While exploring the Baltics, we quickly came to the conclusion that we were travelling through one of the most underrated corners of Europe. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania don’t get nearly the amount of tourists that they deserve. And if people travel here, they will stick to Tallinn and maybe Riga.
But what about Vilnius?
We started our trip in the Lithuanian capital and quickly found out that there were lots of things to do in Vilnius. With only two days available to explore the city, we were rushing from one place to another to take in as much as possible. Narrow cobblestone streets, stunning churches, a castle only a quick bus ride away…
Vilnius has so much to offer that you can easily spend a few days here. Let us give you an overview of what to do and what to see in Vilnius so that you can make the best of your time in this beautiful city.
Our favourite things to do in Vilnius
#1 Walk around the Old Town
After arriving in Vilnius, you should take a walk around the Old Town. This will take you past many old buildings, and you’ll already get a chance to experience the charm of this city.
Gate of Dawn
We recommend that you start at the Gate of Dawn.
Like many cities in the world, Vilnius was once surrounded by a city wall. The Gate of Dawn used to be a gate through which travellers could enter. It dates back to 1522, and like many gates at the time, it housed a religious artefact to protect the city from attacks and also to bless all travellers passing through.
The artefact in the Gate of Dawn is an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy. This painting, also called our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, is so famous that it inspires pilgrims to come even from abroad to see it.
After crossing through the Gate of Dawn, continue north along the cobblestone street. Here, you can find lots of handicraft shops, so this is a good place to stock up on souvenirs.
Town Hall Square
Eventually, you will reach the Town Hall. This building looks a bit more than an opera house than a city hall – or maybe that was the impression I got due to the banners outside announcing different events.
The town hall dates back to 1387. Since then, it burned down in fires and wars so many times that the building you see today is not the same as it was back in the day. If you want to know about upcoming events and performances, which take place regularly, you should check out the schedule on their website.
If you keep going, you will soon see the university on your left. To your right, you can turn into Literatų gatvė, Literature Street. Here, you will see lots of plaques dedicated to authors who either lived in Vilnius or wrote about the city.
The oldest plaques originated in 2009 when Vilnius was European Capital of Culture, and since then, many new ones have joined. You can now find about 200 of them here.
Slightly west of the main street, you can find the Presidential Palace. This is where Lithuania’s President lives, and it’s worth a short visit to see the building. If you come on Sunday at noon, you can watch a flag hoisting ceremony.
If you want to go inside, you can join a free guided tour. Make sure to reserve in advance either by phone or by e-mail, as the group sizes are limited. You can find all information on the official website of the Presidential Palace.
#2 Explore Cathedral Square
At the northern end of the Old Town, you can find Cathedral Square. This is the main square of the Old Town and dates back to the 19th century. While standing here, we found it hard to believe that before then, this area was as densely populated as the rest of the Old Town.
Take a look around. Do you see that building with the columns and a separate tower? The one that almost looks like a government building or maybe a library? That is the Vilnius Cathedral.
Nobody knows how old the cathedral is. Inside, you can find graves from Lithuanian and Polish grand dukes and rulers, some of whom lived as far back as the 15th century. That means that this church was built before that time, although it is unclear in which year exactly.
Rumours say that a pagan temple stood here before the cathedral. When Lithuania converted to Christianity, the Lithuanian king decided to replace that place of worship with a church.
#3 Stroll through the Republic of Uzupis
One of our personal highlights in Vilnius was the Republic of Uzupis. In fact, we loved it so much that we decided to interview the “border guard” to find out more about this bizarre place.
The Republic of Uzupis declared its independence in 1998, as a joke by local artists. While nobody recognises the independence of the Republic, they do have a constitution, a border post and even a parliament.
From Vilnius Old Town, go towards the Vilnia river. You can already see the signs when you reach the bridge, and you’ll find the “border post” shortly afterwards.
If you keep walking, you’ll see the Uzupio Kavine. This cafe also serves as the house of parliament, and if you’re lucky, you will see the Uzupis parliament meeting here.
Further up the street, you can find the Angel of Uzupis. This statue, towering high above the square, is one of the most iconic symbols in this neighbourhood and represents the freedom of expression and art.
Like every proper republic, Uzupis has its own constitution. And they didn’t just publish it in Lithuanian but translated it into many different languages. You can find all versions hanging on a wall if you turn right at the Angel of Uzupis.Advice from a local: If you go further up the hill, all the way to the Uzupis Gymnasium school, you will reach a viewpoint from where you have a great view of Vilnius.
Keep your eyes open while walking around, so you don’t miss any of the amazing street art you can find in Uzupis.
#4 Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights
This museum previously went by the name of “Museum of Genocide Victims”. If you have even the slightest interest in the history of Lithuania or Vilnius, you should come here.
You can find the museum in the former KGB headquarters, a short walk away from the Old Town. Before that, the Gestapo used this building as their headquarters, so a lot of grim history happened here.
On the upper floors, where the officers used to have their offices, you can find exhibitions about the history of Lithuania. But the worst happened in the basement, where you can find the prison cells. Anyone suspected to be involved in the resistance to the Soviet Union would be held down here. The regular cells are damp and cold, and torture was common practice.
The regular cells look uncomfortable, but they’re not the worst you can find here. Take a look into the padded prison cell with the straitjacket. No matter how loud the prisoners screamed, nobody would hear them.
Don’t forget to go outside into the courtyard. Here, you’ll find a door that leads you to the execution chamber. We highly recommend that you go inside and watch the video to understand the horrors of what happened in this building.
Make sure to take your time while visiting. We came in the afternoon and had to rush through the upper floors, which is a shame as they were quite interesting.
