I went to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, for a weekend away with my friends in December 2016. I didn’t get chance to write about my trip then and I felt I couldn’t publish a Christmas related post during the middle of the year, however in hindsight, I’ve realised whilst writing this that Vilnius is actually a great city to visit no matter what time of year it is, it was just particularly good in December with the lead up to Christmas.
So here it is, hopefully in time for you to plan a christmas break there and if not then I hope this post convinces you to still visit from Jan-Nov!
When planning our girls Christmas trip, our main aim was to get into the Christmas spirit with some European Christmas markets but go somewhere that wouldn’t cost too much and to our delight we found Vilnius to be not only very christmassy but very pretty, cheap and a place that offered a surprisingly great range of food and drink options (which we needed regularly because it was soo cold!).
This was my first time visiting the Baltic’s and it left me wanting to see more, so here are a few more detailed reasons as to why we loved it and why I would recommend Vilnius:
As I said, we were looking for a budget destination so I knew we’d need to head over to Eastern Europe. We flew there with Ryanair for £60.00 return which I booked a few months previous in August (yes I was organised!). To me this isn’t a majorly cheap price but it’s actually quite far away with a 3 hour flight time, it was peak holiday season and the prices once we were there totally made up for it.
On arrival we got a taxi from the airport, the fare was increasing faster than I have EVER seen, literally racing up and it seemed to go even faster once we said we were from England and hadn’t been to Vilnius before! It came to a total of €25.00 which between 5 of us it was fine and it did take some time to get to the hostel but I swear I had read on a blog post that it was only about €8.00, although at 23:00 in the evening I wasn’t about to argue (for once!). However when it came to booking a taxi back to the airport the hostel receptionist told us it should only be €7.00-8.00 in total and that we got well and truly ripped off so keep that in mind!
We stayed at Jimmy Jumps House Hostel, as there were 5 of us we wanted to be able to share a room and make the most of the weekend together so we booked out a 6 bed dorm and paid €11.00 each a night which included a pancake breakfast so this was great! The beds were a bit uncomfortable but it was clean, in a good location with friendly staff and did I mention a pancake breakfast!!
The food and drinks were really great value too, for example we went for a late lunch at Vieta which is a vegan and vegetarian cafe/ restaurant. In total we had 5 huge beers, camembert to start between us all and 5 Panini’s, all of which were great and it came to €45.50 between us all! I’d highly recommend this place for its food, atmosphere and prices!
As you can tell from the above, Lithuania uses Euro’s which I didn’t expect as usually Countries that use Euro’s are more expensive but this wasn’t the case here!
I found Vilnius to be the perfect city to walk around, admire the architecture and pop in and out of shops, cafes and restaurants. There’s no need for a touristy hop on, hop off bus or in fact any other tours as its fairly small and compact. It would have been interesting to do a walking tour to hear some of the history but unfortunatley we didn’t have time.
It’s full of different areas!
As with most Eastern European Cities there is an old town which is the centre of the tourist hub. The old town in Vilnius is full of windy streets, boutique shops with beautiful churches popping out of the top.
There’s also a commercial area of the city. This is where you find your H&M and popular stores, it isn’t as pretty as the old town but I always think its good to see a more modern area of a city too.
There is also a neighbourhood called Uzupis which is across the river to the old town and it’s known as is a self reclaimed ‘Republic’ part of the city! A bit like the Freetown area of Christiania in Copenhagen, it has its own anthem, constitution, president, and a lot more. This area used to be one of the most dangerous areas in Vilnius but in the early 1990’s the Bohemians and artists moved it making it a lot safer and it is now thriving as a community.
We only visited Uzupis briefly so we didn’t get to experience the full extent of it but it’s definitely worth visiting.
The buildings and churches in Vilnius are what I expected from the Baltic’s area and they are really beautiful and impressive. The buildings in the old town are quite medieval and really colourful which I didn’t expect. The churches are really grand and similar to what you’d see in Russia but on a small scale (I think anyway as I’ve never been to Russia!).
Good places to Eat & Drink!
I didn’t necessarily expect Vilnius to be great for food but we found some really great authentic places.
As I said above we visited Vieta which was a great place for lunch that I’d recommend. We didn’t look up any places to go online and instead simply wandered until we found somewhere to have food or a drink, whether that was a coffee, hot chocolate or beer and we stumbled upon some great places that really made our trip special and more memorable!
Cool View points!
Getting up high and seeing a view over the city is often people’s favourite thing to do! We walked up to Gediminas Tower which was quite an experience in the snow as we were slipping all over the place! However without snow it would be perfectly fine and easy to walk up. From here its possible to see all over the old town and also over the river into what looked like the financial district!
Another popular place to visit is the Three Crosses, this is not to be confused with the Hill of Crosses that you may see pictures of, if you want info on how to visit this then have a look at this page as it looks pretty cool. We didn’t visit The Three Crosses due to being a bit too cold but these are in Vilnius, slightly further out than Gediminas Tower and the view of the city from the top looks awesome!
It has seasons!
Lithuania seems like one of those countries that actually has seasons. When we visited in December there was a bit of snow which is exactly what we wanted and it was really cold which was what we wanted too although not so much when our feet went completely numb! I saw that it then got even snowier in January and I’ve seen people visit in the summer when it’s been really hot!
Ok, so up until this point you could visit Vilnius any time of year. The food, the views, the prices and the weather can be applicable for 12 months of the year. However, like I said and as you can probably tell from the cover picture of this blog post I visited in December specifically for the Christmas Markets and they were really great! Here’s why:
- They were only quite small but during the day, even on the first weekend of December they weren’t hugely busy. They got busier at night but not to an insane degree.
- A lot of effort had been put into them. The lights running from the Christmas Tree, which was the centre point, onto all of the stalls surrounding the tree were so pretty at night! Standing under them drinking mulled wine with friends was really special.
- Not only was the rest of Vilnius cheap but the markets were super cheap too. I don’t remember the exact prices but the mulled wine, hot chocolate etc etc were only a few euros! I doubt you’d get that in a Western European Christmas market.
- They were really authentic. I think the size helped and the fact that there were no fair ground rides or tackiness like that!
I hope this has inspired you to visit Vilnius in Lithuania at any time of year but especially in December!
*What do you think? Have you been to Vilnius? Where are your favourite christmas markets? Let me know in the comments or by tweeting me!*
I did publish a Vlog straight after my trip which you can watch here if you’d like!