A Local Expert Teaches Us How To Experience Lithuania’s Capital: Vilnius

In collaboration with our friends at Jetset Times, which carry our line of beautiful leather bags and offer it to their globetrotting jet-setting and wander-lusting community, we promised to write an article about our beloved city of Vilnius, and the places we love to visit there.

sup board

And though I started off writing an article on “5 Places to Visit in Vilnius,” this piece sort of took a life of its own and transformed into a guided tour, laying the yellow brick path for you to enter and experience my wonderful city!

First, arrive at Vilnius by train. The train station is all modernized, and yet there is an undeniable residual soviet vibe; you can hear it in the way the woman announcer gives her update with slightly too much diction. And then, for contrast, there’s Tony Soprano greeting you at the entrance to a trendy pub, which you can enter straight from the rails. If you find this juxtaposition interesting, you should definitely take a tour of the surrounding area: there is a surrealistic mix of utter shabbiness, 100-year-old wooden houses and modern hipster artifacts. Not to mention, you’ll find a new fashionable bar each time you go there; and often around the most unexpected corners.

train station Lithuania
Train station. PHOTO RUTA

Continuing your exploration, forget the taxi and jump into a trolleybus. And not the modern air-conditioned red one, let it pass by, because the old green one is the one you want to ride! And don’t worry if it takes awhile, it’s worth the ride and always shows up. There you can enjoy the cacophony of sounds – dub step might as well have been invented here – and a nice breeze that seems to come from out of nowhere and, most importantly, you get to practice your balance.

If you can ride the trolleybus without holding on to a railing, you are ready for the next challenge: the stand-up paddle board. Rent a paddle for the day or take a boat tour on Neris River, the second longest river in Lithuania and it just so happens to stretch across the middle of Vilnius. You can get a full overview of the city, featuring prominent glass skyscrapers on one side and the Old Town and medieval castle on the other. It’s a nice workout and great meditation, but most importantly it is a completely different way to see the city. Though you may be in a busy city center, you’ll feel a bit more adventurous standing there paddling in the water like a lost Viking.

Upon reaching the White Bridge, the quay (and your Viking adventure) ends, and your walking tour to the Old Town starts. First, take a dash to the right and feast your eyes on the 100-year-old prison. Yes, you heard right – Lukiškės Prison is an impressive and historic, fully functional prison located in the heart of the city. Not to mention, there’s an even more impressive private church behind its walls – and if you thought your country takes corrections seriously, Lithuania doesn’t play around!

writers wall Lithuania
Writers Wall. PHOTO RUTA

Keeping in line with the somber mood, make sure to visit The Museum of Genocide Victims located just across the park. The museum is set up in the former KGB headquarters where soviet crimes were planned and committed over the course of fifty years. It has been perfectly preserved and left in the same condition when soviet security men abandoned it in 1991. You can venture into the basement, inside the cells and even view the execution chamber. Yes, it’s gloomy, but that’s history.

To shake it off, walk the length of the Gediminas Street, where it will take you out of the soviet times and back to modern Europe. It is the main street and also liveliest one; there you will get the vibe of the city and feel the pace of life. When you reach Vilnius Cathedral, behold the castle atop of the hill. You can read about it in any local tourist pamphlet. Perhaps you won’t be keen for a quick climb to the top, but keep calm and carry on into the garden. The Bernardinai Garden, like most secret gardens is not to be described, but to be felt, and preferably by having a picnic lunch on the grass.

Bernardinai Lithuania
Bernardinai Lithuania. PHOTO RUTA

After a beautiful lunch at your secret garden, you’re ready to venture into Old Town! Now tuck that map away and allow yourself to get lost in this lovely labyrinth of romantic little streets. Things to keep an eye out for in Old Town, include a stop at Mint Vinetu for some vintage books, vinyl records and mint tea; take a moment to inspect the wall decorated with literature (you’ll know it when you see it); and play a game of checkers while looking over the president’s backyard (it’s a little difficult to find at first, but be sure to ask the locals for directions).

At one point or another you will certainly find yourself at a bridge into the Republic of Užupis. Have a seat at the café that hangs above the river, grab a beer, sit back and relax and get acquainted with the locals. And what better way to end your day than a visit to the cinema. If you are lucky enough to visit in the summer, you must experience Cinema Under the Stars. And if you can’t make it for summer, then a stop by retro cinema Pasaka is a must.

Now, since you obviously planned to have your day end at 4 a.m., searching for your hotel through the daze of a beer buzz, go full circle and head back to the White Bridge, where Alaus Namai (literally, House of Beer) lives and prospers. Once you taste the local Lithuanian beers from small nearby breweries, you’ll never want a Heineken again!

BONUS!

Here are a few extra activities to get the most out of your Vilnius experience!

1. For a truly unique view of the city, take an air balloon ride or flight overlooking Vilnius.

2. Head to the top of Vilnius’ TV Tower for a spectacular 360-degree view of the city (plus wine, though it is overpriced).

3. Visit Trakai Castle and explore a real medieval castle. Don’t forget to try the local food while you’re there!

Article written by RUTA, from Time Resistance.

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