Lying between Latvia, Poland and Belarus, Lithuania – the Southern member of the Baltic Region – has recently become a “hot” tourist spot. Its capital city Vilnius, in the first half of 2014, had an increase in tourism by 14.4% compared to the same period in 2013.
The low cost flights from all over Europe as well as the economic accommodation bring Vilnius to the top of touristy places to visit. Even for a city break Vilnius won’t disappoint you. The small pedestrian roads, the squares with the large buildings, the existence of different kinds of art will let you explore a culture that you won’t find in other European cities.
We begin our tour from Gedeminas Avenue, which connects the historical city centre, Cathedral Square with the Seimas Palace. The Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladislav is the most important place of worship for the country‘s Catholics. During your visit to the Cathedral, don’t forget to take a look at the beautiful Chapel of St. Casimir. Nearby, the church of St. Anne is a masterpiece of the late Gothic period. St. Anne’s church, which has survived to the present day without changing for over 500 years, has become a symbol of Vilnius.
Uzupis Republic is a “republic” of artists. It has its own anthem, constitution, president, bishop, two churches, one of the oldest graveyards in Vilnius, seven bridges, and a guardian – the bronze angel of Užupis. You can visit several galleries and admire some exceptional masterpieces or you could just relax and have a coffee admiring a different way of life, that only artists could offer.
Vilnius is famous for its amber jewellery. The exhibition hall of the Amber Museum-Gallery is located in the basement of the 15th century building. Visit the exhibition of modern art, where imaginative artists will drastically change your stereotyped attitude towards amber.
Whichever way you chose to approach Daukanto Square, a narrow street will suddenly broaden and blend into the square predominated by a classical building from the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century: a former nobleman’s house and the present-day office of the President. Next to the Presidential Palace you will see Vilnius University – one of the oldest universities in the area, with 13 courtyards, a library, St. John‘s church and the campanile.
Town Hall Square was a very important place for the citizens during the 15th century. It was, and still is, a traditional centre of trade and events in Vilnius (open air fairs, concerts, celebrations). Around the Town Hall you can see restaurants, galleries and shops.
If it’s lunch or coffee time or you want to go shopping you can choose between Stiklių street or Pilies and Didžioji street. Both Pilies and Didžioji street connect the castle and the holy Gates of Dawn. Stiklių and the small streets around it were famous for craft and trade centres. During World War II these streets were included in the medieval Jewish quarter, which was located west of Didžioji Street.
But a trip is not only walking and sightseeing. It’s also about tasting the traditional cuisine and exploring foreign tastes. Over the centuries Lithuanians have created a unique palette of dishes, influenced by the culture of various nationalities. A distinctive trait of Lithuanian cuisine is the preponderance of potato dishes. The most impressive of these is cepelinai (‘Zeppelins’); large boiled potato dumplings (made from grated raw potato) with fillings of minced meat or cottage cheese. An important place in Lithuanian cuisine is occupied by small dumplings (called koldūnai or virtiniai) made from dough and with a filling of meat, mushrooms, berries or cottage cheese. An interesting variety of koldūnai is “tinginiai” (“lazy bones”) – half-moon shaped dumplings with a filling of freshly crushed blueberries. Soup is also very popular in Lithuania. There is vegetable soup, meat soup, soup with chicken or other poultry or game, even beer soup. One of the most interesting Lithuanian soups is šaltibarščiai (cold beetroot soup), which is made from beets/beetroot, kefir (a fermented milk product), greens and boiled eggs. This dish is most popular when served on a hot summer day.
Traditional Lithuanian beverages are gira (non-alcoholic drink made from rye bread), kisielius (fruity cranberry drink), beer, various spirit drinks with fruit or herbal infusions and, of course, mead. In olden times Lithuanians made a large variety of gira drinks of which the history is very interesting.
I hope this guide is of use to you if you plan to visit Vilnius – it really is worth travelling too.