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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a 24 hours in Vilnius itinerary! Lithuanians sometimes have trouble convincing tourists to try a 24 hours in Vilnius itinerary in Lithuania’s capital. Lithuania’s tourism bureau once released a campaign calling Vilnius the G-spot of Europe because “no one knows where it is–but once you find it, it’s amazing.” You don’t see Paris or Tokyo releasing campaigns like that because everybody already knows those cities are amazing.
I’m not going to do too much talking about G-spots here because this is a family blog. But I will say that Vilnius is a city that rewards an adventurous spirit, a willingness to explore, and a sense of humor. (Dang, that does still read like I’m talking about something sexual. Curse you, Vilnius tourism bureau!) Join me for a 24 hours in Vilnius itinerary, and I’ll teach you how to maximize your pleasure on your jaunt through Lithuania’s largest city.
PS. Many people aren’t sure whether to pronounce the name Vil-nee-us or Vil-nuss. As a wise man once said, I’ve heard it both ways.
24 Hours in Vilnius Itinerary
Where to Stay?
There’s three things I look for when choosing a hotel, especially when traveling alone: location, location, location. I want to be in a safe neighborhood, and I want to be near the main attractions so I don’t waste time traveling to and fro each day. This is especially true if you only have a 24 Hours in Vilnius Itinerary. So I recommend staying at the Comfort Hotel LT-Rock ‘n Roll.
Don’t let the odd name fool you. This hotel has everything I’m looking for: location, clean and comfortable rooms, an affordable price, and a tasty breakfast included. (That is the exact order of my priorities.) It also has a fun rock and roll themed decor, as you can see from the picture of Mr. John above. But decor is kind of low-down on my list of priorities. I’m not on my honeymoon, so I’m not going to be spending that much time in my hotel anyway.
24 Hours in Vilnius Itinerary
What to Pack
The weather in Lithuania can be rainy. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Lithuania.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out and about without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or UK plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Vilnius Itinerary
Morning: Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fights
So we’re starting our 24 hours in Vilnius itinerary small with one of the most controversial places in Vilnius. The Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fights has stirred up strong emotions since its creation. Its original name was the Museum of Genocide Victims. (The name change itself is probably the biggest controversy, and we’ll get to that later.)
Even though the museum isn’t huge, it’s a powerful experience, so I suggest setting aside the whole morning just to process it. I could never sum up all the information from the museum in just one blog post, so I’ll limit myself to…
three facts: museum of occupation
1) why was this building chosen for the museum?
The building that houses the Museum of Occupation was the former KGB Building. You might be wondering why the Soviet secret police would have a building in Vilnius. As with the other Baltic countries, Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania was under Soviet occupation from the 1940s to 1991. Under the Soviet occupation, Lithuanian partisans (fighters for a free Lithuania) and political dissidents were punished severely.
There were several ways political dissidents were punished by the Soviets. Many were brought to the KGB building where they were imprisoned, tortured, or worse. When you visit the museum, you can see the former KGB prison cells, as well as the room where executions took place. (You don’t have to visit the execution room if you don’t want to. I would not publish a photo of a room like that on this blog.)
Lithuanians were also sent to labor camps, where many died from poor treatment. Above you can see a letter that a woman wrote to her brother who was imprisoned in a labor camp. The parts that have been scratched out in black were removed by the Soviet censors. Big Brother was always watching.
2) why did the soviet occupation end?
There’s lots of different answers to that question. But since we’re spending 24 hours in Vilnius, we’re going to focus on the Lithuanian role in the end of the USSR. On August 23, 1989, an amazing event occurred in the Baltic countries that helped change the history of the entire region. A group of supporters of Baltic independence organized a human chain that stretched through all three Baltic countries as a political protest. It ran from Vilnius to Riga, the capital of Latvia, to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. This event is known as the Baltic Way.
This giant protest got the world’s attention, and it made the Soviets very angry. However, in part thanks to international pressure, the Soviets did not respond with violence. Several months after the Baltic Way, Lithuania became the first Baltic country to declare itself independent. (They’re very proud of that.) The other two Baltic countries soon followed.
3) so what’s the controversy?
