8 reasons why you should love Vilnius, Lithuania, right now
For a very long time, one of Vilnius’ main claims to fame was that it was one of the cheapest cities in Europe. There’s nothing wrong with affordable travel, of course, but calling Lithuania’s capital inexpensive only does a disservice to its many other, more valuable charms.
First, a brief geography and history lesson: Lithuania is a small country located on the Baltic Sea, northeast of Poland and south of other former Soviet republics like Latvia and Estonia. (Although it shares borders with some currently no-go areas, it’s peaceful and safe.) As is the case everywhere, its history is messy: in the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was one of the largest in Europe, but then , It was attached to Poland, annexed by the Russian Empire, occupied by the Soviets, the Nazis and the Soviets again, and finally became the first Soviet republic to break away, establishing its independence in 1990.
The history lesson is important because so is Vilnius Celebrating his 700th birthday this year. In a diplomatic letter dated January 25, 1323, Gediminas, Grand Duke of Vilnius, announced to his European neighbors that the city would welcome foreigners and newcomers who wished to do business and build a community.
The welcoming spirit is still very much alive today. Not only are they seen in the full slate of Christmas party events this summer, from the one-day concerts held at Vingis Park on July 25 (the feast of St. Christopher, the city’s patron saint), to Pink Soup Festival (Celebrating with a creamy cold beetroot soup) this weekend. It is also seen in the way people live in the history of a 700-year-old city but decorate it with modern enthusiasm, the way they embrace innovation and daring, the way they cook with gusto and explain the origins of each dish to foreign visitors and focus on making the city more comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists.
The city is compact and walkable – at least the historic center and the posh riverside districts, though perhaps not the 20th-century apartment blocks that represented the Soviet Union on HBO Chernobyl– It is easy to identify in a short time. It is also easy to fall in love with her.
As a general rule, prison tours are rather grim. But the creative forces behind Lukiškes 2.0, As they call it, they write some new chapters with happy endings. Founded 115 years ago by a Russian czar, the prison has been held throughout the onslaught of regime changes and has been (shockingly) operational in the 21st century. Now a few cells can be toured, while the rest have been converted into artists’ studios (350 so far, with a goal of 500 artists in residence), and the open spaces host concerts, movie theaters and artisan markets. It has also been used as a film several times, including, most recently and prominently, for Weird things. ““This was a place people wanted to get out of,” my guide said. “Now it is a place people want to go.”
It’s hard to deny the charm of a large, quirky hotel. Stikliai is one of the more eccentric members of Relais & Châteaux, the passion project of three young entrepreneurs who see beautiful potential amid the Soviet neglect of Vilnius’ Old Town. While some rooms and suites are full of printed fabrics, the restaurant, bar, games room, and flower-filled courtyard are nothing short of delightful.
For a small, landlocked city in Eastern Europe, Vilnius has an impressive food scene. There are fine restaurants helmed by award-winning chefs, and simple pleasures like Lithuanian and international menus at places like ashen (Worth it too for the hammam art), and a surprisingly competent Spanish joint near Stikliai. But you can find all of that almost everywhere in Europe. Where Vilnius gets interesting is its most historical places. Set inside a 15th-century merchant’s house, lukes It is famous for its game dishes (pork, venison and… beaver stew!), and the menu indicates which century each dish is based on – mostly in the 13th and 14th centuries. These vegan mushroom pancakes are tasty enough not to feel like a consolation prize.
It’s easy to get out of church while visiting European cities, but Vilnius’ churches are diverse, plentiful, and beautiful. The standout is the main church, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Stanislaus and St. Ladislaus in Vilnius, which saw its coronation in the 15th century and houses more than 40 works of art from the 16th to 19th centuries. But going inside is not necessary; The size of the thing is most impressive.
The city’s Museum of Contemporary Art Roomy and comprehensive, as these types of places should be. This allows plenty of room for challenging but lively exhibitions such as the current Vilnius Poker, based on Ričardas Gavel’s novel of the same name. It is a gritty examination of the Soviet era and its collapse.
The Old Town is a living fairytale, but it’s well worth venturing outside. Užupis, Vilnius’ smallest neighborhood, was a noisy place in the early 1990s, but now it’s a lovely neighborhood for artists, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs. (My local host from the tourist board proudly told me she lives there.) In 1997, the people of Oupis somewhat ironically decided to declare independence. (It was April Fool’s Day, but the ideals are no joke.) A wall in the neighborhood displays the constitution of the “Republic,” including “Everyone has the right to make mistakes,” “Everyone has the right to be of any nationality,” and “A dog has the right to be a dog.”
In a quiet, leafy area next to Užupis, This modern dining hall Sprinkled with greenery and home to 17 international cuisines with the next generation of chefs serving up everything from Spanish paella and Italian pizza to Sakartvelo, Georgia meat pies, and spicy piri piri chicken (spelling them) to Portugal’s African colonies. Combined with the indoor dining areas, the sun terrace is very deceiving.
From coffee shops and cake shops to clothing stores and gaming stars, this city knows how to get in.