»Digital Ladies Travel« – Vilnius
Together with author Sophia Schillik, we present you a new destination in our »Digital Ladies Travel« travel series: Vilnius – the capital of Lithuania. For many of you, a more unknown destination, which is definitely worth a visit! Discover the most beautiful contact points in Vilnius here in the sisterMAG.
»Digital Ladies Travel« sisterMAG travel series: Vilnius
Lithuania is still a mystery for many European travellers. Travel journalist Sophia Schillik turned Vilnius inside out, explored the best locales for us and fell head over heels in love with the buzzing capital, its vivacious people, the innovative gastronomic and alternative art scenes, the moving history and the beautiful, multi-faceted cityscape.
I am a child of the South of Europe. Ever since I can remember, the land of lemons, where tartes au citron grow on the trees, draws me in for the summer. But the history and development of north-eastern Europe fascinates me. And so this year’s motto is Baltic, instead of Bordeaux or Bologna. I am amazed by the Lithuanian spirit, the vibe of the capital, the historical sites, the cultural facets, the fantastic restaurants and trendy cafés and bars.
- Name: The name Vilnius is derived from the Vilnia river, which flows into the Neris river not far from the historical town centre.
- Location: Vilnius is beautifully situated in a wooded hilly landscape in south-eastern Lithuania, where the Vilnia river flows into the Neris.
- Quality of Life: Vilnius ranked 81st out of 231 cities worldwide in a 2018 ranking of cities with the highest quality of life.
- Size: 401 km2.
- Weather: Lithuanians love the change of seasons and are very keen to celebrate each quarter’s particular mood. Winters can reach a rather cosy -30°C. The summers, meanwhile, are similar to Central Europe and can see temperatures up to 33°C.
- Architecture: Vilnius is renowned for its Baroque architecture, which is particularly evident in the medieval Old Town.
- How to get there: airBaltic flies to Vilnius from many German airports.
Good morning wonderful Vilnius
It is worth getting up early and exploring the quiet side of the city in the soft light of the day’s first hours. Stroll the streets undisturbed before the crowds begin to form; observe and drift through the city in sublime solitude.
The beautiful Old Town is best explored on foot. With an area of 360 hectares and buildings from many different eras, it is one of the largest and best preserved in Europe. Since 1994 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quaint stucco-adorned houses and lively café terraces stand shoulder to shoulder, stairs lead up to panoramic views, narrow cobblestone streets to hidden treasures and courtyards or wide avenues to imposing squares. Anything is possible – run along or linger as your heart desires. Vilnius has a very unique vibe and combines the best of two worlds. On the one hand, it is a lively and vibrant metropolis with a young creative community, while on the other it retains its village character and cosy charm. You can feel this magic on every corner in the artists’ quarter of Užupis. It declared independence in 1991 and even penned its own constitution, which can be read in many different languages. It’s a fantastic document, as you’ll see later on in the article. Užupis is a place where everyone can feel free. This is the essence of the republic: freedom. Mortality, as the constitution says, is not a duty, by the way. The citizens of Užupis not only have their own constitution, but also their own angel and a talking mermaid. You can learn of her story by looking at the sculpture from a bridge and scanning the QR code with your smartphone. This is the best place to let your mind wander and experience the spirit of the artist’s republic. It is a real breeding ground for contemporary ideas and works of art, featuring an open-air gallery with numerous installations, bubbling energy and collaborative projects like the Užupis Incubator – a place that invites dialogue and offers space for creative ideas and modern works to manifest.
Lithuanians love the outdoors and seek every opportunity to fill their lungs with fresh air. Bernadiny Sodas Park is the city’s green lung. Here you can do a few laps or let your soul swing like feet on one of the many park benches. Watch the locals play chess, or enjoy a relaxed walk.
Hang out, read or pose for the (wedding) photo: Lukiškės Square is one of the most popular and also most beautiful squares in the city. Look no further if you’re after beauty and tranquility. As is so often the case in Vilnius, there is a shadow lurking: the square used to be a place of execution. You’ll notice a monument commemorating the victims of the January Uprising of 1863. Today it is a cheerful place full of wit and recreation right in the city centre, a meeting point for young and old.
Miracles & Legends
In Vilnius people like to share miracles and legends. There are dozens of stories about the 13th century bell tower, which rises above the central cathedral square. Perhaps the most beautiful story is about the bell master Jonas Delamarsas, who loved his wife so much that he melted one of her hairs into each of the bells. It should go without saying that his instruments are the best in the country.
Directly in the square between the cathedral and the bell tower you’ll encounter the magical »Stebuklas« tile of wonder. Legend goes that those who stand on it and spin around three times will have their wishes granted.
