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Vilnius, Lithuania: For Digital Nomads and Travel

What's the capital of Lithuania? Lith-a-what-nia? Many people, including have no idea where Vilnius is, even where Lithuania is. That included me until just a few months ago. But sitting here in a cafe in the city center of Vilnius writing this, I can confidently say that wow, this is a great city and country. It's beautiful, safe, has great food, low costs of living, great transportation, cheap flights, great food, beer, and awesome people. Geographically, it's a Baltic state, a former Soviet bloc nation, and borders Poland, Latvia and Belarus. Culturally it's divided into the older generation of people who grew up speaking Russian and living in the former USSR, and the younger population who grew up as part of the EU.

In most cases, anyone under 25 speaks Lithuanian and very good English, which makes it super easy to travel here. For me it was also convenient that I could speak to anyone over 30 in Russian, but in general, unless you are traveling outside of the city center shops, you can get by in just English as most people in the service industry are quite young here. Aside from language, Vilnius has incredible infrastructure including great internet, public transport, walkability, bike lanes, and on demand rentals of cars, electric scooters, and bikes. Keep reading for why Lithuania might be the perfect blend of the benefits of Western Europe while having some of the left over cultural aspects of the soviet influences.






Getting to Vilnius



One of the best things about Vilnius is how easy it is to get here from anywhere in Europe and how cheap and easy it is to use it as a home base to travel from. First off, the airport is only a 20 minute, €5.20 Uber ride to the city center, making it super quick and convenient. They have direct flights to and from Barcelona, Berlin, Dublin, London, Madrid, Oslo, Rome, Milan, Warsaw, and from Lviv and Kiev on low cost carriers like Ryan and Wizz Air. Personally I flew round trip from Ukraine for just $28.28 (740.40uah) using my Wizz Discount Club card that I had bought last summer.

Travel Hack: You can pay the $30 annual fee every other year, if you plan ahead and buy all of your flights before it expires, even if you don't fly until later that year.

Aside from that you can also take a 4 and a half hour bus from Riga, Latvia for €15 or less which is quite popular. It makes sense to go to both countries while you're around since they are relatively close and cheap, but honestly, there's not a huge reason to aside from just checking off a country visited box. I'd personally rather spend more time in one place to explore and get to know the culture and people instead of moving around quickly just to say that I've been there.

Once you arrive, it's relatively easy for most people as Lithuania is part of the EU and the Schengen Zone. For Americans and many other nationalities, we get 90 days automatically upon arrival, good for every 180 days. This means, we can stay for a total of 3 months in the Schengen/EU every 6 months. That's a big reason why I've spent so much time in Ukraine as visa wise, I couldn't have stayed in Europe for the entire six months of summer without it.



schengen zone


Flying the low cost carrier Wizz Air


Why Come to Vilnius



It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why you should come here, or better yet, base yourself here for months a time as an expat or digital nomad, but I think the main attraction would be a good mixture of balance. Lithuania isn't perfect for any one thing, but it has a good balance of low costs of living, easy communication in English, friendly people, good food, nice bars, tasty beer, easy transportation, nature, safety, good internet, clean streets, and an overall good lifestyle makes it a great place.

For the months of May-September, the weather in Vilnius is perfect. It never gets too hot even at peak summer in July with an average temperature of 26C/78F during the day, allowing you to have sunny afternoons at the lake and a cool 13C/55F at night which means you never need to turn on A/C at night to have a comfortable night's sleep. The tap water is drinkable and unlike most of Europe, you don't need to waste plastic or money buying bottles of mineral water at home or at restaurants. You can either ask for a free glass of tap water, or for a reasonable price of €1-2.50 you can order a liter of table water which is usually flavored with lemons, limes and herbs.

