Image by Lukas Jonaitis / 500px Images

Vilnius

There is a dreamy quality to Vilnius (vil-nyus), especially in the golden glow of a midsummer evening. Lithuania's capital has an Old Town of rare authenticity: marvellously intact, its pebbly streets are lined with weather-worn period buildings that hide cafes, boutiques and dainty guesthouses.

Vilnius doesn't hide its battle scars. The city was once nicknamed the 'Jerusalem of the north' but its Jewish community was largely destroyed in WWII. Reminders of loss are everywhere: museums dedicated to the Holocaust, former ghettos, preserved KGB torture chambers and cemeteries filled with the war dead.

Though a capital city, Vilnius feels much like an overgrown village. It's carpeted with green spaces, which cover around 40% of its area, and studded with venerable Catholic and Orthodox church spires. But this is no Eastern European antique: artists, punks and a self-declared micro-nation keep Vilnius cutting-edge.

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