I learned about Lithuania for the first time from my friend who had just arrived back from his vacation in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. He was full of pleasant impressions; he affectionately described it as "a chocolate box city of three-storey baroque buildings". At that time I didn’t know anything about the country, except that Lithuania is one of the Baltic States, which heroically gained its independence back from the former Soviet block in 1991.
I was looking for my next holiday destination. Instead of returning to my favourite places, I decided to give Vilnius a go; it sounded so charming and romantic. I was also searching something new, a refreshing break from some of Europe’s mass tourism destinations. In a couple of weeks I flew to Vilnius.
My first impression of the town was pretty, homely and somehow, unpretentiously elegant. It isn’t exactly for those looking for a big turbulent metropolis city. It isn’t. Vilnius’ charm lies in its medieval roots. Its Old Town is one of the largest surviving medieval old towns in Eastern Europe and because of its numerous historic buildings, it is classified as a World Heritage site.
According to history, in the Middle Ages Vilnius was a blossoming city and one of the largest in Eastern Europe. The city was built during different centuries, therefore, you will find a blend of architecture with Baroque and Gothic dominating. The whitewashed Vilnius Cathedral and its belfry, medieval defence fortress, the intricate Gothic Church of St. Anne’s, to name just a few, create a postcard-perfect town.
I found Vilnius Old Town the most charming part of the city. Quaint shops and cosy cafes set amongst a blend of intricate spires, domes and towers are a few of the first images that come to my mind. I especially enjoyed exploring the atmospheric lanes of the back streets, where you can absorb the true spirit of medieval Lithuania.
I also liked its charming restaurants and cafes tucked away in the pretty courtyards. Some of the restaurants are set in the old atmospheric cellars and carry medieval deco themes. The food is usually of a high quality, well presented and is inexpensive for most European travellers. Overall, the city provides high standard restaurants, hotels and entertainment, yet everything is affordable at low prices in comparison with Western European countries, which makes Vilnius even more appealing.
And last but definitely not the least, the relaxed atmosphere and welcoming attitude of the locals make the city even more pleasant. Especially in the warm season, the people of Vilnius love to spend as much time as possible outdoors, strolling along the Old Town streets, sitting at the lovely pavement cafes. Most of them are welcoming and friendly to foreigners. Younger people, with the majority speaking English, will gladly assist you with directions, help you if you are lost and sometimes even recommend the best places in town.
All in all Vilnius is a charming place to experience some living history, to wander among the medieval cobblestone streets, to enjoy its diverse dining scene and elegant bars and to get to know its welcoming people. The city is a refreshing, not fully discovered yet and memorable destination.
John Watson is the publisher of a website called Welcome to Lithuania.