With its charming Old Town, bohemian vibe and laid-back nature, Vilnius is one of our all-time favorite destinations. Jacky and I have been to Vilnius twice and absolutely adore its extraordinary wealth of historic buildings punctuated by atmospheric alleyways, crooked walls, and soaring steeples. We also can’t get enough of its expanding and energetic nightlife and cultural scene. Here’s our lowdown on some of the best things to do in Vilnius. Whether you have one day in Vilnius or are on a weekend break in Vilnius, let us help you make the most of it!
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Table of Contents
Why You Should Visit Vilnius
Vilnius is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, renowned for its elegant Old Town with its picturesque churches, historic sights, friendly locals and burgeoning craft beer scene. It often surprises me that Vilnius gets overlooked in comparison to its Baltic cousins, Riga and Tallinn, two great cities in their own right.
Located in the eastern pocket of Lithuania close to the Belarusian border, Vilnius is Lithuania’s undisputed economic and cultural hub with a population of almost 600,000. Throughout its history, Vilnius has been influenced not only by Lithuanians but also by Germans, Slavs, Jews, and the Soviets. It still keeps most of its desolate Soviet-era sprawl. Today, however, Vilnius is a city in transition where ancient meets the modern.
How to Get Around Vilnius
Vilnius is a compact city, and most sights are easily reached on foot. Most of the must-see attractions in Vilnius lie within the borders of the Old Town.
Much of Vilnius’s Old Town is closed to vehicles and walking is the best way to discover its many hidden gems and appreciate its true character. Make sure to wear a comfortable pair of flat shoes rather than heels as they can get stuck in cobblestones in the pavement.
Public transport in Vilnius is cheap and efficient. It is made up of an integrated network of buses and trolleybuses. You can check the website www.stops.lt for timetables and for planning a journey. Few services run between 11 pm and 5 am.
A standard ticket is valid on both buses and trolleybuses. This must be bought in advance at a kiosk or from the driver. Tickets then need to be validated by punching it in one of the machines onboard. Tickets for one, three, five and ten days are available and cost 5, 8, 12 and 15 EUR respectively. Single-trip tickets cost 1 EUR (only cash) from the driver and 65 cents (in the form of an electronic ticket) when bought from kiosks marked with the sign “Vilniečio kortelė”. For this, you’ll first need to get an electronic card that costs 1.5 EUR. Then you top it up with money or tickets of your desired duration.
Cycling is another good way of getting around the city, especially in the warmer months. Cycling is, however, not so practical in the cobbled streets of the Old Town.
Cyclocity Vilnius is a handy and cheap self-service bike rental system that enables you to enjoy Vilnius at your leisure. The bicycles can be collected from any one of the 40 odd locations scattered over the city. For more information, check the website.
Avoid using taxis in Vilnius unless it is absolutely necessary as you will be well covered by public transport. However, if you wish to travel by taxi you can either order one over the phone or hail one down. Ordering a taxi by telephone is generally cheaper than hailing one on the street. Ekipažas is one of the more reliable taxi services in Vilnius. Otherwise, Uber is also available.
Is the Vilnius Pass Worth It?
The Vilnius Pass is a handy city pass that accords you free access to the best attractions and sights in the city. It also gives you discounts on certain tours such as Hop-On Hop-Off buses and to some restaurants and cafes.
The Vilnius Pass has a 24-hour, 48-hour, or 72-hour validity. The 24-hour pass costs 20 EUR, the 48-hour pass costs 30 EUR while the 72-hour pass costs 36 EUR. Public transport is not included. However, there is an option of getting the 72-hour Vilnius Pass with public transport, which costs 43 EUR. You can purchase a Vilnius Pass online or in the Vilnius Tourist Information Centers.
Ultimately, the question of whether the Vilnius Pass is worth it depends on how much you want to get out of the city. If you plan on visiting a lot of cultural attractions and museums, then it is maybe worth investing in the pass. If not, then maybe the Vilnius Pass isn’t worth buying.
Things to Do & See in Vilnius
There are several great things to do and see in Vilnius and this lovely city is a thrilling and superb getaway for those on a short break. Whether your interests lie in architecture, museum hopping, churches, eating, shopping or just chilling in the park, there’s something to do for everyone in Vilnius.
For your convenience, this post includes a free map of the top sights in Vilnius. You can find the addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map. Below we have compiled a list of the best things to see and do in Vilnius.
