Lithuania, that mysterious southernmost country of Europe’s Baltic states, has probably not been at the top of your list or indeed even on your radar as you plan your summer group and incentive travel.
After all, you are planning a showcase and showstopper to recognise, reward, motivate, and above all else show gratitude to the top performers, your companies key clients and or your colleagues in general, aren’t you? I mean this is your chance to present a sparkling, one-off opportunity for your guests or delegates to discover something new and exciting, all wrapped up in a rich sensory experience that’s both unique and memorable.
With this in mind, you could be left wondering whether a former soviet city such as Vilnius can really compete with the likes of Barcelona, for example, with its combined city-and-coastal pleasures, or the ancient charms of Athens with all its mythology and architectural grandeur. There is of course a certain kind of reassurance in choosing the well-trodden paths that promise popular experiences most people are likely already familiar with. After all it is one of the reasons Dubai, Lisbon, London and Paris have been so popular for the past several years. They are all tried and tested!
By contrast, Vilnius is relatively unknown as an incentive travel destination (be honest: did you know Vilnius was Lithuania’s capital before you clicked on this post?) Yet with many second and third tier European cities now competing heavily for the lucrative incentive market, you could argue that there’s never been a better time to stray away from the beaten track.
And if you’re going to sample something fresh and new, Vilnius really is just perfect. A treasure-trove of unique heritage, lively culture-rich character, and baroque Insta-worthy scenery (that once doubled for 19thcentury Russia in the BBC’s big-budget adaptation of War and Peace and more recently Sky Originals, Chernobyl), your every need can be more than fulfilled here.
Don’t believe it? Here are some of my key reasons you should consider Vilnius for your next European incentive
It has exceptional transport links making it outstandingly easy to get to and navigate
With its prime position at the crossroads of East and West, Vilnius could have been custom-created for international travel.
The city is easily accessible from all major European cities (you can fly direct from both London and Frankfurt in under three hours). Once you’ve touched down, the bustling Old Town in a mere fifteen-minute drive…
…and you’ll find most of its main attractions are within easy walking distance. That walking tour itinerary could almost write itself, in fact.
It offers the perfect climate for outdoor activities and experiences
Many people mistakenly think the Baltics are cursed with freezing Siberian conditions. In fact, from May to October you can generally enjoy welcome continental warmth…which is ideal for hot air ballooning over the ornate Old Town, for example!
It is a city rich in unrivalled heritage
The exquisite, medieval Old Town (UNESCO World Heritage-protected, no less) is just the beautiful beginning of your cultural journey through Vilnius – known by many as ‘Little Rome’.
Get ready to feast your eyes upon some incredibly chameleon-like architectural styles as you wander those romantic cobbled streets, from the neoclassical Cathedral (that looks more like a museum!), to the jaw-dropping Gothic St. Anne’s Church.
In fact, if your group has an appetite for a church tour, you’re in luck: there are 28 of them here. There is also a rich Jewish history to be discovered, as well as intriguing links to the city’s Soviet past.
However you decide to take in this intriguingly patchwork city, one thing’s for certain: arming yourselves with iPads for an historic city tour just doesn’t get more rewarding…particularly when you factor in the thriving café culture to be found along your way.
There’s even a city centre hill, home to Gediminas Tower – the remaining part of the 10thcentury castle that once defended the city from attack. Naturally, you can expect awe-inspiring views…as well as a prime sunset-watching spot.
You could also head for the Three Crosses monument in Kalnai Park, just across the river from the Old Town. A second gloriously green hill that offers yet another supreme vantage point of the city.
As far as destinations go it is uniquely original (and seriously up-and-coming!)
Fancy something a little different? The quirky region of Užupis declared itself an independent republic in 1997.
Read its displayed constitution for hipster-style ‘rights’ that include “a dog has the right to be a dog”, and “everyone has the right to be unique” as you enjoy drinks in its ‘parliament’ by the river – a wondrous precursor to viewing the spectacular (and legal!) graffiti and street art you’ll find all around.
Wherever you end up in the city, you can expect to be greeted by effortlessly trendy bars that serve up a dizzying array of European craft beers (a group beer tour, anyone?), buzzing restaurants…and fantastic value. Not for nothing is Vilnius often mentioned as one of the best value European cities for tourism.
Vilnius is endlessly versatile
Whatever type of travel-based incentive you’ve got in mind, from luxury product launches to fashion events and company rewards, Vilnius has it covered.
The locals are well-known to be friendly and obliging, and memorable experiences on offer range from authentic medieval tournaments, to uber-cool Segway city tours, to learning how to drive a tank.
Sport-infused incentives are generously-covered, too. You can get involved in everything from springtime canoe expeditions or winter ice-fishing, to a thrill-seeking Vilnius Tandem Skydive…not for the faint-hearted! Zip-wiring through that glorious woodland is also an experience you might find hard to pass over.
Meanwhile, the magnificent, open-air Europos Parkas (European Park) is a 120-acre art museum creatively built into a man-made hill – a more sophisticated event setting would be hard to imagine.
Simply fuel yourselves with kibinai (traditional Lithuanian pasties that taste delicious!) and get ready for a unique experience in a still relatively undiscovered city.
Not only will you get all the kudos for arranging such an amazing trip, it’s one that promises to live on in the imaginations of your chosen group, long after the return flight has touched down.
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