Best.Day.Ever. in Vilnius, Lithuania with Urban Adventures

Urban Adventures is a division of Intrepid Travel and offers tours in 153 cities around the world. All Urban Adventures tour guides are locals and have intimate knowledge of the cities they’re representing. Unique tours are offered in each city, ranging from historic walking tours to hands-on cooking classes, and there is also the possibility of designing a customized tour for your group. Because we do our best to interact with locals wherever we travel, I chose an Urban Adventures tour for my family when we were in Vilnius, Lithuania. My husband is of Lithuanian descent (hence, so are my children) so it was important to us to have an authentic experience. Who better to give us a taste of Lithuanian life than a local Lithuanian?

Our tour guide, Vilija, is a lifelong resident of Vilnius. Before our tour began, Vilija took the time to get to know all of us, including my children. She took into account their ages and advised that we might stray from the published tour itinerary. Vilija knew as well as we did that the kids probably wouldn’t be too keen to walk for hours on end. I certainly appreciated the consideration and, it turns out, that would be the first of several actions taken by Vilija throughout the day to absolutely personalize our tour. She was very mindful of the kids’ waning interest in certain places and topics, and knew to mix things up a bit when they started becoming restless. For this reason, we all had a blast, and I believe Vilija did, too.

We spent most of the time in the Old Town of Vilnius, one of the largest surviving medieval old towns in Northern Europe. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, given such designation because of preservation efforts, diverse architecture, and its medieval layout and natural setting.

Vilnius Old Town | Vilnius, Lithuania

Churches of St. Anne & St. Francis

The highlight for me was hanging out in Užupis, the independent republic that exists within Vilnius city limits. Užupis was one place I definitely wanted to see so I was thrilled when we made our way there. Formed by a group of bohemian artists and eccentrics, Užupis was declared a republic in 1997. It has its own flag, anthem, constitution, and Independence Day – celebrated annually on April 1 (truly, no foolin’). Vilija knew it was important for me to see Užupis so she was sure to take us around every corner and to point out some obscure landmarks. She even made sure the kids got to “ride” the giant rocking zebra. Not a horse, but a zebra. Well, it seems it once was a unicorn zebra that may have lost its horn. At any rate, the kids thought it was the best thing ever. (I plan to write more about Užupis at a later date, so stay tuned!)

Užupis | Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilija, the kids, and the giant rocking horse/zebra/unicorn in Užupis

Lithuanian bread, butter, cured meat, and picklesMy husband, being of Lithuanian descent, had asked Vilija a number of questions about Lithuanian food. He was curious to know if what his grandmother, great-aunt, and mother cooked at home when he was growing up was similar to modern Lithuanian cuisine. Vilija answered honestly and did us one better: she took us to a street market just outside Užupis so we could try some Lithuanian staples. Vilija procured samples for us from the vendors and communicated, on our behalf, with those who did not speak English. The vendors were more than willing to provide us with sample after sample, and we reciprocated by purchasing a healthy supply of delicious items. The various breads were scrumptious and Mark was a big fan of the cured meats and lard (sounds gross, I know, but it was pretty darn tasty). Vilija explained that a common snack is a toasted piece of  bread with butter, the cured meat (or lard), and sliced pickles. Guess what we had for breakfast the next morning?

As we walked, Vilija recounted her first-hand experiences of the early 1990s when Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Things didn’t go smoothly; in 1991, the USSR imposed a fuel embargo and Soviet troops killed Lithuanian civilians in an attack at the Vilnius TV Tower. Months later, in September of 1991, the USSR finally recognized Lithuanian independence. As a young American student, I remember hearing news stories of what was happening in Lithuania and the former Soviet Union but I couldn’t personally relate. Vilija certainly could, and I was moved by her stories.

Vilija shared with us another special memory from her childhood. She wanted the kids to try a particular ice cream treat that, nowadays, is sold in only one shop in Vilnius (well, one shop that Vilija knows of). It warmed my heart that Vilija was intent on doing something so special for my kids. The gesture was not lost on Lucia; she’s still talking about that ice cream!

We ended our day with Vilija at the top of the bell tower of St. John’s Church at Vilnius University. It was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day, so we had unobstructed 360-degree views of the city. After spending almost the entire day exploring much of Vilnius on foot, the aerial view was a fitting conclusion to our tour. Before parting ways with Vilija, she asked the kids if they had fun. Lucia wasted no time in exclaiming, “It was the BEST.DAY.EVER.”

Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius from St. John’s Church bell tower

My family and I received a complimentary tour from Vilnius Urban Adventures. All words and opinions about our experience are genuine and, as always, my own.


