Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, is not the most obvious of city break destinations, but it should be! Just a two hour flight from London, this charming Baltic city is filled with Baroque architecture, lust green spaces and an exciting culinary scene. I was lucky to spend a couple of days exploring some of the highlights, from climbing old clock towers to sampling speciality coffee, I was amazed by all that this city has to offer. But perhaps the most memorable part of the weekend was a hot air balloon ride over the nearby old town of Trakai, a rare chance to see the spectacular city from afar in a moment of total calm.
Hotel Pacai – As demand grows for accommodation in Vilnius new hotels are beginning to pop up all over the capital. Hotel Pacai is perhaps the most exciting recent opening, a design hotel set in a 17th-century mansion in the heart of the Old Town, with beautiful, modern, stylish bedrooms. An exciting gastronomic restaurant is coming soon…
Amandus – This modern restaurant in the Old Town is led by chef Deivydas Praspaliauskas. The menu focusses on Lithuanian ingredients but uses modern techniques to create imaginative dishes. We particularly loved the beetroot bread and whipped butter!
Sweet Root – Located in the heart of the bohemian Uzupis district, this chic high-end eatery is only open in the evenings and serves a meticulous tasting menu. The beautiful local cuisine is inspired by the seasons and uses ingredients from Vilnius and the surrounding area. It is widely regarded as the city’s best restaurant.
Sugamour – A patisserie heaven for those with a sweet tooth. This speciality dessert boutique makes elaborate cakes that are served alongside good quality coffee and tea. I can particularly recommend the honey cake and the mango and coconut mousse, equally beautiful to look at or taste!
Ertlio Namas – Ertlio Namas is a step back in time, with a menu of recipes that are inspired by past centuries. We were treated to four delightful and delicious courses, each served with a matching drink. Every dish had a story, which the waiter described while we waited patiently to eat the food!
Theobromine – Tucked away down a side street in the Old Town, this is an emporium of chocolate treats. Theobromine makes artistic chocolates with quirky, sometimes experimental flavours and also has cakes to eat in store. I tried the very decadent white chocolate and salted caramel tart.
Hales Market – For an immersive foodie experience head to Hales Market on the outskirts of town. The iconic building has housed a market since the 15th century. Today it offers locally grown produce, speciality meats and cheeses and stalls for snacks on the go. For a more leisurely lunch head to Hales Deli and choose from the regional daily delicacies.
Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories – This coffee bar and microroastery is one of the most interesting caffeine stops I have ever discovered. The minimalist cafe is decorated with plants and niche magazines. Choose from the selection of special roasted beans (sourced from around the world) and enjoy a perfectly made pour-over coffee.
Coffee 1 – This friendly cafe is a great place to stop for a good coffee if you are wandering round the Uzupis area. Order a flat white and a piece of Lithuanian lazy cake, a simple but tasty chocolate biscuit cake.
King and Mouse – This whisky-dedicated bar serves well-made cocktails and also has a great selection of craft beers. The current menu features a drink called ‘3 Suns’ – a delicious take on an Old Fashioned.
House of Naive – House of Naive was set up by a local couple who produce organic minimalistic women’s clothing in natural materials and organic bean to bar chocolate. I particularly loved the chocolate bars, which are made in intriguing flavours and packaged up in stylish boxes.
Ramune Piekautaite – Ramune Piekautaite is one of the best known Lithuanian designers. Her striking luxury collections are renowned in the Baltic region but have also travelled further afield. Her smart, centrally located boutique gives an insight into her imaginative designs.
Hot Air Balloon Ride – Vilnius is one of the only European cities with permission to fly hot air balloons and so it has become known for this special pastime. Head to the Trakai region and if the weather is right you can float over the beautiful Trakai Island Castle and surrounding forest. It is completely magical.
Bell Tower – For panoramic views of Vilnius old town head to the Bell Tower, dating back to the 13th century.
Non Museum – This tiny museum is a great place to get an overview of Lithuania’s history. Watch the whirlwind 10 minute film and have a go on the interactive headsets to see some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes.
Trakai – Trakai town is just west of Vilnius in southeastern Lithuania. Wander through the multi-coloured wooden Karaim houses and take a boat trip out on Lake Galvė to see Island Castle, a magnificent 14th-century fortress in the middle of lake.
I was a guest of the Lithuania Tourist Board, more information about Vilnius and Lithuania here.