Destination Information - Vilnius, Lithuania
"The capital looks truly marvellous and noble", wrote the German naturalist and travel writer George Foster when he visited Vilnius in 1784. Over two centuries later this comment still rings true - in fact the city appears to have changed little since then.
The old town of Lithuania's capital is without doubt one of the largest and most beautiful medieval quarters in Europe containing a plethora of Renaissance, Gothic and baroque architecture. Although there are records of a settlement on this site at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia rivers dating back to before Christ, Vilnius was officially founded in 1323 by Grand Duke Gediminas and became a prominent royal city.
The numerous streets and buildings from the early centuries of the city's history have been marvellously well preserved, its churches in particular displaying a fantastic array of architectural styles. The castle, though now only a ruin, peers down over Vilnius from atop a hill, its formidable 15th-century tower a stark reminder of its former glory.
Though the old town is indisputably the prettiest area of the city and warrants at least a day's exploration, Vilnius is not just a museum piece. In fact the "new town" wasn't built until the 19th century and for some visitors more recent relics from the Soviet era make it all the more fascinating. Most obvious of these is the TV Tower, a monstrosity without a doubt, but a notable one nonetheless which affords great views over the whole area. More interesting for anyone who's ever had a fascination with Stalinism is the KGB Museum, and its grisly exhibits telling the horrible truth about the former Soviet agency, and its outrageous methods of extracting the truth from its captives.
Not far from Vilnius is Lithuania's predominantly unspoiled countryside where you can visit castles, spa towns and rolling hills, all within easy reach of the vibrant and lively capital.