Vilnius isn't too busy, but has plenty of great restaurant, bars, and beautiful people walking around. Like seriously, in the hour of sitting here in a cafe writing this, I've seen a dozen girls come in to order coffee who could all be models. Similar to Ukraine, Lithuanians walk a lot, and even though their food is heavily based on potatoes and starch, people tend not to overeat junk food, which keeps them thin. Both men and women here in Lithuania are extremely tall as well, with the average being 181.3 cm, 5 '11 1⁄2" for men and 167.5cm/5'6 for women, which is almost 3 inches taller than the average American. So whether you're into tall men, or women, this may be the country for you.

Almost everyone under 25 speaks English relatively fluently, and maybe the best I've heard of any non-native English speaking country aside from Holland and Sweden. And since Lithuanian is such a difficult language, no one will expect you to speak it, so don't worry about coming across as rude when you start a conversation or order something using English. By simply saying Ačiū (the sneezing sound of Ah-Chu) for thank you is enough to make people happy that you tried. Here's a video tour of what life in Vilnius and the surrounding cities here in Lithuania is like. I filmed it over a week throughout Vilnius, Kaunas and the lakeside town of Trakai. Check it out!








Things to do in Vilnius



As with all cities in Europe, my favorite way to get to know a new country, their culture, history and some sights is by taking a free walking tour when I first arrive.  There are a few different ones, but the one I went with and recommend is called Vilnius with Locals. They have two main tours a day, which takes you through the Old Town and the unrecognized so-called "country" of Užupis which is similar to Freetown Christiania in Denmark, but even more of a just for fun joke here. The tour was excellent, our guide was a local and was fantastic. It was great to know the history, understand the architecture, culture and to see the city by foot. With all "free" walking tours, you don't pay anything upfront, and can just tip anywhere between €5-10 euros at the end depending on the group size and how good the guide was. They also offer a free "alternative tour" which I didn't get a chance to do but would have liked to check out.

If you're into museums, art galleries, and sightseeing, then consider getting the Vilnius Pass which grants you free access to a bunch of places and discounts on others. But first check to see where you'd actually go to calculate if it'll be worth getting or not as since I hate the idea of hop on hop off buses, and don't enjoy many of the traditional tourist attractions, it wouldn't have been worth it for me to get. Also, one of my favorite things to do besides the walking tour, was actually just to bike around the city, along the river and go to the Bernardine Park just inside the city. I also went to their local gym called MyFitness Kalvarijų three times during my week trip through the TrainAway app, which made it super easy to buy day passes and not fall out of routine.

As for nightlife, even though Vilnius use to be a stag do and lads on tour hotspot when RyanAir first started flying from the UK a few years ago and before Lithuania got on the Euro, but those days are long gone. Most clubs don't allow in large groups, especially if they have already been drinking or are part of a bachelor party. It's a bit like Berlin and other big cities where face control at nightclubs and not allowing people in based on the race, nationality or gender is still allowed and tolerated. Luckily, I actually hate loud clubs anyways so I didn't have to deal with getting in our not, and instead, enjoyed smaller local bars and pubs which are all around the city including Alaus Biblioteka, Baras Baziliskas, Būsi Trečias, Šnekutis, and Špunka which all have local craft beers. Funny enough, my favorite beer there was a locally made American style IPA called Bocmano Ūsai which I had at a bar called The Portobello.



Our guide on the Vilnius Free Tour

A main meeting point in Vilnius



Where to Eat in Vilnius



The food in Lithuania has been fantastic! I was kind of expecting it to be similar to Polish, Russian or even German food, as I knew they were famous for potatoes, but was happily surprised at the variety. Yes, they love their meat and potatoes, but just when I thought I had tasted every way of cooking, I was pleasantly surprised here to try something new and different. So if you've ever wanted to try 50 different ways of potato preparation, then Lithuania is your place to go!

