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Lithuania’s little capital has a population of just over half a million people and is simply captivating. At its heart is Europe’s largest baroque Old Town, with cobblestone streets lined with pastel-coloured buildings with pretty courtyards and a skyline of spires and domes belonging to the splendid Catholic and Orthodox churches that dot the town. Vilnius' 19th century ‘new’ town is equally alluring with a buzzy pedestrian street with boutiques and cafés and a boulevard bookended by two of the city’s most handsome churches, the silver domed Orthodox Church of the Apparition and the majestic Vilnius Cathedral.
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town, dating from the 13th to 19th century is what most visitors are here to see and while its baroque buildings are most notable, the historic centre also hosts fine examples of gothic, renaissance, neo-classical and Soviet architecture. Highlights include the imposing apricot-coloured St Casimir's Church, dating to 1605, which is the city’s oldest baroque church; the fresco-filled Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit; the extravagantly-spired St Anne’s Church in a Flamboyant Gothic style; the 15th century Vilnius University with its 13 courtyards (it’s possible to stroll through them all); the baby blue Dawn Gate with a Black Madonna icon; and the squat red-brick Gediminas Tower which offers panoramic views of the city.Read more
Russian history buffs and fans of the Soviet style, currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity with Vilnius’ retro-loving youths, will enjoy the enormous Soviet statues that dominate some of the city squares, the socialist realist art on display in museums and the old KGB headquarters, now a museum. An increasingly popular activity is a hot air balloon ride, which glides over the city and the Old Town, providing a birds-eye-view of the tangle of cobblestone lanes, red rooftops and beautiful churches and courtyards below.
A quirkier experience (after you’ve found the statue of Frank Zappa) can be had at the self-declared Independent Republic of Uzupis, a hippy neighbourhood of artists, artisans and activists on the riverbank. You can amble around, glancing into homes and yards and browsing art galleries and workshops. It’s worth seeing as a comparison because it is worlds apart from the grandeurs of the Old Town.