Despite some brutal scars from its former Soviet past, today Vilnius is one of Europe’s most beautiful – and affordable– cities, being easy to reach and very easy to explore

WHEN it comes to city breaks in Europe, they don’t come more highly recommended than Vilnius.

Lithuania’s cool, compact capital is the driving force behind its booming tourism industry – and with good reason.

It boasts breath-taking medieval architecture married with a bustling cafe culture, and you can take it all in on foot.

Not only that, but Vilnius is one of the cheapest cities to visit in Europe, providing excellent value in accommodation, attractions and dining.

A pint of lager will set you back just a couple of euro, and there are plenty of trendy bars serving craft beers and traditional brews alongside imported European brands.

Wander through the charming cobbled streets of eastern Europe’s largest Old Town taking in the vibrant atmosphere – and the sense of patriotism with the red, yellow and green flag hung from every pillar.

After a century of turbulence, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to claim its independence in 1990, and its hard-won national identity is a source of great pride.

Fill up on kibinai – a traditional dish similar to Cornish pasties – from Pinavija Cafe to fuel your walking tour.

If you’re up to the challenge, then a visit to the 10th century Gediminas Tower – the last remaining part of the city’s castle – offers panoramic views of the Old Town below.

The warren of medieval cobbled streets is UNESCO-protected and offers a wealth of parks, squares, bars, cafes and restaurants as well as an array of charming neoclassical and baroque churches.

The city’s character has been shaped by its fascinating history, including time under Poland and Russia’s rule. And it was once named the ‘Jerusalem of the North’ by Napoleon for its strong Jewish influence.

Only 3,000 Jews remain in Lithuania, but their 8th Century roots can still be seen in the form of the Choral Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Flame of Hope sculpture, commemorating the 90% of the city’s Jewish population killed in The Holocaust.

The Museum of Genocide Victims – housed in a former KGB building – deals with the systematic murder of Jews by the Nazis. The museum retains in its basement the prison used by the Russian secret service, as well as the original execution chamber, where bullet holes still scar the walls.

The Travel Department offers a three night Vilnius break which includes a half-day guided city tour with an expert local guide, as well as plenty of time to explore all the city has to offer at your own pace.

Prices start from €349pp for 3 nights including return flights from Dublin, 4-star B&B hotel accommodation, excursions, transfers, taxes and charges and expert local guides, with flights departing this September and October.

For further information, see www.traveldepartment.ie or call 01 6371600; alternatively, if you’d prefer to plan your own itinerary, Ryanair flights to Vilnius start from €30.99.

 

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