Back in July 2015, my mum was browsing a dealsite and came across a 3-night trip to Vilnius for just 700 DKK per person. Earlier that year, my mum and I went on a similar trip to Riga and we wanted to do it again – but to a different location, although still in the wonderful Baltics. We booked the trip and on February 5th, we set off for a short adventure in Lithuania.
We had everything sorted out beforehand by the company; the flights were booked, the hotel booked and the breakfast booked. I’m not used to travelling like this, but I do like an easy travel once in a while! A trip, where I don’t have to worry about anything but what to do and see at the chosen destination!
We stayed at the Panorama Hotel, located just outside the old town in the center of Vilnius, and got a room with the most amazing view of the city. It’s incredible how much you can get for your money compared to Denmark in a country that is just 1,5 hours away by flight. The hotel was great and it was the perfect base for exploring Vilnius and the surrounding areas for three days.
I have now visited all three Baltic capitals, and while they definitely have a lot in common, there are also many differences, differences that make each capital a unique and interesting experience. Tallin, the capital of Estonia, with the town wall and the old town is the coziest and it feels less like a city than the other two. It’s also a city that is full of contrasts from the old town to the modern city surrounding it. Riga, the capital of Latvia, is the most international city and the city with the most beautiful buildings. And Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is the most modern city with its skyscrapers, but at the same time, the city that gave me the most culture shocks (in a good way). Like Tallin, there is also a big contrast from the old town to the modern area, but it’s not as sharp as in Tallin. But Vilnius is without a doubt the most religious city. Every time a Lithuanian passes a church or any other religious building or symbol, they stop to bow. Everytime – and churches are everywhere in Vilnius, so we experienced that a lot!
It’s hard for me to choose a favourite of the Baltic capitals, so I’m not going to, but I can say that they are high on the list of my favourite capitals in Europe, all three of them. Due to the many different attractions that Vilnius offers, I would say that Vilnius is the most interesting capital to visit of the three.
My favourite place in Vilnius is the Užupis neighbourhood. Užupis is an alternative neighbourhood with its own rules – a bit like Christiania in Copenhagen, but not quite as extreme. The name translates to “on the other side of the river” and that is exactly what it is. Užupis is in many ways “on the other side”. The neighbourhood is home to many of Vilnius’ creative people and is known for its bohemic atmosphere. In 1997, Užupis declared itself an independent republic and today, the neighbourhood has its own constitution, president, government, currency and four flags, one for each season.
I love alternative neighbourhoods like this, and especially the constitution was a brilliant read.
While a city is definitely best explored on ground, I always make it a goal to see it from above as well. Alhough we already had a great view from our hotel room, we still wanted to make an effort – or should I say two efforts – to see the view from other perspectives.
Right in the middle of the old town are two hills that are great for small city hikes. My mum and I chose to do both of them, one after another. It was quite tough, although we are both used to walking a lot, and we could feel it in our legs afterwards. But the views from the top of the hills were definitely worth it.
We first walked up the Hill of Three Crosses, which had the best panoramic view of the two. The Three Crosses is a prominent monument located on the spot where seven Franciscan friars were beheaded, according to the legend. The first crosses were built in the early 17th century, but they have since been replaced, destroyed and then built again.
We walked down the other way and found the beginning of the next hill, leading us up to the Gediminas Tower, where another amazing view of the city was awaiting us. The tower is the only remaining part of the old Upper Castle and today, it stands as an important historic symbol for Vilnius and Lithuania in general.
In the afternoon, we went to the Užgavėnės festival, where we really got to experience the real Lithuania and the Lithuanian culture and traditions that we knew so little about beforehand. The festival marks the end of winter and everyone in the entire city seemed to be there on Gediminas Avenue. It was absolutely packed, but still it was enjoyable to see the masqueraders dancing, the children singing and the Lithuanian people dressed in traditional clothing, while enjoying the traditional pancake dish.
Our last day in Vilnius was spent in the one and only cat café in the city, the Cat Café Kačių Kavinė. My mum and I are both crazy cat lovers, so this was a must for us. We fed the cats, played with them, ate with them and took millions of pictures of them and with them. It was brilliant and now I want to open my own cat café! I think Tórshavn needs one, so the plan is to open one there in a few years, haha 😉
Our time in Lithuania was short, yet memorable. We spent two beautiful days in Vilnius and the other day in Trakai, a small town just 45 minutes from Vilnius. But more about that in the next post!
Have you been to the Baltics? Which capital is your favourite? Let me know in the comments!