February 7, 2024 – Vilnius, Lithuania. As the winter season is rolling into its last month, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, offers residents and visitors alike a final opportunity to enjoy the city's winter activities. The experiences range from ice skating in the courtyard of the Palace of the Grand Dukes to escaping to Bokšto SPA for deep relaxation and rejuvenation in a Baroque-style setting.
Icy Vilnius: Urban Rink and Lakeside Skating Around a Castle
Every year, Vilnius’ open-air ice rink changes its location, and this winter ice skating enthusiasts are invited to the historical Palace of the Grand Dukes where the 700 sq.m. skating rink holds at least eight daily skating sessions. No matter the skill, everyone has an opportunity to glide through ice against the majestic backdrop of the historic building that was one of the main residences of the rulers of the joint electoral state of Lithuania and Poland (the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth), next to the palaces of Krakow and Warsaw.
History lovers can also take a train to Trakai, only 30 km from Vilnius, where a skating rink overlooking the 14th-century Trakai Castle on the island of Lake Galvė is located. Gliding across the rink, framed by the castle's historic architecture, allows skaters to immerse themselves in both the serene nature and the rich history of the town. If that is not enough for a day trip, the ice skating session can be easily followed by a tour inside the castle and warming lunch at Senoji Kibininė or Kybynlar, local traditional restaurants serving kibinai, savory Karaim pastries filled with meat or vegetarian alternatives, which Trakai is famous for.
Skiing and Snowboarding in Vilnius' Winter Playground
Anyone wishing to spend some time on the slopes can go to Liepkalnis Skiing Center, located on the highest summit of Vilnius, which was elevated artificially. It took 18 years for Liepkalnis to grow and attain the status of the highest peak. Locals now have an opportunity to easily access the ski resort atmosphere right after finishing work, and visitors can take a short ride straight from the city center.
It boasts 10 slopes available for skiing and snowboarding, ranging from 90m to 400m. The ski gear is available to rent at the resort, and beginners can also book ski lessons. The skiing experience is made more special by panoramic views of the surrounding nature, the Old Town, the TV tower, and other major city sights. The on-site Apres Ski bar offers warming winter beverages, oven-baked pizza, and the view of skiers and snowboarders descending the beginner’s slope which makes it comfortable for parents to watch their little ones learning a new skill.
Traditional Sauna on a Former Prison Grounds
The sauna culture is a renowned tradition in Lithuania, and Vilnius offers a variety of experiences, both traditional and modern. Vytautas Mušã Gongã (Vytautas Beats the Gong), is among the latest additions, attracting locals and tourists alike. It’s located in the courtyard of Lukiškės Prison, a former prison, initially constructed as a tsarist prison during the Russian Empire, and lately transformed into a cultural hub.
People find it easy to enjoy the sauna without special preparation as it offers the whole package – from towels, slippers, ponchos and sauna hats, brushwood, and aromas to drinks, snacks, and skilled sauna masters ready to enhance the sauna experience in both private and public sessions. Vilnius also hosts such modern public saunas in tranquil park settings like Vingis Park, on the city's outskirts, and near one of its oldest markets – Kalvariju.
SPA Treatments in Historical Cellars
Another way to escape the winter chill is a spa day. For five-star treatments in a historical setting, some head to SPA PACAI, which has officially been recognized as the best hotel spa in Lithuania at the prestigious World Spa Awards. It’s situated in the Gothic cellars of the historical palace of Lithuanian nobles Pacai, reconstructed in 2018 following Baroque principles. Spa visitors travel back in time as soon as they set foot in the Baroque courtyard and then see such historic echoes as the fragments of the cellar’s Gothic walls and stairs.
Located beneath one of the oldest Vilnius courtyards, the recently revived Bokšto Skveras complex, Bokšto SPA epitomizes the fusion of Baroque-style authenticity and inventive design solutions. Beyond its historical significance, Bokšto SPA is the most spacious day spa in Vilnius Old Town, boasting a 25-meter swimming pool and a lush Japanese garden. It has numerous relaxation spaces and attributes commonly associated with expansive spa centers found outside the city.
Cold-Weather Cuisine: Indulging in Lithuanian Winter Warmers
In Lithuania, there’s no shortage of comforting winter food that can make the winter season warm and cozy. One such feel-good food is cepelinai, or zeppelins, a beloved classic that’s served on many Lithuanian tables. Zeppelins are large potato dumplings filled with minced meat, mushrooms, vegetables, or other filling. A traditional Lithuanian restaurant Lokys offers pork zeppelins and their vegetarian version where minced meat filling is replaced by curd. At the restaurant Etno Dvaras, one can also savor such traditional potato-based dishes as grated potato pancakes with mushroom sauce and potato pudding.
Džiaugsmas restaurant, a twice-winner of the Best Restaurant in Lithuania award, offers a modern take on dishes prepared with traditional Lithuanian produce. All ingredients used here are sourced locally from the Tymas farmer’s market which means that its menu is dependent on what the land offers. This winter, its visitors can taste such warming meals as dumplings with potatoes and mascarpone, chicken broth sauce, and oyster mushrooms. Ertlio Namas is also known for its contemporary interpretations of traditional Lithuanian dishes and serves such historical meals as a goose with cabbage and hazelnut sauce. Their menu can transport food lovers back to the Medieval Ages, Baroque, Renaissance, and Enlightenment periods.