Urban Adventures | Vilnius, Lithuania

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19 Responses to Best.Day.Ever. in Vilnius, Lithuania with Urban Adventures

  1. Meg Jerrard September 17, 2016 at 8:50 am #

    Wow, I haven’t heard of Urban Adventures before, but obviously like anyone, am a big fan of Intrepid travel. I LOVE that the focus here is on employing local tour guides – I’ve too often been on city tours which are led by expat students who haven’t been there for that long. Having a local guide who has grown up there gives it a whole different experience, they have an intimate knowledge of the place which it sounds like you guys were able to take full advantage of 🙂

    Thanks for the intro to both Urban Adventures and Vilnius 🙂

  2. Jessica The Dining Traveler September 17, 2016 at 10:45 am #

    Love personalized tours where you really get the know the tour guide, it seems that was the case with Vilija. Random question: did you need a passport to get into Uzupis?

    • Francesca September 17, 2016 at 10:53 am #

      That’s a GREAT question. No, we did not need our passports to get into Uzupis, but how fun would that be if we did??

  3. Natasha September 18, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

    We had a great time in Vilnius as well! We spent about a week there and just never wanted to leave. Like yours, my favorite part was also Uzupis – I just loved strolling in and out of all the cafes there!

  4. Sia September 18, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

    I definitely have to go back to Vilnius during the warm months. I think the weather in February kinda spoiled my impression. The old town is quite nice but the highlight for me was also Uzupis and I would love to see it more lively in the summer for example. I still remember some of the lines from their constitution.

  5. Robin September 19, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    This was so interesting. How dod you learn of Užupis in the first place? This sounds like an incredible tour company, too. can’t wait to read more on Užupis!

    • Francesca September 19, 2016 at 7:18 pm #

      Thanks, Robin. I first learned of Užupis a few years ago, long before we were planning our trip to Vilnius. It just seemed like an interesting and fun place, and it is!

  6. Vyjay September 20, 2016 at 12:13 am #

    Vilnius is so picturesque. It seems to have leaped straight out off a fairy tale. The Churches look so immaculate and beautiful too, I am sure you had a great time and the kids did too.

  7. Keryn September 20, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

    That castle is just stunning. Looks like a princess should be in there waiting for her prince.

    • Mart September 22, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

      Castle? All I can see is a church.

  8. Dannielle | While I'm Young and Skinny September 21, 2016 at 10:00 am #

    I didn’t know that Intrepid Travel did this too! I’m so with you, local guides offer an insight you’d never otherwise get. Especially handy that she could translate to the vendors too!

  9. Lara Dunning September 21, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    I LOVE how personalized this tour was and that the guide made extra efforts to make sure everyone had a wonderful experience. A great guide can make a huge difference in the experience and make the history, food, and culture of a place come alive. I will remember Urban Adventures when I’m traveling for tours.
    Lara Dunning recently posted…Cave-Aged Cheese, River Time and Hammerschlagen on the Minne-Roadtrip to Faribault, MNMy Profile

  10. Paula - Gone with the Wine September 21, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

    Very cool! I would love to visit here someday. I love the old, historic buildings and baltic atmosphere. The closest I have been is Latvia. This just goes to show that there are so many places to visit, but so little time…

  11. Lillie September 21, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

    So funny — I was just talking with another traveler about Urban Adventures. I’d never heard of it before, but I like Intrepid and I like day tours, so it’s neat to know about this branch of the company!
    Lillie recently posted…The Best Reclining Umbrella Stroller for Travel and HomeMy Profile

  12. Carol Colborn September 21, 2016 at 11:02 pm #

    That must have been an awesome tour from a local about Bilnius and your husband’s old old country! Looks like the kids had fun, too!

  13. Sher September 22, 2016 at 12:18 am #

    I really loved Lithuania – the castle is just fairy tale like!


  14. Victoria September 23, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

    I would love to travel to all 3 of the Baltic republics as we used to call them in the USSR (although as a Russian speaker I might not get as friendly reception?) 1991 was painful year for many republics – the whole country was falling apart. Politics aside- your family had a great day with an awesome tour guide!

  15. Traveling Ted September 24, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    I look forward to Bonjour Amigo’s post on this and the ice cream. This was quite a trip. Seemed like you were gone forever.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…My three favorite Canadian citiesMy Profile

  16. Erin Marie Musich October 4, 2016 at 9:38 am #

    I’ve always wanted to do a tour with Urban Adventures – by the sound of this, I should hop on it. Sounds like an amazing day! I love that photo of Lucia!
    Erin Marie Musich recently posted…Exploring Rockland, MaineMy Profile

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