We arrived in Vilnius Old Town at midnight but had luckily booked a hostel with a 24 hour reception. Not knowing our bearings of a new city and arriving in the dark we decided to take a taxi to Jimmy Jumps House a journey that would cost us €10 (usually much less). For anyone staying at Jimmy Jumps House the distance is walkable but we did decide to grab a cab both when arriving and leaving. Public transport is non-existent in The Old Town of Vilnius make note.
EXPLORING VILNIUS, LITHUANIA
VILNIUS WITH LOCALS – VILNIUS FREE WALKING TOUR
During our check in we had been recommended the Vilnius free walking tour that departs from the town hall at midday everyday. As we would only have a short amount of time in the city we decided a free walking tour would be the best way to pack in all the must-see sights of Lithuania’s capital. 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 and this inspired us to do some other tours whilst travelling the Baltics.
|Vilnius with Locals – The Vilnius free walking tour|
During our Vilnius free walking tour our guide, you could, tell was filled with an enormous passion for the city of Vilnius and her country which made the tour much more compelling than I could have imagined. Our 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. 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.
|Our group on the free walking tour of Vilnius, Lithuania|
The Vilnius free walking tour for us was the ideal way to pack in as much of Vilnius’ history and culture we possibly could in our short stay in Lithuania. Having arrived the previous night we were well rested and raring to see the sights. The tour requires enough walking to feel like you’ve seen more of the city than you would just exploring on your own. Dress accordingly and note that the tour usually runs through midday so make sure you eat beforehand. I would highly recommend this free walking tour to anyone who’s strapped for time in Vilnius/
UZUPUS, VILNIUS, LITHUANIA
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 and many of the notable churches in The Old Town that have changed religion and purpose more than once in the last few hundred years.
|The Republic of Uzupis|
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. 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. I remember the strangest part of the constitution being something about everyone has the right to be a cat.
|Love Locks on the Uzupis bridge|
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.
|The bridge to Uzupis|
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.
|These streets were once part of Vilnius’ large Ghetto|
EXPLORING 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. On our walking tour we were urged to visit as many as possible to discover some of Lithuania’s best kept secrets. The courtyards are often home to statues, sculptures and what I can only describe as some of Vilnius’ best-off-the-beaten-track locations.
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.
|The Town Hall in Vilnius – This is where the free walking tour leaves from at midday everyday|
|St. Annes Church and the Town Hall|
Vilnius’ town hall is situated in a large open space with many restaurants and shops just off all the little side streets. Beyond the Town hall is my favourite part of the city where many colourful churches and buildings can be found. During our stay in Vilnius the area outside the town became home to a small local sporting event and I can imagine on the right week end these streets to be packed for the various events that take place during Lithuania’s summer months.
Exploring the old cobbled streets of Lithuania’s capital is enjoyable especially when the weather plays ball. If you do experience rain, don’t worry Lithuania’s markets and key attractions are often only a stone’s throw away from some of the great bars and restaurants in the city a few of our favourites include The Portabello English Pub and Bukowski Bar.
LOCAL LITHUANIAN CUISINE – EXPLORING 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!
|Lithuanian beer snack – Delicious|
|Snacks Lithuanian style|
For cheap eats try Cili a diner-style cafe with fast food and a large menu. We ate here and although I wouldn’t recommend getting a pasta dish the pizzas were freshly prepared and Jamie enjoyed his burger and deep fried gnocchi. (No, that’s not something I’ve heard of either). 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.
JIMMY JUMPS HOUSE, VILNIUS – JIMMY JUMPS PUB CRAWL
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. Upon arrival at Jimmy Jumps in Vilnius we noticed a Pub Crawl for €12 with some drinks included. We decided to book on and as 5 other people had signed up the Crawl would go ahead. We popped out to get some drinks to have in the busy Hostel common room and before we knew it there were 19 people attending the pub crawl. Americans, Dutch, Brits, Swedes and more all joined together to hit the town Vilnius style – it was Friday night after all.
|Jimmy Jumps House Pub Crawl, Vilnius, Lithuania|
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 staying in this particular party hostel when spending some time in the Baltics it’s not as wild as some but fun enough to meet some great people and enjoy a fun night out in Vilnius.
|The streets of Vilnius, Lithuania|
CULTURE IN LITHUANIA AND THE BALTIC STATES
|The beautiful streets of Vilnius, just outside the old town|
We had learnt during our short time in The Baltics that although Lithuania 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.
|St. Annes Church again|
|Exploring Vilnius, Lithuania|
EXPLORING VILNIUS, LITHUANIA
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. This is not specific to Lithuania we found all the Baltic states to be especially patriotic countries. 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.