The main controversy with this museum was about the old name, the Museum of Genocide. While the Soviet suppression of Lithuanians was horrific and tragic, most historians wouldn’t call it a genocide.
However, there was an actual genocide that happened in Lithuania, and it was the Holocaust. Large numbers of Jewish Lithuanians were murdered when the Nazis occupied Lithuania during World War II. The Nazis specifically looked for Lithuanians who had been tortured or mistreated by the Soviets to help them target and kill Jewish people. And back when the museum was called the Museum of Genocide, there was almost no mention of the Holocaust.
As a Jewish person, I think the name change is a great idea. There should absolutely be a museum educating people about the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. But I hope when you spend 24 hours in Vilnius, you will take some time to learn about the Jewish experience in Lithuania as well. Many Lithuanian tour guides specialize in Lithuanian Jewish history, and they can even help you learn more about your family, if you have Lithuanian Jewish heritage.
24 Hours in Vilnius Itinerary
Afternoon: Soviet Vilnius
Some of you out there might be feeling confused that we’re spending so much time on the Soviet period of Lithuania’s history. You’d rather see the quaint medieval buildings and portraits of fancy Lithuanian nobles. I promise we’ll see those things tomorrow, Internet Stranger! Today is “modern” Vilnius and tomorrow is the old stuff. It’s good to have a theme for each 24 hours in Vilnius itinerary because it will be easier for you to remember what happened.
For those who are still curious about Soviet Lithuania after visiting the Museum of Occupation, you are in luck! Coming up is our…
approximately top 5: soviet vilnius
1) lunch at coffee1
Before we head off on the tour, we have time to get some lunch! I suggest rolling over to the hipster neighborhood Uzupis and grabbing a bite at Coffee1. Coffee1 is not at all part of Soviet Vilnius. Although you could argue that the fact there is a hipster place like Coffee1 in Vilnius just shows how Not Communist Lithuania is now. After all, in the USSR, there was no avocado toast.
There were no fancy chilled Italian coffees.
And I’m going to assume that there were no bougie hazelnut salted caramel tarts. Just one of the many reasons I’m glad to be spending 24 hours in Vilnius now and not in the 1980s.
2) palace of concerts and sports
Our first stop is at perhaps the most famous Soviet building in Vilnius, the Palace of Concerts and Sports. (I originally typed that as the Palace of Concrete and Sports, which would also be appropriate.) It is done in the Brutalist style which makes sense because this building definitely looks like it wants to punch you in the face, Ivan Drago-style.
In yet another potentially anti-Semitic controversy for Lithuania, this building was built on a former Jewish cemetery. But in fairness to Lithuania, it was the Russian government that closed the cemetery back in the 19th century, and it was the Soviets who decided to build this “beauty” on top of it in the 20th century.
On a lighter subject, can you guess what sport was mostly played here? Even though Lithuanians are European, and I thought all Europeans were soccer-mad, it’s not the most popular sport in Lithuania. That would be basketball. Like their neighbors Latvia, Lithuanians grow on the taller side, so it makes sense that they would excel at a sport that rewards the grand in stature.)
3) Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre
Of course, no Soviet colony would have been complete without a place to perform the ballet. I would not have guessed that this black and glass behemoth was an opera house. I would have guessed it was anything from a radiator factory to the villain in the next Transformers movie. But maybe that’s why no one has ever hired me to be a Soviet architect.
Another interesting fact about this building is that its architect was a woman. Her name was Elena Nijolė Bučiūtė. Please don’t ask me how to pronounce that name because I’m overwhelmed by the 9,000 accents. Even though I made jokes about the ballet theater, I actually think it’s much prettier than the Palace of Concrete and Sports. So I say this just proves that women are better at Soviet architecture than men.
Apparently every kid in Vilnius went here frequently on school trips during the Soviet period. Nowadays it’s only open for group tours by advance appointment, which isn’t a great sign for Lithuania’s space program. But obviously during the Cold War, space studies were much more important.
The name of the Planetarium also gave us a great little Lithuanian language lesson. You can see the word Planetariumas written on the side of the museum. Lithuanian borrows words from other languages by adding the suffix -as on the end. So we have planetariumas, restaurant is restoranas, and movie is filmas. There! Now we are all fluent in Lithuanian.
