The city of Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and has recently been named one of the cheapest destinations in Europe. And, while the idea of a budget-friendly visit to one of the Baltic States may be your driving motivation, there are plenty of other reasons to keep Vilnius on your shortlist.
Vilnius is one of the largest cities in the Baltic States, which is comprised of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Its old town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and, prior to World War II, it was home to one of the largest Jewish centers in Europe.
There are notable historical elements at every turn. Wandering through Vilnius is an interesting look at remnants from its war-torn past while shiny new skyscrapers dot the skyline nearby. Look for historic bars next door to trendy new nightclubs, while the dining scene reflects the best of Vilnius’ history, including influences from their time under Soviet rule.
If you’re considering a trip to Vilnius, here are a few of best things to see and do:
The original Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania was constructed during the 15th century and was the political, diplomatic, and cultural center of the country. Sadly, it was demolished during the 19th century after falling into disrepair after it was damaged and destroyed by fire during the Russian invasion. The reconstructed building has two exhibition tour routes that directly relate to the historical functions.
If you’re curious about Lithuania’s dark past, set aside some time to visit the Museum of Genocide Victims. This former gym was the headquarters of the Gestapo during the Nazi invasion in 1941, and then it was occupied by the KGB, or Soviet Secret Police. The KGB stayed until Lithuania became independent in 1991.
The Cathedral Square is the main square of Vilnius’ Old Town and is located directly in front of the cathedral itself, which is the main Roman Catholic Cathedral of Lithuania. Coronations for the Grand Dukes of Lithuania took place here, and there are many famous people buried in its crypts and catacombs. More than 40 works of art are on display that date back as far as the 16th century. During the Soviet era, the cathedral was converted into a warehouse.
Because Vilnius had such a big Jewish population, it was a target during the Holocaust. During the Nazi regime, around 12,000 members of the Jewish community were segregated into what’s known as the “Small Jewish Ghetto.” After they were liquidated by the Nazis in 1941, they created the Big Ghetto, which had 29,000 people imprisoned until its demise in 1943. It should be noted that further destruction to the region came during the Soviet era as they tried to erase all remnants of Jewish life in Vilnius.
Aside from sampling local cuisine around Vilnius, allot some time to visit one of the markets. This is where you get an inside look at the local cuisine and the products that are integral to Lithuanian culture. Try some dried and smoked meats, buy some pickled vegetables, and don’t forget to save a couple extra pounds in your suitcase to bring back some signature Lithuanian black rye bread.
Lithuania is known for its thriving beer scene, and Vilnius is a great place to explore popular styles of beer alongside traditional Lithuanian style beers that you won’t find elsewhere in the world.
While you can visit Vilnius year-round, its northern location means it gets some pretty rough winters. Consider late spring or summer when you can fully enjoy the city. The nights are warmer and there is more sun, giving you more of a chance to explore all of Vilnius’ charms during daylight hours.
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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