Lithuania’s wonderful Vilnius offers a traveller so much that 7 days is not enough to experience everything!
Arrived here a few days before the famous Kaziukas Fair, which is held over a weekend in March each year, so we extended the stay…
The train from Kaunas to Vilnius is indeed in a brand new and very flashy train, as promised.
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 – it’s a bit of a trek.
Rich in diverse history, Lithuania’s capital Vilnius is steeped in fabulous 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, only becoming a capital city in 1323.
A multinational city since ancient times hosting Lithuanian, Slavic, German, and Jewish people.
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.
Locals in Vilnius are so friendly and wonderfully welcoming; it feels very safe here to travel around, even if you’re thinking of solo-travelling to Vilnius.
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 very easy to spend days here, absorbed in this era.
Vilnius Castle Complex
Although closed for the winter, you can still walk around the castle’s 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 is snowing and bitterly cold, we didn’t stay up here for too long a 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 the fair is 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.
Divulge in the many on-site grilling of sausages, juicy meats, and pork taking place all day. With the constant aroma lingering around your nostrils, 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 whilst clasping a hot beverage of some sort.
Having never heard or read about this fair, we nearly missed it. Thankfully, Valdus’ excitement (apartment owner) was so intoxicating that this persuaded us to stay for the whole fair. Sadly, his apartment is booked out for this weekend so had to move to another apartment.
Very happy that we stayed as the fair is fantastic and a worthwhile experience.
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) for the journey, which 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 proves 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 this 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.
Returning to Vilnius
Pensively walking back the kilometre to the train station, found the timetable pasted to the train station’s shelter.
The train back to Vilnius is around 15:00hrs and another at 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 taking that instead, we could 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 a stones’ throw from all the historical sites. The apartment provides free wi-fi that works.
Valdis the owner, is so passionate and helpful with suggestions and information on Vilnius; and 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-catered 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, and free parking is also 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. So, apart from the essential daily coffee and pastry outing, we cooked all meals 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, cooking in an apartment is a welcomed 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.
As the final destination for this bus is Berlin not Warsaw, don’t fall asleep or you’ll miss your stop!