Souvenirs, trinkets, quirky gifts and both international and local fashion brands – all can be found easily in Vilnius in a plethora of pleasant shops, stalls and malls. One of the most pleasurable and memorable activities on any trip to the city is browsing in the countless little shops that adorn the labyrinthine lanes and courtyards of the Old Town.
So what to buy? All that glitters in Lithuania is not gold, but amber. The ancient fossilized tree resin has dazzled since Neolithic times and the amber that has been washed up over the centuries along the sandy coastline is among the most prized in the world. Transparent chunks with prehistoric plant and insect inclusions can be found in Vilnius shops, although some pieces have been modified or reconstructed by jewellers. Amber also shines in stunning pieces of handcrafted jewellery, art, polished mounted pieces and objects such as ships, trees and chess pieces.
Natural Lithuanian linen, or flax, is another popular source of souvenirs and gifts. Local textile artists weave it into tablecloths, cushion covers, clothing and more using traditional patterns and an increasing array of eye-catching designs. Homemade arts and crafts that can also be picked up include beautiful paintings by local artists, colourful glazed ceramic bowls, old-fashioned wooden toys, warm knitted socks, antiques and icons, and unique decorative glassware. How you get them home in one piece is another matter.
Less fragile are attractive coffee-table books such as Marius Jovaiša’s tome of glossy photographs of the rural countryside seen from the air, Unseen Lithuania, or informative books about Lithuanian history and art. Folk music fans should not leave without a few CDs of mystical multi-voiced sutartinės and instrumental music, while pop and rock enthusiasts should look for artists like Alina Orlova, Foje, Skamp and Jurga.
Delicious food to sample while in Lithuania or to take home include traditional semi-hard white curd cheeses with caraway seeds or other herbs and spices. Kids will love chocolate sūreliai, sweet snacks a little smaller than a chocolate bar, though they should be kept chilled for as long as possible. These and other curdy delights can be found in any supermarket, as can traditional loaves of dark rye bread, preferably uncut and rounded, hard and crusty on the outside. Local food such as various types of honey and plentiful fruit can be tasted at Halės Market at the southern edge of the Old Town. The region’s biggest market, however, selling virtually anything you can name, is sprawling Gariūnai a few kilometres west of the city centre, open every morning except Mondays. At the opposite end of the scale, many international fashion brands have flashy stores at the city’s best shopping malls and along central streets like Gedimino and Didžioji, as do Lithuania’s own popular fashion designers and brands.