This summer I had the pleasure of visiting Vilnius which is the capital of Lithuania and its largest city. Vilnius is located in the southeast part of Lithuania and is the second largest city in the Baltic states. We went in August just for the weekend and it was warm, sunny and fabulous. It’s a small city by my standards with a nice compact city center that was easily walked. Everyone seemed to speak English, which is always a plus in my book. There was tons of shopping, lots of restaurants, cafe’s and bars and even an adorable champagne bar. There is a University in the city so the nights we were there the streets, restaurants and bars were filled with 20-30 somethings all having a great time with lots of live music.
The first thing I can say about Vilnius is it has a very rich history. Vilnius is known for the architecture in its Old Town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Its Jewish influence until the 20th century has led to it being described as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” and Napoleon named it “the Jerusalem of the North” as he was passing through in 1812. In 2009, Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture, together with the Austrian city of Linz. I didn’t expect a city with so many churches to also have such a rich Jewish culture – even a nice Kosher restaurant were we had gone for dinner one night. There are city arches where you used to enter the old town, parks, fortresses and some beautiful architecture. But it also has a modern side with great shopping like Channel and Prada.
After we spent 1 and 1/2 days wandering around the city we decided to take a tour a little further afield to a Castle on a Lake called Trakai Island Castle. It was a public holiday so it was a bit crowded but it was simply put, lovely. There was castle (mostly rebuilt to resemble the original which was destroyed in various wars but the original castle was built in the later half of the 14th Century. It was rebuilt in the 1950’s to resemble it’s 15th Century model and proudly sits on an island in the middle of a lake. Visitors can walk to the island via a serious of wooden bridges, or take a short boat ride. The castle can be toured and there are tons of old artifacts within the walls. But all the action is on the beaches that surround the lake. People were picnicking and selling all kinds of souvenirs, including tons of Amber (Jewelry and other items), which is indigenous to the region.
Overall it was a lovely place to visit and my first Balkan state. I’m sure the sunny warm weather helped but I highly recommend it. The people were friendly, the food and drink were great and the atmosphere was like something out of a story book. Best of all the prices were fair and the accommodations were great!