While Eastern Europe has been a popular destination for years, the Baltic States are often overlooked when it comes to the British tourist.

Perhaps, however, if you are looking for a largely unexplored country with everything to offer, you might find Lithuania to be a hidden gem.

It is roughly 8am on a Friday morning. I am standing in the middle of a field in Lithuania with an American man I have known for two hours lying on top of me. I’m now going to celebrate by having my hair set on fire and drinking a glass of red wine.

No, I have not got carried away while sampling some of the nightlife in the capital city of Vilnius. In fact, our party has just seen some of Lithuania’s beautiful countryside in a hot air balloon.

It is, or so I am told, traditional to have my forehead marked with mud like a scene from the Lion King before my hair is singed and immediately put out at the end of my first balloon flight. Perhaps then this should be considered a small price to pay for the stunning views of the landscape available from the sky.

The Argus: Lakes near Trakai by hot air balloonLakes near Trakai by hot air balloon (Image: The Argus)

In Trakai, a small town near the capital, we fly over serene lakes at sunrise and spot deer in the area’s vast forest.

After a landing involving being dragged through a field on our side (I am told by our pilot Davidas that this is perfectly normal), we dust ourselves off and head off to see more of the country’s sights.

'A wealth of culture'

Whether you want to see the sights or take in the history of the country, there are plenty of options.

Vilnius, Trakai and Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, are marked with nods to the 14th and 15th centuries. Back then, Lithuania was a major power in Eastern Europe controlling parts of modern-day Poland and Ukraine.

The cities are steeped in heritage and our Lithuanian guides are keen to point to the country’s heroes like former ruler Vytautas the Great as a big influence on their roots.

The Argus: Trakai island castleTrakai island castle (Image: The Argus)

In more recent history, what sticks out is how much was lost through occupation during the World War and later by the Soviet Union.

Vilnius past includes the creation of Jewish ghettos during Nazi occupation as well as Lukiskes Prison, a largely Soviet Prison used for over a century until 2019.

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Now a cultural centre with art, music and refreshments, guides go into detail about the horrors prisoners faced and get across the area’s gritty past.

The Argus: Lukiskes prison in VilniusLukiskes prison in Vilnius (Image: The Argus)

For the TV buffs, the prison was also used to film scenes in the most recent season of Stranger Things. Do not fear, though, as we couldn’t find any Demogorgons hiding in the shadows.

Stops in the country should definitely also include Trakai’s Island Castle and the Pazaislis Monastery on the outskirts of Kaunas.

'Comfort, class and taste in abundance'

We stayed in two different hotels and safe to say you are in good hands whatever your budget.

In Vilnius, our boutique four-star hotel Artagonist added a splash of luxury to our stay in the heart of the Old Town.

Comforts in our standard room room included a walk-in shower and a bed you will have no trouble falling right to sleep in. Art runs through the hotel and the friendly, helpful staff left us with no complaints about our stay.

The Argus: The Artagonist hotel in Vilnius Old TownThe Artagonist hotel in Vilnius Old Town (Image: The Argus)

In Kaunas, we were greeted by a hotel which caters for a slightly younger clientele.

Moxy, which has branches across the world, pairs sleek, stripped back rooms with vibrant social areas to kick back and relax.

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Here, the slightly more budget friendly option proved to be a pleasant stay. You do get what you pay for (compared to Artagonist the room felt slightly sparse) but for a short city break for the younger generations, it definitely fits the bill.

The Argus: Kaunas city centreKaunas city centre (Image: The Argus)

We found the food and drink options to be plentiful but there are certainly a few things to look out for.

For lunch, you should definitely try kepta duona, a fried black bread traditional to the country. You can serve with whatever you want, but the sour cream, garlic and cheese we had in Kaunas was delightful.

If you look for something more high end, 1918 in the Vilnius Old Town would be a place to start. As we were served such a varied tasting menu each dish was better than the last. The taco served with smoked mushroom was particularly fantastic.

The Argus: Fried black bread from KaunasFried black bread from Kaunas (Image: The Argus)

To finish, we had a seemingly unassuming little tart. The catch? It was served with frozen ants on top. However you think it tastes, the sour notes it added really elevated the dish.

If you have a taste for something stronger, you can also find an alcohol so strong that you are not allowed to fly it home with you.

Served in many places including DIA in Kaunas, the distilled version of mead takes as long as two years to make and has an alcohol content of 75 per cent.

Sipping is recommended and even then you will feel the burn but chase it with some water and you will find some lovely sweet notes to complement your meal.

The Argus: Zalgiris meadZalgiris mead (Image: The Argus)

Overall, Lithuania and all its treasures are a fantastic getaway for anyone wanting to discover the history of the Baltic States.

Whether you want to sightsee by air or take in the long and varied city culture, this country certainly has something for you and is somewhere I would thoroughly recommend.

We stayed at:

  • Artagonist Hotel, Vilnius - £100 per night
  • Moxy Kaunas Centre - £80 per night

We flew from:

  • London Luton to Vilnius – from £110

We ate at:

  • Vilnius: Stebuklai, 1918, Neringa Senoji Kibininė, Džiaugsmas - prices vary
  • Kaunas:Višta Puode, DIA – prices vary