The more I researched what to do in Vilnius (and Riga and Tallinn), the more excited I got about the food. This is pretty unusual as I’m not a foodie and while I love trying local foods on my travels, it’s not one of the things I’m most excited about. I left Vilnius with it being one of my favorite food destinations in the entire world! Sure it was adorable and had many more things to love, but it’s the food that I’m still dreaming about.
We arrived around midnight from Copenhagen and promptly took a taxi to our hotel, the Grotthuss Hotel, and went to bed. After a lovely breakfast at our hotel the next morning, we headed out to explore the old town of Vilnius.
We wandered towards the Gates of Dawn and then down to the Hales Market where we explored the various food stalls and tried some of the local foods.
After the market, we headed thru the old town to Cathedral Square. The old town is so cute and I instantly fell in love with it.
Around Cathedral Square, we saw the Palace of the Grand Dukes, the Vilnius Cathedral, and Gediminas Tower perched on a hill above the town. There were signs all over announcing that the Pope would be at Vilnius Cathedral a week after our visit and part of the sites were closed as they put up stands and prepared for his arrival.
One highlight at Cathedral Square is the Stebuklas Miracle Tile. In 1989, approximately 2 million people held hands from Tallinn, Estonia, thru Riga, Latvia, and ending at this spot in Vilnius to form the longest unbroken human chain in history as a protest to the Soviet government to restore their freedom. It was pretty cool seeing the tile and thinking of that day back in 1989.
At this point it was getting pretty late in the day, but we had an hour or two till the Palace closed so we decided to pop in to check it out. Overall it was pretty disappointing, but there were some neat artifacts such as books from (I think) the 1200s, a drinking vessel from Ivan the Terrible, and royal swords, thrones and other regalia. There were also great views of Vilnius from the top.
At this point we were starving, so we headed to this outdoor restaurant called Etno Dvaras on the main strip for a late lunch. This is where we discovered food heaven.
I ordered a wild mushroom soup in a bread bowl and some potato pancakes with bacon, while Chuck got fried bread covered in a cheese sauce and some potato and cheese casserole. I also ordered a local beer and it was hands down one of my favorite beers I’ve ever had in my life. Chuck hates beer and he even kept stealing sips. My food was delicious, but the fried bread with cheese was mind blowing. I wish a beer pub around here served this as it was one of the best bar foods ever.
Earlier, Chuck had noticed a street market off of Cathedral Square so we headed over to check it out. There were a ton of booths selling everything from local foods to soap to crafts. And of course dried fish. There is always a fish stand that reeks.
It was starting to get dark as we headed back to our hotel and we wandered into a local festival with live music. As we got there, hot air balloons started drifting by which was pretty cool. We sat and had a drink outside while listening to the various bands before heading back to the hotel for a quick rest.
For dinner, we headed back to Etno Dvaras and I had the best Beef Stroganoff I’ve ever had.
The next morning we headed to Trakai castle about 30 minutes away from old town Vilnius. We elected to take a taxi as the public transportation logistics were kind of a nightmare, plus it didn’t cost that much more to go this route.
The castle was originally built in the 14th century and was one of the main centers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The castle soon fell into disrepair, and was rebuilt in the last 100 or so years. Even though it’s technically “new”, its still a neat place to visit and a beautiful location too.
After visiting the castle we stopped for lunch at a spot across the lake from the castle. We got these delicious pierogi type things in a cheese sauce, more kibinais, and some funky tumeric tea. Delicious.
Everything was great until we decided to come back to Vilnius. We tried hailing a taxi, but there were none to be found. We found a tourist center and they said someone could be there in hours, and then that they couldn’t find anyone. This left one option – walking the couple of miles to the bus station then taking a bus back to Vilnius and then walking back from the bus station to our hotel. It sucked. A lot. BUT we made it back and once we were back to Vilnius, we decided to explore more of the town instead of resting at the hotel.
First stop was Užupis which is a neighborhood that declared itself it’s own Republic and has it’s own constitution, currency, flag, and even a president. Their ambassador is a cat. Yes, really. We only wandered around for about 5 minutes as there wasn’t much to see. Sadly, we didn’t get to see the cat.
From there, we walked to St. Anne’s Church which was opened in 1500. There is a stone out front commemorating the first public protest of the Soviet occupation as well.
From here we wandered thru the side streets of Old Town back to the main strip and sat down for some coffee and dessert and people watching.
On our way back to our hotel room, I wanted to make a 2nd stop to the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit we’d visited on our first day. I’ve never been so spiritually moved being in a church before and I wanted to go sit quietly and take it all in. It was so calming and I’m glad I went back to sit.
At this point our legs were killing us – I wish I’d taken my Garmin to see how far we walked – so we took a short rest at the hotel before trying to find a restaurant near our hotel. We found a restaurant serving Georgian food. Neither of us had a clue what Georgian food was, but it was busy and close so we gave it a shot. It was a revelation!
I got the Shkmeruli which is chicken in a garlic cream sauce served in a clay dish. And Chuck got chicken shashlik. We also got Georgian red wine and Imeruli which is a dough filled with Georgian cheese. It was all incredible. One of my favorite meals of my life actually! Of course we had to get dessert and got a delicious honey cake with fresh fruit.
The next morning we walked to the bus station and took a 4+ hour bus trip from Vilnius, Lithuania to Riga, Latvia with Lux Express. The bus was very modern and comfortable and it was a neat way to see the countryside and little towns.