5) radisson blu
You might be a little surprised that the last stop on this portion of our 24 hours in Vilnius is…a Radisson Blu Hotel. But the design of the hotel, which I shall charitably call ‘fugly’, should clue you in that this is a hold-over from the Soviet period.
In the USSR, foreign visitors were allowed to visit Lithuania. But if they came from Western/capitalist countries, the government monitored them very carefully. That’s why most foreign guests had to stay at this hotel. There was only one problem. The hotel had a serious bug problem, and by bugs, I mean small electronic listening devices. That doesn’t sound very pleasant, but it still sounds nicer than bedbugs. I’d rather be constantly recorded by Big Brother than have even one bedbug.
24 Hours in Vilnius Itinerary
Late Afternoon: Drinks at the Radisson Blu
Now that the tour is over, why not enjoy a drink at a rooftop bar on top of a former Soviet Spy Palace? The website of the Radisson Blu says that the building features “bold design”, which is just marketer-speak for “fugly”. But the views from the rooftop bar are anything but fug.
The bar has an impressive number of creative cocktails, and if there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s finding new ways to drink. My choice was the Baltic Spritz, which pays homage to the Baltic Way hand-holding protest. It contains Estonian kristall kummel, which is the only cumin liqueur I’ve ever tasted, Latvian Black Balsam liqueur, and Lithuanian Gintaras Sinas fruit wine. (I wasn’t joking about basically every word in Lithunian ending in -as.) It did taste a bit like an aperol spritz, but fruitier.
When you’re admiring the views from Sky Bar, keep an eye out for hot air balloons. Vilnius has perfect weather for hot air ballooning, so you’ll see the aeronauts out every sunset. I especially admire the balloon that looks shaped like a yogurt container.
24 Hours in Vilnius Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Amandus
In some cities, it’s hard to get people to agree on the best restaurant. That’s not the case when you are on a 24 hours in Vilnius itinerary. Pretty much everyone agrees that the best restaurant in Vilnius is Amandus. If you want to eat dinner here, and you definitely do, book in advance on line.
The chef is named Deivydas Praspaliauskas (dat -as again) and he actually comes out personally to explain the dishes and the thought processes behind them. It’s like being in a museum and having the artist come out and explain the painting to you before you eat the painting.
There’s very little point in my going in detail about the foods you’ll be tasting because the menu changes completely every month. There’s only one tasting menu, so you’re stuck with all the delicious food Chef Praspaliauskas plans on serving you. I promise it’s all amazing, but this isn’t a restaurant for the picky eater.
I can promise that you’ll have several different snacks…
This was a teeny sandwich made using a molecular gastronomy technique that I don’t fully understand. But it resulted in the lightest sandwich imaginable.
There will also be the special house bread and butter, which is the one dish that is always on the menu.
There will be at least one salad featuring local produce. The radish, cucumber, and pomegranate seeds in my salad were so refreshing for summer time.
There will be at least one larger meat course, so you don’t leave your tasting menu hungry. The chef uses a lot of modern cooking techniques, so it’s possible your meat will be cooked sous-vide. This means the meat is cooked in a water bath for a long time under low heat so it becomes impossibly tender. Do you hate impossibly tender meat, Internet Stranger? Of course not. No one does.
And there will be two dessert courses! But my favorite dessert was the house specialty, Hedgehog in the Fog. And this is our final Soviet reference for the day because the name comes from a Soviet children’s show that the chef watched when he was growing up.
There’s no actual hedgehog meat in this dessert. It’s all chocolate and deliciousness. If you wonder why it’s smoking, that’s liquid nitrogen! I try to pretend to be a simple girl sometimes, but I do love a good ice cream made fresh at the table using liquid nitrogen. Sometimes you just want a little magic with your meal.
That’s a 24 Hours in Vilnius Itinerary!
What would you do with a 24 hours in Vilnius itinerary? Are you excited to be fluentas in Lithuanianas? And should I try to invent a tri-state area cocktail that combines Pennsylvania beer, New York State cider, and the tears of a New Jersey sports fan? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have a 24 hours in Vilnius itinerary. If you have time for another 24 Hours in Vilnius Itinerary, try this one.