, in the people, and in the buildings. Most of the must-see places are located in the old town and where I would also recommend staying in.
Vilnius is cheaper than most of the countries in Europe which makes it an ideal option for budget travelers. They have the cheapest public transport that I’ve encountered by far; really it’s that affordable! And to get from Vilnius airport to the city center takes 15-20 minutes by bus and costs less than 2 euro per person. Even though you might not need to use the buses inside the city since the attractions are within walking distance. The best way to explore Vilnius is on foot or with a bicycle since it has good roads for both. We used the bus once to go to a restaurant a bit outside the center and therefore hopped on the bus which was an experience itself since the buses are from the Soviet era (I am pretty sure they were, heh) and it was pouring rain, too.
Gates of Dawn
Gates of Dawn is the only gate remaining of the 5 gates surrounding the city wall that was built between 1503 and 1522. It is one of the most important shrines to Lithuanians and is worshipped by many other people in the world too. There is indeed something very mystical and powerful in the gate like it’s there protecting the entry of the old town Vilnius. You see many locals stopping and saying a prayer before they continue their way. The painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn is absolutely gorgeous too and worth visiting. Do respect the space and silence in there as it is very sacred. The “Vilnius Madonna” painting can be found inside the church and right above the gate.
The Church of Saints John
While strolling around Vilnius you will definitely come across to this baroque building and its bell tower that is the highest building of the Old Town of Vilnius. You can climb up to see the view of the city with a small fee. The Church of St. Johns is part of the complex with the university of Vilnius.
The Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Vladislav
Also called just the Cathedral of Vilnius is a stunning white building located next to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania (also worth visiting, plus a little side note that it’s closed on Mondays) and next to the Bell Tower. In fact, it doesn’t even really look like a typical Cathedral. Many Queens and Kings of the nearby countries are buried underneath the chapel so it really has been an important part of the history of Lithuania.
The Vilnius Castle Complex is a group of cultural, and historic buildings on the left side of the River Neris in Vilnius. Most parts of the Tower and the castle itself has been destroyed except the Gediminas Tower and today represents a symbol of the nation. The best ways to see any city is from above and Vilnius is no exception to that! So go there, climb on top of the hill and enjoy a gorgeous panorama view of the Old Town. It is part of the National Museum of Vilnius and you can also enter the tower if you like.
I also urge you to try out on the foods Lithuania has to offer. The majority of the dishes are based on potato, meat, and dairy. Lithuanians like to enjoy their food and the dishes are indeed very comforting and filling; especially good in the colder season. Must-try foods include potato pancakes, dumplings (made with potato and stuffed with meat and mushrooms), beetroot soup (mostly served cold in the summer season), Lithuanian šakotis (tree cake) and Pyragas (sweet pie filled with usually apples or plums). Absolute comfort food!
The city has many great restaurants and bars which for us, unfortunately, two days wasn’t enough to explore all of them. I think they would be even more enjoyable during the spring and summer seasons. We visited Vilnius at the end of October and it was definitely the low season. But if you want a quiet and relaxing holiday, admiring the autumn colors and visiting the sites with only a few people, the end of the year is the time to go. Also, this the season to go and enjoy the Christmas markets the city has! In fact, Vilnius has one the most lavish Christmas market around the entire Europe, so it’s the best time to get yourself into that holiday spirit, don’t you think? 🙂