This September I took a 2 night (3 day) break to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. If you saw my post a couple of months ago about this break you will remember that I booked this to achieve one of my bucket list entries of taking my husband on a holiday he wanted to go on.
We were incredibly flexible with when we could go to keep this holiday as cheap as possible as we already had another trip away booked for November. This meant that we chose flights from Luton, not our nearest airport (second nearest) on a Thursday at 5:45pm which got us to Vilnius for 10:30pm local time (Lithuania is 2 hours ahead of the UK). This meant that the first day of our trip was pretty much for travel as we went straight to our hotel, which we reached by taxi. As it was late and dark we decided it would be best to grab a taxi from directly outside the airport and the trip to the Grata Hotel only cost 15 euros.
The Grata Hotel although located on the outskirts of the main town was still located in a good position. The hotel was incredibly cheap and clean, a buffet breakfast was included and there was a mini bar in the room. The only downside (unless you are me) was that the room was classed as Twin or Double, you couldn’t select which. We got a Twin which suited me just fine!
Now you have your flights and your hotel sorted here’s the perfect 2 day itinerary.
We didn’t really have any set plan for what we were going to do and see during our two days, so just started to walk towards the old town of Vilnius. It was still quite early and we noticed that a lot of shops don’t actually open until 11am so it was nice and quiet.
We finally stumbled across Vilnius Cathedral and the Belfry tower, you can not miss these bright white buildings surrounded by vast open space. Against the beautiful blue skies they made a perfect photo opportunity. We have visited a lot of Cathedrals in our time but not so many bell towers so decided to go into the Belfry. This cost 4 euros per adult (students could get a discount). This turned out to be one of my favourite places of the entire trip as you started to climb some standard stone stairs into the bell tower and read about its history (thankfully in very good english). We reached a glass door which at first looked like it was the end of our access to the bell tower but we were wrong, as we went through that door we continued our journey up several sets of hand made steep ricketty wooden ladders to be surrounded by wooden beams and the bells of the tower.
The views from the top of the Belfry were our first taste of what Vilnius could look like from height and it didn’t disappoint, they had even handily removed some of the safety barriers from the windows so you could get the perfect photo.
Directly behind the Cathedral was the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, the entrance of which was down some stairs. It cost 5 euros to get in and it was worth the money as we were here for over an hour. The first part of this museum is what remains of the original palace, which was incredibly well preserved. There were also plenty of information in english and the archaeological finds recovered during the excavations were also well displayed. Although I am an archaeologist I have never really studied this part of the world so it was interesting to learn something new.
As you head up to the third floor there are a few reconstructed rooms of the current palace, these felt fairly new and weren’t as informative as the previous displays. There is a viewing room at the top of the palace, I recommend saving your legs as the view is not that great compared to the others we were due to see.
It was time to head to Gediminas Tower, the walk there took us past the National Museum and the stunning River Neris. The walk up to the tower is a steep cobbled path, I wouldn’t have liked to walk it in the wet! It was worth the walk though, the views from here of the city were stunning and the tower itself stood out in the landscape. Some of the surrounding parts of the 15th century castle were undergoing work, with some parts of the grounds being excavated by archaeologists whilst we were there! I reckon this tower would be worth paying to go inside if you have the time.
Gediminas Tower is not the highest view point of the city and as it was such a nice day we decided to visit the Three Crosses. The walk took us down a little path by the river and through the trees before a very steep climb up some wooden steps, which i must admit felt like it was never going to stop.
The Three Crosses are 17th century in date and in their own right are worth seeing with the added bonus of the views of the city from here. In the summer this would be a great spot to either come during the day for a picnic or come and watch the sunset in the evening.
We managed to pack a lot into our first morning but hunger was starting to take over. The walk along the river was beautiful and took us all the way to Uzupis, where we stopped at Uzupio Kavine, a restaurant along the river where we sat outside and enjoyed some drinks and some Lithuanian food! The combination of location, price, friendly staff and great food made this a great place to stay and i would certainly recommend.
We were so relaxed we must have spent a good two hours here before exploring Uzupis which is an independent republic with its own constitution. The constitution can be found written in pretty much every language and includes some great rules, my favourite being ‘a dog has the right to be a dog’. Uzupis also has some lovely little shops, restaurants and street art and has a really different feel to it.
We saw so many churches whilst walking around Vilnius, I am not entirely sure how many there actually are but they are all stunning pieces of architecture. St Anne’s Church is near to Uzupis so worth seeing.
The last stop on Day 1 was the Genocide Museum, located in the modern part of the city it is housed in a former KGB building. At school we were taught a lot about the World Wars and the Cold War and I have visited a number of places affected by these times. It cost 4 euros each for entry. The displays in the museum were in english and very informative although if reading the displays wasn’t enough to turn my stomach heading down to the basement where the prison rooms were located certainly did. Rooms with heavily painted walls to hide the writing of prisoners, torture chambers with sound proofed walls and the execution room with bullet holes in the wall leaves you feeling pretty sombre. You must fit this in to your two day itinerary.