To be honest, I was expecting to hate potatoes by the end of the trip, but since there is so much variety in preparation, even for the same dish at different restaurants, I never really got tired of them. I'd also switch it up by having the occasional Wok to Walk stir fry or meat and salad dish, but in general, I always looked forward to having more traditional lithuanian food. A few items that you must try while you're here include their standard potato pancakes called Bulviniai blynai. They are often stuffed with different types of vegetables, cheese or meat and served with sour cream and bacon sauce...yes, you heard that right, bacon sauce! A good place to start is the traditional chain restaurant, Etno Dvaras which is in both Vilnius and Kaunas. The food was very good, had great service and was a great place to start.

After you've had a taste of the mainstream, for your next meal, head over to Restaurant Gabi, which is built in an old artisan's cottage. There you can get the Lithuanian selection which is €22 for two people and gives you a mix of different traditional potato dishes, meat sausages, fried dumplings, pickled vegetables and sauces. There were two local restaurants near each other that seemed like they would be great as they are just outside of the city center in a residential neighborhood that I was looking forward to but were both just okay and not worth mentioning here. Lithuania is a strange place where a lot of restaurants close within a year or two, and the good ones are actually directly in the city center. At one of them I had potato sausages which were terrible, maybe it was just the place I went called Žemaičių ąsotis, but after that I'd be hesitant to ever order it again. They did have good fried bread snacks called Kepta Duona though, which is good with beer, but I'm sure you can have good versions of it at any bar.

But thankfully, the next day for lunch, I found the best potato cepelinai, which are nicknamed zeppelins because of the shape. It was a small restaurant inside Halle Market, that also served Asian fusion soups like Tom Yum, which was a big random. But either way, their zeppelins tasted extremely homemade and were by far the best I had during my time in Lithuania. Highly recommended. It was also there that I had my first cold beet soup (Šaltibarščiai), which confusingly they refer to as Borscht even though it tastes nothing like the Ukraine or Russian versions. It was good and worth trying at least once. Last but not least, if you're here during the summer, make sure you pick up a few half kilos of different berries. I love that the market here has everything clearly labeled with prices unlike in other countries like Ukraine where it's easy to get overcharged as a tourist at markets like this.



Bulviniai blynai (potato pancakes) at Etos

Apkepti cepelinai at Ethos


Lithuanian Selection at Gabi

Zeppelins and Cold Borscht at Halle Market

Fruit Stands at Halle Market



Where to Stay in Vilnius



The nice thing about Vilnius is the fact that everything is relatively close and easy to get to. Sam, Kristin and I, somehow ended up living in exact opposite directions from each other, almost like a triangle with each Airbnb in opposite corners. However, going out and meeting up was never a problem as there are so many ways to get around Vilnius and almost nothing is further than 20-25 minutes away by foot, bus, scooter, bike or taxi.

I stayed at the cheapest private room on Airbnb I could find, at only $15 a night (incuding fees) in the upper left hand side of the blue circle at the corner of Pamenkalnio and Tauro street. Sam stayed at a super modern two story apartment for $1,300 a month directly in the heart of the center just above all of the restaurants and cafes on the main street at Pilies gatvė 6. Kristin stayed a nice place closer to the bottom of the blue circle for around $50 a night. It's nice that Vilnius has a range of prices to suit everyone's budget and desired level of comfort and luxury. Speaking with locals the average rent for living in the city center is around $450-500 a month, while living outside of the blue circle is usually in the $300-$350 a month range.

If I was living here for just 1-2 months I would stay in the city center within the blue circle as it'll make walking everywhere a breeze. It also makes it easy as you can hop on a scooter, or a shared city bike from almost anywhere and get home within 10 minutes. But if I planned to stay 3 months or longer, I'd look into a cheaper apartment anywhere on the map shown as they are all decent areas and still would be a €6 Uber ride anywhere you want to go. But if you're here as a tourist, make sure you stay within the blue circle, even if it means staying at a older looking Airbnb like I did. It made my entire Vilnius experience that much better being able to walk and bike everywhere.