- Wander Around the Old Town
- Visit the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
- See Gediminas’s Castle Tower
- Cathedral Square
- Make a Wish Upon The Miracle Tile
- Pay Your Respects at the Vilnius Cathedral
- Discover the Bohemian Quarter of Užupis
- Be Enchanted By The Lovely St. Anne’s Church
- The Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fights
- Admire the Stunning Interior of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul
- Gaze at Some Intriguing Street Art
- Feast On Some Delectable Lithuanian Cuisine
- Antakalnis Cemetery
- Take a Stroll Along Pilies Street & Literatai Street
- Uncover Lithuania’s Past at the National Museum of Lithuania
- The Gates of Dawn
- Climb The Hill of the Three Crosses
- Frank Zappa Statue
- Relax in the Bernardine Garden
- Visit Vilnius University & St. John’s Church
- Get A Bird’s Eye View of Vilnius From The TV Tower
- St. Theresa’s Church
- Gediminas Avenue
- Presidential Palace
- Walk Around the Town Hall Square
- Take A Day Trip To Trakai
1. Wander Around the Old Town
Vilnius’s Old Town is Europe’s largest Baroque Old Town and is undoubtedly one of the main things to see in Vilnius. You can easily cover the Old Town in a few hours while stumbling upon architectural wonders and sights.
Unlike Riga and Tallinn, whose Old Towns seem exclusively filled with tourists and garish souvenir stalls, the beautiful Old Town of Vilnius seems to lure more locals than tourists adding to its authenticity.
The Old Town covers an area of 3.5 km² and contains 70 streets and nearly 1500 buildings. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994. The Old Town seems a bit shabby around the fringes but meander a little further and see it bask in its Baroque glory.
The Old Town offers a glimpse of architectural history from the 13th to the 18th century. This has resulted in a wide gamut of architectural styles such as Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Much of the architecture dates back to the late 18th century when a series of fires consumed many of Vilnius’s wooden structures and stone houses were built to replace them.
While walking around the Old Town, one of the things you’ll notice is the sheer concentration of churches whose steeples look like a bed of nails when viewed from the skies.
The name “Vilnius” originates from the Vilnia River. The earliest written mention to Vilnius exists in a letter from Grand Duke Gediminas in 1323 when he invited citizens from towns in Germany to settle here promising exemption from taxes and granting other liberties.
2. Visit the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is a grand 17th-century Baroque style palace that was constructed for the Grand Dukes. It now houses a historic residence museum to showcase parts of the original castle and palace ruins and some of the most significant archeological finds.
There are four exhibition tour routes you can embark on that are related to the historical functions of this residence. You will be guided through ancient ruins, grand ceremonial halls and Lithuania’s colorful history with their wars, allies, and religions along the way. Visiting the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is definitely one of the top things to do in Vilnius. Even if you don’t want to go into the museum, the palace is still splendid to look at from the outside.
Displays include a sequence of historic interiors containing armor, furnishings, tapestries, and paintings from the 15th century to the present day.
The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is generally open Tuesday-Sunday from 10:00-18:00. However, opening hours vary according to the day and the time of the year. Check the palace website for up-to-date opening times. The price of admission for the full tour of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is 8 EUR.
3. See Gediminas’s Castle Tower
The Gediminas’s Castle Tower (Gedimino pilis) is a red-brick octagonal tower that is the only remaining part of the Upper Castle complex, which once included defensive structures. It retains very little of its original stonework having been restored and houses a small museum that gives a glimpse into what the castle looked like in medieval times.
Making the hike up Castle Hill to Gediminas’ Castle Tower is definitely worth it as it is one of the must-see attractions in Vilnius. Plus, it also provides a superb vista of the church spires and rooftops of the Old Town, the Hill of Three Crosses as well as the new skyscrapers on the other side of the Neris River.
Gediminas’s Tower is highly symbolic not only to the city of Vilnius but to Lithuania itself. It has been depicted on the former national currency, the litas, and is mentioned in countless Lithuanian patriotic poems and folk songs.
For those who have difficulty in climbing steps or those who don’t want to climb, there is a funicular located at the rear of the northeastern side of the Vilnius Cathedral, inside a small courtyard at the rear of the Museum of Applied Art. The return ticket for the funicular costs 2 EUR.