#5 Gediminas Castle Tower
In the 14th century, Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, built himself a castle on a hill in the middle of Vilnius. He used wood as a material, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that the original castle has disappeared. In fact, it disappeared pretty quickly and was already replaced by a brick castle in 1409.
This castle, also known as the Upper Castle, eventually crumbled. It wasn’t until 1933 that a Polish architect decided to rebuild one of the castle towers.
Today, this is known as Gediminas Castle Tower, and you can find it on top of a hill north of the city centre.
Come here to enjoy the view over the Old Town. You can either walk up or if you want to save your energy, take the funicular up the hill. This is a great place to enjoy sunset.
Inside the tower, you can find an exhibition about old Vilnius, including models of the former castles. It is part of the Lithuanian National Museum, just like the Castle Arsenal, which you can find directly below the hill.Do you want an even better view of Vilnius? Then cross the river to go to the top of the Hill of Three Crosses.
#6 Explore the many churches of Vilnius
All over Vilnius, you will find lots and lots of churches. In the Old Town alone, you can already come across 28 churches. While going for a walk, we recommend that you take your time to visit a few of them.
Our favourite church that we discovered in the Old Town was the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit. Go inside, and you’ll see a beautiful green iconostasis.
Of course, you can discover many more churches — St John’s Church, at Vilnius University, for example. Here, you cannot just visit the interior of the church, but you can also climb to the top of the bell tower to enjoy the view.
And, of course, there’s Vilnius Cathedral, which we already mentioned above. Have fun, and let us know which church you loved most.
depends on how many churches you visit
#7 Discover traditional Lithuanian food
On our first evening, we found a traditional Lithuanian restaurant called Etno Dvaras. We loved the food there so much that we came back the next day to try more.
Etno Dvaras, which is actually a chain of restaurants, clearly targets tourists. But we’ve also seen lots of locals here. And the food is delicious. Plus, the menu explains most of the dishes, so you know in advance what you’re ordering.
Lithuanian food might not be well-known internationally, but it’s tasty. We recommend the fried breadsticks as a starter, followed by any of the potato dishes.Want to know more about Lithuanian food? We have written
For dessert, go for the tinginys! This cake is by far my favourite Lithuanian dessert. You could also try the tree cake, but personally, I loved the tinginys, which is a kind of chocolate cake, best.
#8 Visit Trakai on a day trip
From Vilnius, you can very easily go to Trakai. So easily, in fact, that you don’t need to join any of the guided tours that companies advertise in the city centre. Just follow our guide on how to visit Trakai.
Even though Trakai is only a small town today, it was once one of the most important settlements in Lithuania. The island castle, one of the highlights and the reason why you should visit, dates back to that time.
Besides exploring the iconic castle in the middle of an island, you can also stroll through the Old Town and learn more about the Karaites. When we visited, I never expected to find a Turkish minority up here in Lithuania. The legend goes that they were sent up here from Crimea, to establish a settlement.
Historians, on the other hand, think that a Lithuanian Grand Duke recruited Karaites as castle guards. No matter how they ended up here, their culture is fascinating.
Expect to spend about half a day in Trakai. If you leave in the morning, you should be back after lunch and will then still have the afternoon to explore Vilnius.
How to get to Vilnius
No matter where you are, you won’t find it too hard to reach Vilnius. If you’re coming from further away, you can fly to Vilnius airport. We found direct flights from Frankfurt, which was very convenient for us. If you’re coming from outside Europe, you’ll most likely have to connect somewhere.
If you’re already in the region, you can go here either by bus or by train. Coming from Poland, you can take a train from Warsaw to the border and then continue by train. As the track size changes, you will have to change trains in Bialystok. If you want more information, check out the Man in Seat 61.
You can also go from Riga to Vilnius by train, but you will have to stop for a few hours in Daugavpils. Therefore, we recommend using buses if you’re planning on travelling between Latvia and Lithuania.
If you’re travelling within Lithuania and coming from Klaipeda, Siauliai or Kaunas, you have the choice between taking a train or a bus. Prices and travel times are similar, so take whichever one suits you best.You can look up
Getting around Vilnius
We mostly walked around Vilnius. As long as you stay in the Old Town, you can reach most places on foot. If you get tired, you have the choice between either calling a taxi or taking a bus. We found a map of the different bus lines here.
If you need to get to the airport, take either the train from the central station or a bus from the central bus terminal. These buildings are conveniently located next to each other, and you can look up the schedules under the links we provided above.
Best time to visit Vilnius
Here’s the good news. You can visit Vilnius all year long, and you’ll always have a good time.
As I already mentioned, we came here in winter. Was it cold? Yes. Did we have more rain than I cared about? Yes. But on the bright side, we barely saw other tourists. We didn’t have to queue in front of museums, and we weren’t bothered by huge crowds walking through the Old Town.
That said, if you decide to come in summer, you will have better weather. Plus, the trees will have leaves which will make your photos look less gloomy. Believe me, it’s hard to make a park look good in winter.
Autumn and spring are good seasons to get the best of both worlds. You’ll have warmer weather than in winter, but fewer tourists than in summer.
We hope you enjoyed this post and now have an overview of all the amazing things to see in Vilnius. If you have any questions or remarks, please leave us a comment below!
Lithuania has lots more to offer than just Vilnius. You can find a lot more useful information in our other articles about Lithuania:
- Top things to do in Klaipeda
- How to visit the Curonian Spit and climb a giant sand dune
- Visit the famous Trakai Island Castle on a day trip from Vilnius
- Your complete guide to Lithuanian food
- Meet the locals: Julijus from Uzupis
- How much does it cost to travel the Baltics? Our budget for 19 days of travel
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