Getting Around in Vilnius



One of my favorite things about the city is the ease of getting around. It makes it such a joy to be here. Similar to one of my favorite things about the time I spent in Warsaw and Krakow, Poland and many other places in Europe, is having the option of walking around the city, taking a cheap Uber, or taking a city share bike. Unlike some other cities where it's too hilly or crowded to want to do so, here in Vilnius, it's really easy to ride a bike, especially since they all come with gears. The only issue is that in order to register the program, you need to go through the worst registration program I've ever seen in my life.  Firstly, you can only register for the 3 day or less pass using the kiosk. The monthly pass, which is only €1 more has to be done through their horrible Cyclocity website. It isn't mobile responsive, wasting 25 minutes trying to register from my iPhone and having it now it didn't work.

I had to go home, use my laptop, then spend another 20 minutes registering through their terrible UX website that looks like it was built in 2002. Then you have to go get a physical card either at a tourist info station in the city or get a public transportation card. Then go back to a kiosk to activate it. Then FINALLY, after what took me 2 days and hours you can use it. However, the actual service itself once you get it registered is fantastic. There are bikes and stations everywhere, and for just €3.90, you can take any bike, anytime for free, as long as you park it again with 30 minutes. That means that you can pick up a bike from wherever you are, then ride anywhere in the blue circle city center, or even up to the skyscraper new city area for free. They're so easy to use once set up, that I've literally rode them just from station to station a few blocks away to save 10 minutes of walking, and honestly just because they are super fun. Going up hill is a workout, but with 3 gears, it's always been possible.

If you're somehow not near a cyclocity bike station, or if you're just going a few blocks and want the quickest possible option, you can use the CityBee app for electric bird type scooters. These you can leave anywhere (be courteous) so they're a fun option for getting around. That same app also allows you to rent cars and pay per minute and distance. It's a great option and i'm glad it's around, but with Uber, their local version called Bolt as well as the local 1 Euro buses, I don't ever see the need to rent a car myself.



Vilnius City Bikes

Riding a CityBee Scooter


Places to Visit in Lithuania 



One must visit place when you're in Vilnius is the nearby lakeside town of Traki. It's a short 35 minute, 2 euro bus ride from the bus station here in Vilnius. There are buses that leave ever 30 minutes or so, and once you get there, the town is small enough to walk around. If you are really lazy, you can even take an Uber all the way there or back for just €15. But the bus was fine. Just make sure you leave your luggage in Vilnius either at your Airbnb or the bus station storage as it's a tight squeeze inside the bus itself.

Once there in Traki, walk from the bus station up to the Trakai Island Castle. It's a beautiful place worth visiting, just to take photos and walk around without even going inside. Don't forget to bring a towel and stop for a swim in the lake on the way up. It's a great place to swim, the water is clean, and it's a shame to go all the way to the lakeside town without taking a dip. It's a 2km/1mile walk, and it's full of restaurants and shops. For dinner, we ate at Argo Restaurant which was right on the lake and the food was fantastic. You can even spend the night there which includes use of their Spa and breakfast. For us, we stayed at Traki Apartments but wouldn't recomend it. Instead, you can just make it a day trip and go back to Vilnius the same day as the sun doesn't set until late during the summer, sometimes as late as 10pm.

If you're a fan of the HBO series Chernobyl, you might be interested in checking out the district of Fabijoniškės where it was filmed.



We love Trakai =)

Sam jumping in to chase a swan

With a view of the Trakai Castle

Visiting Kaunas, Lithuania 


The other city we visited was Kanaus, which is the second largest city in Lithuania and their temporary captiail during their war with Poland. It's about 2 hours away by bus and was actually the first city I saw in Lithuania as we went straight from the airport in Vilnius (VNO) to the bus station to Kaunas. Little did I realize that with terrible planing, we would actually end up going through Vilnius again on our way from Kaunas to Trakai. This meant that I went through Vilnius a total of 3 times before even seeing it and sat on the bus much longer than necessary if we had planned just better. 