4. Cathedral Square
Cathedral Square (Katedros aikštė) is the sprawling main square in Vilnius and is the historical center of the city. This is where Vilnius first began to emerge as a town in the Late Middle Ages. You can still see the paving stones encircling the square which represents the outline of the wall around the Lower Castle, a defense that made Vilnius a 14th-century stronghold against the crusades.
The square is situated at the crossroads of Vilnius’s main streets and is a popular venue for fairs, parades, events, and exhibitions. Many of the city’s key landmarks are situated here or in the vicinity.
At the eastern end of the square lies a tall, gray plinth that bears a statue of Gediminas, former Grand Duke of Lithuania and legendary founder of Vilnius. He is depicted here as a lean figure signaling towards the city with an outstretched sword. A wolf lies below the duke and his horse– a reference to the popular folk tale that sheds light on Vilnius’s origins.
Legend has it that while Gediminas was taking a rest on a hunt in the hills above the Vilnia River he had a prophetic dream about an iron wolf howling in the night. Asked to shed light on this dream, the duke’s head priest theorized that the wolf’s howling represented the fame of a great city built on this site that would one day echo around the world. This inspired Gediminas so much that he ordered the prompt construction of a new capital here.
5. Make a Wish Upon The Miracle Tile
One of the pavement tiles in the Cathedral Square (between the Cathedral and the bell tower) is decorated with the word “stebuklas” (“miracle”). On August 23, 1989, two million people joined hands across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to make the longest ever unbroken human chain, spanning over 600 kilometers to protest Soviet occupation and demonstrating a desire for independence.
It worked as the three Baltic States got their independence by 1991. The tile is reported to be the point where the Baltic Way, the human chain linking Vilnius, Rīga, and Tallinn started or ended, depending on your point of view.
It may take you a little while to locate the tile but once you do, don’t forget to make a wish. Spin around clockwise on the tile three times and make the biggest wish that you can conjure.
6. Pay Your Respects at the Vilnius Cathedral
Vilnius Cathedral (Arkikatedra Bazilika) is the city’s chief Roman Catholic cathedral and has been a national symbol for ages. Oddly enough, it doesn’t look much like a cathedral from the outside, more like a library or museum in fact. It lies on a site that was originally a shrine to Perkūnas, the Lithuanian god of thunder, and Mindaugas the Great chose to build a simple brick church here in the 13th century – a move which didn’t sit too well with the devoutly pagan Lithuanian nobles, who had him murdered in 1263.
The spot wasn’t associated with Christianity again until the conversion of Lithuania adopted Catholicism under Grand Duke Jogaila in 1387. The church took on various guises over the next 400 hundred years, and today’s building is largely the result of a late 18th-century French Classicist facelift which stands in contrast to much of the Baroque architecture found in the Old Town. Under Soviet rule, it was used as a warehouse and a picture gallery.
The pediment of the cathedral’s main facade is crowned by a trio of monumental statues, with St Helena brandishing a huge cross at the apex, accompanied by Casimir, patron saint of Lithuania, on the right, and Stanislas, patron saint of Poland, on the left. Statues of the four Evangelists lie on the southern facade and statues of past rulers of Poland-Lithuania run around the sides of the building.
The cathedral contains many notable works of art from the 14th through the 19th centuries, including frescoes in the underground chapel and the famous Sapiega Madonna. The cathedral is home to several significant treasures, the most significant of which is the Baroque St. Casimir’s Chapel. It is beautifully decorated with marble columns, colorful frescoes, and stucco figures. Also worth seeing is the crypt, which holds the remains of two Grand Dukes and two wives of Sigismund Augustus
To the right of the main entrance looms the freestanding, three-tiered belfry that was originally part of the city’s fortifications. This coffee-colored structure sort of resembles a marooned lighthouse.
The Vilnius Cathedral is open daily from 07:00-19:00. Free entrance.
7. Discover the Bohemian Quarter of Užupis
No sightseeing tour of Vilnius would be complete without a visit to the neighborhood of Užupis, definitely the city’s most bohemian district. The name Užupis translates to “behind the river” and this scenic part of central Vilnius has narrow streets filled with 19th-century houses and hidden courtyards that are home to various cafes and art galleries. Užupis’s inhabitants are an eclectic mix of bohemian artists and musicians, the nouveau riche and the proletariat.
