I always knew the Baltics were well liked by Brits for stag and hen parties as well as wild weekend breaks but my intention in visiting the Baltics was for wholesome tourism. Hostels are often the most important factor in how my travel experiences play out as a good hostel usually means meeting new people, socializing, and finding good local spots for dinners and drinks. I fully blame my excellent hostel in Vilnius for making all of my sightseeing plans take a turn for the worse…
After a hectic and tight connection at Istanbul’s Ataruk airport I immediately felt more relaxed upon landing at the small Vilnius airport. The airport is a beautiful old building that looks more like a governor’s mansion or old rail station than a capital city’s airport. Since I visited in August 2014, Lithuania was still using Litas (scheduled to switch to Euros in 2015) so I exchanged 100€ into ~314 Litas and made my way to my pre-booked hostel, Jimmy’s Jump House. Several taxi drivers approached me outside the airport, no doubt intending to extort my freshly exchanged Litas from me, but I managed to navigate on to a public bus from the airport station into Vilnius’ central bus station with little difficulty for only 3.5 Litas (~1€).
Jimmy’s Jump House was a little difficult to find but each wrong turn just meant that I was able to see more of Vilnius. When I finally made it to the hostel I was immediately impressed by its friendly and helpful staff and clean and common area / kitchen where I immediately met several people after checking in. Before I knew it, reception was offering me shots of local distilled spirits for free and my name was signed up for a pub crawl by a group of English lads. So much for my sightseeing plans!
A group of us set out in search of dinner and ended up having a basic tourist meal and a couple of delicious local beers for very good value near Vilnius’ old town square. On the way back to the hostel we picked up beers from the wide selection available at the Supermarket for incredible value. Given the wonderful social nature of the hostel this led to everyone playing drinking games in the hostel, rather than going on the pub crawl, until it was so late and we were so loud that we were forced to leave the hostel and create our own mini pub-crawl around town.
The next day, after a lengthy sleep-in, four of us went to the Meat Lovers Pub for Lunch. We had actually tried going to the Meat Lovers Pub the previous day for dinner but every table had either been full or reserved. Since we arrived for a late lunch there was a table available and we were treated to a wonderful beer menu and lots of meaty meal options. The Meat Lovers Pub held up its namesake as I was treated to an excellent hamburger as well as a couple pints of delicious local beer. After lunch, a friendly couple from Australia and I went to the main square for delicious local ciders and people watching. The area was filled with people and we were able to watch locals push 1950s styled prams while young children chased pigeons around the square. Vilnius’ old town is small but also nice and quiet – it definitely does not feel as touristic as Riga or Tallinn’s old towns making it an enjoyable place to explore or just relax, as we did.
That evening, I recruited a group from the hostel to go to a bar called Bambalyne for beers. Bambalyne is a very cool little cellar bar that had been recommended to me for local beers and meats. Bambalyne features several refrigerators filled with beers making it the perfect place for any beer aficionado to sample a variety Lithuanian brews. The girl working the bar was extremely helpful and pointed me in the direction of several delicious beers based on the flavor profile I described. The atmosphere in the cellar was great as families and children and pets were all welcome to hang out and socialize. A small local boy took a liking to our group and, after taking a great photo on the stairs with us, began to cry due to our leaving. It is nice to feel welcomed by locals rather than scorned as I have commonly felt in cities which are more popular among tourists.
Although I did not spend a lot of time exploring the museums or tourist sites of Vilnius, I definitely acquired a good feel for the city and its culture. I also loved returning to the backpacker social hostel life after a lengthy hiatus and met some wonderful people along the way. I would certainly return to Vilnius in the future and can imagine it would be a wonderful place to spend a long period of time given how receptive people seem to be towards foreigners.