JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH VIKTORIA DUMENKO FROM VILNIUS, LITHUANIA!
Viktoria, a local of Vilnius and a passionate traveler, lives in the ‘City of low-flying Angels’ with her husband. Recently she found a job that matches her interests hence travel has turned into hobby for her. She still writes about interesting activities in Lithuania, places to eat out in Vilnius and shares all her travel experience around Europe ! Viktoria hopes everyone gets to visit this beautiful city, full of art and narrow medieval streets someday.
Lithuania, a beautiful country which hasn’t been given its proper due yet, is situated in Eastern Europe, between Latvia and Russia, and stands bordered by the Baltic Sea, Belarus and Poland. Lithuanian is the oldest Indo-European language in the world and closest in grammar to Sanskrit.
Juozapines Hill (294 m) forms the highest point in Lithuania, while the largest and longest river in the country is Nemunas. Basketball is usually called a second religion in Lithuania and 8% of all white storks in the world breed in Lithuania making it the densest country for this species. It is also the national bird of Lithuania.
Vilnius is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Lithuania – one of three Baltic countries in Northern Europe besides Estonia and Latvia. Vilnius is located at the meeting point of the river Neris and Vilnia, from which the name of the city originates. It is also the only capital in the world where you can fly a hot air balloon over. Quite interestingly, Vilnius has its own anonymous swing foundation where people install swings all around the city.
When is the best time to visit Vilnius?
Lithuania is beautiful in all season but mostly in spring and fall ! Vilnius has a lot of parks and is close to nature, if you come in the most colorful time – October, amazing views of nature are guaranteed. Fall in Vilnius is exceptionally beautiful. Tourism is slightly slow during Spring and Fall hence expect less crowd, easy strolling over cobbled old town paths and pleasant weather in both seasons.
If you like active traveling – June is always a good idea to visit Vilnius ! It is the warmest time of year. Hot and sunny weather is good for exploring the city, it’s baroque architecture, picnics, riding bikes and experiencing the Baltic sea! The downsides would be extra people on the road and expensive hotels/flights.
It is far too cold in winters in Vilnius for travelers who prefer warm weather but yet it is the second busiest season with tourists. The first snowfalls can come as early as mid-November and by early to mid-December winter sets in.
What is the most convenient and favoured transport of Vilnius?
I choose public transport (buses, trolleybuses) because of a clear schedule (easy to track on Google), it is clean and tidy, not expensive and you don’t need to care about parking place. You can buy a 30 min, 60 min, one, three or ten days ticket or for longer stay buy a Vilnius card which can be credited with an appropriate amount of money and used for various transports and unlimited journeys. Also, the card can be used for selected public transport tickets. With a valid ticket marked on the card, it is possible to switch from one vehicle to another for free and indefinitely. Here is the complete guide on public transport and bus timetables in Vilnius.
From Vilnius Airport : From the airport (Oro uostas) to the city center take bus 3G or 88. The bus station is right opposite of the main entrance. Also, buses 1 and 2 go to train station (stotis). Every single trip cost 1 euro, you can buy the ticket by cash from driver and compost it! For a complete airport transfer guide, use their official website.
If you prefer taxi – there are few apps to get it cheaper – Bolt, Taxify, Yandex, Uber. Mostly, prices around the city start from 4-6 euros and higher from airport to the city center – from 10 euros. Bus would be the cheapest option and taxi the most convenient. Take your pick !
To reach Vilnius from nearby Baltic cities : The LUX express bus is the best way to travel around Baltics and runs from most Baltic cities to Vilnius. If coming by flight, fly to Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania only 100 kms away from it. Ryanair has a heavy maintenance facility in Kaunas for their planes and fly cheap flights from nearby countries to and from Kaunas (you can easily reach Vilnius by train from there). Test your luck !
What are the top three must visit places in Vilnius?