To prove how unique Užupis is, the neighborhood humorously declared itself an independent republic on 1st April 1997. Užupis even has its own flag, president, currency, postage stamps, independence day and 41-point constitution! Ostensibly, the Republic of Uzupis also has an army of 11. This was meant as a derisive gesture on the notion of freedom in the age of globalization.
Užupis’s constitution comes in a spate of languages and guarantees its citizens, among other things, the right to hot water, to be unique, to love, to be free, to be happy (or unhappy) and to be a dog. It features hilarious articles like “Everyone has the right to understand nothing” and “Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily”. You can find it nailed to a wall on Paupio Street.
Be sure to visit Užupis for its ambiance, art galleries, little craft workshops, and multi-colored houses. You won’t be disappointed!
PS: You can even get your passport stamped with an ‘official’ Uzupis stamp at the information center!
8. Be Enchanted By The Lovely St. Anne’s Church
St. Anne’s Church (Šv Onos Bažnyčia) is a stunning 16th-century Gothic masterpiece that has survived over 500 years without any changes. If you love Gothic architecture, this church won’t disappoint.
The church’s ornate facade of cascading ogee arches and slender windows is a sight to behold and a unique testament to the Gothic style in a city where Baroque reigns supreme. The hip-knobs and the spires are adorned with decorative crockets, so as to resemble curled leaves. Some sources claim that the church was made from 33 various kinds of clay bricks.
According to popular legend, Napoleon Bonaparte was so dazzled by the fairytale, pinnacle-encrusted towers of St. Anne’s Church that he’s said to have wanted to take it back to Paris in the palm of his hand. Napoleon’s soldiers actually used the church as a barracks on their way to Moscow in 1812. Miraculously, the beautiful facade has survived tumultuous times (of course it has been renovated several times).
The interior of St. Anne’s Church is quite spartan with extensive red-brick rib vaulting across a white ceiling, sheltering a relatively undistinguished ensemble of altars bunched up at the end of the small nave.
The St. Anne’s Church is open daily from 11:00-18:00. Free entrance.
9. The Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fights
The deeply moving Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fights (previously known as Museum of Genocide Victims) chronicles a grim part of Lithuania’s recent history: the Nazi and Soviet occupation from 1940 to 1991.
It is housed in a building that was formerly home to the NKVD (as the KGB was initially known) during the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940. It then served as the headquarters of the Gestapo when the Germans took over in July the following year and reverted to the Soviets in 1944.
The exhibits at the museum probe into this somber period with exhibits dedicated to deportation, civil resistance, and Soviet spying techniques. Using personal stories, photographs, and multimedia displays, you get to learn about the hordes of Lithuanians who were murdered, imprisoned or deported by the Soviet Union In 2011, a section dedicated to the Holocaust in Lithuania was also added.
Make your way to the clammy cells (preserved in their pre-1991 state) in the basement where the KGB incarcerated and tortured their prisoners. Particularly moving are the water isolation cells and an execution chamber which displays documents torn by the Soviets and the dug-up remains of victims under glass.
The Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fights is open from 10:00-18:00 (Wednesday-Saturday) and 10:00-17:00 (Sunday). Admission costs 4 EUR.
10. Admire the Stunning Interior of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul
The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul (Šv Petro ir Povilo) is a perfect example of a structure that I like to call an architectural Kinder surprise. The church’s relatively austere twin-towered facade conceals a breathtaking interior of over 2,000 white stucco figures featuring biblical, historical, mythical, and allegorical figures, demonic creatures, heavenly bodies, animals, plants, war signs, liturgical and everyday items. It is an absolute must-see!
Originating in the 15th century, the church was rebuilt as a three-aisled basilica in 1668. It was intended to be a lasting monument to peace and a celebration of Vilnius’s deliverance from the Russians, who had just vacated the city after a thirteen-year occupation.
As you walk in, prepare to be amazed by over-the-top stucco work, featuring cavorting cherubs, rich foliage and exotic plants laden with fruit. The whole ensemble was conceived by Italian masters Pietro Perti and Giovanni Maria Galli., who spent an incredible 11 years cramming every available centimeter of the upper walls and ceiling with over 2000 moldings. One of the highlights of the interior is the seductive boat-shaped glass-bead chandelier, a reference to St Peter’s profession as a fisherman.
