Two Days in Vilnius, Lithuania
We’ve made it to the last stop in the Baltics during our 2017 Europe trip! We finished off our Baltics tour in the capital of Lithuania – Vilnius. Although it still has a “magical” feel, the vibe of this city is much less “old school” Europe. What we mean by that is that it feels more local, like we got to be involved in the normal, real life a lot more than the the other Baltic countries. It’s a university town full of college students and a beautiful college campus and also filled with a lot of young families, 40% of their populations being under 40 years old. Although there are some cool historic things to see, Vilnius is a modern, progressive city with some very unique new things to enjoys!
We came in through a Lux Bus overnight into the Vilnius bus station which is located about a mile outside of the center of town. It’s a very nice bus station and extremely easy to navigate other modes of transportation out of, like the airport and the train. We flew out of Vilnius and took the direct airport train for about $.80, this train leaves about 16 times a day and only takes 7 minutes to get there. The airport is extremely easy to get in and out of, small but efficient.
when to visit
The warmest months to come in are July and August, although the least crowded is May to June and the month of September. When we were there the first week of May, it was still pretty cold and ended up storming the last day and a half we were there, making us miss our hot air balloon ride – major fail that we’ll get to later.
where to stay
We stayed in a really awesome Airbnb within Old Town. It was a small, private loft apartment close to everything we wanted to see, plus at $35 a night it won’t break the bank. You can find it here and you can use our $20 off link to try out Airbnb if you haven’t ever used the service before. It’s one of our favorite ways to feel like a local!
things to do
Vilnius, like its other two Baltic counterparts, has a World Unesco Heritage site Old Town. It is not as condensed as the other two capital’s Old Towns so there’s a lot more ground to cover. These are some of the things we saw inside and outside of the Old Town.
Often compared to Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen, Uzupis is the independent republic of Vilnius. Once housing squatters, prostitutes, and the homeless, it is evolving into an artist’s hub where young families are moving in due to the cheap rent. It is truly a hipster’s paradise! It’s a fun place to walk through with cool pubs and art galleries, can’t be missed in any trip to Vilnius!
Make sure to stop by to see the flag and the Constitution of Uzupis and find your language of the “rules”!
eating and drinking in Uzupis
◊ Uzupis Kavine – You can’t miss this terrace restaurant when you come across the bridge into Uzupis. If the weather is pleasant, you must sit out on the terrace and have a drink! The sound of the river below along with a couple of beers and beer platter are quite the afternoon delight. Plus, if you have your passport on hand, you can also get a stamp from inside Kavine from the Uzupis Republic.
◊ Spunka – Located right in front of the angel of Uzupis, this little hole in the wall place shouldn’t be too hard to find. Spunka is a tiny little place but their beers pack a punch! If they’re on tap, try the Kurko (red rye) and the Humulupu (American IPA).
By this point, you’ve probably figured out we are big proponents of walking tours! We do them in all the cities that we can since we think it’s the best way to see the city’s highlights. Most places have free walking tours where all you have to do is tip the guide after the tour. It’s also a great inexpensive way to get acquainted with the layout of a city and find cool places to head to in the following days. Here are some of our highlights from our walking tour and subsequent touring on our own.
We started our tour of Vilnius in the Old Town, starting at the center of it at Town Hall. We walked into a lot of the Jewish Quarter, which doesn’t exist much anymore in Vilnius, and onward on to the rest of the Old Town.
Uzupis + the River Vilnia
We already talked about Uzupis above, but we’ll say it again to visit. Then when you’re done, take a stroll along the Vilnia River onto the other side of the Old Town.
This open air art gallery showcases different tributes to Lithuanian writers and literary contributors. There are always different art pieces being added and it is quite a fun exhibit to walk through!
St. Anne’s Church
One of the most beautiful gothic buildings in the whole city, St. Anne’s church is located in between Literature Street and Cathedral Square. Although we didn’t ever go inside, the outside was beautiful to admire. Masses are held almost everyday of the week in case you fancy yourself a Lithuanian church service.
This area is the main square of Old Town Vilnius where you will find the Vilnius Cathedral, its bell tower and a statue in commemoration of Gediminas – one of the first rulers of Lithuania. There are often festivities like parades, public events, and concerts that happen within the square, so if you’re lucky you might catch something going on when visiting!