As local I can say that my favorite place in Vilnius is the Užupis – the heART of city! Uzupis ( meaning – ‘beyond the river’ ) declared itself as an independent Republic in the year 1997 on April Fools Day (intentionally but it’s no prank) with its own president, constitution, passport stamp (get yours stamped but only once a year on 1st April), flag and celebrates its independence every year. The symbol of Užupis is the Holy Hand, a blue hand with a hole in the middle, making it unable to accept bribes.
This is a 0.6 sq. km art district famous for its creative graffiti, trendy craft outlets and ever changing art work. Best part – all of it is produced voluntarily. The neighborhood is inhabited by artists, writers, filmmakers, scientists, civil activists, teachers, and other citizens committed to cultural and social movements in Lithuania.
With 28 churches in the city of Vilnius, it makes it essential to visit atleast one. Šv. Onos Bažnyčia (or Saint Anne`s Church) located on the right bank of the Vilnia River is an incredible heritage of 15th century in Vilnius. This Gothic church was built for Anna, Grand Duchess of Lithuania, and wife to Vytautas the Great. The church since then has stood the test of time without changing for over 500 years. It is now regarded as a symbol of Vilnius. Most impressive part of the church is its unique facade. Legend has it that Napolean Bonaparte fell in love with the beauty of the church and wanted to take it to Paris with him in the palm of his hand. You need to see it by yourself to believe it !
For history lovers I offer to visit Vilnius University – for its ancient lecture rooms and frescoed halls, the place where modern students are studying right now! The University was built in the 16th century and has 13 internal courtyards, arcades, galleries and the Library. Those who wish to see the architectural ensemble of the University are offered guided tours in the Lithuanian, English, Russian and Polish languages every workday from 9:00 to 15:00 (on Fridays until 14:00). For a visit fill up an electronic order form here (confirmation within 24 hours mostly) or contact the Communications and Information Division of the Library tel. +370 5 268 7103. Adult 8 EUR, schoolchild and student 2 EUR (group min 4 people). To know the history of Vilnius University buildings and library, click here.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Vilnius?
Trakai : Trakai Island Castle is one of the oldest medieval castles in Europe, I suggest to see it from air balloon! It is located 28 Km from Vilnius and plenty of buses and trains run between Vilnius and Trakai, the historical capital of Lithuania, every single day. You can take a bus from one of the main bus stations in Vilnius – the Vilnius bus station (Sodų St. 22 ). The last stop of bus station is 2.3 km to the castle. Or you can take a train from the station (Geležinkelio St. 16) which runs 11 times a day. Train station is 3 km to the castle, sometimes 4 if you go buy the lake. In summers (May – September) you can take advantage of the Trakai sightseeing train. If not in the mood to walk, rent a car and take the A1 (E85) highway out of the city -> A4 highway in the direction of Druskininkai -> A16 (E28) for the rest of the way. It would take you a little over 30 minutes to reach there by car.
Varnikų takas or Varnikai Cognitive Walking Way is a 3.45 km hiking trail through the middle of a beautiful forest ! It’s located in the Varnikai village which is 3km from Trakai. Easy to reach if you follow the signs marked ‘Varnikų Gamtos Takas’ across two lake bridges.
It’s magically silent and the trail leads through several natural areas. We often go there for a walk amidst untouched nature, rustling leaves. The nature of the path is always changing and this makes the path unique. It is especially nice summer and autumn, the narrow path through the forest casts a spell!
Birstonas : From Trakai if you head further west for an hour, you reach the resort town of Birstonas of Lithuania. Surprisingly, Lithuania has springs with a high mineral content water! The most famous is Vytautas(award winning spa) named after the 15th century ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Try fresh mineral water and breathe salty air in wood room for free! Enjoy the spa procedures in a spa of your choice and soak in the surrounding nature.
Also, nearby you can visit the view tower – Birštono apžvalgos bokštas (Birstonas observation tower) the tallest tower in Lithuania which is very popular in summer. The tower stands in a protected landscape area – the Nemunas Loops Regional Park and has 300 steps. After climbing them, the tourists will be able to see a special natural phenomenon – the loops of Nemunas, the largest, legendary and most spoken about river of Lithuania. Currently the tower is open daily from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. but will be soon available for 24 hours viewing.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Vilnius?
