Vilnius is not a top vegetarian destination. Lithuanians do meat and they do it very well. So get ready for a very meaty week-end, washed down with delicious local beers. But before we get to the food, let me tell you a bit about everything else that made me add Vilnius to the travel list.
First, I love the Nordic way of life. Minimalistic but capturing all that one enjoys to life, I seem to find a reason to go back every year. Of course one country is not like the other and I want to discover each of them. The skandinavians have their own Nordic new wave kitchen going on while Iceland plays in a different league of adventure seekers. At the same time, I find all the lands in the North of Europe do share a love for the outdoors, architecture and marinated fish.
Second, Vilnius is not (yet) a major touristic magnet. Especially in Spring, Europeans would rather head to the South, hoping to recover from the colder Winter months. Which makes plane tickets to Lithuania a bargain. Also it avoids ques at tourist attractions.
Third, there in enough to see for a weekend leisure trip that does not fell like you only scratched the tip of the iceberg. If you have more time of course, the coast of Lithuania should be great for a side trip. So once you set foot in the small city of Vilnius, here are my recommend things to do and see:
- Get a map and head to Cathedral square. Have a quick peak in the Cathedral. If imposing churches are not your thing, climb the tower for a panorama of the square.
- Take a walk to the Castle Gediminas, on the hill. Not much to admire inside but the last standing tower offers some nice panorama over the old city and the new part of town.
- Walk in the old city. As any respectable European capital, Vilnius has a well preserved, cobbled stoned historic city that is filled with restaurants and boutiques. The Gate of Dawn marks the only city gate that remains out of the 9 original ones.
- If the sun shines bright, head towards the Bernardine Gardens. It is a great place to have a break with a coffe in hand. You will find a few speciality coffee shops on Didzioji street. The red-brick St Anne and Bernardine church complex is a nice photo opportunity detour.
- Cross the bridge into the lost republic of Uzupis. No passport necessary, just some taste for modern street art.
- Enjoy local food. You probably guessed by now, I am thoroughly researching restaurant reviews weeks before I land in a new place, trying to get a taste of both traditional kitchen and Its more modern developpments. For Vilnius, I can recommend Lokys for the traditional side and Mykolis 4 and Telegrafas for the modern twists. Bring an apettite as portions are big everywhere.
- Lithuania has a blooming coffe shop culture. You can get a caffeine fix and enjoy old books at Mint Vinetu on Sv Ignoto street. For those with a sweet tooth, Pinavija Bakery has an impressive selection of desserts. Long ques of locals stand proof to their deliciousness!
- Finally, walk the calories away on nearby Gedimino avenue, the Main Street of Vilnius downtown.
If you want to take home a souvenir, try the specialty rye breads. They are amazing with cheese spreads and that tasty Nordic marinated fish. Perfect to make you plan another North European adventure. Safe travels!