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Lithuania is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Even some travelers focusing their trip on the Baltic countries seem skip Lithuania since Latvia and Estonia are more easily accessible via air travel. This is a huge mistake! Vilnius is a cute, quirky capital that was a delight to experience and explore. Although I could list many, here are 8 reasons to travel to Vilnius, Lithuania:
You could easily spend a day leisurely exploring Vilnius’ charming Old Town, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Europe’s largest baroque capital. Pop into shops, stroll the winding streets and admire the impressive baroque architecture. Don’t forget to saunter around Vilnius University’s picturesque courtyards, admire the gothic architecture of St. Anne’s Church and wander through the impressive Gates of Dawn before you head down Vokiečiu gatvė to settle into a cafe and people watch.
BBC’s War And Peace filming locations revealed … / The Daily Mail, 2016 01 06
Vilnius, Lithuania: Discover the setting of BBC1’s epic drama, War And Peace / The Express Saturday, 2016 01 08
Latvia and Lithuania: the fairytale filming locations for War and Peace / The Telegraph, 2016 01 22
На отдых в Литву / Линия полета, 2016 01-02
Литва знает секрет привлекательности / ТурБизнес, 2016 01-02
Den baltiske overraskelse / FerieMagasin, 2016 01 30
Литва: янтарными дорогами здоровья / Совершенство, 2016 02
Rating Europe’s Most and Least Happy Cities / Citylab.com, 2016 02 09
Want to Move to Europe? Here Are the Happiest Cities / Mental Floss, 2016 02 10
5 Eastern European Countries to Shoot Your Next Film and Save Money / The Hollywood Reporter, 2016 02 14
Baltic destination in top 25 EPI list / TravelMole.com, 2016 02 16
Vilnius – Auch für Golfer eine Reise wert / Reise-Pilot.de, 2016 02 22
Vilnius! The Baroque Capital of Europe / Tourism Around the World Monthly, 2016 03
TOP10 Incentive Travel Destinations for 2016 / Successful Meetings, 2016 03 06
Vilnius, Lituania / Tustyle Viaggi, 2016 03 07
Amazingly Fast Free Public Wi-Fi? / ITB Berlin News, 2016 03 12
The 13 cheapest European cities for a weekend break / Business Insider, 2016 03 21
Названы самые дешевые города Европы для посещения на выходных / Moya Planeta.ru, 2016 03 23
Top 5 Most Beautiful Cities to Visit in 2016 / Huffpost Travel Blog, 2016 03 29
Las ciudades culturales más económicas de Europa / Trivago.es, 2016 04 16
Citytrips: Auf zu einem neuen Hotspot / Travelnews.ch, 2016 04 19
Cheap City Breaks for When You’re Broke / Blog.Ryanair.com, 2016 04 29
The 10 Cheapest Tourist Destinations In Europe / The Culture Trip, 2016 05 17
The old world charm and new world feel of Vilnius, Lithuania / Examiner, 2016 05 22
Cap à l’Est : six villes d’Europe à petit budget / LeMonde, 2016 05 22
The 13 cities with the best work-life balance in the world / Business Insider, 2016 05 29
BBC TV series draws tourists to Vilnius, Lithuania / CCTV.com, 2016 05 30
Litva brana Pobaltia / Báječná Žena, 2016 06
A Local Expert Teaches Us How To Experience Lithuania’s Capital: Vilnius / JetsetTimes, 2016 06 21
Hoşgörünün Modern Yüzü. City of Modernity and Tolerance / Skylife, 2016 07
10 Things To Do In Vilnius / Epicwander, 2016 07 19
Just Back: Inside Uzupis, Lithuania’s free-thinking republic / The Telegraph, 2016 08 06
Please, Stop!: Things People Think Lithuania Is That It Is Really Not / No-Yolo.com, 2016 09 05
A statistical portrait of the cities, towns and suburbs across the European Union / Eurostat, 2016 09 07
Northern Europeans most satisfied with the life in cities / Politico, 2016 09 07
Litouwen: De facelift van Vilnius / National Geographic Traveler.nl, 2016 09 14
Vilnius, une capitale balte pas comme les autres / Planet.fr, 2016 09 16
The 10 cheapest European city breaks for autumn / The Telegraph, 2016 09 29
Things to do in Vilnius, Lithuania: Three-minute guide / Gippsland Times, 2016 10 08
Need a cure for your winter wanderlust? Check out our editors’ list of the 10 Best Winter Trips. We've assembled a world of reasons to travel this season, starting with a European city with Old World charm. —Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
With its medieval layout, baroque cityscape, and cobblestone streets, the heart of Lithuania’s capital city, Vilnius, charms in any season of the year. But add a dusting of snow to the castles, Gothic churches, and red-tile roofs, and the Vilnius Historic Center, or Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage site), becomes an utterly enchanting winter wonderland.