Christmas, of course! City is so cute and cozy at that time! Every year Vilnius has grand opening festival of Christmas eve with unique design of tree. As at peak season, you will need to plan ahead your trip to have a good accommodation closer to the Old Town of Vilnius.
We also celebrate our two independence days: on February 16, and on March 11, the Day of the Restoration of Independence. Even St. Patrick’s Day, which is the day when just like every year the river Vilnia is dyed bright emerald green.
What is the most loved local food of Vilnius? Is it a vegetarian friendly city?
One of the most famous Lithuanian dishes is Cepelinai which resembles a Zeppelin airship. It is a giant potato dumping genereally stuffed with pork mince or vegetables and served with a creamy mushroom sauce.
My discovery of this summer is Šaltibarščiai or cold beetroot soup, served with baked potatoes and fresh greens. Very tasty! It is a part of traditional Lithuanian cuisine. It consists of a creamy blend of pickled or boiled beetroots, tangy kefir or buttermilk, poured over grated cucumbers and hard-boiled eggs.
Apple cheese is interesting type of Lithuanian homemade dessert made from special antonovka apples. The apple cheese requires a lot of sugar or honey hence it is said that it originated from medieval rulers and noblemen estates. You can find it in local market as Hales Turgus, the oldest market in Vilnius.
And of course, you must try Lithuanian beer at Alaus Biblioteka with national snack – fried black bread with cheese and garlic!
If you are a vegetarian or vegan – Vilnius is a very modern city with a myriad of options. You can have breakfast at The Urban Garden, for burgers or bowls try Rosehip vegan café and for easy and fast lunch try Tavo Erdve café. Vegetarian desserts are served at Chaika café.
Where to head for shopping in Vilnius?
Ogmios miestas is a huge place where world famous and Lithuanian brands are concentrated with good discounts. It is located to the north from Vilnius city centre on the right bank of Neris. It has an outdoor water park featuring giant shower heads.
Ozas is a big shopping center with lot of entertainments, for example, a cinema, a leisure center for children, and there is a water park Vichy nearby.
The most popular areas for shopping in the Old Town are Pilies and Didžioji streets. From the end of Pilies street to the Gate of Dawn facade is Didžioji street where you will find stores like Burberry, Hugo Boss and Du Broliai. Du Broliai is an immensely popular luxury fashion store of Lithuania. If you are tired shopping head to Gediminas Avenue for the best gastronomic experience and if you aren’t look for Lithuanian designer Julia Janus’s fashion collection and more in nearby Stikliai Quarter.
Also, in the Old Town of Vilnius there is a regular shopping event with local brands called as Sienamiestis night shopping! Google it!
Which is the local craft or souvenir of Vilnius?
In the most unexpected places in the City of Angels you can meet a sculpture of Angel ! It will be combo if you find such a figure, for example a pendant, made from amber.
Yes, when in Lithuania dive for the ‘Baltic Gold’ (or gintaras ). Amber is the surviving resin of ancient trees which over millions of years has been covered by sediment and compressed by rock movement and glaciers. To spot a genuine from a fake amber visit the Amber museum in Vilnius, take a workshop to taste amber, make amulets or test authenticity. Also white amber which is called royal amber is widely available in Lithuania.
Lithuania has its own scent, called ‘the Scent of Lithuania’, made of wild flowers, ginger, raspberry, sandalwood and musk. An easy purchase as a souvenir for your friends abroad.
Lithuanian beer, honey, linen woven into tablecloths or, scarves and shawls are also quite popular.
Which are the best streets of Vilnius worthy of taking a stroll on?
Literaturu street (Literaturū gatve) is the most beautiful and touristic street in Vilnius. One of the oldest streets in Old Town of Vilnius, it can be reached by descending down from Piles Street towards the cathedral. Artworks of people associated with Lithuanian literature are on display here. Even if you have no idea about our literature visit this creative street just to know about people who have influenced Lithuanian literary scene. You won’t be disappointed !