It's a super quite city with less than 300,000 residents, and it felt completely empty at times. It was overall very nice with a modern city center, and a nice old town. But I definitely regret going there as it was largely a waste of time going there for 1 night, especially since it wasn't actually on the way to Trakai as Sam had first told me. It was my fault for not doing the planning, but I had assumed that since he was here for 1 month before I arrived, that he would have known better. 

My recommendation would be to definitely visit Trakai at least on a day trip, but to skip Kaunas unless you're here for 3 or more weeks and just want a change of scenery. Another trip you can make it all the way to the western Baltic sea in our near the city of Klaipėda. It's something I didn't do during my 1 week trip, but would consider if I was staying for a month or longer. 






Trying to find things to do in Kaunas (there isn't much)


Costs of Living in Vilnius 



Life in Lithuania is polarizing. On one hand, it's still relatively cheap compared to the rest of the EU and compared to western Europe and especially compared to Denmark which it's geographically similar to. It's also much cheaper than it's big brother Estonia. The problem is however, like all counties that move from local currencies to using the Euro, prices shoot up quickly to match the rest of the European Union while salaries often don't. That's why over 100,000 citizens so far have left Lithuania to work in Western Europe where wages are higher and costs are relatively the same.

With Vilnius having just 544,386 in total population, having so many people leave the country has had a big impact and may be one of the reasons why the city often feels quite empty. During the workday, you can be in the city center and not see anyone for blocks at time or even any cars drive past. It's actually paradise for people who like to live in small cities without too many people, but still enough to do. Although prices and costs of living aren't extremely cheap like they are in Thailand or Ukraine, you can give a good life here, with Western European comforts for around €1,000 a month.

Compared to the costs of living in Scandinavia, the USA, Australia or Western Europe, this is a bargain as even though some things like a liter of milk being the exact same cost as other countries, things like public transport are 1/3 of the price. Below are the costs of living per category, I've converted it all to USD to make it more comparable to my other travel guides, but since they take the Euro here, things usually feel 15% cheaper than the data below as currently €1 = $1.15.




Costs of living and average salaries in Vilnius


Vilnius for Expats



With a population of just around half a million people, and more and more young people leaving Lithuania each year to work in other parts of the EU with higher wages, the country is quickly losing as much as it has gained. I fear it's what's going to happen if Ukraine ever joins the EU, people will just leave, and the rest of the country will overnight try to forget about their past, both the good and the bad alike.

As a tourist, Lithuania is worth visiting. But as an expat or a digital nomad, looking to travel longer term or live aboard, Vilnius is a fine place to live, but at the same time there isn't a huge reason to move there. Long term visas for Americans are hard as it's part of the Schengen zone, and since it's on the Euro, prices are 30% higher than comparable cities like Krakow, Warsaw or even Prague, especially at restaurants. For me, I'd much rather spend my time in cities like Kiev, Ukraine where visas are easier as it's outside of the EU/Schengen, and prices are at least 25% lower.

It's a strange situation where Vilnius is cheaper than most other western countries, but quite a bit more than Eastern Europe. Being right in the middle makes it both not bad, but also not great, as there's little reason to live here long term while other options are available.






Coworking and Digital Nomads



Vilnius is a relatively small city and isn't a hot spot for digital nomads. However, there's no reason it can't be, at least during the 6 months of summer. It has great infrastructure with fast internet everywhere. I really love that many cafes and restaurants have open wifi networks with no password at all, making it really easy to just log in without asking. The 4G here is great and super cheap and easy as well. Unlike other countries in the EU where you have to go through an annoying registration process, in Lithuania you can buy a SIM card at any shop, including the convenience store inside the airport.  The price is only €4.50 for 8GB of data is good for 30 days of use anywhere in the EU, although mine somehow stopped working after 3GB, but it was so cheap that I just bought another one and turned off my google photos cellular backup so I wouldn't accidently run out again.

