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We arrived in Vilnius Old Town ready to start exploring Vilnius and all it has to offer the following day.
We’d be seeing Vilnius as part of a larger trip through Germany, Poland and the Baltic Capitals. Vilnius would be my first Baltic Capital.
I was excited to understand this ex-soviet segment of the world and arriving in Vilnius’ spectacular old town only heightened this feeling.
We booked a hotel online, knowing we’d arrive late and not sure of our bearings in a new city. With luggage in tow we jumped in a cab and headed to Jimmy Humps House, ready to start our Vilnius Old Town adventure.
Exploring Vilnius in Lithuania
We arrived from Poland, at night after travelling most of the previous day by train and bus through Poland through Kaunas and then eventually Vilnius Old Town.
I was most excited to explore Lithuania and the other Baltic counties as I’d never had the opportunity to travel this region of Europe before and soviet history gets me mega excited.
Upon arriving in Vilnius from Poland I instantly knew (even in the dark), that I was going to love the city and the first thing I wanted to do was book a walking tour to ensure I’d get to see as much of the Lithuanian capital as possible.
Where is Vilnius?
Vilnius is the historic capital of Lithuania, it’s located in the very North East of Europe.
Situated between Poland and Latvia, Lithuania is the lesser visited of the Baltic countries of Latvia and popular Estonia. But on this trip we’d be seeing all three.
With a turbulent soviet history and profound World War Two story, there is so much history and culture packed into the tiny country of Lithuania.
Vilnius Walking Tour
As we would only have a short amount of time in the city of Vilnius we decided a free Vilnius walking tour would be the best way to pack in all the must-see sights of Lithuania’s capital.
Walking tours are perfect if you are visiting a city for less than a day or two. You can learn so much about a places history and culture by taking a walking tour.
We were not disappointed Vilnius with Locals tour, I have to say is probably one of the best free walking tours I have been on in Europe.
The free Vilnius walking tour takes you through the streets of Vilnius Old Town, Uzupis and a few other notable areas of the city. Our was filled with an enormous sense of price and passion for Vilnius, which always make the experience far more compelling.
Vilnius with Locals
The Vilnius walking tour itself was called the Vilnius with locals tour, we heard about if from our hostel so check with your hotel for information.
Our initial tour introduction gave us an overview of Lithuania’s turbulent beginnings and took us right up until World War Two where.
We were able to visit the Vilnius Ghettos that were once home to over 100,000 Jews and minorities during the war.
I’m a big fan of World War Two history so this was the most interesting part of the tour for me.
We walked through the streets of Vilnius learning more and more about the mixed cultures of the Baltics and the dramatic first few hundred years of Lithuania’s history and its battle throughout history for independence.
The free walking tour of Vilnius lasts for two hours and among the stops are Vilnius’ largest Synagogue that was in fact destroyed during the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Lithuania in World War Two.
The Vilnius Ghettos as mentioned were one of my hughlights along with many of the notable churches in The Old Town.
Interesting these have changed religion and purpose more than once in the last few hundred years at the hands of the soviet union and Nazi Germany.
Another important stop on the tour and one of my personal favourites based on sheer curiosity is The Republic of Užupis. A self-governing town created by artists for artists in Vilnius.
If you are visiting Vilnius and plan on exploring Vilnius like a local then you must add Uzupis to your bucket list.
I know what you’re thinking and hippy sprang to my mind too. But Užupis is a small area of the city that broke free from the main city of Vilnius in 1997 and even has its own weirdly liberating constitution.
Vilnius walking tour to Uzupis
Although, Užupis may not be in fitting with the ideals of a contemporary and modern society it’s an extraordinary place to visit. Anyone who has heard of Freetown Christiania in Denmark should surely look up Užupis.
One of the coolest aspects of visiting The Republic of Užupis is that because of the artists that live here it is filled with incredible if not strange artworks. My favourite was a statue of backpacker Jesus.
Spend some time in Užupis the restaurants and bars are mainly quirky, fun and filled with yet more of the great art of Užupis. Apparently you can even get your passport stamped with a special Užupis stamp.
Our Vilnius with Locals free walking tour finished outside Vilnius’ cathedral and our guide was more than happy to offer any advice or answer any additional questions we had.
In case you don’t know, free walking tours work on a tip basis and depending on the quality of the tour you’re expected to tip the guide what you think the tour was worth.
I was disappointed that many of our group did not pay a small tip to our guide, yet asked many questions and got as much ‘free advice’ as possible. Although tips aren’t compulsory the system works on honesty and if you like it and find the advice useful you should offer something in return.
If you’re interested in taking the Vilnius free walking tour which I do highly recommend, check out the website before hand.
Vilnius Old Town
Vilnius’ old town is stunning, I knew this even arriving at night. With Medieval, Baroque and Neoclassical architectural influences due to Vilnius and Lithuania’s many occupations.
Its difficult to not love a city with so many stunning buildings. Exploring the streets of Vilnius you’ll find many quaint and strange courtyards that a open to the public.
