- GEDIMINAS HILL
Vilnius was founded on this 48m-high hill, occupied since Neolithic times by a series of settlements. The castle today dates to the 15th century and commands 360-degree views of the city; it’s particularly atmospheric at sunset. Inside the tower there’s a branch of the National Museum of Lithuania, displaying 16th- to 18th-century armour.
Immerse yourself in traditional Lithuanian cuisine for your first meal: track down the big wooden bear and you’ll find this local institution making merry in the vaulted 16th-century cellars of a former merchant’s house. It specialises in game such as roast venison, quail with pear and cowberry, and even beaver stewed with mushrooms.
- BÛSI TREĈIAS BREWERY
Locals know this microbrewery-pub is a great place to get a cheap, sustaining Lithuanian lunch. It also offers charismatic wooden decor, 12 varieties of beer (including lime, raspberry and caramel) and courtyard tables for the warmer months.
- PILIES KEPYKLELE
Start your day at this handsome, brick-vaulted creperie-bakery that stands out from the crowd on Vilnius’s busiest tourist street, mixing old-world charm with a fresh, upbeat vibe. The 9am omelette is a must, as are the savoury pancakes. The poppy-seed cake is reputedly the best on this side of town.
- VILNIUS OLD TOWN
Eastern Europe’s largest Old Town deserves its Unesco status. The area, stretching south from the cathedral, was built in the 15th and 16th centuries, and its narrow winding streets, hidden courtyards and lavish churches retain the feel of bygone days. Spend at least the morning aimlessly wandering, starting at Pities Gatve (Castle St). Don’t miss the classical Presidential Palace, the university’s spectacular 13 courtyards and St Anne’s Church – a favourite of Napoleon.
- MUSEUM OF GENOCIDE VICTIMS
The former headquarters of the KGB (and before them the Gestapo, Polish occupiers and Tsarist judiciary) houses a museum dedicated to thousands of Lithuanians who were killed, imprisoned or deported by the Soviet Union from WWII until the 1960s. Memorial plaques tile the outside of the building. Inside, floors cover the harsh realities of Soviet occupation.
- HOT-AIR BALLOON RIDE
Vilnius is an unlikely hot-air ballooning capital, and there’s no better way to see this city of spires than by sailing over it. Arrange an early flight for your last morning through the city’s ballooning centre, Oreivystes Centras, which offers hour-long saunters over the Old Town with a glass of bubbly.
- JEWISH VILNIUS
The Old Town was once home to a sizeable Jewish community that was known around the world for its piety. When the city fell to the Nazis in 1941, many were murdered and today only a small population remains along with relics of the old Jewish quarter. Spend the rest of the morning exploring the area, including the Choral Synagogue, the Holocaust Museum and Tolerance Centre.
One of Eastern Europe’s most beautiful graveyards lies in this leafy suburb, a short stroll east of the centre. Those killed by Soviet special forces on 13 January 1991 are buried here; a sculpture of the Madonna cradling her son memorialises them. Another memorial honours Napoleonic soldiers who died of starvation and injuries in Vilnius while retreating from the Russian army.
The most direct is on Finnair via Helsinki from Singapore. The airport lies four miles south of central Vilnius: trains run to the central station every 30 mins. Taxis from the airport typically cost around US$10-US$15. Buses and trolleybuses run across the city and single tickets cost 80p from the driver; if you have a Vilniecio Kortele (an electronic ticket sold at kiosks). Note that much of the Old Town is pedestrianised and completely closed to traffic.
- WHERE TO STAY
On a picturesque lane in the Old Town, Bernardinu is a charming family-owned b&b in an 18th-century townhouse. The building has been sensitively renovated, with old timber ceilings.
Narutis is a classy pad housed in a red-brick townhouse that has served as a hotel since the 16th century. Breakfast and dinner are served in a vaulted Gothic cellar, and free apples given out at reception.
Rooms are named after great cultural figures at Shakespeare, a high-end boutique hotel inside a former printing house. Tastefully eclectic decor and switched-on staff give it true distinction.
- FOLK ART WORKSHOPS
Lithuania has a long history of folk art and the tradition is thriving in the capital, where you can seek out beautiful textiles, ornaments and dolls.
Senujŭ Amatŭ Dirbtuvés: Weaving, paper-making, book-binding, leather-working and metalworking are lovingly displayed in this fantastic little shop.
Black Ceramics Centre: This workshop is dedicated to preserving and teaching the ancient art of black ceramics.
Jonas Bugailikis: A Lithuanian artist turning out all manner of weird and beautiful sculptures, ornate crosses and musical instruments. Satituva Handicrafts in amber, metal, ceramics, textiles and other materials. Great for unusual toys.