The 60-second guide to Vilnius

Capital of Lithuania, the medieval town of Vilnius is a magical place that offers a wealth of culture.

In its own head
“We have the most stunning Baroque architecture in the whole of northern Europe, as well as a banging nightlife and beautiful people.”

But more realistically
The town is a magnet to culture vultures – but also to stag parties. There are so many activities available in such historic and beautiful surroundings that it has become irresistible to large groups of excitable young men.

The vibe
Liverpool handed over the honour of being European Capital of Culture to Vilnius in 2009, and you can see why. The city is filled with artists, actors and musicians.

The natives
Vilnius is a cosmopolitan city, with 20 percent of its population Polish and 20 percent Russian, as well as several other nationalities thrown into the mix.

The weather
Vilnius has hot summers and cold winters, but visitors with be far from disappointed with a winter break here – the city looks gorgeous blanketed in pure white snow.

The local speciality
Potatoes are a Lithuanian staple, so try kugelis, a rich, buttery potato and bacon dish that looks like lasagne and tastes like a heart attack. Beware the ultra-large portions!

The celebrity
The Lithuanians love Frank Zappa so much local artists built a statue in Vilnius in his honour – even though he never even visited the city.

Did you know?
Lithuanians have a lot of strange customs, including pouring shots for your neighbour at the dinner table, and passing the bottle round until it’s finished. Apparently a drunk guest is a happy guest.

They say
“Narrow cobblestone streets and an orgy of Baroque: almost like a Jesuit city somewhere in the middle of Latin America.” – author Czeslaw Milosz

Ask a Vilnius cabbie!
Local taxi driver Jonas Zulumskyte says: “Roads are not too busy in Vilnius, as the small city is spread over a large area. The speed limit is 130km/h on the motorways and 50km/h in town. Parking signs are in Roman numerals to denote the days you can park there and circled numbers that mean you have to pay.”

5 to see in town…

Uzupio District
Occupied by artists and squatters, this bohemian district was unofficially made an independent republic in the late 90s, with its own president, anthem, flag, currency, army and constitution. Every April Fool’s day, the area is surrounded by mock border guards, while the entire district parties hard. Check out the cute signs on the streets, such as ‘A dog has the right to be a dog,’ and ‘People have the right to be unhappy’.
Where to park?
There is street parking in Uzupio.

Old Town
Vilnius’ Old Town captures the medieval spirit of Lithuania in its majestic spires, cobbled alleyways and diverse architecture. Kick back in a cosy café and watch the locals go about their daily lives.
Where to park?
There is a small, free car park near the Museum of Applied Art on Arsenalo Gatve.

KGB Museum (Genocido Auku Muziejus)
A sad and moving museum that depicts Lithuanians’ loyalty to each other, their love of their country and the tragedy they endured, through displays of photographs, documents and personal belongings of those who were imprisoned for fighting the Soviet occupation. The basement prison and execution chamber are the museum’s most spine-chilling experiences.
Where to park?
There is relatively cheap parking on Gedimino Prospektas, which is close to the KGB Museum.

St. Anne’s Church
You might recognise this striking landmark from postcards of Vilnius. Its majestic yet elegant Gothic architecture sets it apart from the crowd, and it’s said to be one of the most unique churches in Europe.
Where to park?
Located in the Old Town, leave the car on Arsenalo Gatve, near the Museum of Applied Art.

The Cathedral
The neo-classical Vilnius Cathedral is the visual polar opposite of St Anne’s Church. The smooth, white exterior conceals a matching interior that wouldn’t be out of place in a home styling magazine, while its walls are adorned with 16-19th century art and magnificent frescoes.

Where to park?
Located in the Old Town, leave the car on Arsenalo Gatve, near the Museum of Applied Art.

And 4 to drive to…

Kaunas
Sister city to Los Angeles, the temporary capital of Lithuania Kaunas bears no resemblance to the Californian city, instead offering culture, history and a remarkable Old Town – and not a inch of fake tan in sight.
How to get there?
Kaunas is an hour and a half west on the A1.

Geographical centre of Europe
Only half an hour away from Vilnius is the very spot listed in the Guinness Book of Records as being dead centre of Europe. When you’re done feeling centred, check out Europos Parkas, 10 miles away, which contains the world’s largest artwork – a sculpture made of 3,000 TV sets. It’s a sight for square eyes.
How to get there?
Purnušk?s is half an hour from Vilnius on the A14.

Trakai Castle
Situated on an island on Lake Galv?, the ancient Trakai Castle sits in a beautiful district known as ‘The Town of Lakes’. After visiting the castle, explore Trakai, a historic village built on a peninsula.
How to get there?
Trakai is half an hour west on the A16.

The Curonian Spit
If you’re missing sand and sea on your city break, take a day trip to the Curonian Spit, a narrow, 60-mile sand dune peninsula that separates the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon. On one side you have a beach and the other a fragrant pine forest. Just make sure you come in the summer if you plan on donning your bathers – blue skin doesn’t make for a good look.
How to get there?
Sandy fun awaits three hours and 45 minutes northwest on the A1.

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