The stucco work attains dizzying proportions around the dome where the rectangular reliefs, flowers, and cartouches giving way to a spiral of angels twang away on musical instruments and the face of God at the apex. Don’t miss the several richly decorated chapels on either side of the nave, the most famous of which is the altar of the Madonna of Misericord.
The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul is open daily from 06:00-18:30. Free entrance.
11. Gaze at Some Intriguing Street Art
One of the best things to do in Vilnius is seeking out some of the top-notch and creative street art on offer. The Old Town is replete with many examples of some eye-catching murals. You can find interesting street art along Pylimo street (Pylimo gatvė) and Odminiu street (Odminių gatvė).
These colorful murals are transforming some of the pretty bleak and dilapidated landscape of the Old Town into veritable Instagram worthy locations. The art often makes use of lines and details that play with geometric forms and incorporates underlying social, cultural, or political concerns that fit well with the building or the surrounding neighborhood.
Some of the best street art murals we saw in Vilnius were Sepe & Chazme (Kauno g. 1), Millo (Pylimo g. 56) and Os Gemeos (Pylimo g. 60). Our favorite was the one with Trump and Putin, seemingly locking lips, by Lithuanian artist Mindaugas Bonanu (Pylimo g. 66). This mural is a satirical take on the famous Berlin Wall mural, which depicts Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker in a socialist fraternal kiss.
12. Feast On Some Delectable Lithuanian Cuisine
Being a certified glutton, one of the things I loved about Vilnius is the local Lithuanian fare. Lithuanian cuisine is based around a traditional repertoire of hearty peasant dishes, in which potatoes and pork hog the starring roles. Main meals are usually heavy and calorie-laden – a perfect remedy for the long winters. Some of the best Lithuanian dishes to try are –
Zeppelins (Cepelinai) are large football-shaped dumplings made with grated raw potatoes or rice boiled potatoes that are usually stuffed with meat and doused in rich bacon gravy. Zeppelins are the national dish of Lithuania.
Cold beet soup (Šaltibarščiai) is a traditional summer favorite that is usually served with chopped hard-boiled eggs, cucumber, kefir, dill, and potatoes.
Kibinai is a scrumptious half-moon pastry of leavened dough usually stuffed with meat. The traditional kibinai contains chopped lamb and fried onion, although you can get beef, pork, and veggie variants. These are similar to Cornish pasties or the Argentine empanadas. It was introduced to Lithuania by the Crimean Karaites. You can get these in any local bakery.
My favorite Lithuanian food has to be fried bread (Kepta duona), a deep-fried Lithuanian rye bread garnished with garlic and salt and served with cheese. It makes for a great beer snack.
Other culinary specialties that are worth eating in Vilnius are potato pancakes (bulviniai blynai) and cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice (balandeliai).
You can wash all the food down with a swig or two of chilled Lithuanian beer. Lithuania has a centuries-old beer tradition and has now also gotten on board with the recent craft beer revolution. There are several great brewpubs in Vilnius and the great thing is that the beer here is cheap. Make sure to try the Lithuanian beer Švyturys at least once!
13. Antakalnis Cemetery
It might be a bit unusual to name a cemetery as a tourist attraction but Antakalnis Cemetery (Antakalnio kapinės) is definitely a must if you are in the vicinity. The cemetery is one of the best-preserved and most important ones in Europe.
The cemetery’s verdant expanse is full of crosses and tombs inscribed in Lithuanian, Russian and Polish. Particularly worth seeing is the wave of identical stone crosses dedicated to Polish soldiers who died during World War I and the semicircular memorial cut into the hillside for the civilians who were killed by the Soviets while defending the Vilnius TV Tower.
Antakalnis Cemetery is open 24/7. Free entrance.
14. Take a Stroll Along Pilies Street & Literatai Street
Pilies Street (Pilies gatvė) is one of the oldest and most flamboyant streets in the Old Town. This lovely cobblestone street is a popular place for festivals and pop-up markets due to the street’s heritage as the pathway to Gediminas’ Tower. Given that it is one of the Old Town’s main thoroughfares, the atmosphere here is always lively.
While walking along the street, you’ll be treated to some exquisite architecture, particularly Gothic and Baroque. Here, you can also buy local crafts, works of art and souvenirs such as cheap amber trinkets. Or just chill in one of the copious bars and cafes watching the world go by.
Literatai Street is one of the most Instagram worthy locations in Vilnius. This cute little street in the Old Town doubles as an open-air gallery. Designed in 2008, it pays tribute to local and foreign poets and writers with connections to Lithuania through funky paintings, sculptures, and mixed media art.
