Vilnius (vil-nyus), the baroque beauty of the Baltic, is a city of immense allure. As stunning as it is bizarre, it easily tops the country’s best-attraction bill, drawing tourists like moths to a flame with an easy, confident charm and a warm, golden glow that makes one wish for long midsummer evenings every day of the year.
The capital may be a long way north and east, but it’s quintessentially continental. At its heart is Europe’s largest baroque old town, so precious that Unesco added it to its World Heritage list. Viewed from a hot air balloon, the skyline – pierced by countless Orthodox and Catholic church steeples – looks like a giant bed of nails. Adding to this heady mix is a combination of cobbled alleys, crumbling corners, majestic hilltop views, breakaway states and traditional artists’ workshops – all in a city so small you’d sometimes think it was a village.
It has not always been good and grand here though. There are reminders of loss and pain too, from the horror of the KGB’s torture cells to the ghetto in the centre of all this beauty where the Jewish community lived before their mass wartime slaughter. Yet the spirit of freedom and resistance has prevailed, and the city is forging a new identity, combining the past with a present and future that involves world cuisine, a burgeoning nightlife and shiny new skyscrapers.
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