Do you know which is the only country in the world to have its own official scent? Can you name the nation that has the most hot air balloons per resident? Are you aware of which Baltic state Hannibal Lecter hails from?
If you guessed Lithuania then you'd be correct.
This unique country is full of peculiarities that the rest of the world does not yet seem to know a great deal about.
My itinerary suggestion, to maximize a few days in wintry Vilnius, a found below:nd during the holiday season (early December through 7th January). Since I visited over New Year's Eve, I got to enjoy all the Christmas glory.
I didn't have a lot of time to spend in Lithuania, so I only visited the capital, Vilnius. Three days there was sufficient to get a glimpse of the lifestyle and culture and to visit some of the sights.
My itinerary suggestion, to maximize a few days in wintry Vilnius, can be found below:
Arriving into Vilnius late on Sunday 29th December, I didn't do a whole lot the first night. I stayed at the Radisson Blu Royal Astorija Hotel, right in the heart of the Vilnius Old Town, and only about a 15-minute drive from the airport. In fact, it took only a mere 37-minutes from touchdown to being in room (inclusive of deplaning, passport control, customs, getting a taxi and checking in at the hotel).
The centrepiece of Vilnius is its medieval Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage protected site since 1994. One of the smallest republics in the world happens to be nestled within it. Užupis, declared its independence from the rest of Lithuania as a tongue-in-cheek April Fool's Day joke, in 1997. Since, a president, government, constitution, unofficial currency and armed forces have been established. Constitutional rights include: "Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation", “A dog has the right to be a dog”, "Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday" and “People have the right to live by the River Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow past people”. If free thoughts, a bohemian spirit, a laid-back atmosphere and smart jokes are your vibe, then a visit to this district should definitely be on your list.
At the riverbank in Užupis, as a welcome to the tiny republic, you'll find a famous mermaid sculpture. Residents say that if you stare into the eyes of this mermaid, as you cross the bridge, you’ll never want to leave.
While the rest of the world may only unofficially recognize the Republic of Užupis as its own country, it is possible it get a passport stamp at the visitor centre of the Užupis Art Incubator Gallery.
Despite Užupis being only 148 acres, a fair bit of time can be spent in this funky, bohemian city within a city. It is shabby-chic, with graffiti-strewn streets, and loads of boozers.
After wandering around for some time, I began to feel peckish, so I headed to Užupis Pizzeria, located in the heart of the artists' quarter, for some delicious wood-fired pizza.
From Užupis, I strolled over to where the Gediminas Castle Tower and The Three Crosses Monument each sit atop neighboring hills. I clambered up the hill to Gediminas Tower for sweeping views of Vilnius. Just west of the Tower, at the Three Crosses, other vantage points can be found, but I did not have the energy for another hike.
After my descent, I found myself beside Cathedral Square. In front of the neo-classical Cathedral there was a giant Christmas tree surrounded by a very cute Christmas market. This tree has received much global attention over the years, but in 2019, it was ranked as the most beautiful Christmas tree in Europe by European Best Destinations.
Feeling thirsty and cold, I stopped by one of the igloos in Townhall Square (aptly named 'Igloo') to treat myself to a mulled wine, as a pre-dinner aperitif.
I then went to Saula, a contemporary cellar restaurant, with locally-sourced produce, for my evening sustenance. The menu consisted of Lithuanian cuisine presented in a modern fashion.
Things weren't quite what they seemed at the mind-bending Vilnius Museum of Illusions. The museum was interactive, full of brain-melting works of art and, most of all, fun!
Despite being a fairly small gallery, I spent the better part of three hours there. It was great amusement and should be on everyone's Vilnius travel agenda.
After all the mind tricks, I meandered down Stikliu Street. Formerly the site of the Jewish ghetto, this lively street is now filled with boutiques, artistic workshops and restaurants.
For dinner, I pre-booked Town Steakhouse, since it was New Year's Eve and reservations were a necessity. The meal was delicious and it was just a few blocks away from where the fireworks lit up the sky above Cathedral Square. At midnight, I was able to step outside and watch the show, without the masses of people who were viewing from the Square.
After a lazy start New Year's Day, I headed to El Mercado for some Spanish tapas.
After lunch, I had a few hours to kill before I headed to the airport, so I decided to take a longish walk, clear across town, to find the female pedestrian crossing lights on Konstitucijos Street that I had read about. In Vilnius, 14 of these traffic lights were installed, in November 2018, to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the women's suffrage movement in Lithuania. They continue to serve as a reminder of how far women in Lithuania have advanced and still have yet to go.
After the successful mission finding the crossing lights, I set off to the airport. The last thing on my self-imposed scavenger hunt, was to find the unconventional Christmas tree that made headlines around the world. The tree was made up of confiscated paraphernalia from passengers carry-on luggage during security screenings in 2019, including scissors, lighters, blades, corkscrews and even bullets. Sadly, I was not able to find it though.
Until next time, Lithuania! You were a delight and an intrigue!