15. Uncover Lithuania’s Past at the National Museum of Lithuania
For anyone interested in the history of Lithuania, the National Museum of Lithuania is a must-visit. The museum is housed in a yellow-colored early 19th-century barrack, known as the New Arsenal, and has a touch of Neoclassical splendor to it.
The National Museum of Lithuania is dedicated to Lithuanian culture through the ages, from prehistory to today. It holds an extensive collection of Lithuanian cultural heritage items, displayed within numerous historically significant sites across Vilnius.
Get acquainted with the nation’s formation and customs, including folk art, peasant lifestyle and heritage handicrafts, such as the forging of crosses. You can acquire a fascinating insight into Lithuania’s history from the 13th to the 20th century. As far as national museums go, this one is well worth the price of admission.
Most interesting to us was the engaging jumble of artifacts ranging from old prints of Vilnius to recreated farmhouse interiors from the 18th and 19th centuries. Traditional Lithuanian crafts are represented by wicker baskets, checkered bedspreads and the wood-carved figures of saints used to decorate wayside shrines in the countryside.
The National Museum of Lithuania is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10:00-18:00. The cost of admission is 4 EUR.
The large statue that stands in front of the National Museum of Lithuania is that of King Mindaugas, the 13th-century chieftain who unified the Lithuanian tribes into a political entity and who is considered the founder of the Lithuanian state.
16. The Gates of Dawn
The Gates of Dawn (Aušros vartai) lies at the periphery of the Old Town and is the last surviving one of Vilnius’ nine 16th-century city gates. Carmelite monks from St. Theresa’s Church built a chapel inside the gate in the second half of the 17th century. The chapel houses the most cherished and venerated of the city’s many sacred images, The Madonna of Mercy.
This Renaissance-style icon was painted on oak in the 1620s and is rumored to have miracle-working powers making it a top place of pilgrimage for Lithuanians and Poles. It is one of the very few icons to depict the Virgin Mary without the baby Jesus. The glittering icon is enhanced by the panels on either side.
The Madonna is visible through the arched windows directly above the gate, so even if you don’t want to go inside, spare a moment to admire the sacred painting. A distinct air of piety surrounds this place and it is quite common to see people look up at the image and cross themselves as they pass below the gate. In fact, many of the fiercely pious climb on their knees up the steps to this sacred place that is said to bring luck to visitors and help people in their times of need.
The Gates of Dawn is open daily from 6:00-19:00. Free entrance.
17. Climb The Hill of the Three Crosses
The sandy, pine-covered knoll known as the “Hill of Three Crosses” (Trijų kryžių kalnas) offers impressive views over Vilnius and is a great spot for gazing at the sunset. On top of the hill is the eponymous the three crosses monument, a recognizable landmark and symbol of Vilnius. It is easily recognizable from afar due to its striking all-white color.
A trio of wooden crosses built in the 17th century originally stood here in honor of a bunch of Franciscan monks who were slain on the hill. Having been razed during the Soviet era, the monument was rebuilt in 1989.
18. Frank Zappa Statue
Certainly one of the more unusual things to see in Vilnius, the Frank Zappa Statue makes for a quirky visit. Vilnius would be one of the last places you would expect to see a statue of the Californian rock legend.
A group of local artists wanted to challenge the limits of democracy and freedom in newly independent Lithuania and decided that a statue of Zappa – an icon of anti-establishment and nonconformity, would be the best way to do so. They did so even though Zappa never visited Lithuania and had no connection to the country.
The artists were pleasantly surprised when their idea for the statue was approved (many people who supported the idea hadn’t even heard a note of his music) and the world’s first statue of Frank Zappa, along with the psychedelic mural behind it, were presented in 1995. If you’re a Zappa buff like us, this place won’t disappoint 🙂
19. Relax in the Bernardine Garden
If you want to unwind and take a breather from all the sightseeing head to the marvelous Bernardine Garden in the Old Town. This park dates back to the 15th century when the friars first built their monastery and gardens in this part of the Vilnius.
You can stroll in the gardens and along the banks of the Vilnia River or play chess at the park’s giant chessboard. During summer evenings you can also enjoy the musical fountain and light show. We were fortunate enough to see some alluring autumn colors here.