Gediminas Tower + Castle Hill Lookout
Gediminas Tower is the remaining part of the Upper Castle, located on the Castle Hill lookout area above Cathedral Square. You can get to Gediminas Tower by walking a quick uphill trek or riding the funicular for a couple of bucks. You can also tour the tower, which houses a museum and head up to the top where you’ll find the observation deck for an even higher view. We didn’t do the museum but just enjoyed the regular overlook of the Old Town and the other side of the River Vilnia. You can view Uzupis, Cathedral Square, and to the left you can see the Three Cross Monument. We never made it up to the monument but it is a well known Lithuanian symbol of freedom and resistance during the Occupation.
We also did see parts of the University buildings and a couple other government buildings but never went inside any, just learned some basic history. You will probably see them if you find yourself on a walking tour so just thought we’d mention it in case you really want to seek those places out.
where to eat and drink
◊ Montmartre Cafe – This little corner cafe situated close to the Town Hall of Vilnius is also named after the neighborhood we stayed in Paris. Sit out on the patio and watch the students walking to the university in the warm sun – and definitely try the crepes!
◊ Bookafe – We wandered into this little ice cream bar/coffee shop while walking through the Old Town and sat out on a little table enjoying the cute little alleyways full of mini coopers. Adequate coffee, but really cute ambience and worth a stop if you find yourself down the little alleyway.
◊ Bamblyne – This is one of the coolest places we visited on our 2017 tour of Europe. You can find this downstairs rustic bottle shop tucked down a tiny street in the Old Town of Vilnius. The employees of Bamblyne will help you pick a beer to try, since there are a lot, or you can try you luck and pick a few to share. We tried the Kanapiu (Cannibus Ale), the 666 (cherry chocolate), and the Vilniaus (a dark ale with herbs). The best part is that all of Bamblyne’s beers are from Lithuanian brewers!
◊ Alaus Biblioteka – Another favorite of our beer European beer tours was Alaus Biblioteka, a hip upstairs beer bar close to our studio. The bartenders were helpful and nice, the food was delicious, and the beers were top notch. We found a nice quiet table in a little back room, enjoyed our homemade pork pot pie, and the Belgian Pale Ale plus a Jovarai (honey old ale). You have to order from the bar so that the bartenders can talk to you about your taste preferences and they match you with a beer instead of choosing from a list. It’s a very personal, unique drinking experience. If you are a craft beer lover, you cannot miss this place!
◊ Pilies Kepyklele – We found this place near cathedral square and enjoyed our last few moments of sunshine before the weather got crazy on us. We were really craving gin + tonics and might have had to make our own on the patio since they didn’t know how but it was a perfect people watching area. Plus the view wasn’t bad at all!
◊ Snekutis – This local chain of bar/restaurants is one of the best places to try local Lithuanian food. There was one about a block away from our studio that was perfect for dinner and drinks after a long day of sightseeing. There’s a lot of local Lithuanian craft beers to try that pair nicely with any of the traditional meat platters!
◊ Bix – Need to pass some time when the weather is bad? Our favorite pastime is playing pool when we need a refuge from the rain, and Bix was the perfect spot. Good drinks and great tables, this place is perfect to slip in a game or two! Just don’t get hustled by the regulars there, they mean business!
Traveling Tavener’s Travel Fail:
Kenny and I joke that we have a permanent rain cloud above us when we travel and of course this trip was no exception. The weather reports are always sunny and warm except the EXACT days we’re going to be in a place. Cue the cold and the rain! Sometimes life just happens like that and you gotta roll with the punches. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed though with our weather in Vilnius because we had reserved a hot air balloon ride over the castle of Trakai, a little town about 30 minutes outside of Vilnius. Due to the inclement weather circumstances however, the tour was canceled and for the second time in Europe we missed a ride in the sky! If you’re interested though, we really recommend checking out Smile Balloon, they had great communication, easy to navigate reservations, and cheap rates for balloon rides. They also do rides over the Old Town of Vilnius in case you want to stay within the confines of the city. Make sure to send us pictures in case you do this so we can have some travel fail envy!
Vilnius is an off the beaten path destination that we think is definitely worth visiting, what do you think? Let us know in the comments below and like always, tell us if we missed anything that we gotta see next time! That wraps up the Baltic countries, we hope you enjoyed and will join us for the rest of our 2017 Euro tour next.