There is so much to see and do in wonderful Vilnius but only 7 days to experience everything! Arrived here a few days before the famous Kaziukas Fair, which is held for a weekend each year in March, so had to stay longer…
Rich in diverse history, Lithuania’s capital Vilnius is steeped in monuments, statues, and wonderful architecture from the Middle Ages.
Although the original city location of Vilnius is lost due to erosion, the area was inhabited since the Mesolithic era and only becoming a capital city since 1323.
Lithuanians, Slavs, Germans, and Jews have always populated this multinational city since ancient times.
The train from Kaunas to Vilnius was indeed in a brand new and very flashy train. The journey only takes one and a half hours and travels through flat scenery, with many industrial plants and chimneys bellowing smoke (or other) from high stacks.
If your accommodation is in the Old Town and as the train station is outside of the Old Town, you will need to get a taxi or walk a long way as it’s a bit of a long trek.
Cathedrals, churches, a defensive wall and castle, museums, parks, festivals, monuments, and grand statues are more than enough to keep even the more discerning traveller enthralled in Vilnius.
The people in Vilnius are so friendly and wonderfully welcoming; it feels very safe here to travel around, even if you’re a solo traveller.
Surrounded by a defensive wall, the cobbled Medieval Old Town’s architecture is mostly from the Baroque and Classicism periods, with a splattering of Renaissance and Gothic buildings. It’s easy to spend days here absorbed in this era.
This castle was closed for the winter but you can still walk around the grounds once you walk up the steep cobblestone path to Gediminas’ Tower. Gracing high on a hill, the castle is visible from most parts of the Old Town. The panoramic view from the top stretches out as far as the eye can see; and overlooks the Old Town on one side and the new town on the other. As it was snowing and bitterly cold, didn’t stay up there for a long time.
In early March for three days, Vilnius puts on a fair, which spills out from just about every corner of the Old Town. There are hundreds of stalls with handicrafts, goods, and folk art that craftsmen from all over the country have prepared during the winter. If you Google the fair, the information says it’s in honour of the passing of St. Casimir – the patron Saint of Lithuania.
Of course, the food stalls won’t disappoint and you’ll get to try much of Lithuania’s delicious local cuisine for cheaper prices than in any restaurant. Many on-site grilling of sausages, juicy meats, and pork takes place with the aroma lingering around your nose; you can’t but help want to eat everything in sight!
The fair’s trademark “verbos” is a representative of Kazuiko Muge, which is colourful staffs made of dried flowers and herbs, heart-shaped honey cookies with popular Lithuanian names inscribed on them.
Fresh bagel necklaces are hanging up everywhere throughout the fair; and especially around the necks of locals, typically in a festive mood and clasping a hot beverage of some sort.
Having never heard or read about this fair, we nearly missed it. Thankfully, Valdus’ excitement (apartment’s owner) was so intoxicating that this persuaded us to stay for the whole fair even though his apartment was booked out for that weekend (moved to another apartment). So glad we did as the fair is fantastic!
Paneriai Day Trip
Apart from the sites within Vilnius, you can go on a day trip to Paneriai to escape the crowds. Take the 12:08hrs flash new train from Vilnius to Paneriai (€0.58). The journey takes around 10 minutes (more train times available: Trainline Europe).
Paneriai Memorial Museum
Between July 1941 and August 1944, it’s estimated that 100,000 people (approximately 70,000 of which were Jewish) were murdered at this site by the Nazis and a hotchpotch of willing Lithuanians from such sinister organisations as the Ypatingasis Būrys (Vilnius Special Squad). Although not as well-known on the tourist map as the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Poland, Paneriai still provides a memorable and moving experience.
The actual train station at Paneriai is closed. Not sure why, perhaps because it’s winter and it’s snowing? I didn’t see any sign advising anything of its closure and if there was a sign then it probably would be in Lithuanian, and I wouldn’t be able to read it anyway!
Directions: Once you leave the station, there aren’t any signs to indicate the direction of the memorial site. So at the front of the station, turn right and keep walking along the road, which takes you through woodlands (about 1km).
The first thing you’ll see is the railway crossing at the end of the road and there’s a large memorial sign for the site. Turn left and walk down the slope until you reach the museum.
The museum is shut; again, I’m not sure if this is because of winter or otherwise. A sign stated ‘Viewing by appointment only’ with the museum’s opening times as 09:00-17:00hrs daily.
The surrounding woods are beautiful and eerily silent. The site contains several deep pits where prisoners were forced into and massacred. Snow falling combined with the bitter cold resonates what one could only imagine what these doomed souls were thinking, whilst climbing into the Canal Pit knowing their fate, and waiting for their turn to die.
Individual memorial monoliths for Russian and Polish soldiers, and Jewish civilians are dispersed throughout the site. You can’t visit a site like this and not be deeply saddened by what went on during this piece of history.
Pensively walking back the kilometre to the train station, found the timetable pasted to the train station’s shelter. The train back to Vilnius was around 15:00hrs and 17:00hrs. With almost an hour to wait in the biting cold, no coffee shop, restaurant, or anywhere to sit in sight of the Paneriai Township, decided to wait in the station’s tiny shelter. Luckily, a non-scheduled train arrived at 14:30hrs so took that instead; you can buy tickets once on board.
Vilnius Collegium Apartament (Pilies g. 22-1, Senamiestis, LT-01123)
This cute and cosy 2-bedroom (sleeps 4) almost self-contained apartment is right in the Old Town, and only stones’ throw from all the historical sites; free wi-fi that works.
Valdis the owner, is so passionate and helpful with suggestions and information on Vilnius; he really knows how to welcome travellers. A fridge, kitchenware, microwave, and kettle are provided, which helps with the daily budget. You only have to walk a few minutes outside of the apartment’s door to step back in time and be amongst the action of the Old Town, cobblestone alleyways, dainty medieval shop fronts, and another world!
Comfort Studio Apartment (Vingriu G.13 Old Town)
Modern and comfortable self-catering apartment with good free wi-fi; close to the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. Everything you need including central heating, a TV with cable channels; free parking available.
There are scores of cafés in the Old Town, just choose one and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Think I’ve mentioned once or twice in my past posts on the Baltics that self-contained apartments are cheaper than hotels for the Aussie dollar. This means that apart from the essential daily coffee and pastry outing, all meals were cooked in the apartment; although I did try the wonderful street food on offer at the Kaziukas Fair. After more than 10 months travelling through SE Asia and eating out 2-3 times per day every day, then cooking in an apartment was a welcoming change.
The supermarket chains such as Rimi, IKI, and Maxima (X, XX or XXX) are your best options for the cheapest of the most freshest and delicious food, pastries, fruit and vegetables, groceries, alcohol, and everything you could possibly imagine. It really is a feast for your eyes at these supermarkets!
If you happen to be in Vilnius in the first week of March, then definitely eat at the Kaziukas Fair! An amazing selection of delicious local food and beverages are on offer at inexpensive prices (€2-10). Try the hot beer or spiced wine (around €1.50), guaranteed to warm you on a frosty winter’s day; as will the hot and very rich melted pure chocolate, sold to you in a small cup (100 mls) and dripping with lusciousness.
Vilnius to Warsaw (Poland)
The flash LUX Express Lithuania bus (€17) from Vilnius to Warsaw leaves from the bus station behind the train station at 14:45hrs and is supposed to take around 8.5 hours. As the final destination for this bus is Berlin not Warsaw, don’t fall asleep or you’ll miss your stop!