Museum of Occupation & Freedom Fights
The capital of Lithuania has a strong and proud history, which is revealed in its buildings, monuments, wide streets and winding alleys. Every corner, every backyard, every stone tells its very own story. Some are loud, some are quiet, some are full of magic. There are stories of love, of melancholy and of pain. For those who are not afraid to take a look into the shadows, a visit to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights is a must. It is located in the building that the German Gestapo and the Soviet KGB used for the interrogation, torture and execution of political opponents. It can be difficult to digest, but it is nevertheless an important part of Lithuanian history. A very touching open-air exhibition a few steps in front of the museum displays penciled drawings that show the memory of this dark time from a child’s point of view.
Other worthwile museums
- authentic exhibits reflect the Lithuanian culture, history, customs and lifestyles.
THE MO MUSEUM,
- designed by the famous architect Daniel Libeskind, exhibits more than 4500 works of modern and contemporary Lithuanian fine art from 1960 to the present day.
THE SAMUEL BAK MUSEUM
- houses works by the Jewish- Lithuanian painter as well as constantly changing exhibitions of other artists.
Vilnius is renowned for its magnificent baroque architecture and the Church of St. Peter and Paul (lit. Šv. Petro ir Povilo) is not only one of the most significant churches in the Lithuanian capital, it is also a true masterpiece. It is absolutely worth a peek inside: kept rather simple from the outside, the church boasts a stunning interior, which has been meticulously crafted down to the last detail. The sculptures and stucco work are simply breathtaking.
The Kasimir church, named after the patron saint of Lithuania, is also worth checking out, as is the church of St. Catherine, which was completely renovated after the reestablishment of Lithuania’s independence. The Russian Orthodox Church of St. Michael and St. Constantine is also impressive.
Vilnius enchants with its many vantage points from which fascinating cityscapes open up to the observer – whether a view of the modern city skyline from Tauras Hill or a panoramic view from Gediminas’ Tower, which you should definitely climb. It is not only an important landmark, a unique building with a centuries-old history, but also houses a small exhibition about the Baltic Way, the legendary 650-kilometre human chain formed by the population of the three Baltic states on August 23, 1989. It stretched from Vilnius to Riga in Latvia, to Tallinn in Estonia, and became a symbol of peaceful protest against Soviet rule.
Aistis Mickevicius is actually an actor and radio host, but a few years ago he fulfilled his dream of training with the world’s best perfumers. He now creates unique perfumes under his own label and can even tailor a perfume specifically for you. FUMparFUM‘s small showroom is just a few steps away from the bastion of the city wall.
The bastion of the Vilnius city wall is a beautiful sight to behold, especially shortly before sunset on cloudless days. In the evening light, the red roofs and masonry of the former barracks are illuminated alongside the hot-air balloons that sometimes rise from the embankment. If you follow the path and descend into the old town, you will reach the Užupis neighbourhood and the town centre with its modern skyscrapers.
On Stikliu Street, hot-air balloons hang as lanterns and remind you that in you can actually float over the old town. The trips take place year-round and are a great experience, as Vilnius is one of the few cities in the world where this is possible. On the other bank of the Neris river looms a skyline reminiscent of Frankfurt am Main. If you have time, you can take a long walk along the river and make a detour to the banking and business district.
Pretty cafés & cool coffee bars
…are found in Vilnius like sand by the sea. And everywhere the baristas serve fantastic coffee. My favourite place for some relaxed work is the Brew Café . At Café Huracan you can enjoy a flat white and vinyl, usually groovy sounds mixed with Balkan folk music. The staff are super nice and it’s a great place to people watch. In the summer you can enjoy an iced latte at Kava Tau , recline in one of the lounge chairs and let your gaze wander. Last but not least: Elska Coffee . Not only is the coffee delicious here, but there are also delectable small dishes on offer (vegan-friendly).
Whether just eggs benedict at Assorti or your weekly roundup of local sausages, various cheese specialities, seasonal fruits and vegetables, a visit to the market hall Halės turgus is a must for foodies. It’s not just about the merchants inside. Locals outside the hall offer fruits and other wonders from their bountiful land. A truly authentic experience. A few corners further along you’ll find the Moss Cafe , which is all style and all-day brunch. The charmingly designed retreat is a very great address for delicious breakfast specialities and small dishes, from pancakes and bagels to omelettes. The cafe also serves up daily specials such as hummus with nuts and parsley oil. The young owner hasn’t just expressed herself with the menu but also in the interior design to create a stylish room that could easily be at home in New York City.
Meat is your vegetable? Most of Lithuania’s traditional cuisine revolves around hearty dishes. Among the most popular are cepelinai – potato dumplings stuffed with minced meat or quark – but there are also vegetarian options such as saltibarsciai, a cold beetroot soup with egg. Upscale gastronomy plays with these traditions and incorporates them into its modern interpretations. Hot tip: Brasserie 14Horses is close to »Rotušės aikštė« (=Town Hall Square).