The Bernardine Garden is free to enter and its opening hours are 07:00-22:00.
20. Visit Vilnius University & St. John’s Church
One of Vilnius’s must-see sights is its university. Vilnius University is the oldest university in Eastern Europe having been founded as a Jesuit College in 1568, before becoming a school of higher education in 1579. By the early 19th century the university enjoyed a growing reputation as one of the Polish-speaking world’s leading educational institutions and was a hotbed of Polish resistance to Tsarist rule. The present campus, constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries, is a blend of different architectural styles and is spread over 13 courtyards.
The most impressive of these courtyards is the Grand Courtyard which has open galleries dating from the 17th century. Here, you will also see plaques commemorating the founders, patrons, and notaries of the university. One of the highlights of the university is the gorgeous Littera bookshop, famous for its frescoes caricaturing professors and students that decorate its interior.
This arcaded quadrangle is dominated by the custard colored wedding-cake like facade of St John’s Church (Šv Jono bažnyčia), one of Vilnius’s Baroque gems. Having functioned as a warehouse and a science museum during the Communist era, the church wasn’t reconsecrated until 1991. Its otherwise spartan interior is lit up by the cluster of 10 magnificent altars in faux marble with Corinthian columns.
The Grand Courtyard of the Vilnius University is open Monday-Friday from 09:00-18:00 (May-October) and 09:30-17:30 (November-April). The entrance costs 1.50 EUR.
Lithuania was Europe’s final Pagan stronghold being the last nation on the continent to adopt Christianity. The Christianization of Lithuania took place in 1387, following the union of Lithuania and Poland. When it did so, it went all in full throttle. In Vilnius, it seems there’s a church just around every corner. There are 28 churches in the Old Town alone! Of these, 21 are Roman Catholic and 4 are Russian Orthodox while the Lutheran, Reformed and Eastern Rite Catholic communities have one church each.
21. Get A Bird’s Eye View of Vilnius From The TV Tower
It’s hard to miss the spindle-shaped 326 meter TV Tower (Vilniaus Televizijos Bokštas) in the western part of Vilnius. Head to the tower’s observation deck, which at a height of 165 m offers spectacular views of the city and surroundings. On a clear day, visibility is 70 km in every direction, with views stretching into Belarus. The viewing deck is a rotating one and makes a full circle in about 50 minutes.
On the ground floor, there is a small photographic exhibition commemorating the 12 unarmed civilians who were shot or crushed beneath Soviet tanks while trying to defend the tower on 13 January 1991. They were among the many trying to defend the tower from Soviet troops trying to usurp power and to reassert authority over the new republic (Lithuania declared its independence on 11 March 1990, the first of any of the Soviet republics to do so).
The Vilnius TV Tower is open from 11:00-21:00 (Sunday-Thursday) and 11:00-22:00 (Friday-Saturday). The cost of admission is 8 EUR.
22. St. Theresa’s Church
The splendid St. Theresa’s Church (Šv Teresės bažnyčia) is yet another in Vilnius’s cavalcade of Baroque churches. It has an elegant facade that is enhanced by sandstone that was imported from Sweden.
While the exterior of the church is nice, it is really distinguished for its effusive salmon-pink and golden Baroque and Rococo interior. The frescoes representing the life and activities of St. Theresa are very captivating. The impressive high altar is among the most remarkable in the country.
St. Theresa’s Church is open daily from 07:00-19:00. Free entrance.
The undulating waves, vivid colors and ornate stucco figures of Baroque architecture reached Vilnius during the first half of the 17th century, replacing Gothic and Renaissance. Baroque treasures such as St. Casimir’s Chapel, and the St. Theresa’s Church were built by the Italian pioneers of Baroque. In the mid-17th century, Vilnius experienced a second wave of Baroque when local architects developed a distinct style, designing extravagant facades, coupled with roomy interiors and lavishly decorated altarpieces. The Baroque reign was short lived and by the end of the 18th century, it had been replaced by the more understated Neoclassical style.
23. Gediminas Avenue
Gediminas Avenue is the chief commercial street of Vilnius. Now named after Duke Gediminas, this expansive, cobbled boulevard has previously been named after St. George, Mickiewicz, Stalin, and Lenin, reflecting the succession of different regimes (Tsarists, Poles and the Soviets). Many government and cultural institutions such as the Lithuanian Parliament and the Lithuanian National Drama Theater can be found here.
