But first, let's start with some info about the city. Vilnius was first mentioned during the 14th century, when it was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. A big empire, which covered even some areas of Ukraine. Since then a lot of different civilizations came to Vilnius (Hebrew, Russians, Polish, Germans and others) and that's why it is a very multi-cultural city. Moreover, Lithuania was member of the USSR up to 1990, so you can still see this influence in the people's lives. But it has never stopped developing since then, nowadays it's a city with more than 500.000 inhabitants and is trying to leave her past behind.
Vilnius is divided in two parts by the river Neris : the southern where you can find the Old Town and the majority of the historic buildings and landmarks, and the northern which is more modern and many people live or work there. It's very interesting though that there are references about basketball everywhere. Lithuanians are very proud of their national team that has won a lot of awards and medals for such a small country, and if you ask them they will tell you that basketball is the second largest religion here.
One of the first landmarks to visit when you reach Vilnius, is the Cathedral Square and the church on it. It's a very beautiful cathedral with nice decoration and i bet that only a few of you know that Lithuania was the first country in Europe to adopt Christianity as its official religion. On the other side of the Square there is the former Royal Palace which is part of the Vilnius Castle, and at the top of it you can find Gediminas Tower. You shouldn't miss the chance also to pay a visit to the National Museum, right next to the Castle.
Vilnius Old Town starts right from this point. It is one of the largest surviving in Northern Europe, and it's not a coincidence that it has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. With many medieval buildings and paved roads in this area, it's impressive how Vilnius has succeeded in combining classic and modern architecture. Among them you will find the Presidential Palace. the city hall and many Orthodox or Catholic churches.
While walking around the Old Town, you will pass outside the Roman Catholic Church of St. Anne. It's easy to recognize it, as it's built in Gothic style and has a red colour, due to the bricks used. The legend says that Napoleon was so impressed by this church, that when he came to Vilnius he asked if it's possible to carry it to Paris! Furthermore, inside the Dominican Church of The Holy Spirit there is an entry which leads to the famous Vilnius Dungeons, were many tombs have been found.
However, the must-see attraction of Vilnius is the neighborhood of Užupis. It's a bohemic area, like Montmartre, which has declared itself and independent republic! It even has its own president and constitution. Some of the “laws” for example are that “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 don't understand” and others. It is considered to be the neighborhood of the artists, with many of them even not Lithuanians or Europeans living here. From the oldest building to a cafe, everything seems to be like a small piece of art. Uzupis is the most vivid area of a quiet city, people here are very friendly and can tell you a lot of interesting stories.
As i said before, the northern part of Vilnius is the modern one. You can visit it to have the chance to understand better why Vilnius has something special. It's not only a city with medieval and Soviet past, but also one that nowadays is becoming more like the modern western Europe capital cities, keeping her character though. Moreover, i have to admit that it's one of the most “green” cities i have ever been to in Europe. You can find a park in every corner, and the locals use their bikes or the public transportation very much. Even when the temperature is many degrees below 0, which happens almost every day during the winter, you can see many of them walking around, doing some outside activity or visiting one of the parks.
You can't go back home without trying the local cuisine, which is based on meat & potatoes. One of the best dishes i had is Cepelinai that are dumplings made from potatoes, stuffed usually with cheese or meat and mushrooms. Other famous dishes are Koldūnai (small pies), Zrazy (sliced beef with vegetables) and Vėdarai (sausage made from potatoes, with or without meat). In Vilnius you will also be able to taste some of the local drinks. Of course vodka is probably the most common, but many people also drink some of the nice local beers, samane (kind of strong homemade vodka) and 999(kind of vodka with herbs). Tea is also famous here.
Should you want to buy something (i'm sure you want) you can have a look in one of the shops or stalls in the Old Town. Woven and knitted clothes, small items made from wood and ceramic wares are some of the best thing you can find here.