Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties
– Rule 14, Constitution of The Republic of Užupis
Did you know there is a self-declared artist’s republic with its own constitution in Vilnius, Lithuania? Or that Lithuania fiercely fought back during the Soviet Union occupation from 1940-1991? Or that Lithuania is famous for its vast variety of craft beers? With its laid back atmosphere, friendly people and vibrant art scene, this quirky capital will quickly draw you in.
Where to stay:
There are two main options when choosing where to stay in Vilnius; the Old Town, which is the main centre of the city and home to the majority of the traditional sights in Vilnius, or Užupis, which is the artist’s republic on the other side of the river. I tried out three places – Downtown Forest Hostel in Užupis, Jimmy Jumps House in Old Town, and the Panorama Hotel in Old Town (but slightly further out).
Location-wise, I preferred Jimmy Jumps House as it was a short walk from all of the main tourist sights, an amazing vintage shop, and plenty of bars and restaurants. It also had a great breakfast of freshly made waffles (although this is the only option, so wouldn’t be great if you have any allergies). This hostel had a really nice, laid-back atmosphere with a very social communal area and fully equipped kitchen. Another nice touch is the universal electrical sockets in the communal area – handy if you forget your charger! The bunk beds have curtains around them which affords a little more privacy – something that never goes amiss in dorms. The staff were super helpful and there were activities planned for every day.
Downtown Forest Hostel is based on the edge of town in the art district. It had a really cosy lobby and communal area with a wood fire and comfy chairs, along with two very large communal areas and a fully equipped kitchen downstairs. The staff were really friendly and there is the option of freshly made croissants for breakfast (I think they were around €1.30 each) if you order them before 10.30pm the night before. In the summer they have a barbecue area and events in the garden – you can also camp if the weather is nice! The only slight issues I had were that the lockers in the rooms were metal, which always make a lot of noise if anyone wants to open or close them when you are trying to sleep, and also the blinds were quite thin.
Panorama Hotel was similar to a Travelodge in interior design and comfort, although it had great views over the city which it maximised at every opportunity – they even have a lift with a glass side to take the view in! They serve continental breakfast until 10, and I recommend you get a room with a view over Old Town to make the most of the hotel. It was slightly further out of town than Jimmy Jumps House, although this is still not very far – around 10 minutes walk to the centre.
If you are looking for a higher-end hotel, the Narutis Hotel is in a prime location in the centre of Old Town, and looked absolutely beautiful when I popped my head in to be nosy. If my budget had allowed, I’d have loved to definitely stayed here for a night! (If you do stay here, let me know how it was!)
Where to eat:
If you want to try some Lithuanian cuisine (you really should!), I really enjoyed Alinė Leičiai, just off the Town Hall square. It had gorgeous decor – traditional but with a modern twist. The food* and service were both great – along with their vast choice of Lithuanian alcohol – mainly beer and mead. I tried their hemp beer which was delicious, along with the Vilnius mead (also delicious). For a more adventurous experience, try their 75% speciality mead – although maybe line your stomach first! *Note – if you are gluten intolerant, this menu is quite restrictive as almost everything is cooked in beer.
For fast food, I loved Drama Burger on Gediminas Avenue so much that I went back for a second try! Their truffle tomato sauce is particularly great with the rosemary fries, and the overall menu is very affordable. I also tried Užupio Picerija – Uzupis Pizzeria, which served delicious freshly-made pizza and other Italian dishes in the open-plan kitchen. The weather had been particularly miserable that day, which made the warm restaurant feel extra cosy.
Do not bother with the TV Tower – I went to the tower for a meal, and still had to pay €9 per person to step foot into the restaurant. The decor was outdated, the menu expensive and the food average. The views were quite nice, but overall I would definitely give it a miss next time.
Where to drink:
There are so many interesting bars in Vilnius that I couldn’t list them all, but one definitely outshone the rest – El Clasico. I only knew it existed because it was marked as a destination on my tourist map, listed as “not easy to find, but will suck you in like a black hole with its darkness, candles and fire”. They weren’t kidding about it being not easy to find – there is no mention of it on the internet anywhere. This was so refreshing as if you Google “secret bar in London”, you will be flooded with pages of “secret” bars, complete with maps to the destination. Once we had asked several people, we finally found where it was, and it was so worth it. The ambiance was divine, the drinks were delicious, and the service was perfect. I’m not going to spoil the fun by telling you too much about it, only that it is on Aušros Vartų gatvę. Find it – you’ll be so glad you did!
Other bars of note are:
- Who Hit John – possibly Vilnius’ tiniest bar
- Tesla Pub and Grill – Burger and beer bar
- The Portobello – an English themed bar that you enter through a red telephone box
What to do:
- Visit the Museum of Genocide Victims on Gediminas Avenue and learn about Lithuania’s persecuted history. What I particularly liked about this museum were the stories about the resistance put up against the oppression under both the Nazi and Soviet Union regimes.
- Visit Vilnius Cathedral – interesting because its bell tower is in a completely different building, and it looks more like a stately home than a cathedral! My favourite part of the cathedral was the Chapel of Saint Casimir on the right hand side of the main building. It has genuinely awe-inspiring decorations of marble and gold.
- Wander around Užupis to take in all of the street art, local cafes and shops – apparently you can even get your passport stamped! (Although sadly I couldn’t find the shop to get this done)
- Take a walk around the Bernadine Cemetery, it’s really beautiful.
Eastern Europe is really leading the way with escape rooms, and Vilnius has so many incredible games to offer – we had seen nothing like the level of detail and production before we came here!
This was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life! Set in a haunted hotel, you will be led blindfolded into a pitch-black room and given an hour to get back out again. Once you get over the darkness, this quickly becomes another escape room, and doesn’t quite match up to the innovation level of the other rooms we played, although was still an entertaining game.
Forget combination locks – This absolutely fantastically finished room was like nothing we had seen before! With a compelling story-line and really innovative puzzles, it was probably one of the hardest rooms that we have ever completed – we needed several hints to get out with just seconds to spare. I could not recommend this beautiful escape room enough.
Insight Out is a real labour of love – you wouldn’t know it, but both rooms are completely hand-made. We were lucky enough to play them both, and found them equally enjoyable. Race Against Time involved time travelling to prevent the end of the world predicted by Nostradamus, and Poltergeist was another terrifying adventure, this time to calm down a distressed spirit. Poltergeist was a slightly shorter game, although did leave us stumped on several occasions. The games master went into great detail with the storylines, which made the experiences all the more immersive. A third room is already in the planning, so watch this space!
Other Practical Information:
- We went in the last weekend of October. It was cold and rained a LOT. I’d love to see it either in the summer, or later in the year with snow.
- The currency is Euros.
- There is only one airport and it is very close to the city – either take a taxi or Über (around €4), or a bus which is even cheaper.
- You really can get everywhere by foot – it’s a small, pedestrian-friendly city.
- Vilnius hosts one of the top ten most magical Christmas markets according to The Culture Trip.
Have you been to Vilnius or Lithuania? What is the best escape room you have been to? Do you have any tips or recommendations that I have missed? Would love to hear from you in the comments below! 🙂
In the interest of transparency, this post was kindly sponsored by Horror Hotel, Wrong Room and Insight Out, and partly sponsored by Panorama Hotel and Downtown Forest Hostel. However, all opinions and recommendations are completely my own and not as a result of any sponsorship!