“I love seeing the frozen River Neris in the middle of the beautiful Old Town,” says Vilnius resident Inga Aukselyte. “Every time I cross one of the bridges I notice the glaciers [ice floe] quietly flowing through the town. It is especially romantic in the evening when all the city lights are on.”
Celebrate winter in Vilnius at seasonal events such as the free Christmas in the Capital (November 27 to January 6); performances of "TheNutcracker" at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre; and aThree Kings Procession from the Gate of Dawn toward Cathedral Square (January 6). There’s also a Winter Safari on Snowmobile through nearby national park forest trails and across snow-covered fields and frozen lakes.
How to Get Around: Vilnius Airport is fewer than four miles south of the city. Take light rail from the airport to the Vilnius Railway Station, or bus 88 from the airport to Old Town. Walking is the best way to travel around Old Town and to nearby center city attractions.
Where to Stay: The 18-room Moon Garden Art Hotel is close to the Gate of Dawn, the only remaining gate from Old Town's original 16th-century city wall. Book a room through the hotel website for a free ride from the airport, and ask for help with your luggage—there’s no elevator. A larger Old Town option is the 118-room Artis Hotel. The popular conference hotel is located near the Presidential Palace. Rates include a buffet breakfast.
What to Eat or Drink: The menu at Old Town’s Ertlio Namas celebrates the traditions of early Lithuania. Dishes such as sturgeon with mustard sauce and veal with steamed root vegetables are based on recipes from the 17th to 19th century. Reservations recommended.
What to Buy: Locals keep their hands warm by wearing thick wool mittens knit in snowflake and geometric patterns. Buy a pair (and wool sweaters, hats, and scarves) at Wool House, a family-owned traditional woolen-wear enterprise originally founded in 1936 and revived in 1988.
What to Read Before You Go: Ellen Cassedy’s award-winning memoirWe Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust details her efforts to learn Yiddish as a way to discover her family’s Jewish Lithuanian roots and, in turn, explore Lithuania’s brutal history under Stalin’s Soviet regime and during Nazi occupation.
Fun Fact: The name of Vilnius’s main street reflects Lithuania’s tumultuous modern history. Built in 1836 as Georgij Avenue, the street was renamed Mickiewicz by the Polish, and first Stalin and then Lenin Avenue by the Soviets. The current name, Gediminas Avenue, was briefly used in 1939 and 1940 (between the Nazi and Soviet occupations) and was reinstated in 1989. The name honors Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania (circa 1275 to 1341).
Staff Tip: During my Baltic tour, the quirky Užupis area of Vilnius stood out the most. This self-proclaimed republic of artists possesses its own anthem and has its constitution displayed on a fence, as well as a bronze angel keeping watch at the entrance to the neighborhood. Cross the river to find alternative shops, arts performances, and fashion festivals in this charming, unique district. —Christine Blau, @Chris_Blau, associate producer, National Geographic Travel
Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, and second city Kaunas, harbour rich histories, taking in vodka by royal decree, the KGB, and bohemia. WORDS: JOHN SHERIDAN
I have a theory: if the name of a country ends in ‘ia’, it’s worth a visit. From Algeria to Armenia, Bulgaria to Bolivia, and Slovenia to Syria, all evoke a sense of adventure and the prospect of a steep cultural learning curve.