Gedimino street famous as the longest walking street of Vilnius city, connecting modern part with the Old Town, where you can do shopping or check newest food hall (G9 – Gedimino 9). It is considered as the most important street in the whole of Vilnius since most of the government buildings are situated here. It’s also popular among locals and tourists for its beauty shops, fashion stores, shoe boutiques, souvenir collections and food experience.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of Vilnius?
It is really hard to only recommend just one place! My favourite is Gediminio tower (actually a castle) with breathtaking view of both new and old Vilnius! Nearby the castle is the hill of three crosses which can be seen from the tower. This I would say is the best place for a panoramic view of Vilnius.
Also, my lovely spots are Šv. Jono bell tower (open from May until September) and Subačiaus view place.
Would you suggest any shows in Vilnius to drama, music or art lovers? Where can one spot street art in your city?
I like the art spirit of Vilnius, so Mo Museum is more suitable for tourists, who are interested in contemporary art and a new exhibition format. It is a modern art museum conceptualised by Lithuanian scientists and philanthropists Danguolė Butkienė and Viktoras Butkus. An eclectic mix of past and present heritage of Lithuania displayed through art in its 5,000 modern and contemporary pieces, MO Museum is definitely worth your time. It has been included as Top 10 21st century museums to visit by Italian news agency ANSA.
For theatre lovers, visit Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre and Lithuanian National Drama Theatre. Visit Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre for Lithuanian folk performances, ballet display, fine singers and interesting architecture. Even if you aren’t interested in international performances visit it for unique Russian extravagant architecture. Lithuanian National Drama Theatre organises performances from Lithuania and abroad and stages it in two halls inside the same building.
Will suggest to visit the Open Gallery (entrance from side of Paneriu street, 37) as the best place for street art lovers ! It’s a unique gallery with artwork by various international artists. The primary purpose of the Gallery is to make the abandoned places alive again as well as culturally enliven industrial part of the city. In the museum there is also a library, a reading room, a shop and a café. The Gallery is quite easy to reach as it’s quite close to the Old Town and Vilnius Central Station.
You can find various artwork scattered on the streets of Vilnius.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Vilnius?
Vilnius free tour : I participated a tour around Old Town with these guys and totally love it and highly recommend it !
Dienospietus.lt : Here you can find a lot of useful information about cafes, lunches, menu and prices.
Where2eat.lt : Follow them on Instagram to get to know about cafes and how they work inside. I personally like their work and have been visiting their recommendations.
Vilnius tourism : This website is full of information about Vilnius city! From A to Z.
m.ticket – this app is comfortable to use to buy ticket online and activate, but sadly it is only in Lithuanian.
Do you want to give any suggestion to tourists coming to Vilnius?
Lithuania weather is unpredictable, no matter when you are visiting pack a brolly and a waterproof jacket just in case.
Vilnius and all of Lithuania is about it’s people – open minded, kind and always eager to help strangers! The city isn’t fancy but exquisite so relax and enjoy it’s cultural warmth. I am sure it will remain in your heart for a long long time! Seek the simplicity!
Things to know :
Visa : Lithuania is a member of the EU. A Schengen Visa is valid for entering Lithuania. General required documents for Lithuania Visa application can be found here.
UNESCO Listed Sites : There are four UNESCO heritage sites in Lithuania. Curonian Spit (428.4 km away from Vilnius), Kernavė Archaeological Site and Cultural Reserve (35 km north-west of Vilnius in eastern Lithuania), Struve Geodetic Arc Station Points and Vilnius Historic Center.
Tap water : Lithuanian tap water is among the cleanest and healthiest in Europe. It is perfectly drinkable.
Electric Socket : In Lithuania the standard voltage is 220 V and the frequency is 50 Hz. The power plugs and sockets are of type F also known as “Schuko”. This socket also works with plug C and plug E.
Drones : Flying drones is legal in Lithuania. Here are the requirements you need to fulfill.
Bonus Tip : If you spin around the Stebuklas, the Miracle tile, located in the main square in Vilnius, thrice clockwise and make a wish it will come true. Don’t blame us if it doesn’t 😉