Vilnius, the Capital of Lithuania

Vilnius, the capital of  Lithuania, is not only the largest city in Lithuania it's projected shortly, to become the biggest city in the Baltic states. It's known for its Baroque architecture, especially in its medieval Old Town, but it’s difficult to discern any architectural features. This is partly because everything is covered in snow and partly because it’s almost too cold to be out on the street, let alone look around. We scuttle around, trying not to skid on the icy patches. I buy a felt Russian army hat with ear flaps from a shop filled with war memorabilia. I’m not sure I look overly elegant, but it does the job.

Vilnius has the largest medieval old town in central and Eastern Europe. It’s UNESCO-protected, of course, as are the other Baltic state capitals. There is the usual melange of churches (lots of those), parks, squares, bars, cafes and restaurants. The Vilnius Castle Complex is picturesque,. The river alongside, confusingly has two names, Neris and Vilnia. Take your pick. Užupis, the trendy neighbourhood on the other side of the river, declared itself an independent republic on April 1, 1997.

The countryside is mainly flat, so even a diminutive castle on top of a small hill is hard to miss. Though the climb to Gediminas Tower is tough in these conditions.

Trakai Island Castle

Forty minutes by road from Vilnius is Trakai Island and its turreted (much more impressive) picture postcard castle. It's reached by a walkway over the frozen Lake Galve, from the mainland. The castle dates from the fourteenth century, home to the Dukes of Lithuania, and was heavily restored in Soviet times (after much resistance). But there isn't that much to see inside, but the grounds are dotted with locals enjoying the snow. It makes a great Christmas card scene

The best news is that Vilnius is incredibly cheap, especially the vodka. I'm loading up.

Read more about Lithuania here

A (Very Brief) History of Lithuania

  • The south-eastern shores of the Baltic Sea where Lithuania is situated, were initially inhabited by various Baltic tribes.
  • The Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, the first and only King of Lithuania in 1253.
  • Dukedoms followed. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, at the time, was the largest country in Europe; encompassing present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia.
  • In 1569, Lithuania and Poland formed a voluntary two-state union, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, which lasted more than two centuries, eventually disintegrating until the Russian Empire annexed most of Lithuania's territory.
  • After World War I the modern Republic of Lithuania came into being, but in the Second World War, Lithuania was first occupied by the Soviet Union, then by Nazi Germany. And then by the Soviet Union again.
  • On 11 March 1990, a year before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare itself independent.

Facts and Factoids

  • Lithuanian is one of the oldest languages in the world and the closest to ancient Sanskrit.
  • The national sport of Lithuania is basketball. Their men’s team is currently ranked third in the world, behind the USA and Spain.
  • People of 154 nationalities live in Lithuania.
  • The most famous national dish is cepelinai: potato dumplings stuffed with meat, curd cheese or mushrooms
  •  Lithuania is the only country in the world with its own official scent, called the Scent of Lithuania. 
  • Lithuanian beaches are famous for the amber, found on the shores of the Baltic Sea.
  • Lithuania is home to the highest density of white storks in the world. It's the country's national bird and a lucky symbol.

Is Lithuania in the EU?

  • Lithuania has been a member of the European Union since 2004 and the currency is the Euro.

Vilnius, the Capital of Lithuania

  • Vilnius is ideal for a weekend break. Read about my visit here.
  • Vilnius has an anonymous swing foundation. It’s a group of people who install swings all around the city, often changing their locations.

Newsletter Subscription

Stay in touch. Get travel tips, updates on my latest adventures and posts on out of the way places, straight to your Inbox.

I keep your data private and only share your data with third parties that make this service possible. Privacy Policy. No spam I promise. Unsubscribe any time.