Now, Lithuania might not spring readily to mind when thinking of a short break destination. But whether it’s sampling the local moonshine or coming face-to-face with the devil, I soon find Lithuania ticks all the right boxes.
The country’s second city, Kaunas, is where I start my trip and a very interesting, compact and walkable place it turns out to be – with the added advantage that it’s Lithuania’s largest producer of alcoholic spirits. Kaunas started making vodka in 1906 in a factory built at the personal decree of Nicholas II of Russia, and has been manufacturing it almost without a break to this day.
For the not-unreasonable sum of about £15, you get a tour of the distillery, a visit to the museum, and a tasting class with 10 different drinks varying in strength and age. Purely in the spirit of journalistic research, I feel that I have to go along and take part in the tasting class.
During the talk, the difference between the spirits and the reactions to the aging process are explained. Basically, at a certain age the spirit gains a fiery temperament that changes with the temperature, and eventually mellows. The selection of vodkas and local specialities – some with a few herbs mixed in – all taste pretty similar, but ‘the older the spirit, the smoother the taste’ seems to be the rule.
After an hour of nosing and tasting, it’s time to move on. I head to 55° Restaurant (Laisves aleja, 79) for lunch. This intriguing cellar eatery gets its name from the alcohol content of the country’s traditional moonshine, samane. Here, I learn about the making (and drinking) of the moonshine, which commands more of my attention than lunch itself. There seems to be a pattern emerging …
It’s soon time to check out one of the city’s stranger attractions – the world’s only devil museum. Housed in what looks like an unimposing government building, it comprises a collection of devils from around the world, and visitors are encouraged to bring along their own creations to put on display. The curator looks at my wife, but decides that she would not fit in the display cabinet.
Departing Kaunas, I head by coach to the capital of Vilnius, and if ever there was a city of two halves, this is it. The best way to view the city is from the top of Gediminas Castle. It’s certainly worth the climb of 78 steps – although it seems more – to get panoramic views of castle turrets spiking out of forest greenery on one side, and high-rise glass buildings on the other.
Of everything I see in Vilnius, the independent republic of Uzupisdefinitely demands a visit. With its own president, constitution and Independence Day (which falls on April Fool’s Day), Uzupis is a district of Vilnius Old Town and home to many artists, local celebs, and even religious prophets. It’s often compared to Montmartre in Paris, with its citizens, their lifestyle and beliefs all contributing to the unfettled feel of the district, which seems like a cross between a Sixties hippy commune and a refugee camp.
In Uzupis, numerous art and socially responsible activities take place year-round, including the release of live fish into the Vilnia river, or voluntarily helping to clean up the neighbourhood. However, the actual contents of the shops and stalls – hand-woven rugs, paintings, odd-shaped ceramic jugs and colourful plastic cups on bits of string – leave little to be desired.
Another highlight of my trip in Vilnius is a visit to the KGB, or Genocide, Museum. Here, I see the old KGB prison that was established in the basement of the building in the autumn of 1940, after Lithuania‘s occupation by the Soviet Union. Most frightening is that at street level, life and business continued as usual, but beneath the surface the misery, deprivation, torture and executions took place.
It’s a sobering and humbling few hours which, set against the devils, hippies and moonshine, shows the sheer breadth of experiences on offer in Lithuania.
For more information see lithuaniatourism.co.uk
More on the KGB museum at genocid.lt/muziejus
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Lithuanian Heritage Magazine is the leading publication about Lithuania and Lithuanians in the English language. Its readers are those of Lithuanian descent and their non-Lithuanian friends in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Lithuania, and many other countries. Its content is informative, educational, and entertaining. Every bimonthly issue brings articles, stories, photographs, and illustrations about a variety of subjects and themes of interest to those who want to know more about Lithuania, its past, present, and future.
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