This week, I went back to my homeland (as I’ve been calling it). Ethnically, I’m 1/8th Lithuanian. My paternal great-grandmother was from Lithuania, so I had heritage on my mind while we visited Vilnius.
We took a loooonngggg train from Warsaw to Vilnius. From 7:35 AM to 5:34 PM, we were on two different trains to get to Lithuania. When we arrived, it was a short walk to Domus Maria, a monastery turned hotel.
Things to Do in Vilnius
- See the Gate of Dawn
This was right by our hotel, so it was one of the first things we saw. It was once 1 of 10 city gates that were part of the city’s defensive fortification. However, the Gate of Dawn is the only one that remains today. In the chapel, the Virgin Mary is depicted without Jesus, which is rare.
- Visit Gediminas Castle Tower
This is a short hike that allows you to get a view of both the old town and the new town. You can also pay to end the castle tower at the top of the hill, but you can also just enjoy the view for free.
- Explore Trakai Island Castle
We spend one of our days doing this quick and easy day trip. The train to and from Trakai is about 30 minutes and then you have an additional 20+ minute walk to the actual island. The castle itself was closed when we arrived. It didn’t say it would be closed online. It’s unclear if it was a seasonal closure or what. That said, we still enjoyed seeing it in person.
- Check out the Republic of Uzupis
This is a neighborhood in Vilnius that has declared independence as a republic. While I got the vibe that this is more symbolic than anything else, the area has its own constitution that is worth a read.
Thoughts on Vilnius Overall
I wasn’t wowed by Vilnius (despite it being my homeland). Dan correctly pointed out that there was no clear main square in the city, which made it hard to orient yourself. The city was nice but not miraculous. I did enjoy where we stayed, however. We used credit card points to book it, and it was an affordable, clean, and convenient spot. It also had an included breakfast that we ate every morning.
In terms of timing, we only stayed in Vilnius for four days, and I think this is the right number if you’re considering a trip. I was very intentional about not doing Poland as a weekend trip, but Vilnius would have been the perfect study abroad weekend trip. You don’t need more than a few days, in my opinion, to see the main sights and take in the city.
One lasting memory of Lithuania that I’m glad we got was a snow walk at midnight the night before we left for Riga. After work, we ventured out and were able to see the city covered in a light layover of snow which was so beautiful. Was the slush beautiful when we walked to the bus station the next morning? Absolutely not, but I wouldn’t trade that.
While Lithuania won’t remain at the top of my list of places to return to in Eastern Europe (or even the Baltics), I’m glad I spent the time to visit Vilnius before heading to Country #86: Latvia. It’s a quaint little city with lots of cool history. Next time, I’ll visit in the summer. 🙂