Northern Europe is not known for its diamond deposits but there is one genuine gem you must discover for yourself in Lithuania: mysterious Vilnius. A city with a fascinating history, offbeat elegance and a unique cultural scene, the city pulses with youthful energy, modern spaces and plenty of exciting activities.
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and central and eastern Europe’s largest medieval baroque town. Though it is quickly developing into a metropolis, it still has a quaint, oversized village feel to it. It is the main pull factor for the entire country’s flourishing tourism industry, housing a whopping 600,000 citizens, a quarter of the nation’s population.
The city has been a magnet for many religions for many centuries as its Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Ruthenian Orthodox quarters in the Old Town attest. The Old Town boasts all things…well, old. Like cobbled streets filled with street art, a virtual maze of parks, plazas, the looming Cathedral Basilica and, far above, Gediminas Tower dominates all vast views of Old Town. The Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and the St Vladislav is the city’s main religious event and stands proud as punch in the main square.
Alternatively, on the other side of the Vilnia River, you will find a cool and edgy neighborhood, which declared itself an independent republic on April 1, 1998. The Užupis district (the name means “over the river”) boasts galleries, boutiques and restaurants, trendy bars, and conceptual shops.
With all the massive expansions and contractions over the centuries of the country, it is no wonder that Vilnius is itself not only a wonder from the past but a sparkling diamond no longer in the rough as it recreates its identity, embraces both past and present, providing us with a Vilnius that is new, young and old all at the same time.
If you are seeking accommodation in Vilnius, the city boasts a wide variety of hotel options to choose from, based on your preferences and budget. You can opt for 5-star amenities in the heart of Vilnius Old Town (see Radisson Blu Royal Astorija Hotel), or for a stylish hotel on the banks of the River Neris near rich historic sites (Radisson Blu Hotel Lietuva, Vilnius), or ultimately, for a modern base near Vilnius Airport, just 15 minutes from the center (Park Inn by Radisson Vilnius Airport Hotel & Business Centre).
Although a small country today, in the 14th century Lithuania was the largest country in Europe. City prices are not pricey compared to almost anywhere in Europe and that goes for big-ticket tourist items like super-cheap lodging, sights and dining and drinks too.
Both the IMF and the World Bank are in agreement that the country has a very high standard of just about everything: living, advanced economic development, Human Development Index, granting many civil liberties. Low prices but also an advanced economy that offers high incomes…that’s certainly unusual too. Vilnius is both a Gamma Global City–making it as powerful a regional economic force as the likes of St. Petersburg, Turin and Ankara–and its Old Town is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site all at the same time.
By Viveca Knapp
who is residing in Milan, City in Italy.
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