Post written by Laura
Vilnius is the capital city of Lithuania, a small country located in the North Eastern side of Europe. The population of Lithuania is less than 3 million and approximately 33% of the country is covered in forests. The dark green vistas of the countryside were a pleasant surprise and very noticeable as I was deposited at Vilnius airport courtesy of Ryanair.
I began a solo three country adventure in Vilnius with the three countries being Lithuania, Jordan and Cyprus! These may seem a rather random mix but with good reason. I had booked a ‘Trek Jordan‘ tour with Intrepid and when seeking out flight options I discovered that Jordan is reachable from the UK by budget airlines…
Hot travel tip
I found Ryanair flights via Vilnius on the way and via Paphos on the way back with a total cost of around £250 which even included Priority Boarding and a generous luggage allowance! And at a cost of approximately 50% of the standard direct BA flights! What better reason than to slot in a couple of extra nights each way… happy days!
Following a turbulent past Lithuania gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1990 having been part of Russia since the end of World War II. In 1989 Lithuanians collaborated with Estonians and Latvians and in August formed a human chain that extended across the three countries. This was a peaceful demonstration where around 2 million people held hands to form a 600 km long chain known as the ‘Baltic Way’.
Day 1: exploring Vilnius Old Town
With its mediaeval buildings and thankfully sunny weather this was an attractive and picturesque place to begin my trip. Lined with restaurants and cafes with all manner of cuisines together with quaint little shops selling local products I spent a pleasant day wandering around taking photos!
From the cobbled streets of the Old Town I came across the imposing cathedral just off the large and spacious Cathedral Square. The original building dates back to around 1251 and is officially called the ‘Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Ladislaus of Vilnius’.
Above left is the bell tower of the cathedral and above right is the grand interior. Good old Wikipedia informs us that many famous Lithuanians are buried within its crypts and catacombs!
Right in the middle of Vilnius I came across a cat cafe! I was tempted to enter for my first cat cafe experience but didn’t fancy such close proximity with multiple moggies and the associated allergy attack which would be bound to follow…
Located near the river Uzupis is the Bohemian district with many pavement cafes, artist workshops and well worth a visit.
The only way is up…
During my time in Vilnius I found three opportunities for getting good aerial views of the city!
View 1: climb Bleak Hill where you get to a monument called the ‘Three Crosses’. This vista offers stunning views across the Old Town of Vilnius. The hill has such a sombre name as it was the site apparently seven Franciscan friars were beheaded.
View 2: not far from the Three Crosses I made my way to Gediminas Tower, part of the original castle first built in 1409. The tower was reconstructed in 1933. You can either hike up the hill or if you are not feeling energetic there is a lift. However, once you get to the foot of the tower you can pay a small fee and climb the circular steps to reach the top of the tower in order to get the amazing views!
View 3: at the end of day 2 I found the easiest option to obtain panoramic Vilnius views is to take the lift to the 22nd floor of the Radisson Skybar! For the price of a cocktail… although I must say not the best margarita for 9 euros and not the best view either (thanks to the grey skies of day 2) but an enjoyable experience all the same! (Maybe I was spoilt with the huge margaritas of Colombia in January which raised the bar a little..)
Day 2: trip to Trakai
As mentioned above, day 2 was a bit dull and rainy however having explored much of the compact Vilnius Old Town on day I, I decided to head further afield. I took a local bus from Vilnius central bus station to the small town of Trakai, about 30 minutes away.
Part of the Trakai Historical National Park the main feature of Trakai is its 14th century castle, located on a small island in the middle of a lake! Entry to the castle is 8 euros and it is reached by crossing a wooden bridge.
The castle is well maintained and features a host of glass cabinet displays within the many rooms you can wander through.
Booked with booking.com I was delighted with my stay in the City Gate hotel. The hotel was located literally just outside the entrance to the Old Town and its cluster of international restaurants and historic buildings. Reaching the hotel from the airport was a breeze… directly outside the airport, for a cost of one euro (cash paid to the driver) I got bus 88 and 4 stops later I disembarked the bus right next to the City Gate hotel. The hotel was also located just a few minutes walk away from the main Vilnius bus and train stations.