Sitting between Poland, Belarus, Latvia and the Baltic Sea, Lithuania is Europe’s most southern Baltic state. Europe is a well-travelled continent that gives travellers the opportunity to see a lot in a little time. The closeness of its countries to each other can make a short trip multi-faceted and packed with fun.
But Lithuania is a country that seems to be forgotten when travellers map out their European trip and put on their backpack. Here are a few reasons why that’s a mistake.
Walking along a country lane in the small town of Moletai with a Belarusian and a Lithuanian, surrounded by long and soft autumn yellow grass and a small village house, I asked myself why I hadn’t been to Lithuania sooner.
Moletai is buried in the bliss of Lithuania’s countryside. The autumn colours bloomed and the gentle breeze cooled me down after walking in the midday sun to find a lake where I would sit a vipassana meditation course.
After 10 days of meditating I left Moletai to visit Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital city. I got off the bus with wandering eyes and an adventurer’s mind. Having seen many of Europe’s capital cities I was intrigued as to what this Baltic beauty had to offer.
Making my way from the station I immediately noticed Vilnius’s artsy vibe, mixed with its interesting architecture dating from the baroque era. Feeling excited about exploring my home continent for a change, I made my way onto the city streets. Different parts of Vilnius promote different vibes and overall the city is diverse, boasting a calm but proactive city life.
Resembling two smaller towns living side by side, Vilnius has an old quarter that shines with a unique atmosphere, with the rest of the city acting as its modern counterpart.
The old town
The old town’s narrow streets are filled with coffee shops, wandering pedestrians, boutique stores, and churches that house beautiful courtyards. The narrow streets lead onto various squares, with open spaces to enjoy a moment in the crisp breeze, and benches occupied by people watching the city life pass by.
A famous landmark in the old town is the Gate of Dawn. Also known as the City gate of Vilnius, it stands tall, guiding the way into the old town. The Gate of Dawn is considered to be the most visited shrine in Lithuania and is famous as the only surviving gate of the original 5 gates of the city wall, built in the 1500s.
Vilnius street art
Another reason why Vilnius should be bumped up your European travel list is the street art that gives the city a touch of character and takes you away from the normal city feel. Walls are painted with colourful murals by talented artists and houses are creatively decorated, offering another dimension for the eyes and the mind.
Trying to feel the workings of the artists’ minds gave me a look into Vilnius culture. If you are interested in seeing the talent of street artists then the annual street art festival is for you.
Elaborately detailed and simple churches stand side-by-side, eloquently positioned behind green courtyards. They act as a gateway to the city’s delicacy of churches from a variety of religions, making Vilnius a champion for churches.
Each church attests to the interesting and historic background of the city and gives off a feeling of humility and peace. Having not spent too much time discovering churches in other cities I have visited, there was something magical that drew me in. To my surprise I spent a lot of my time educating myself on what churches can offer.
Visiting the churches in Vilnius is like stepping into another world, away from what stands on their intricately carved doorsteps. Some churches are simple, offering the notion that less is more. Some are bright and shine with a white glow of lightness, while others stand tall, with bells hanging at the top of the tower overlooking the city, waiting to be rung. Graceful angel statues sit wishing upon the visitors while priests continue with their work. Altars and paintings stand out with a story yet embrace the sense of quietness of their surroundings.
A European country less travelled
Backpacking in Lithuania is easy, interesting and fun. Being a European country less travelled, there is more to discover than meets the eye. I spent my days wandering the streets in awe of Lithuania, absorbing as much of its culture as possible; basking in its atmosphere that has a perfect balance of movement and stillness, action and quietness. I would return to Lithuania again in a heartbeat.
Lithuania is a gorgeous country that offers much for the backpacker to explore. Cities, lakes, countryside and friendly locals are only some of the wonderful attributes that I experienced during my time there. If you have your trip already planned or you are thinking about visiting Europe, I highly recommend taking a cheeky detour to the Baltic beauty, Lithuania.