‘Oh! Vilnius! That’s…where is that again?’ said around three quarters of the people I told I was going to Vilnius.
Lithuania’s capital was added to my travel wishlist several years ago when the flights came up as a cheap option during one of those must-go-somewhere-anywhere searches, and a google image search showed it to be very aesthetically pleasing, but in all honesty I didn’t know a huge amount about it.
A good while after it first came onto my travel radar, the opportunity to visit presented itself in the form of a winter weekend trip that needed to be as affordable as possible. And now, having been, I can confirm that not only is it a really low-cost city break, and indeed aesthetically pleasing, it’s also hugely interesting, full of history and, if I may say, very cool – in a totally unpretentious way. This post is my travel diary of our two nights and two and a bit days there, and will hopefully demonstrate why I thought it was such a great option if you’re in the market for a European weekend destination.
It will also inevitably include an overuse of the words ‘we did’, ‘we went’ and such – I visited with one of my closest friends and a long-time travel partner of mine, just to clarify who I’m referring to!
Where we stayed
It will be of no surprise for me to announce, as I always do, that we stayed in an Airbnb (if you want to check it out, it’s here). A delightful, tucked away gem of an Airbnb; nestled amongst a ramshackle collection of buildings in a courtyard, quiet but just off a main street in the Old Town. Not that that means much, because Vilnius might be a vibrant capital city but it’s not particularly loud or overbearing, something that was particularly appealing during the festive period, when most things seem to be both.
The city is brilliantly walkable – I don’t think we took any public transport at all except for to and from the airport – and it was a luxury, in temperatures under zero degrees, to be able to pop back into the apartment throughout the day to warm up, add another sock layer or snack on bars of chocolate we’d picked up at the supermarket.
And warm up we did, thanks to a heated floor, a cosy bed and all the other essentials contained within a ground floor apartment comparable to a very chic hobbit house (but virtue of it’s beautiful curved ceiling, which makes the whole place feel like a sort of underground sanctuary). I’ve had lots of great Airbnb experiences but this was certainly up there with the best of them.
What we did
Aside from the late afternoon and evening of our arrival, which involved a wander in the fading light, ensuring we knew the whereabouts of the nearest supermarket (extremely important) and going out to eat and drink (if you’re a rum fan, Rhum Room is a really beautiful, atmospheric bar option), our time in Vilnius began with a walking tour.
This walking tour, to be precise; one of the tip based free ones that you can find in most European cities. I’m so pleased we opted to do this one – there was so much about the history of Vilnius I would never have learnt otherwise and it’s a really cost and time effective way to get a good feel for the city, it’s inhabitants and it’s culture from the mouth of a resident.
The tour began outside the town hall (very close to our apartment) and took us through the pebbled streets of Old Town via many a church – Vilnius is full of churches in various styles and colours – and on to Uzupis, a bohemian artists’ district and self-proclaimed ‘Republic’. In other words, the kind of place I find endlessly fascinating. It even has its own wonderful constitution including such wisdom as ‘Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat’ (‘the cat’ being a fat ginger one who is the official ambassador of the republic, of course) and ‘Everyone has the right to understand nothing’.
We ended at Cathedral square, where, to my delight, some sort of dog owners meet up was taking place. These types of places are nearly always lovely but the addition of 50 French bulldogs barrelling around the place is welcome in any situation, no? This is also the location of the Stebuklas tile (Stebuklas meaning ‘Miracle’ in Lithuanian), the end point of the Baltic Chain. Apparently if you spin around clockwise on the tile and make a wish it might come true, so I dutifully obliged. I’ve now forgotten what my wish was so I can’t be sure how it’s going.
After scouting out some lunch we spent the latter half of the day in Uzupis again, taking in the streets in a slower way and exploring all the weird and wonderful sculptures and works on the river banks. Plus, of course, I wanted another good look at that constitution (I’m considering using it for the self-proclaimed Republic of my house).
Uzupis is far from the only place in Vilnius to find art, however – and the prevalence of it on the sides of buildings and down little streets was one of my favourite things about the place. Literatu street, which we’d seen on the walking tour, is covered in mounted artworks dedicated to Lithuanian literature or world writers who have influenced it, and we paid another visit to the street to see it lit up in the evening.
There are also plenty of urban murals, which we saw more of on our second day when we spent a little more time outside of the city gates in the area around the train station. We actually went to the train station to store our luggage (this is super cheap and easy to do, so if you have a late flight like us its no bother) but close by is the Putin/Trump mural, and there’s plenty more street art in the area.
Our second (chilly) afternoon was whiled away in exploring and cafes, along with a visit to Gediminas Tower. The walk up Gediminas hill to get to this isn’t long so is well worth doing for the views out over Vilnius, its rooftops dusted lightly with snow, alone.
And then, like that, our time was up and it was time to hop on the bus to the airport again. Needless to say, I loved enjoyed our time in the city, the things we did there, and the general vibe that pervades the whole place. I loved the cat we spied snoozing in the window of an amber shop, the festive yet chilled feel, the things we ate and the excellent constitution of Uzupis.
Plus, any country with the daring and humour to run a tourism campaign positioning itself as ‘the G spot of Europe’ is a country I approve of. If you haven’t already – go forth and get yourselves to Vilnius.