Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, is a fusion of Old and New. It is at its best in the morning in winters – serene and beautiful!
The first impression of Vilnius is of a place that is nice and inviting. It’s known for its baroque architecture, especially in its medieval Old Town. The buildings lining this district’s partially cobble-stoned streets reflect diverse styles and eras. And then lots of young well-turned-out people add liveliness and spunk to the place. All in all, Vilnius is a place which has something for everyone… wish it also had someone for everyone… some of us would have come back happier…hahaha!
As part of our month-long backpacking Europe trip, we reached our third stopover Vilnius early morning after travelling to Tallinn and Riga. Vilnius was our last stop in the Baltic region. Vilnius is in the southeast part of Lithuania and is the second largest city in the Baltic states.
First Impression of Vilnius
As we got off the bus and reached our apartment in Vilnius, we found it was not yet ready for check-in. We had booked an apartment in Vilnius instead of Hostel and were looking forward to having a space to ourselves… and to wash clothes which happens to be an essential part of backpacking and travelling with less clothes. So, we deposited our stuff in the storage room and went for a walk and some breakfast, hopefully.
Our Apartment – Rentida Apartment, was right in the heart of the Old Town of the Vilnius. And as we crossed the lane, the quiet Old Town of Vilnius transformed into a buzzing place. There were people of all ages and a series of cafes and shops. The place had a different energy as if someone just shook it up. It looked completely different from the quiet and old-world feel of the lane of our apartment, despite less than 100 metres distance between the two. After Riga’s slow-paced life or so it seemed to us, Vilnius was a welcome change.
Vilnius Old Town and Breakfast
We took a round of the market and decided to have bagel burgers and coffee. Most of the other places were bakeries and we were not keen on muffins or croissants. We had been having that for past few days, so wanted to try something else… more local food. Plus, we had to look for vegan options too. We settled for Holy Donut Café.
It has good options of burgers, shakes, coffee etc for all – Non-veg, veg and vegan. Also, it was the most crowded, so we assumed that the quality of food must be good. It makes sense to go to the place where locals go. They know their area better than travellers. The food was filling and tasty at holy donut and there were options for all of us – non-veg, veg and vegan. I had a vegan bagel burger in morning with iced black coffee at holy donut. Just what I needed to keep me going for next hours after night-long bus journey. While we were having breakfast, 4 sparrows came and sat on our table, so symbolic of 4 of us.
After the breakfast, we decided to explore the place a little more. We went up till Vilnius Cathedral. The weather was nice and sunny, so we decided to come back later in the day.
We decided to head back to our apartment as it was check-in time. As we reached the apartment, we were excited about the place after good reviews and ratings on booking site but taking the luggage to first floor was quite disheartening. Once again, we understood the importance of carry-on luggage.
But the moment we saw the apartment, we forgot our agony of carrying the luggage up. It was a very well-done up place and quite welcoming with nice colour combination, artefacts and other necessary things.
First thing we did was to look for washing machine and figure out how it would work. Since the manual was not in English, we depended on visuals and our logical reasoning power to decipher how the advanced piece of technology work… and mind you we succeeded. Once, the first load of clothes went into washing machine, we breathed easy and sat down for a cup of coffee and make a day plan. Oh, the ready mix for coffee there was very nice, so we took all the unused packets with us when we moved to our next destination, Warsaw. Cheap thrills!
Since the apartment was a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen apartment, it had only one bathroom in the living area. Thus, clothes and us, took turns for washing. After a couple of hours, when we were ready to face the world again, we went back to the old town to explore it beyond the Cathedral Square.
Lunch at Forto Dvaras
As we were walking to the market, to be precise, we saw lot of souvenir shops. Most of the shops had linen clothes or wood stuff… seemed like part of Vilnius culture. As we were walking, we reached Pillies Market.
Along with looking at the souvenirs, we were also looking for a good place to eat, where we could eat some traditional food. Our quest ended at Forto Dvaras, though we did not know then that it was one of most recommended places for Lithuanian Cuisine in Old town.
It has a Nice old feel décor. I had Buckwheat rolled in cabbage. Food was tasty, but House Wine was just average.
Walking through the Vilnius Old Town
After that we walked around a bit more around the old town, boughtfridge magnets, a must, and did lot of window shopping. We clicked lot of selfies near Cathedral Square. There was an exhibition going on there of sports apparel, so our runners bought new track ants to run through Vilnius.
A guy was recording some video byte where we were sitting and did not realise for a while as we were busy clicking pictures and selfies. As soon as we realised, we sat like a pretty foursome for pictures and talked softly but were bored quickly of being so quiet. So, we went away and bought milk and bread from hr departmental store… our last time of buying milk on trip as we realised we were wasting more than consuming.
So, after all this, we called it a day, came back to our apartment and slept early.
The plan for day-2 was walking tours and whatever could be done around that as we had to take the night bus to Warsaw, which being the overnight journey, we did not want to waste in travelling.
So, we all got ready, had breakfast at Holy Donut again and headed to Vilnius Cathedral or Free Walking Tour.
Historical Walking Tour
Our guide was Linas and it was a group of around 20 people. Linas took us through the historic places of Old Town. The places that stood from the tour are the Great Synagogue of Vilna, Gate of Dawn, Town of Uzupis and Presidential Palace.
