Take A Trip To Vilnius

Posted on: 24 February 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

The capital city of Lithuania is a European Capital Of Culture for 2009.

The capital of the Republic of Lithuania, Vilnius is the largest city in the country. Spread across both banks of the Neris River, east of the Baltic Sea, Vilnius is a quaint and lovely city. Its historical centre is the magnificent old town, which happens to be one of the largest in Eastern Europe.

Vilnius boasts a wide variety of architectural styles. Although the buildings are predominantly Baroque, it does feature some that were constructed in Gothic, Renaissance and other styles. Although this capital city has many sights worth checking out, its main attractions are Cathedral Square, Gediminas Castle and, of course, the old town which is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The city has been rapidly transformed and the town has emerged as a modern European city. Many of its older buildings have been renovated, and a business and commercial area is being developed into the New City Centre, expected to become the city's main administrative and business district on the north side of the Neris River.

Vilnius was selected as a 2009 European Capital of Culture, along with Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. Its 2009 New Year's Eve celebration, marking the event, featured a light show said to be "visible from outer space”. In preparation, the historical centre of the city was restored and its main monuments were renewed.

Tourist Attractions Around Vilnius

Gedimino Tower provides visitors with spectacular views of the city, while to the northeast the 14th century church of Saints Paul and Peter features a plain façade that sits in stark contrast to its decadent interior. Head west to find Gediminas square, home to a lovely Roman Catholic cathedral.

A visit to the church of St Casimir is also worthwhile; Casimir is Lithuania's patron saint. Although the Soviets tried to clamp down on Lithuania's identity by turning the church into a museum of atheism in 1966, it became a church once again in the late 1980s.

Museums & History In Vilnius

Aside from churches, Vilnius features a number of museums, including the well-known Jewish History Museum. Vilnius was once referred to as 'Northern Jerusalem' as it was home to more than 70,000 Jews before WWII. The Nazis reduced the population to around 800 Jews, but today there are about 5,000 living here.

Another museum highlighting Vilnius' tragic past is the Victims of Genocide Museum, which ironically sits in a section of the former KGB headquarters and documents the atrocious treatment of political prisoners in the Soviet era by the KGB. For a look at Lithuanian culture, visit the National Museum of Lithuania, which features displays of folk costumes, art and archaeological exhibits.

For shopping, head to the lively Gariunai market, which sits just outside Vilnius and features goods from China, Poland and Turkey. To learn more about the horrors that took place in Vilnius during WWII, take a daytrip to Paneriai, a former death camp where more than 100,000 mostly Jewish Lithuanians and Poles were killed by the Nazis.

Transportation Around Vilnius

Getting to Lithuania is a simple affair, as there is an international airport just a few miles from the city centre. Although the country is relatively safe, we strongly recommend you take out a travel insurance policy to protect you and your family against any unexpected events.

Air Baltic offer services from London Gatwick.

To find out more information about Vilnius, visit the official website here.

Have you been to Vilnius? Do you have any tips to pass on?

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