While it is undeniable that it does not have the medieval historical center of Tallinn, nor the art nouveau architecture of Riga. Something unnoticed may happen, to say that Vilnius is ugly or uninteresting is a great fallacy. The capital of Lithuania knows how to thank those who visit it with quiet corners, a peaceful historical center, quality restaurants, and the occasional surprise. Here are 20 things to do in vilnius.
Center of Vilnius
In the historical center of Vilnius, the most interesting visits are concentrated. This is distributed around Pilies and Didžioji streets, the two main arteries of the old city. So, for now, and to get to know a little more Vilnius roll, walk through them and see your medieval and baroque air.
If you only have one day of time, a good way to take advantage of the city is to take the tourist bus that visits the main places of interest. It is not expensive: it costs € 15, and you can go up and down as many times as you want. Another option, although somewhat more expensive, is to trust a local guide who knows Vilna as his pockets. Here is an example.
Town Hall Square
Walk until you reach the Town Hall Square, the nerve center of Vilnius, where you can visit the old town hall ( Vilniaus Rotušė ) of the city that today is an exhibition center. The headquarters of the tourist office. The building is not a wonder, but the square is one of the most atmospheric places in all of Lithuania. It is full of terraces where you can have a coffee or a beer (better if the weather is nice!).
Although Vilnius was one of the last pagan cities in Europe, today it is known as the city of churches. It has about 28 and apparently it is the place with more churches by the number of inhabitants! Unlike its neighbors, Lithuania is a country with a Catholic majority, although you can also see Orthodox and Lutheran churches. Two of the prettiest are the Church of Santa Ana and attached to it, the Church of San Francisco de Asis, especially thanks to its gothic architecture full of details. Curiosity: they say that even Napoleon himself suffered the charm of this place and joked that if it were for him, he would take it in his hand to Paris.
Although the most impressive, especially for its imposing neoclassical facade, with huge columns and crowned with statues of the four evangelists, is the Vilnius Cathedral. It is the main Catholic temple in the country and was built in the same place where the remains of ancient pagan temples were located. Inside you can visit the crypt and the catacombs (only with a guided tour, € 6), where many of the historical figures and grand dukes of Lithuania are buried. In the same square, we see the bell tower, which can be climbed to enjoy beautiful views at 45 meters high.
Hill of the 3 Crosses
Although without a doubt, the best views of the city (and free) are those obtained from the Hill of the 3 Crosses. According to legend, 7 Franciscan friars from Germany arrived in Vilnius, with the purpose of evangelizing the population. But they did not have the reception waiting, and they ended up being beheaded on this hill, hung at crosses and thrown down the river. In memory of those monks “martyrs,” these three huge crosses were placed, which contemplate the entire city from above. To get there from the center is about 30 minutes along a path, with about 250 stairs. The effort will be worth it, and better if you go up to see the sunset.
Vilnius, like the other Baltic capitals, was surrounded by a huge defensive wall and up to 8 entrance doors. Of them today there is only one standing: the Aurora Gate. In the internal part, it houses a chapel with an icon of the Virgin very dear to the Lithuanians. They say it is miraculous and that it has cured diseases of the faithful for centuries. In fact, in the attacks of the Russian Empire of 1799, this door was respected for fear of its hidden powers.
National Museum of Lithuania
Do you want to know more about the history of this small and unknown country, which once became one of the powers of Europe? A good place to do so is the National Museum of Lithuania, which tells the development of the country from the Middle Ages to the present day. The ticket is only worth € 2.
A very interesting area of the city is Avenida Gediminas, full of shops, restaurants and the best: a lot of atmospheres. There are always street artists, locals, and tourists walking around here. It is also the place where there are many important buildings, such as the Lithuanian Parliament, the National Theater, or the Academy of Music.
Curiosity: The avenue is dedicated to Gediminas, who was the leader of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania between 1316 and 1341. The territory that at the time was one of the largest in the world and that conglomerated part of the Kyiv Rus.
This very important character in the history of Lithuania decided to build a defensive fortress, to protect the city from possible enemy attacks. Today there is only one tower left, the Gediminas Tower, very well preserved by the way. To get there you will have to take a good walk. More than the site itself or the exhibition, it deserves to go up to enjoy the views over Vilnius.
The Vilnius Bastion is a semicircular construction in the old defensive wall of the city. Inside it shows a sample of its history (€ 4), although we liked it because of the walk around it and its location on a hill, with beautiful views of the city. Nearby there is also a very cool viewpoint with an unpronounceable name: “ Subačiaus apžvalgos aikštelė ”. From here, the panoramic view of the historic center and the Uzupis neighborhood is a pass.
