“Laid-back Lithuania,” as I like to call it. I had a very enjoyable stay in this beautiful country, with friendly people, good food, pleasant weather, picturesque streets and more. Plus, it was VERY inexpensive!
Arrival into Vilnius
Vilnius Airport (VNO) is not served by any carriers nonstop from North America or Asia, but quick and convenient connections are available to many 1-stop locations along the way. The best transit point is via Lufthansa through Frankfurt, SAS via Copenhagen or Stockholm or Finnar via Helsinki. Some people also opted for flying into Amsterdam or Paris and connecting onto airBaltic, which has extensive codeshare agreements with most US carriers.
Taxi or Uber from the airport into the city, namely Old Town, costs anywhere from 4 to 12 Euro. The UBER fare was the cheapest at a mere EUR 4, which I highly recommend
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Radisson BLU Liteuva, which is a very comfortable hotel with a convenient location next to the Neris river. I particularly loved this hotel for many reasons, including:
- The absolutely stunning view from the SKYBAR on the 22nd floor, with inexpensive drinks
- One of the best breakfast buffets that I’ve ever had in Europe
- Comfortable beds, nice showers and plenty of storage space
- A replete gym open 24-hrs
- A nearby Casino (I don’t gamble, but it’s there if you want it) as well as a bar on-site.
The location also enables one to walk easily into Old Town Vilnius, which is no more than 5 to 10 minutes by foot. Ubers and cabs are also plentiful.
What to Do
One of the coolest things about Lithuania is that it has over 40 Churches that were leftover from before the Soviet Occupation. A must-do is to visit the Vilniaus Katedra, because it almost resembles the Acropolis in some ways. It’s stunning, with gorgeous views on the inside and plenty of services throughout the week.
Strolling around Old Town makes you feel as though you’re in a small city in Spain or Italy, except minus the tourists and expenses. There are boutique stores, cafes, and bars for days, intermixed with small, burgeoning businesses and startups which are exploding in this entrepreneur-friendly climate.
There are also public parks and green spaces at almost every corner. The ambiance is very soothing and inviting. Outside of the Radisson, for example, there is a small hill that leads down to the Neris river, which is perfect for picnicking or taking a blanket out with a bottle of wine, lounging or playing sports. You’ll see tons of locals playing basketball or tennis at one of the courts near the water. For summer travelers, sunset in the Baltics doesn’t usually begin until 10:30 PM at night or even later, so you can soak up the sun for long hours.
The river also hosts some “cruises” that you can take on Viking ships, commandeered by locals who dress up and will guide you down the Neris while giving you a first-hand overview of Lithuanian history. For less than 15 EUR, a one-hour boat adventure also includes snacks as well as some local beer tastings while you float on the serene River.
I also highly recommend taking a day trip out to Trakai, which is less than 30 km from Vilnius and makes for an excellent afternoon excursion. It is home to a beautiful castle located on an island and is replete with lakes and a gorgeous, serene setting.
Where to Eat, What to Eat
Lithuanians love dark Rye bread, which is usually based on a dough with sourdough starter and then some wheat flour is added to the concoction. You’ll also find a lot of potatoes, beets, cabbage, cucumbers and radishes, which means lots of vegetable soups and BORSCHT (made from beetroot). One of the most famous dishes in Lithuania is cold borscht that has a bright pink color, consumed with sour cream, a hot
One of the most famous dishes in Lithuania is Šaltibarščiai, a cold borscht that has a bright pink color, thanks to the addition of kefir, and is consumed with sour cream, a hot potato, and dill.
Another one is Koldūnai, which is essentially a dumpling filled with minced meat, sausage, cottage cheese or mushrooms, and garnished with fried bacon.
Below are some of my other top three restaurant and bar recommendations in Vilnius:
Grey – Lithuanian cuisine, inexpensive, nice interior
Belmontas – Lithuanian cuisine, moderate, beautiful setting
Drama Burger Smokehouse – Casual cuisine, inexpensive / dive bar, convenient location
Craft and Draft – incredible bar in old town, somewhat hipster, but with a really neat whiskey and scotch collection, not very expensive and great bartenders.
The Bubbles Champagneria – Great venue for a pre-game or even for a night out on a week night. inexpensive bubbly and all sorts of cocktails for all types of drinkers
Salento DiscoPub – I am not much of a clubber, but when in Europe, right? We had a ton of fun here, even if we felt a bit older than the average age of the crowd.
Final Thoughts: Vilnius
I adored this small, progressive and laid-back country, and Vilnius exceeded expectations. Sure, it does not have the mass appeal that rapidly modernizing cities like Budapest and Prague have, but I was very impressed by how clean and accessible it was, not to mention inexpensive. Furthermore, Lithuanians are friendly people who are proud to show off their history and strive to make the country a hospitable place for its visitors. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back in a heartbeat.