Currently I'm sitting in the lobby of the Radisson Blu hotel working as they have great large windows, free wifi, and power outlets. I had to come towards here to try to find another EU power adapter as mine broke and they were impossible to find in the old town. Unfortunately even at big electronics store Topos Centras they didn't have any, so I had to take another bike to their Panorama mall. In total I had to go to 7 different shops to find one, but luckily I finally did at the knock off Apple store inside the mall. If you have all EU plugs, it's easy here, but if you're coming from the US, don't expect it to be easy. In countries like Ukraine, they are sold in every shop near a metro station, and in Thailand or Sri Lanka, it's a non-issue as all plugs are universal. It's another reminder that even the largest city in Lithuania isn't really setup for tourism, so come with duplicates of everything you might need. By joining the EU and making everything super official, Lithuania has lost the charm of small independent shops owners and streetside entrepreneurship.

As for coworking spaces, the best one is Vilnius Techpark which is priced well as 85 euros a month for coworking. It's the space I would join long term if I was living here. You can check out all the other coworking spaces in Vilnius on and get free day passes on Coworker here. But since I was only working a an hour or two a day during this trip, I would usually just work out of my Airbnb, in the hotel lobby, or at a local coffee shop such as Vero or Caffeine.


Recording a Podcast Episode (TLAB 226) at the Airbnb


Sam Recording ILAB Ep 123 at Startup Wiseguys


Overall Thoughts on Lithuania 



I actually really liked LIthuania and would happily live in Vilnius if I had to. Everything is relatively clean, safe, and life is relatively good for almost everyone. The city center has great bars, restaurants, parks and is all very walkable and bikeable. There is great nature nearby and things are relatively cheap and easy to get to. The internet is great and there are good cafes, wifi, and easy sim cards everywhere. The best part might be that everyone under 25, especially those working at restaurants and cafes, all speak fantastic English which makes it super easy to get around, do things, and meet locals.

However, that being said, unless I had a specific reason to live in Vilnius or Lithuania in general, I wouldn't. Yes, people can cheap English and are friendly, but they also adopted some of the annoying qualities of the west such as thinking it's okay to just ignore someone's message or calls as it's easier to just not answer than to say no or to be truthful. Talking to locals I've heard that "not answering is the same as no" happens to everyone and is just part of their culture now. Also, while it's overall nice that Lithuania has taken the good parts of the western world by joining the EU, they've also completely discarded any of the good parts of their soviet past. Little things like having local pop up shops everywhere are completely gone. That means that if you want to buy something, you need to go to the mall and hope they have it there. When my EU adapter broke and I couldn't charge my laptop, I had to go to seven different stores both inside the city center, then to two different malls across the river just to find another one for €10. In Ukraine, I could literally buy one on any random shop or in any metro station store for €1.50.

With everything mentioned in this blog post above, my thoughts on Vilnius are basically, it's fine. It's right in the middle in terms of costs of living, things to do, culture. It's neither great or bad, and I think that's the problem. If I wanted to spend my time in the Schengen zone and deal with both the visas and the Euro, I'd rather live in Lisbon, Spain, Gran Canaria, or Germany. If I wanted to live in Eastern Europe I'd rather live in Ukraine or even Poland. To put it simply, Lithuania is a good country worth visiting, but I'd prefer my drinks and culture either caliente hot, or ice cold, not somewhere in the middle. I'm glad I came, and would recomend those wanting a decent value and to get away from the crowds to come visit. I wouldn't think anyone was crazy for moving there, but it's also not a place where I'll even remember visiting in a few years time.


Read Next:


Expenses and Income Report from Vilnius 



Warm Regards,


Johnny FD






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  1. Have you been to Lithuania? Why or why not? What are your thoughts?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Theres a place i want to meet one day! Part of my family is from Vilnius :D Nice to see you like so much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Nati, I hope they make you some Lithuanian food! It was a great place.

      Delete

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