48 Hours in Vilnius
Glimpses of pretty little side streets, huge cathedrals and leafy squares flickered past us as we made our way from the airport to our hotel in the old town. It may have been a brief introduction to Lithuania’s capital city but it was love at first sight.
Stay Where Old Meets New
Like Vilnius, Artagonist Art Hotel is where old meets new. Murals and sculptures by local Lithuanian artists adorn the spacious, white-walled rooms throughout the building creating a truly unique space where no two bedrooms are the same. Tempting as it was to sit and take in the stylish surroundings, the city was calling…
Vilnius is small enough to be explored on foot and is safe enough to discover by bike if you prefer two wheels. As we were short on time, we opted for the Vilnius City Card which gives you 24 or 72 hours of free travel on all public transport and free or discounted entries into museums and Vilnius City Tours. This is a great option if you want to see absolutely everything Vilnius has to offer, from the old town to the modern skyscrapers in the central business district.
First up, we headed to the White Bridge on the Neris River. We’d heard on the grapevine that a new viking-themed boat trip had just launched. A band of merry-looking ‘vikings’ welcomed us aboard with a traditional drink of ‘Gira’ (tasty, filling and non-alcoholic) and before long we were shouting and singing with the rest of the group. It was great fun, rowing for our lives when the raiders attacked (unsuspecting passersby on the banks of the river) and a really unique way to see the city.
Next, we strolled to the independent republic of Užupis. This quirky, bohemian neighbourhood was born out of the long awaited independence of Lithuania from the Soviet Union. Once a neglected, run-down part of the city, it became home to intellectuals and artists who wanted to create a haven of democratic and cultural freedom. It now has its own constitution, a national flag and a 12-man army. The constitution, found on the wall near the entrance (just over the river Vilnia), declares its citizens’ rights, from the tongue-in-cheek, “Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday” to the more serious “Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof”. Everywhere you look there is street art and you will find artisans who are happy to demonstrate their craft and teach you their skills.
Close to the constitution in a lively square, you’ll find Užupio Picerija. This spot is perfect for lunch or dinner, specialising in fresh stone-baked pizzas.
If you’re after something really unusual for dinner then head to Ertlio Namas, only a ten-minute walk away. Here you’re invited to take a culinary journey back in time to try dishes from medieval times. Each dish is accompanied by a fascinating story – it’s safe to say you’d be hard pressed to find snail caviar in hemp oil anywhere else in the world.
With not much time to spare, we took advantage of our Vilnius City Card and hopped aboard the Vilnius City Tour bus. A whirl of museums and gothic churches later, we arrived at Vilnius Cathedral and its bell tower located in Cathedral Square. The climb to the top of the Belfry was a little daunting but worth it for the stunning views. It’s a fully functioning bell tower too – we jumped out of our skins when the bells rang beside us at the top. Right beside the Belfry we joined a guided walking tour (free with the City Card). The guides, who are locals, are entertaining and extremely knowledgeable about Vilnius’ sights and will take you to a few hidden gems – a couple of hours well spent.
A Museum with a Difference
After all that culture and history we went looking for something different. We couldn’t resist the Museum of Illusions. This exciting, interactive museum is fun for all ages and it was easy to spend over an hour in here getting our minds boggled.
For our last evening in Vilnius we headed for Gediminas’ Tower to watch the sun set. The Tower is also home to a museum filled with medieval artefacts and scenes from daily castle life. The view from the ramparts is truly spectacular, particularly at sunset (bring your camera and your selfie-stick).
Lithuania certainly wasn’t on my radar as a holiday destination before but having spent a couple of days in Vilnius I will definitely be back to enjoy the city again and perhaps explore a little of the countryside. The people are so welcoming and the relaxed, chilled-out vibe makes the city perfect for a great city break.