Continuing our adventures in Eastern Europe and after having a successful trip in Riga last year, we felt it was time to try another location. Vilnius.
Well, how many people do you know that have been to Vilnius? I met a Lithuanian at work who proceeded to tell me wonderful stories about it and I was keen to go. Adam and I have loved our adventures in Eastern Europe so far, it made sense to try another location. That and Lithuania was on our EU travel challenge and had bargain flights on Black Friday.
How to get there?
We flew from London Luton to Vilnius International Airport, flying with Ryanair and their new baggage policy, which meant cramming lots of warm winter clothes into a very tiny space. Flight times were very early with a 6:45am flight out and our flight home at 11:45am flight home. Flight time is 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Thanks to some bargain deals, we changed up our usual flying days from Friday to Monday to Saturday to Tuesday. This worked out really well as the flights were cheaper.
As expected with RyanAir, the flight was rammed, the seats are uncomfortable and we had the usual scramble to get on the plane, however with cheap flights that we bought on Black Friday, we can’t really complain. The only thing that was frustrating is their new Hand baggage policy which means you can no longer take a cabin bag onto the plane unless you’re priority boarding. The new baggage size is 35x20x20cm and must be able to sit under the seat in front of you if needed, however with fewer bags on the plane this wasn’t an issue. The problem for us was when we booked, we were entitled to a personal bag and a cabin bag, which is perfect for any weekend away but unlike other airlines, the policy was changed for all travellers rather than based on when you booked.
Unlike Icelandair’s baggage policy, Ryanair decided to change everyone’s based on the date they fly, rather than when they booked. When we flew Icelandair from New York to Reykjavik, we booked when their policy stated 2 hold bags per person and we were allowed to take that with us, even though their policy changed 2 months previously. Luckily for us, we had suitable bags with us so we were okay.
After an early wake up call and an hour drive to the Luton, we were lucky and had no issues with our flight although the driver of the car park bus was driving at 2 miles an hour *eyeroll*. We arrived in Vilnius for 11am and caught the newly introduced train into the city. It costs just 70 cents and takes 10 minutes. You buy your tickets from the conductor.
We stayed in the Suite room at the BookInn, centrally located in the Old Town, making all the sights within a walking distance. We were lucky and had a supermarket just around the corner and a coffee shop opposite for somewhere else to sit. The rooms and hotel are recently put together as the B&B is situated inside a 16th Century Monastery. The rooms are furnished with Mid Century style furniture but as you would expect for an old building, there was no central heating so the floor becomes quite cold but they provided slippers so it was fine.
The only issues we experienced was how hot the shower becomes (lobster shower everyone!) and that if you shut the bathroom door, the room becomes freezing but at least it makes you hurry up. The hot water also didn’t last very long, so no dawdling.
The quirky thing with the BookInn is that there are no TVs in your room, which we did find a little odd to begin with. However, the B&B is littered with books of all languages, so just browse the shelves to find something to read, or bring something with you or you might want to pop across to the Coffee Shop for a change of scenery.
Thanks to a ridiculously poor nights sleep, we decided to nap before wandering the old town streets. We headed down to the river walking up the main streets, taking in all the gorgeous colours of the city, before taking the bridge across to a Mall across the water. At night, the temperature drops quickly, meaning we normally head to supermarkets or shopping centres in the evening. After doing a quick shop, we headed back across the water for some dinner, the headed home for an early night.
After dicing with a boiling hot shower and a cold bathroom, we decided to go for a walk around the old town. Starting from the hotel, we took a loop down to the Gates of Dawn, round to the Bastion. This is part of the old city wall. We stopped here for a while watching people sledding. There were some serious skills there.
Continuing our walk through the Old Town, we decided we’d visit the Museum of Genocide Victims, otherwise know as the KGB Museum. It’s an impressive building set on a major square that’s also a park. It’s weird to think that something so significant was in everyone’s view. It makes you wonder if they knew what went on there.
Anyway, after having an insightful experience at the Terror Museum in Budapest, we decided we should visit this museum too. Over 3 floors (no lifts in this building) everything on display was found in that very building, including the prison and execution room in the basement. It’s weird, I never really enjoyed History classes when I was at school, but I think I now know why. After travelling to different countries, I’ve come to realise we don’t really get to learn history as it happened. We learn history about how Britain is so great. You don’t learn about our impact around the world, nor do you learn what happened to the countries impacted by World War II, before, during and after.
