One of our favorite things about living in Dublin is how easy it is to travel to destinations around Europe including many, like Vilnius, that we would likely never get to if we lived in the U.S. We had previously visited Tallinn Estonia and Riga Latvia and had a great time so we were absolutely delighted to visit Lithuania for a long weekend city break in September. Here are 19 amazing things that we discovered about Vilnius during our weekend trip. Hopefully this will provide you with some travel inspiration to hop on a plane and visit Lithuania's charming capital city.
1. Vilnius in the UNESCO Heritage Spotlight
The historic Old Town in Vilnius is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it's easy to see why. Stately public buildings and ornate churches dot the streets of Lithuania's capital city. We arrived in Vilnius in the evening and got a chance to marvel at the architecture under a brilliant spotlight.
2. Cool, Cheap Lithuanian Beer in Vilnius
If architecture's not your thing, pop into one of the local pubs in Old Town Vilnius to sample cool, cheap, Lithuanian beer. We found a number of local offerings on tap at a bargain price of less than 2 EUR a pint in many cases. What an ideal way to quench our thirst on our weekend city break in Vilnius!
3. Vilnius' Street Art
Vilnius also features a wide range of striking street art. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk around the Old Town for some stunning creations.
4. Sculpture in context in Vilnius
Continuing with an art theme, sculpture abounds in Vilnius. From quaint wooden carvings, to stately historical figures, to throwbacks to the communist era and more; you'll find it all here in Vilnius.
5. Somebody's Watching Me in Vilnius!
I couldn't help but feel like somebody was watching me in Vilnius. Every time I looked up, I spotted faces on the facades of the ornate buildings staring back at me.
6. Vilnius' Church Spires
Vilnius is a city of churches. On a sunny day, I could have spent hours looking up at the spires watching little wisps of clouds roll past.
7. Vilnius' Communist Era Contrasts
Vilnius is also a city of contrasts. Lithuania was part of the USSR from the World War II era until the Iron Curtain fell in 1990. There are still remnants of communist era architecture in Vilnius which stand in stark contrast to the fabulously ornate structures of the medieval Old Town.
8. Vilnius' Fair of Nations
Our trip to Vilnius was serendipitously well timed. A huge Fair of Nations was on along Gediminas Avenue in the heart of Vilnius. We strolled along the busy thoroughfare sampling local and international treats and admiring the local Lithuanian crafts on offer. Notable stalls included a vendor selling at least ten kinds of bacon and someone selling colorful wool socks. I picked up a pair of Lithuanian socks to keep my feet warm during the upcoming winter season in Dublin. Unfortunately, I didn't have any room in my backpack for Lithuanian bacon although I'll admit it was tempting.
9. Sweeping views from Vilnius' Gediminas Tower
We rode the funicular up the steep slope at the foot of Gediminas Avenue in Vilnius to Gediminas Tower. The tower features sweeping views over the old and new towns in Vilnius. Inside, there was a photo exhibit chronicling the fall of communism in the Baltic States. We saw some impressive pictures of the Baltic Chain, a demonstration back in 1989 where approximately 2 million people joined hands in a continuous link between Tallinn, Estonia and Vilnius. It was a peaceful political demonstration credited with paving the way for the fall of communism in the Baltic region.
10. Yarnbombing, Vilnius Style
We discovered that the residents of Vilnius love a bit of yarnbombing. We spotted several trees, lampposts and even a derelict building covered in yarn. I loved this quirky side to Lithuania's Capital City.
11. Bernardinai Garden in the Heart of Vilnius
Bernardinai Garden is a peaceful oasis in the center of Vilnius. We strolled through manicured gardens and enjoyed exploring the fountains and metallic sculptures strewn throughout the park.
12. Vilnius' Literatu Garve
Literatu Garve was one of the most fascinating places we discovered on our weekend city break to Vilnius. This ode to Lithuanian literature features hundreds of unique pieces of art embedded into the walls along a narrow street for 2-3 blocks. Definitely check it out if you find yourself visiting Vilnius!
13. Lithuanian Doughnuts!
If you have a sweet tooth like I do, you can't go wrong with Lithuanian doughnuts. Filled with caramel, chocolate, or jam, these dense balls will definitely help fuel a day of exploration around Vilnius.
14. Vilnius' Craft Beer Scene
In addition to the cheap local beer described above, Vilnius also has a thriving craft beer scene. We particularly enjoyed Bambalynė. We descended from the bustling streets of Vilnius into a cool cellar lined with refrigerators. The cases were loaded with Lithuanian craft brews. We had a heck of a time deciding but ultimately made our selection, paid for our craft beer, were handed the corresponding mugs, and sat in the atmospheric cave sipping Vilnius' finest.
15. Carb Loading in Vilnius and Kibinai
I don't recommend going on a diet before visiting Vilnius for a weekend. Lithuanian cuisine features lots of heavy comforting food like potato pancakes, golden pastry filled with meat and cheese (kibinai), and the yes-it's-as-big-as-it-sounds zeppelin, a starchy potato based dumpling. Of course, Lithuanian food all washes down really well with a local craft beer.
16. A Headbanging Good Time in Vilnius
I love the things we chance upon on a trip that are totally unplanned. A series of concerts was on in Vilnius in conjunction with the Fair of Nations. We were walking down Gediminas Avenue before dinner when we suddenly heard a blast of loud headbanging music followed by classic violin. As we got closer, we discovered that Jelonek, a musician based in Poland, was putting on the show of his life on the streets of Vilnius. The band played classical music melodies with a heavy metal twist. We were mesmerized and stood watching for almost an hour. I even decided to bang my head a bit although I nearly fell over in the bushes when I made my attempt. Don't try this at home, folks! Jelonek was totally over the top awesome. The show even featured some crazy pyrotechnics. I've included a few clips below so you can see the spectacle we discovered in Vilnius for yourself.
17. A Day Trip from Vilnius to Trakai Island Castle
We were only in Vilnius for a little over 2 days, but we still managed to squeeze in a day trip to Trakai which is located about an hour outside of Vilnius by bus. Trakai is a lake resort town in Lithuania anchored by a magical castle located on an island. We explored the castle grounds, walked along the lake, and dined al fresco on fine Lithuanian cuisine at Kiubete before making our way back to Vilnius. Trakai Island Castle was a lovely and tranquil respite from Lithuania's capital.
18. Vilnius' Colorful Houses
Vilnius also features some amazing colorful homes, particularly around Trakai. We spotted quaint wooden buildings in nearly all the colors of the rainbow on our walk from the Trakai bus station to the castle.
19. The Gates of Dawn in Vilnius
Vilnius was once a walled city and the Gates of Dawn medieval entrance to the city still stands tall. We took a mental trip back in time and thought about what it would have been like to walk the streets of Vilnius in the 16th century. The Gates of Dawn also features relics from the Virgin Mary which are believed to have special powers. We didn't have time to go up and see for ourselves but we were able to catch a glimpse of the Virgin Mary from outside while standing on the streets of Vilnius below.
headed onward to Kaunas by bus to see another side to Lithuania.