When I’m undecided about my next destination, I open up a map of Europe. In Poland, I was stuck and decided that my next destination would be a country that I had, embarrassingly, never heard of – Lithuania. One long overnight bus later from Warsaw, I had arrived in the capital Vilnius and I went off to stay at the Homemade Hostel with the lovely owner Lina. After being away from home for a long time you just need some motherly comfort, and this home for just twelve guests is ideal. Lina is so beautiful and loves talking to you and making you feel at home, she will give you a free map upon your arrival and point out all the highlights of the city and everything you must see and do. Because the hostel is so small it is easy to make friends with everyone there and become a small family. It’s a very secure hostel and the beds are extremely comfortable for only $AUD15 (€10) a night. During the five nights I was there, I formed such strong friendships with other travellers and being in a small environment was so comforting ten weeks into my adventure.
Vilnius is really tiny, but one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The cobblestone streets, the confusing alleyways, the live music and the friendly enthusiastic locals make it enjoyable. I spent hours getting lost among the arts and crafts markets, boutiques and cafes in hidden squares and beautiful parks just on the outside of town.
Take a stroll up to the castle on the hill and enjoy the gorgeous view of the breathtaking city. If it interests you, take the short walk to the KPG Museum but leave at least two to three hours because it is a large exhibition. If you’re there during the summer make sure to check out what events are on. I was lucky enough to be there on a few nights that had an open air cinema across the river with free popcorn and drinks as well as a free music festival thrown by some famous Lithuanian bands.
Are you a market fiend like me? It is a long but worthwhile walk across the river and into the suburbs to find the Black Markets: large markets filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of meat and seafood, random clothes and shoes, electronics (new and old) and jewellery. Try strange foods sold by food vendors at the entrance and indulge in the very cheap produce.
As Lithuania is very small it’s easier to base yourself in one city and do day trips to some of the surrounding towns. From Vilnius you can take a 30 minute train ride to Trakai. Hire a bike and ride around the beautiful lake path or enjoy the lovely walk. Cross the bridge over to the picturesque castle and even if you don’t enter it’s still nice to walk around the walls whilst checking out the handmade bits and pieces being sold on the side of the footpath as well as listening to locals busking around the lake.
In Trakai you must try their local delicacy ‘Kybynlar’, which is basically a large samosa stuffed with either meat or cheese. Only two to three hours are needed in Trakai but it is so beautiful and a fun day trip.
While I was in Vilnus, the infamous street fair took place. They close down three blocks of the main shopping strip and it’s broken into sections for jewellery, paintings, clothing, arts and crafts, food, drinks and antiques. It’s completely incredible and so big! Stages are set up along the fair for live music and entertainment.
Next, a couple of friends and I headed to another town in Lithuania, Kaunas. It’s lovely to stop here for a day or even a night if you’re heading up towards Latvia. It’s extremely small but it’s nice to walk around and talk with the young locals because they’re extremely friendly and constantly approach you. There are some peaceful gardens and interesting small cobblestone streets, a man-made beach and yet another castle. Hostels are limited so stay at the City Hostel for prime location to any attractions you want to see and anything you may want to explore. It’s very basic but with free breakfast, large clean bathrooms and only $AUD15 (€10) for a bed in a mixed dorm during peak season, it’s worth it. In the summer the streets are filled with live performances and street dancers, which makes it incredibly entertaining and they will encourage you to join in!
Transport to and from Lithuania is very direct and easily accessible, the fastest way and also the cheapest would be via bus. Warsaw, Poland to Vilnius: €17 with Simple Express. Riga, Latvia to Vilnius: €13 with Simple Express, and if you’re wanting to travel all the way from Berlin, Germany to Vilnius: €36 with Simple Express.
I can’t tell you enough how much I loved Lithuania and would jump at the opportunity to go back. I don’t regret my decision to change my direction of my travels one bit and I really hope you consider to change yours too. My only regret was not leaving enough time to explore the Baltic countries as they have so much to offer and even though I made many memorable memories there were still so many more out there for me to discover.