Anyway, walking around the floors, you could learn all the events that occurred with Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Many families lost their possessions and homes and told to move to camps and districts. Even after Lithuania’s Independence in 1991, when these families had an opportunity to return to their homes, they were no longer entitled to them as they were handed to other families etc, showing how such an age is still impacting countries even today.
The Prison in the basement is really creepy. I felt quite unsettled walking around it but you must go visit and take some time to reflect. Once our time in the museum had finished, we felt it was time for something a little more lighthearted, so after watching people smash into a net at the bottom of a hill from sledding (Great Idea Vilnius) we headed to the Cat Cafe just around the corner.
Having been to a cat cafe in Japan, we sort of know what to expect, however this place was more of a cafe than a lounge, meaning their was no entry fee, just a minimum spend of 3EUR per person. And the food was delish!
When we arrived, there were a lot of children around, and we spotted the cats purposely tried to hide and be less active while they were there. As soon as children left, the cats wandered around a little more. The cats at the cat cafe are mostly rescue cats and all of them have their own little quirks. Many of them hid under our table while we ate in the hope children wouldn’t reach under the table.
We had a large meal, drinks and a dessert each to a total of 20EUR. That’s 10EUR each folks. That’s a pretty good deal.
After filling up on food, it was time to walk it off so we decided to walk to another shopping mall, the Panorama. The Malls in Eastern Europe are always pretty big. Normally over 3 floors and create a loop. It was boiling hot inside which helped us to warm up from the freezing temperatures outside. We did a few loops and browsed a few stores before heading back to our hotel room to call it a day.
Upon arriving in Vilnius on the Saturday, we discovered that we weren’t that far from Minsk in Belarus, another country on the list of places we’d like to go. However, after giving it some thought, we decided to use our time wisely and browse around Vilnius some more on our last day.
Weirdly, all the museums and a few shops were closed on a Monday, so bear that in mind if you’re travelling there. As such, I thought it would be great to wander around Užupis, a district within Vilnius that’s very similar to Christiania in Copenhagen. It’s a free neighbourhood full of creativity, art and yummy food. We stopped at Uzupio Picerija after reading the Constitution of Užupis. It’s a lovely Italian place and would fully recommend for anyone to stop here. I bet it’s great in the summer as they open their outdoor seating.
We stayed a while, before heading along a path towards the College and gardens near the Cathedral. We stopped by some souvenir stores before deciding to sit at the hotel a little while to warm up. The Monday was the coldest day of a trip, and although we’d done plenty of walking and cup of tea was in order before heading back out.
Call us nerds but in the evening we decided to do a Pokéwalk, basically a walk around the city searching for Pokémon on Pokémon Go. Yes yes I know but if you’re a user of the app you’ll know that a good Pokéwalk not only gets you outside walking around (gotta hatch that 10k egg somehow) but most of the gyms are key landmarks around the city, so using the app makes you head out sight seeing as well as catching some rare Pokémon. I got myself a shiny Pikachu!
After a long weekend, we decided to call it a night after packing our bags for our trip to the airport in the morning. We caught the bus to the airport as it was right by the hotel and more frequent than the train and cost 1EUR each when buying a ticket from the driver. Not bad!
Vilnius was really nice. There was a little more to do compared to Riga and lots of things to do of an evening too so we didn’t get bored, although we didn’t have a TV.
Working out flight costs etc we might fly and stay in Vilnius again so we can travel and see Minsk in Belarus. The train was affordable and not too long and flights to Minsk currently are indirect and expensive, so might be our best route.
If I was to visit again, I’d go in summer to see a different side. I loved the snow (none of the slushy rubbish stuff we get in Britain) but we could definitely head out to more of the parks and paths within city limits giving us a little more to do that shop, cafe and museum.
I can’t wait to go back.
Wintery Vilnius, it was like something from a postcard in places. It was also quite the challenge fitting all our winter clothes into our small cases, but we just about managed. There were lots of nice cafes and restaurants around and the city is really easy to navigate, despite not having a tram or metro system. The busses are cheap and frequent and getting to and from the airport was a breeze.
I’d like to visit again in the summer to see a different side of the place, but for a winter break it was great.