The Great Synagogue of Vilna was built between 1630-1633 after permission was granted to construct a synagogue from stone. Standing on the spot of an existing synagogue built in 1572, the site had first been used to house a Jewish house of prayer in 1440. Since then it has gone through various destructions but is being restored and should be ready in 2018 as Baltic States are preparing for their 100-year celebration.
The 16th-century Gate of Dawn, having a shrine with a sacred Virgin Mary icon, once guarded an entrance to the original city.
We learnt an interesting fact about the Presidential Palace. When the president is in town, the flag is up. I think this must done for enhanced security. Vilnius is the seat of the main government institutions of Lithuania and the Vilnius District Municipality.
TheTown of Uzupis
And what to say about the Town of Uzupis – one has to visit the place to understand the place.
The place has a very interesting history. Form being the place of outcastes, it is now the land of artists. It is a republic, within Vilnius on the other side of river Vilnia, with its own army and passport stamp. In 1995, a group of Lithuanian artists and intellectuals erected a statue of Frank Zappa in the nation’s capital Vilnius. Two years later April Fool’s Day, the city’s bohemian quarter declared itself an independent Republic, replete with a 12-man army. The place has more cats than people. I just loved the place and its vibe, a visit-again place.
At the end of the tour, Linas recommended places to eat traditional Lithuanian food and we were pleasantly surprised to find Forto Dvaras topping the list. And yes, it was good. The other thing he mentioned was Honey beer, which I happened to miss in Riga and this was my last option to have it. Apparently, this beer is found in Baltic region only.
Lunch at Pillies Kepyklele
After the Historical walking Tour and before the Alternative Walking Tour, was the time for a quick lunch. We went to Pillies Kepyklele, meaning Bakery on Pillies Market. I, always someone looking for something new on menu, ordered pumpkin soup and local dessert. The place had nice options and good salads for vegetarians.
After the lunch, we went back to the meeting point at Vilnius Cathedral Square to meet out guide for alternative walking tour. Our numbers reduced to two from four. Two friends decided to go back to apartment and rest for a while before meeting us in the evening after the tour.
Alternative Walking Tour
Our tour guide Ugna, a pretty young girl full of life who is an English teacher in school, pursuing further studies, works as tour guide and loves travelling in her free time. All the tour guides in Europe are given training and ID cards to be able to work as guides, and to ensure that correct information reaches the tourists. She showed us the slums of Vilnius.
She told us the story of Independence of Vilnius, took us to the central city and station area. Vilnius has 4 flags. Vilnius got the award for being the cultural City of Europe in 2009. Strangely, the ISKCON Temple was also part of the tour and we were a part of evening Aarti. She showed us the murals and street art across the city. The tour ended in front of the famous Putin-Trump mural. We also travelled in bus during the tour. The alternative tour was a revelation as Vilnius looks very different beyond the Old Town where the actual life happens.
There were a few German travellers too with us. As part of the conversation, we learnt out that every German student must visit concentration camp as part of education against anti-Semitism. Though I found this a little depressing, but I am sure the German Government will have better reasons behind the policy.
After the two tours and more aware about the place we were visiting, we decided to go back to meet the other two friends and enjoy the last few hours in Vilnius doing something more challenging.
Going up the Gediminas Tower for a Vilnius View
So, we decided to go up the Gediminas Tower to get a good city view.
Reaching the entry point of the tower became the biggest challenge and we took almost two rounds of the huge tower to find the entry. Due to restoration work, the regular entries were temporarily non-functional. At one point we almost gave up the idea but at that very precise moment we found a ray of hope as we saw some other people, who earlier seemed lost like us, and decided to follow them. And then miraculously we all found the point of entry. We went up the tower to get a good view of the city. We could see the river which divided Old Town from the Modern Vilnius. The view was a fusion old and new Vilnius.
This adventure helped in building a good appetite and my craving for honey beer was also on a rise, so we decided to head straight to Snekutis Bar, as suggested by Linas, for the beer. And that is when we realised the importance GPS again. Though or Human GPS Prabhjot was guiding us well, but still it felt we were going in rounds.
Honey Beer and Snekutis Bar
Finally, we reached Snekutis Bar after walking through a few deserted roads only to find that the Honey beer was over. I almost cried at the counter, so they gave me a glass with a disclaimer that the beer may not be tasting its best. Apparently, the beer has a very short shelf life, and this was past that and that is why they had refused in the beginning. They did not even charge us for it. We ordered another beer and some appetizers.
Well, all I can say is I loved the beer, not knowing how the fresh one would have tasted because we were leaving at night itself for our next stopover, Warsaw.
But one thing that did not cease to amaze me is European’s love for dogs and pets being allowed everywhere in the city from restaurants to shops to ferry and so on.
After the beer, when we went back to our apartment, we realised it was actually very close to our apartment. Only if we knew of the place earlier, we would have come previous evening.
Time to bid adieu
Once we reached the apartment, it was usual – packing stuff, going to the bus station and taking the bus for next place.
But in between, we stopped for quick dinner. Since the weather had started becoming cold and windy, I ordered a burrito with rice and beans. It was hot and spicy and felt good.
And with that, we bid adieu to lovely city of Vilnius and the Baltic States to head to Warsaw in Poland.