From a distant Scandinavian-influenced past, through Imperial Russian domination
and Napoleonic incursion, to inter-war independence, then German/Nazi occupation;
then back to the Russians as Soviets and onto independence again - plus membership
of the EU, UN and NATO! OutUK’s Adrian Gillan hits Vilnius, Lithuania’s lush capital!
As the capital of the 4-million strong Republic of Lithuania, 600,000-strong Vilnius
is also the largest Baroque city north of the Alps. Its Old Town is situated in a
picturesque valley of two rivers – the Vilnia and the Neris – and was declared a
World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.
Locals tend to be reserved and humble; so it’s best (nay safest) for visitors to
eschew ostentation, however tempted to splash out with one’s stretchy pounds
And food tends to be relatively basic but good quality (ie fresh and tasty) and good
value – lots of stews, sausage, dumplings and potato salads. Check out the fine
local beers, not just vodkas. Past Soviet influence is evident in many aspects
of culture, not just cuisine - from opera, ballet and theatre to basketball and
banyas (communal saunas).
True, some politicians may have banned recent pro-gay demos, and been lobbying for
a Lithuanian “Clause 28”, but – encouragingly - the EU’s eye is very firmly set on
this relatively recent member; and the vast majority of people couldn’t care
less about your sexuality; especially the young, of whom there are breathlessly
many in this student city.
For the perfect place to stay, try the swish modern, great-value E-Guest House
with internet-connection in every room, plus sauna-for-hire. Same building/block
as Men’s Factory gay club (see below); plus in easy walk of the Old Town sights!
Most of Vilnius’ attractions are clustered neatly south of the River Neris, in
the Old Town; around and below the neo-classical Cathedral in Katedros Square
with its famous, separate Bell Tower– which makes a perfect, constant reference
point if you get lost.
The Higher Castle on the hill above, easily reached by
funicular, offers an excellent vantage point of the whole city from which to
gain one’s bearings; as does the Hill of the Three Crosses, just across the
tiny-yet-attractive Vilnia River.
North West of the Cathedral is the National Drama Theatre and, further up,
nearer the River Neris, the Opera & Ballet Theatre – plus a needy reminder of a
dark period: the KGB Museum, site of a former interrogation and execution centre,
complete with padded cell, water torture chambers and bullet holes.
South West of the Cathedral, admire the ensemble of the Church of St Anne (pretty
without, bare within) and the Bernardine Church (bare without, pretty within). Due
South, take in the Museum of Art, Folk Art Museum plus the last-surviving original
16th Century city entrance, The Gates of Dawn.
North of the river, enjoy two more spectacular vantage points - the 31st floor Observation
Deck of the Europa Centre on Konstitucijos Ave; and the 326m-high Television Tower.
TO EAT DANCE, BOOZE ‘N CRUISE
For great-value fodder, grab a fab 3-course meal with wine and coffee for just £6-£7
at Gusto, the wonderful Old Town pancake-house - try a scrummy pancake with red
caviar and sour cream!
Vilnius’ main gay club, Men’s Factory on Shevchenkos Street near the E-Guest House,
boasts an all-round penis design theme, sailor-dressed staff, plus lots of dark
spaces. Weds-Sat, 10pm ‘til late! Dodge the fag-hags, though; plus quite a few
straight boys in tow, especially Saturdays! At which time, you might be better off at
Relax, another busy gay bar-club, tucked
away near the river.|
To “take airs” stop off at Lukiskiu Square (near the KGB Museum), en route; Kalnu
Park (around the Hill of the Three Crosses); or Vingio Park (just west of centre).
As ever, be safe.
Air Baltic offers daily direct flights between
London Gatwick and Vilnius from as little as £67 return, including all taxes. For other airlines
eBookers. For a wide choice of hotels, guest reviews and special prices check out our partners
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
E-Guest House (Shevchenkos Street 16; T: +370 5 266 0730; Website)
Gusto (Ausros Vartu 6; T: +370 5 262 0056)
Men’s Factory (Shevchenkos Street 16 (building 10); T: +370 6 998 5009; Website)
Relax (Jaksto 12; T: +370 6 063 3463; Website)
Revised February 2015.