This time let’s go to Vilnius (whose name comes from its river called Vilnia) the capital city of Lithuania one of the three Baltic states that was occupied by the Soviets after the second world war and by Germany when those were in war with the Soviet Union. During roughly 50 years Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union but after 1991 it became an independent country and since 2004 is a member of the European Union.
I found Vilnius an exceptional place where people from different religions can coexist and respect themselves.
This time our journey took place during winter and as coincidence we were there during the week the celebrations of Lithuania’s Independence Day were taking place (Lithuania’s Independence Day is celebrated on the 16th of February). Despite the cold we were fortunate to be part of all festivities and celebrations occurring there. The streets were lit up with small fires where people gathered to celebrate.
Come with me and let’s go explore this beautiful city where Lithuanians, Polish and Russians bring together the culture and history that make this country so interesting.
Also called The Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladislav this is the main Roman Catholic Cathedral of Lithuania. The coronation of the Grand Dukes took place here. The original building was built in 1251 and it was erected during the Grand Duke Mindaugas time. After the floods, fires and destruction caused by the invaders the Cathedral was rebuilt but in a very different style from its original. Today it has a neoclassical façade where large columns stand out alongside with three sculptures at the top. The entrance is free of charge. The Cathedral is open daily from 7am to 7pm.
You can climb the stairs inside that will lead you to the top floor at a height of 45 metres and enjoy the great views to Gediminas Tower and part of the city. Admire the various sized bells with weights varying between 475 to 2500 Kg. Every day at 5pm you can listen to the bells.
It is thought that the original palace was a wooden palace built in the 13th or 14th century which was then rebuilt in stone after a fire in the 15th century and ended up being demolished in the beginning of the 19th century. The actual building was erected this century.
During the visit you will be able to see some of the early ruins and other archeological artefacts, learn more about the different architectural styles incorporated in the Palace and understand a little bit more about the history of this country.
It is what is left of the upper castle in Vilnius. The first fortification was initiated in the 13th century and was made of wood when the Grand Duke of Lithuania called Gediminas was in charge. Later, during the 15th century, after a fire the castle was rebuilt but this time in brick, the Grand Duke in charge was Vytautas. In the beginning of the 17th century it was used as a prison. The walls and towers were almost destroyed when the Russians occupied it. The restoration of the castle only happened during the 20th century and it was only partial.
The snow just made our visit even more magical. This is a great spot to enjoy the fantastic panorama of the city. Take your time to stroll along the Bernardine Gardens and admire the beautiful trees, the oldest one being an oak with 300 years old.
- Three Crosses
Standing out at the top of the hill you find the three white crosses symbol of mourning and hope. The legend says that seven monks were beheaded here. The actual crosses were built in 1989 after the original ones from the 17th century were destroyed when the soviets occupied Lithuania.
This spot gives you fantastic views to the Old Town and Bernardinai Garden.
Užupis means “beyond the river” and since 1997 it’s a 1 km2 tiny republic. It has its own constitution, currency and government. Albeit this small republic is not recognized by foreign governments. They even have their own flag, a blue hand with a hole in the middle which means their inhabitants don’t accept bribes. The constitution has 39 articles and 3 mottos (“Don’t Fight”, “Don’t Win”, “Don’t Surrender”). Examples of some articles from their constitution are:
“Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties”
“Everyone has the right to be happy”
“Everyone has the right to be unhappy”
“A dog has the right to be a dog”
“A cat is not obliged to love its owner but must help in time of nee”.
Take your time to explore this small republic and appreciate the street art.
- Church of St. Anne
A beautiful church from the 15th century built in Gothic style. It is made up of 33 different styles bricks. It is also UNESCO world heritage.
The city had five gates in the past which were built as defensive walls, this is the only one remaining. It has a religious, cultural and historic importance. It is common to see people praying when passing underneath it. The access to the chapel is through a small door located on the left when walking up the hill. It’s open daily from 7am to 7pm and is free of charge.
Founded in the 16th century it is one of the oldest universities in Central Europe. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture that includes Gothic, Baroque and Classical styles. Its magnificent bronze door celebrates the first Lithuanian book.
- Presidential Palace
Close to the University you will find this beautiful white classical building that is the house of the President. If the flag is flying, it’s a sign that the President is in the city. The change of the guard happens every Sunday at noon. There are free tours on Fridays at 4.15pm and during the weekend from 9am to 2.30pm but they need to be booked in advance. During the time we were in Vilnius they were celebrating the Independence Day and we had the chance to be a part of it.
- Literatų gatvė
A peculiar street with its walls decorated with ceramic, glass plaques, fragments of writers’ texts…it’s like an open-air art gallery.
- The Bastion of the Vilnius Defensive Wall
During the 16th century a defensive wall started to be built to defend the city from the attacks of Tartars (it includes a group of different ethnicities from Asia, Europe and North Africa. Tartars were conquered by Mongols and lived under their herd. Most of Tartar people lived in Russia) and Russia. The first defensive wall had 10 gates and 5 towers. Wars stroke again and the original defensive wall was almost destroyed and now there is only a tower and an underground that were rebuilt during the 20th century. There is a museum where you can see some of the weapons and military artillery from 15th-19th century.
It’s open daily from 10am to 6pm (closes on Mondays) and there is a fee of 4€.
This is another place where you can enjoy magnificent views of the city.
When Germany invaded Lithuania in 1941 it was the headquarters of the Nazis and then by the Soviet Union in 1944 until 1991 when Lithuania became independent. The museum exhibits documents and evidence from the 50 years Lithuania was under Soviet occupation, the genocides, the deportations to Siberia, the resistance from the partisan, the cells and the torture rooms. A dark time for Lithuanian history, although it needs to be remembered to avoid commit the same atrocities in the future.
There is a fee of 4€. The museum is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm; on Sundays it closes one hour earlier.
We booked a tour to Trakai Castle. The journey takes around 30 minutes from Vilnius to Trakai. The distance is approximately 27 Km.
Trakai is in an island with a lot of lakes, which by the time we visited were frozen.
During the 14th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania ruled from here before they went to Vilnius.
The importance of Trakai is also connected to the fact that a special community called Karaites still live there. The Karaites are a Turkish community with their own religion that came to Trakai in the 15th century. Here you can admire their beautiful wooden houses with three windows. There are also restaurants where you can experience their food.
The beautiful castle started being built in the 14th century and was constructed in phases which extended to the 15th century. During the 17th century due to the wars the castle was damaged and remained like that until the 20th century when the reconstruction took place.
A fantastic day is waiting for you!
I recommend you visit the various confectioneries that offer you delicious cakes and pancakes to compensate for the food which I didn’t like (but probably the problem is mine as I must confess that I’m a bit fussy regarding food).
I truly recommend you include Vilnius in your bucket list.