The self-proclaimed republic of Užupis is a small district in the city’s old town that has become an artistic hub in the city. Its bohemian and laid-back atmosphere makes it an appealing place to spend an afternoon, and you can discover temporary exhibitions by a variety of local artists at the Užupis Art Incubator, or just spend a few hours strolling around Vilnia River, where you’re sure to happen on an open-air gallery, sculptural installations and a little street art.
Vilnius doesn’t shy away from its turbulent history, so you’ll find various monuments and memorials to various occupations scattered throughout the city. Alongside centuries-old monuments such as The Gates of Dawn and Gedemimas Castle, one of the more sobering places to visit is the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, which gives a fascinating insight into Lithuania’s recent history during the Nazi invasion and Soviet occupation.
Traditional crafts are a perfect memento of your holiday in Vilnius, and there’s plenty of choice. You may be charmed by a little Baltic amber, especially if you’ve just visited the city’s Amber Museum, or perhaps some beautiful embroidery will make it on to your list of souvenirs. A more unique trinket has to be a hand-carved carnival mask, or even a piece of black pottery, which has been created using a technique from the Neolithic times.
Lithuanian cold beetroot soup is a surprisingly tasty and light meal that usually starts to appear on restaurant menus in the summer. The bright pink soup is made with beetroot, cucumber and onion blended with kefir, and usually garnished with herbs and boiled eggs. It comes with a side of fried potatoes and is a great example of Baltic fare.
The main square of the city’s Old Town is home to the gleaming white neo-classical Vilnius Cathedral. This is the beating heart of the city, so there’s usually a hive of activity here. The building you’ll see today dates from the late 18th century, and unusually, the bell tower sits away from the main cathedral building, while at the back of the church you’ll find the pretty Baroque-style St Casimir’s Chapel. When night falls, it is one of the city’s key buildings to be beautifully lit – a great sight to catch during your holiday here.
A treasured UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cobblestone streets of Vilnius’ Old Town lead you to a variety of historic sites. Most notably the city’s 16th century university, which is the oldest amongst the Baltic States, and the Gates of Dawn, a major Christian pilgrimage site and the only surviving gate of the 16th century city wall. To get a different perspective of the Old Town, visit St John’s Church, where you can take the lift up the to the bell tower’s balcony and admire a panorama that features a beautiful blend of German, French, Russian and Italian architectural influences.
Head to any pub in Vilnius, and Kepta Duona will be the usual bar snack on offer there. Forget the pork scratchings or peanuts of a British pub, these fried rye bread sticks are served with a creamy cheese sauce. A generous portion of these, served with a Lithuanian dark ale, are the perfect accompaniment as you immerse yourself in everyday life in Vilnius.
Even if you’re not particularly green-fingered, you’ll still be impressed by the vast plant collection housed at the Botanical Garden of Vilnius University. Most noteworthy in its collection of 9,000 plants are rhododendrons, peonies and dahlias. Standing on the site of a former country manor, the old park and ponds have been renovated for visitors, and a variety of events, including art exhibitions and concerts, are held in the gardens.
Lithuania has a humid continental climate, but for the warmest weather, visit in late spring or summer from mid-June to late August. Winter in Lithuania features particularly frosty weeks with heavy snow and temperatures as low as -20ºC.
British passport holders don’t need a visa to visit Lithuania. For the latest information on travel regulations visit https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/lithuania/entry-requirements.
The currency is the Euro (EUR).
The main language spoken is Lithuanian.