Vilnius’ Old Town is also a UNESCO world heritage site and its not hard to see why. The mixture of architecture, colours and attractions are all you’d expect from a UNESCO historic centre.
Places to see in Vilnius
Aside from all the walking tour hot spots and Old Town there are a few must see places in Vilnius that you must see.
Vilnius’s town hall is one of them, Vilnius’ town hall is situated in a large open space with many restaurants and shops just off all the little side streets.
Sunlit in the late afternoon, outside the town hall is the perfect place to grab a coffee or beer.
Beyond the Town hall is my favourite part of the city where many colourful churches and buildings can be found. You can visit Church of St. Casimir and the Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit. Both of which are mad stunning.
Another extremely stunning church you must see is St. Annes church, a large gothic red brick church just beyond Vilnisu Old Town.
What to eat in Vilnius
After our walking tour we found ourselves in a traditional Lithuanian bar tasting some Lithuanian beer and sampling a local beer snack.
Now this is something I really loved in the Baltics and I urge everyone to try them. Imagine fried bread with garlic and smothered in cheese.
Apparently throughout Lithuania a fried bread beer snack is a custom to have whilst drinking. I certainly wasn’t going to say no to that!
For cheap eats try Cili a diner-style cafe with fast food and a large menu, the food isn’t amazing but if you are on a budget then go for it.
Sit down meals and takeaway prices at Cili are more than reasonable with a meal for two costing under €10.00. Sandwiches start a €2.00 and burgers €4.00 with fries, wedges or weird gnocchi.
We also noticed Cili to be available throughout the Baltics and can be found usually in shopping mall food courts.
Where to stay in Vilnius
As I mentioned we booked our accommodation for Vilnius online before arriving. As we’d be travelling for 17 days, we were looking to do things on a budget.
Jimmy Jumps House, Vilnius
Jimmy Jumps House is your typical backpacker hostel. A large crowd of mixed nationalities, ages and professions all hanging around using the wifi and making the most of the free waffle breakfast.
There’s a 24 hour reception at Jimmy Jumps and large spacious dorms. There’s also a kitchen/communal area where you can get to know other travellers, which I always rate highly in a hostel.
Jimmy Jumps isn’t my favourite hostel of all time, but it bay far isn’t my least favourite. I would recommend this accommodation for anyone travelling Europe on a budget.
The hostel is slightly dated, but there are some real perks to staying here including the price, it’s very budget friendly but the main attraction to stay here is the social experience.
Jimmy Jumps Pub Crawl
Upon arrival at Jimmy Jumps in Vilnius we noticed a Pub Crawl for €12 with some drinks included.
Perfectly priced and fun sounding, you can always count me in for a pub crawl.
We decided to book our places as 5 others had already signed up. In the end our pub crawl left Jimmy Jumps with 19 people – it was Friday night in Vilnius after all.
The Jimmy Jumps pub crawl turned out to be the biggest in the guides history and after taking over the entire basement of a pub we moved on to a cocktail bar and then a club.
The club ‘Cocainn’ was perhaps the strangest club in all of Europe.
A weird ex-Soviet building with wooden floors and walls and an indoor smoking area. The kind of place that was half stuck in the Soviet Union of the 1970’s and a hip London club in 2002.
Despite the weird setting the evening was fun and for €12 I say give it a go if you’re prepared for a surreal Euro trash type club experience and staying at Jimmy Jumps House in Vilnius Old Town.
The pub crawl with Jimmy Jumps House was a lot of fun. Free drinks and insiders knowledge of the best places to go for a wild weekend in Lithuania.
I’d highly recommend taking part in the pub crawl so it makes total sense for me to recommend staying at Jimmy Jumps House, Vilnius.
Why you should think about Exploring Vilnius
I learnt during our short time in Lithuania and especially during the Vilnius walking tour.
Although it has a short but turbulent history the locals are extremely proud people. Their mixed heritage is something everyone is proud of and each person you meet will be keen to speak to you in their near perfect English.
This makes travelling The Baltics very easy for English speaking travellers. We noticed that almost everyone spoke English as a second language and many speak Russian as a third.
The locals are friendly which really left a memorable impression of Lithuania with me – the people of Lithuania are filled with an immense sense of pride about their identity and independence we learnt this especially during the Vilnius free walking tour. .
I guess after losing and gaining your independence so many times it is only natural to feel this way.
Almost every Lithuanian you meet is open to engaging in conversation about Lithuanian history sometimes factual, sometimes less factual but all these friendly and meaningful exchanges leave you feeling very fond of the people of Lithuania.
The country of Lithuania is small but safe. Travelling around is relatively simple and although there are no trains that currently run through the Baltic Countries there will be in the future making this little pocket of culture even more accessible to travellers.
For now, when planning a trip to Lithuania or its neighbouring countries remember the great and short bus routes that leave the capitals almost every hour, meaning Riga and Tallinn are only a bus journey away.