The bistro also includes the Hotel PACAI , a bar and the award-winning fine dining restaurant Nineteen18 , where chef Matas Paulinas pays homage to the culinary heritage of his homeland with incomparably creative micro-seasonal cuisine. Most of the produce comes from the restaurant’s own farm and the surrounding countryside.
A feast for all senses!
Steaks & Seafood
The best steaks in town are at Bon Chop . Here you’ll find premium cuts from all over the world served in a stylish setting on two floors. Selfish , which is primarily focused on seafood, is another hot spot worthy of your tastebuds. You should definitely make a reservation as both restaurants can be at capacity every day of the week.
Vilnius’s top restaurant delights with a firework of ideas and creations which, despite their craftsmanship, seem so natural and casual that one feels at home despite the fine dining atmosphere. Chef Martynas Praškevičiu and his team use Mother Earth’s seasonal bounty to serve culinary marvels of enchanting simplicity, combining fresh, sustainable and local products accompanied by select and natural wines. All this, by the way, at incredibly fair prices. A real gem and a paradise for gourmets.
One place, many tastes: The Downtown Food Hall is a perfect place to go for a big or small lunch, afternoon snack or dinner. It offers everything from sushi to falafel, Greek specialities, peri peri chicken, baos and burgers. In short: Everything a fast foodie desires. With 14 food stalls, I’m convinced there’s something for every taste. Oh, and there’s also a cinema should that strike your fancy.
Lithuanians love secondhand, so it’s no surprise that vintage boutiques have been sprouting like mushrooms in Vilnius. The De’Žavu , situated in the shadow of St. Catherine’s Church, has a particularly beautiful selection for fair fashion enthusiasts as well as for fashion-conscious gentlemen. Each piece tells its own personal story, looking for someone to write the next chapter. Fashion that is personal and not anonymous.
Užupis and Stikliu Street offer an exciting selection of fashion and accessories by Lithuanian designers, from the unusual and slanted to simple and wearable. Fresh talents bring their interpretation of Lithuanian fashion to the table. One of the most exciting stores is LOCALS.LT. , a collection of local creatives with a standout assortment. If you are looking for Lithuanian haut couture, you might find what you are looking for at Odminiųstraße, which is home to the renowned designer Juozas Statkevicius’s extravagant collections. At Giedrius you’ll find pieces made from Lithuanian linen while Mondri satisfies your fix for dreamlike jewellery.
Attention, attention: The probability of succumbing to a minor shopping addiction in Raštinė borders on very high. The cute stationery shop has pretty much everything print and paper-lovers could possibly fawn over. Don’t be surprised if the selection of Post-its, notebooks, and indie magazines leaves you weak. Oh, and did I mention the vegan cakes?
A florist and a barista met… and founded Vilnius’s first (and so far only) flower shop café . The shop is heaven on earth for flower lovers and coffee junkies and is worth a visit even just to take a peek. By the way, flowers and coffee are proven to promote the release of serotonin, aka the happiness hormone.
Lithuanians have not only a soft spot for baroque, but also for murals. It is precisely this contrast that makes the cityscape so unique. The Vilnius Street Art Festival regularly attracts talented artists from all over the world. Perhaps the most impressive graffiti can be found just opposite the large market hall and comes at the hands of the duo Os Gemeos from São Paulo – it is a tribute to their Lithuanian grandfather. Just as well known is a mural on Kauno Street by the Polish duo Sepe & Chazme.
Vilnius Soviet-Themed Walking Tour
Vilnius has developed rapidly, boasts a beautiful cityscape and is home to a population proud of its struggle for freedom and independence. Only here and there do isolated relics from the Soviet era tell of a turbulent past. In a privately guided tour you can trace these times and explore the more recent history of the country on an expedition of a somewhat different kind. It leads to buildings from the time of Soviet occupation and highlights the divides which still line the urban canvas.
The architect of the Centre for Contemporary Art , Vytautas Čekanauskas, dedicated this courtyard – an open-air park – to the spatial art of sculptors from all over the world. The architectural ensemble itself is worth a visit, as are the exhibits. The sculptures of Antanas Gerlikas, Donatas Jankauskas, Žilvinas Landzbergas, Mindaugas Navakas and Pakui Hardware are currently exhibited there. Vilnius has always been considered one of the most liberal cities in Europe, offering protection to many persecuted Jews throughout its history. As the »Jerusalem of the North«, Vilnius became the centre of Jewish culture and enlightenment. Around 1900, Vilnius was one of the largest Jewish settlements in the world. The Jewish Culture & Information Centre is an important contact point for the city’s Jewish community and provides information about the city’s rich Jewish heritage – the beautiful aspects as well as the painful ones. More than 90 per cent of the country’s Jewish population was wiped out by the Gestapo between 1941 and 1944.