Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius

Our stop in Vilnius, Lithuania marked our third and final visit to the capital cities in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Hill of Crosses

Our first stop after crossing into Lithuania from Latvia was the Hill of Crosses, located about 200 km northeast of Vilnius.  Crosses were first placed on the hill in the 1800s.  During the Soviet occupation of Lithuania the crosses were bulldozed and burned on several occasions, but each time the crosses were destroyed more appeared and the Hill of Crosses came to represent the unshakable faith of the Lithuanian people.

Pope John Paul II performed mass at the hill of crosses in 1993, and today there are estimated to be over 100 thousand crosses on the site.  Most of the crosses are handmade and include an inscription with the name and country of the person who left the cross.

Gediminas’ Tower

The Gediminas’ Tower dominates the Vilnius skyline and makes up part of the castle located on the hilltop overlooking the city.  Legend has it that the Grand Duke Gediminas camped on this hill after a long hunt and during the night he dreamed about a howling iron wolf.  The Grand Duke’s priest told Gediminas that the dream meant that a city should be founded on this spot, and thus Vilnius was born.

Climbing up to the base of the tower provides an excellent view of the Vilnius old town.

It costs a few Euros to go inside the tower, where there are several floors with exhibits on the history of Vilnius. 

The very top of the tower is a good place to soak in the sights of the city.

Walking Around Old Town

Like Tallinn and Riga, the Vilnius old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We did a self guided walk to the major sites.

The main Cathedral was under renovation (as were the ones in Riga and Tallinn) because the Pope is coming for a visit soon.

Near the cathedral there’s a “Miracle Tile.”  Supposedly if you stand on it, spin, and make a wish it will come true. 

During our visit Lithuania was celebrating the 100 year anniversary of their 1918 independence.

“Literati Street” has a wall decorated with literary themed artwork.

Museum of Energy and Technology

Housed in the former central power plant building, the Museum of Energy and Technology was a great place to learn about power generation by getting up close to some real machinery.

The plant was originally coal powered but it was converted to gas when a pipeline was built into Vilnius. 

Operating the switchboard.

Upstairs there are several hands-on exhibits demonstrating various scientific principles.

The kids were surprised to learn how many sides this shape has!

Užupis

Užupis is a funky neighborhood in Vilnius that declared itself an independent republic in 1997.  It is a great place to check out cafes, shops, and art installations.

The “Angel of Užupis” is the symbol of the neighborhood.

The constitution of Užupis has some interesting principles.  “A dog has the right to be a dog.”

We stopped at a coffee shop and discovered the Lithuanian specialty “šakotis,” a cake cooked on a spit.

Toy Museum

Of all the things we did in Vilnius, the kids enjoyed the toy museum the most.  The museum includes examples of toys from ancient to more recent times.

Some of the things kids had to play with before the invention of handheld screens. 😉

Our youngest proved to be an expert at this slingshot game.

The Soviet-era coin operated machines were especially interesting.  This one simulated a submarine attack on a convoy of ships.

On the day we visited the museum it was only open from 2pm to 6pm and we were there that entire time.

Summing Up

Vilnius was a great place to cap off our time in the Baltic states.  We enjoyed the charming old town and the cafes where we got to have a taste of traditional Lithuanian foods.  Unlike Tallinn and Riga, Vilnius is not a cruise ship port and it was not swamped with tour groups during the day.  Vilnius was also very budget friendly; meals were inexpensive and the museums we visited were only a few dollars per person.

Before we started planning our European road trip we knew very little about the Baltic states (and probably couldn’t have correctly identified them on a map).  It was great to be able to visit each of the countries and to learn first hand about how each of them is unique.

In our next update, we head south to Poland.  Check back soon! 🙂

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