4) $PLATFORM=1; else $PLATFORM=2; } elseif (preg_match("/MSIE (\d)/i",$HTTP_USER_AGENT,$v)) { $browser="msie"; if (($version=$v[1])>4) $PLATFORM=1; else $PLATFORM=2; } elseif (preg_match("/Mozilla(?:\/|\s)(\d)/i",$HTTP_USER_AGENT,$v)) { $browser="navigator"; if (($version=$v[1])>4) $PLATFORM=1; else $PLATFORM=2; } else { $browser="other"; $version="unknown"; $PLATFORM=2; } } ?> Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania Works to Greet New Wave of Tourism

What is old is new again in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. If the two of you find yourselves in this quickly-changing city of nearly 600,000 residents, you'll discover a destination that's hip, happening, and eager to greet travelers.

New not only to the WTO and NATO, Lithuania joined the European Union on May 1, 2004, all moves that officials feel that, after decades of Soviet occupation, will put this northern European country back in the minds of visitors.

Much of that activity will take place in Vilnius, notable not only as the country's largest city and its capital but as a location situated just 26 kilometers from the geographic center of Europe. When Lithuania took its place in the EU, the geographic center site was marked with a column of white granite, a symbolic marker of a location that Lithuania hopes will make this destination a focal point for travelers.

If it does, this will not be the first time for Vilnius to be at the center of Europe's attention. Founded in 1009, this destination became the largest state in Europe in the 13th century, growing in power for almost a hundred years. Later annexation by Russia meant a struggle to maintain Lithuania's language, religion, and culture, a fight which continued into the 20th century. Although the country enjoyed a brief development as an independent republic between the two World Wars, WWII again brought about Soviet occupation. Eventually Lithuania became one of the first republics to break free of the Soviet Union with the collapse of the Soviet Block in 1991, finally seeing the departure of the last soldier two years later. Today the Baltic state is an independent democratic republic, governed from the inland city of Vilnius.

New Growth

If your last visit to Vilnius was during the Soviet era, you'll find a far different city these days, one where Lenin statues and the boring buildings seen throughout the Communist block have been replaced by a busy nightlife scene, symbols of Roman Catholicism, and a lively architecture which includes everything from hotels to shops.

The new growth in Vilnius is, however, a planned growth, one that takes advantage of the expertise of Canadian urban planning consultants brought in to assist with the task in 1998. The city has drawn up a master plan which maps out development through the year 2015. The plan works to achieve an important Vilnius objective: to make the city a crossroads for the European Union for business. Plans call for the construction of over 80 new hotels by 2015 to handle the anticipated demand.

Historic Memories

For all its changes, Vilnius still honors its often turbulent past. Today the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, notable especially for its architecture including many churches (so many it is often called "The Northern Jerusalem") and medieval courtyards.

One of the city's biggest attractions is Saints Peter and Paul Church, a baroque church constructed in the 17th century. Inside nearly 2,000 statues portray historic, mythological, and Biblical figures.

Another historic attraction is the University of Vilnius, one of Europe's oldest, dating back to 1579. With many professionals at the university (as well as at over half a dozen other universities across the city), Vilnius continues its long tradition of expertise in the fields of science, publishing, and art, a history which earned the city the nickname "The Northern Athens."

Getting There

Getting to Vilnius is easier than ever thanks to a new passenger terminal at Vilnius International Airport, an airport that sees about 320,000 passengers annually. The primary carrier is Lithuanian Airlines with additional service including SAS, Lufthansa, Finnair, British Airways, and others. Excellent rail connections are also available through Vilnius Central station, serving over 7.5 million passengers annually to rail centers across Europe.

For More Information:

  • US Embassy in Lithuania
    www.usembassy.lt
  • Embassy of Lithuania
    2622 16th St., NW
    Washington, DC 20009
    202-234-5860
  • Consulate General
    420 Fifth Ave.
    New York, NY 10018
    212-354-7849
  • Lithuanian State Department of Tourism
    A.Juozapaviciaus 13
    LT-09311 Vilnius, Lithuania
    (+370 5) 210 87 96
    Fax (+370 5) 210 87 53
    www.tourism.lt

Photo:Vilnius, iStockPhoto.com