The third and final stop on my tour of the Baltics was a two-night stay in Vilnius, Lithuania. The small capital of the small country was an amazing retreat from a normal city experience. It gave me the same feeling that I get when I drive up to northern Minnesota for a weekend. Seclusion, quiet, free from drama. Green trees, cool evenings, clean air.
To get there I took the Lux Express bus from the Riga bus station. The journey took about 3.5 hours and was on one of their clean, comfortable coaches. I really love this bus company, I hope that they continue to expand westward in Europe. It was the perfect means of travel between the Baltic States.
Accommodation: Downtown Forest Hostel
After a two night stint at the Naughty Squirrel in Riga, I was in need of a few quiet nights. This hostel was the perfect answer to my prayers – a quiet, cabin-like property that was on the edge of the city center, nestled in the woods.
They offer a rustic bar serving local brews, coffee and tea and breakfast in the morning (at a cost) and a huge kitchen. The rooms were very spacious, well-lit with large security lockers. I personally really enjoyed staying at this hostel, but I could see how for some social solo travelers it could be a bit too quiet and secluded.
Things to do
Nestled right near the city center, this is a self-proclaimed republic, mostly comprised of artists. Similar concept to Christiana in Copenhagen, but less gritty and I didn’t see any drug deals going on. It is a cool neighborhood with quirky bars and restaurants and lovely buildings. It’s teeming with street art and hipster spots. I found the motto of the Uzupis to be quite interesting – “Don’t Fight”, “Don’t Win”, “Don’t Surrender”
Gates of Dawn
A large gate that serves as an entrance into the old city, it’s a beautiful structure of religious importance. The pale blue walls adorned with gold crosses and through the windows, you can see a picture of the Virgin Mary. I saw groups of both men and women stop to look and cross themselves when walking either in or out of the gates.
The old town of Vilnius is a charming cultural center, with cobblestone streets and Baroque buildings. It is one of the oldest medieval towns in Northern Europe, and it’s very small and easy to walk around.
View from Gediminas Tower
During my short stay in Vilnius, I made a point to sneak in some exercise. It seemed like the perfect city to go for a run in, because there are countless parks and most of the city center is pedestrian friendly. I ran up to the platform of the tower to get an amazing view overlooking the city. It was a short hike up, but be wary of the uneven and shaky stones. I didn’t actually enter the tower, as it was a bit expensive and the view I got from the plaza area was still an incredible panorama. I would recommend it as a spot to watch the sunset, as you get a view of the whole city.
This is the Roman Catholic cathedral of Vilnius. A lot of famous people from Lithuanian and Polish history are buried here. It’s at the center of a huge plaza, and the style is very different from most Catholic cathedrals that I have seen throughout Europe.
Half-Day Trip to Trakai
A short bus ride (40 minutes) out of Vilnius is the city of Trakai, to see the historic castle and lake that it sits on. The buses to Trakai are frequent, and the walk from the bus station to the actual castle is flat and easy. It rained a bit while we were there, which was unfortunate, but it was still a gorgeous castle. The area is very tranquil and lovely to visit for a few hours.
Restaurant – Argo
For lunch, we stopped at Argo, a restaurant located in a hotel in Trakai. It doesn’t overlook the lake and the castle, but the food was good and very reasonably priced. The restaurants that are on the lake with the view of the castle are VERY expensive, but this gem was just across the street!
This restaurant was an awesome find. A dark, dingy pub atmosphere with a variety of unique beers on tap and amazing food, all for a super low price. I had a potato pancake of sorts and a stuffed cabbage roll. Both savory and served with sour cream, what more could you ask for?
If you’re looking for a delicious breakfast or brunch while in Vilnius, I recommend stopping at Cafe Montmartre. A cute, French-style cafe right on the corner in the main area of old town, this place had an amazing breakfast/brunch menu. I had a ham & cheese crepe and a fresh squeezed orange juice, which was the perfect start to the morning before heading to Trakai.
My 2-days in Vilnius was a great wrap-up to touring the Baltic States. It was a very beautiful, quiet city, sprawling with lots of nature and parks. Definitely worth a visit if you’re traveling in Northern Europe. It’s inexpensive, I found the people to be really friendly, and it’s a good way to escape a busy, noisy city and instead enjoy a more quiet, less touristy spot.