If you wake up in the morning, go over to the window, and find Vilnius outside you must have done something right in life. This place is, by far, the best city of its size that I’ve been to in over 16 years of travel through 69 countries.
These are big words, but I can back them with a simple “Go there, then tell me if I’m wrong.”
The city is the perfect mix of the ancient and modern, international and local — rather than rejecting one extreme for another, this place seems to absorb and embrace them all. The sharp line between the old town and the new even seems permeable.
Contrasting with Riga or even Tallinn, Vilnius’s old town is still a vibrant residential/educational/commercial (i.e. real) center. It has tourism capacities, to be sure, but it hasn’t been converted to a place that serves the sole function of peddling things to international passersby.
There is a university right in the middle of the old town, which provides a good mix of people — tourists and students generally want the same things: places to hang out, eat, drink beer, and sip coffee. This also keeps the prices in the range of normal and the street show that often accompanies tourist zones at bay.
People smile at people here when they make eye contact. This is an extreme deviation from many other Baltic and former Soviet states — or many other places in the world for that matter.
Is this the place we’ve all been looking for?