The Best of Vilnius
Vilnius’ Old Town is smaller than its Baltic cousins’, but no less exquisite. Even Napoleon, who marched through town, wrote to his wife that “Vilnius is a very beautiful city.”
Whereas Riga attracts with its grand Hanseatic city halls and Tallinn with its pointed cylindric towers, Vilnius is a more subdued beauty. It takes time to get to know its corners and explore its coquettish cafes and budding whiskey bars.
Best Viewpoint: Hill of Crosses
The hill of the three crosses is said to date back to the 17th-century, when monks paid tribute to seven fellow monks martyred there back in the 14th century. The current monument was erected in 1989, and is simple, with clean lines and ungilded silhouettes.
Best Climb: Gediminas’ Tower
Once an old castle keep, the Vilnius Castle Complex, on the bank of the Neris River, has all but disappeared except for a few remains and tower known as Gediminas Tower. Now a symbol of Vilnius, the tower now holds a small museum within and the tricolor flag of Lithuania without. You can climb the dirt path or take the funicular railway up to the summit. Though the museum inside is rather curious, it’s the view of Vilnius below from the ramparts that really make it shine.
Best Architectural Marvel: Gate of Dawn
The Gate of Dawn is a city gate that marks the border of Vilnius’ old town. Built in the early 16th century as part of the defenses, it’s the only one of nine city gates that still stands. Within the gate is a Chapel containing a painting of veneration, the Madonna of Mercy. These days, it’s a beloved remnant of Lithuanian culture and identity.
Best Artsy Neighborhood: Užupis
The Republic of Užupis is the local Bohemian and artistic area. Self-proclaimed its own country, Užupis has its own anthem, constitution, and local guardian in the form of a bronze angel. As one of the city’s oldest areas, it’s been the center for its artistic, punk, and creative communities for more than two decades.
Best Traditional Restaurant: Senoji Trobelė
Though somewhat of a tourist attraction, Senoji Trobelė remains an indelible emblem of Lithuanian cuisine. With local classics such as cepelinai (potato-meat dumplings) and chilled beet soup, it’s a fantastic way to sample staples in a rustic old world setting.
Best Liquor: Three Nines
“Trejos devynerios,” or “three nines” is so-called because it’s made from 27 different flavors: 26 herbs and the hornbeam kegs used to store it. Traditionally distilled during the Holy Eve of Saint John (Midsummer), it’s an old-time remedy for colds, sore joints and wounds.
Best Non-Alcoholic Drink: Gira
Fermentation fanatics will be thrilled to be introduced to gira, a fermented drink made from rye bread or a host of other malts, fruits and blossoms. Gira tastes somewhat between bread and beer, and traditionally served in a ceramic jug.
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