University of Vilnius
The University of Vilnius occupies a good part of the historical center and is the oldest of all the Baltic countries. For only € 1.50, you can visit inside, passing between its courtyards and some buildings. They highlight the library, which will seem to move you to Hogwarts, the Church of San Juan and the exempt bell tower (you can climb for € 3). The Observatory Courtyard and the philology faculty hall, with super crazy Petras Repšys murals. It seemed like a hybrid between the art of Dalí, El Bosco and the Hell / Purgatory of Dante Alighieri.
City of artists
One of the most curious places in Vilnius is the one known as the Republic of Uzupis. A group of artists and bohemians proclaimed their independence on April 1, 1997 (coinciding with April Fools prank day ) and it is a very pleasant area, with coffee shops, art galleries, and original corners. Do not expect an alternative neighborhood like Christiania in Copenhagen, or Metelkova in Ljubljana, but it has its roll. Go through Tibet Square, a square decorated with the colorful Tibetan flags, through the Keistoteka Bookstore, where there is a cat that is a legend, and through Paupio Street where you can read its own constitution in a lot of languages.
Vijokliai Beer Garden
A corner that if we found an alternative was the Vijokliai Beer Garden. It is a good place to spend a fun night, having a beer on your indoor terrace. This Vilnius enclave became famous for a mural on its facade where Trump appeared fuming Putin’s mouth. Now it is gone (there is a replica inside the bar), although there is very handsome street art on the big walls of the building. Here you can see the locations of the best murals in Vilnius.
Although if we speak of views, the best are probably those obtained from the top of the TV tower, the tallest tower in Lithuania, with 326 meters. In the part that looks like a UFO, there is a gazebo and a rotating restaurant, with 360-degree views. The viewpoint costs € 8 (more expensive the weekend) and the restaurant serves typical Lithuanian dishes from € 7-8. It can be an excellent idea to enjoy the last dinner on your visit to Vilnius.
Eat delicious foods
And since we are with Lithuanian cuisine, you should try the most beloved national dish: cepelinai, a kind of potato gnocchi stuffed with meat and covered by a sour sauce with bacon bits. Yes, they are a caloric bomb, but they are an irresistible delight. The name is because its shape looks like a zeppelin, don’t you think?
Church of San Casimiro
We already anticipate that in Vilnius what is missing are churches, and another that is worth a visit is the Church of San Casimiro, the patron of the city. It is baroque, with a curious pink facade and a beautiful dome that looks like a gold crown. His past is somewhat tumultuous: it was destroyed by fires, became an orthodox cult and even the Soviets transformed it into a museum of atheism. Its interior has a very good acoustics, which is used to offer concerts.
Church of St. Paraskeva
Other churches that we recommend in Vilnius are the Church of San Pedro and San Pablo, with an extraordinary decoration inside. The Orthodox Church of St. Paraskeva, a flirtatious church in the center of the city where Russian Tsar Peter the Great acted as godfather at the baptism of Gannibal (Aleksandr Pushkin’s great grandfather). Or the Orthodox Cathedral of Theotokos, the most important of this faith in the country.
During the German occupation in the Second GM, an area of Vilnius was delimited as a Jewish ghetto. There, the entire Jewish community of the city was grouped, subjecting them to forced labor, harassment and finally killing. On Stiklių street there is a plaque recalling this sad event. It was not the only genocide suffered by the Vilnius Lithuanians, after the Second GM and until 1991, it was under Soviet rule, and it is another dark period in its history. You can go deeper into the Museum of the Victims of Genocide, located in the former headquarters of the Gestapo and the KGB. The ticket is only worth € 4 so do not hesitate to go. Eye: Monday and Tuesday are closed. More info.
Do you feel like enjoying an unforgettable experience? Aren’t you afraid of heights? Do you want to ask your sweet half to marry but you don’t know how to do it? Something very legendary would be to get on a hot air balloon and contemplate Vilnius from the sky. The joke is not very cheap (calculates about € 150 / person) but unforgettable it is without a doubt!
If you are lucky enough to have several days of time, these are the day trips from Vilnius that we recommend:
Verkiai Regional Park, where you can relax on the banks of its rivers and lakes, or simply enjoy some trekking in nature.
Kaunas, the second most important city in Lithuania, and that are not far away. Arriving by free is very simple since there are frequent buses that leave you in the center after an hour and a half of travel.
Trakai, to get to know its famous medieval castle and learn more about the curious history of the Karaim, a small ethnic group. It has own language, culture, gastronomy, and traditions, which descends from a Turkish-speaking group that professed Jewish Judaism. Trakai is about 40 minutes by bus from Vilnius, but there are also options to go on a guided tour.