After that experience it was time to go in search of some more food! I had seen a place recommended on another blog which was located in the old ghetto. One of the many pro point to visiting Vilnius was being able to look at menus without being bothered by waiters, it was all very relaxed. This gave us time to find Lokys, this restaurant is probably one of the more higher priced in the city, but it was worth it if your budget stretches to it. We ordered a starter to share called ‘snack to accompany beer’ which comprised, fried bread (yum), smoked pig ears, beer sausage and cheese doughnuts. This was delicious. I then managed to accomplish another bucketlist item ‘trying a new meat’ by ordering a beaver stew.
After dinner we headed across the lane to a little traditional Lithuanian bar called Leiciy Bravoras, with lovely brick ceilings this place was nice and quaint and looking at the food people were being served would have been a cheaper option for somewhere to get dinner. I unfortunately don’t like beer but my other half had one of their beer tasters, they brew their own beer here and this selection included four half pints of beer, a wheat beer, an IPA, a stout and Pilsner.
The plan today was to get a bus to Trakai, 30 minutes outside of the city and home to an impressive moated castle. When doing research into visiting here I had found very little information about the bus but believed that I could get one from platform 6, 7, 8 or 28 and 29. Now when we reached the bus station the bus stops had letters not numbers and even on looking for buses with the above numbers they did not seem to exist.
I remembered reading that you could also get a train, so we went into the station and found the tourist information where I asked about the bus and they told me there was only a train which ran four times a day. Unfortunately we were catching our flight back that night and did not think we would be able to get a train back to Vilnius in time and decided not to risk it. In hindsight we could have risked it as Vilnius airport is incredibly quiet and we could have got through security with time to spare.
If we had planned to visit Trakai on the first day we would have got the train, it looked as if it would have been simple enough (certainly simpler than trying to find a none existent bus). My advice is to use the train, plan ahead and if you do have a late flight home that day you can probably risk getting the train back and making it to the airport in time.
Although this was incredibly disappointing at the time (although a perfect excuse to visit again) we soon realised there was still plenty in Vilnius we had not seen. We headed from the station towards the Gate of Dawn which is one of four 16th century gates to the city. Here we saw our first tourist-esque stalls, a few ladies selling some souvenirs, in a very relaxed fashion. Buying a magnet was the only traditional tourist thing we did on our entire trip!
We walked past the Church of St Theresa and the Holy Trinity Church and Basilian Gate before stopping at a little french inspired cafe, Cafe Montmartre for a hot drink (it was cold today!). We continued our walk to the Bastion of Vilnius Defensive Wall, which cost us 4 euros to get in and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
This place was fairly small but like with the other places we had visited all the information was in english, the displays were well thought out and the courtyard outside the Bastion provided great views of the city. After visiting here we were unsure what was left to do and went for a random walk which provided great walks and views of the city and the river before some how stumbling across the main street in Vilnius which we had totally missed on day 1.
Pilies Street is adorned with shops, restaurants and bars and I am so glad that we managed to find this place. The city felt alive but was still relaxed with no pressure from the locals to eat in their restaurant or buy their items. We walked all the way along the street looking at the stalls and shops selling handmade items, such as Russian dolls, thick knitted socks and locally sourced amber, before deciding it was time to eat. We stopped at Pilies Katpedele, which had a sign outside saying Traditional Lithuania Kitchen. I was totally sold. The menu was extensive and everything was listed under three categories of their ancient cuisine, food popular during the wars and modern day food. I decided to go fully traditional and ordered the cold beetroot soup with potatoes followed by a meat dumpling with bacon and soured cream (washed down with wine of course).
The soup was delicious, if not a little confusing, probably better in the summer months although the menu included a number of hot soups perfect for the winter months, including the oxtail soup which my husband had. I had actually read about the traditional meat dumpling before my trip, it was tasty, but very filling, luckily the soured cream made the dish taste slightly lighter. The best part of this restaurant….. two starters, two mains, two glasses of wine, three pints of beer only cost 29 euros!! How??? This was the highlight of Lithuanian cuisine. You have to eat here!
It was time to do a bit more walking and exploring and we came across Vilnius University which cost just 1 euro 50 to go inside and explore. The buildings which form part of the University are pretty impressive including the Church of St John and its Bell Tower (which was an additional cost). We were given a leaflet when we arrived which gave us information about all the buildings within the University complex and was a nice little hidden part of the city worth exploring if you have the time.
Our time was nearly up so we headed to the airport, which in hindsight we headed for far too early and probably could have saved us the 25 euros from the city and walked the distance with the time we had.
Vilnius is an incredibly underrated city, I am not really sure why more people aren’t flocking here, although I selfishly enjoyed how quiet it was. This city is cheap to get to, cheap to stay in and the food and entry to places is also incredibly affordable. All the places to visit in the city are geared up for English speaking visitors. The lack of tourism and tourists made this trip feel authentic and relaxing, there was no one pushing to sell us anything which meant we could do everything at our own pace. Something which a lot of European cities are ruined by nowadays.
Definitely consider visiting the beautiful city of Vilnius with this jam packed 2 day itinerary!