Be sure to appreciate some of the glorious stuccoed buildings on display here. Shopping and dining options are aplenty on Gediminas Avenue with a lot of boutique stores, cafes, and restaurants.
24. Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace in Vilnius has been around since Lithuania’s conversion to Christianity at the end of the 14th century. Formerly a residence for high-ranking bishops, the cream-colored manse was reconstructed in opulent Neoclassical style in 1834 and features grand colonnades and symmetrical pediments.
Over the years, the Presidential Palace has hosted numerous high-ranking dignitaries, including Napoleon Bonaparte and Tsar Alexander I. Napoleon, even used the palace during his doomed invasion of Russia. The palace was later used for a range of ceremonial purposes before becoming the Presidential Palace in 1997.
If the flag showing the coat of arms is flying over the building, it means that the President is in the country. You can witness the changing of the guard ritual that takes place in the evening at 18:00 or visit at midday on Sunday to see the fascinating flag-hoisting ceremony. Free tours of the Presidential Palace take place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tours last for about 45 minutes. Book in advance to secure your place.
25. Walk Around the Town Hall Square
Visiting the Town Hall Square is one of the best things to do in Vilnius. The square has been a marketplace for centuries and is the fulcrum around which public life in the Old Town revolves. It. Looking around, the square is quite picturesque and surrounded by multi-colored 17th and 18th-century townhouses on its east and west sides that are now home to many bars, cafes, and restaurants.
The imposing colonnaded facade of the Town Hall dominates the southern end of the square. The Town Hall was built in Neoclassical style at the end of the 18th century. It used to be a court before then, and prisoners were marched from its cells to the square to be guillotined.
26. Take A Day Trip To Trakai
Once you are done sightseeing in Vilnius, our final recommendation would be to take a day trip to Trakai from Vilnius. The picturesque town of Trakai lies a mere 30 km away from Vilnius, making it perfect for a short trip.
The town is home to the popular Trakai Island Castle, which stands on Lake Galvė. It is apparently the sole island castle in Eastern Europe and dates back to the 14th century when Trakai was the Lithuanian capital. The formidable castle looks very romantic out in the water with its cluster of red-brick watchtowers and squat round turrets topped with spindly weathercocks.
The castle is now home to a museum showcasing historical and cultural artifacts. You’ll see medieval weaponry and mannequins dressed in the traditional local dress as well as scale models of the castle showing it at different stages of its development. Other paraphernalia found during excavations, including 16th-century tankards, tiles, and coins are also on display.
The entrance to the Trakai Island Castle and museum costs 8 EUR. You can check the opening hours here. If you’re up for it, you can also go on a boat ride around the lake.
On your way to the castle, you’ll pass some quaint old wooden houses, each typically with gable ends and three windows facing the street. These rustic houses can be attributed to the Crimean Karaites (Karaim), a Turkic speaking ethnic group (practicing a branch of Judaism) that has been in Lithuania since the 14th century and has been mainly centered in Trakai. Owing to intermarriage and assimilation, there are now an estimated 300 Karaim in Lithuania, just over 100 of whom are in Trakai.
Where to Eat & Drink in Vilnius
There is a wide array of dining options in Vilnius covering a broad spectrum of cuisines, meaning that even the pickiest of eaters will be satisfied.
Some of the best bars, restaurants, cafes in Vilnius are –
1. Cat Cafe – an excellent cafe that is a great place to grab coffee and drinks. The cafe is very clean, the cats are all well looked after and are extremely friendly. If you love cats as much as I do, this place is purr-fect.
2. Kavos ERA – an elegant cafe in Vilnius that is arguably the best place for breakfast in town.
3. Huracán Coffee Vokiečiai – trendy cafe in the heart of the Old Town that serves some of the best light roasted coffee and cakes in Vilnius.
4. Zemaiciu Asotis – this rustic-style restaurant offers an extensive choice of meaty Lithuanian staples.
5. Lokys – a great restaurant that is a must-visit for anyone wanting to try traditional Lithuanian cuisine. Great assortment of game dishes.
6. Aline Leiciai – excellent brewpub in the heart of the Old Town with an interesting beer and mead selection.
7. Sue’s Indian Raja – elegantly decorated restaurant in the Old Town that serves top-notch North Indian food.
8. Da Antonio – this well-renowned Italian restaurant serves pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven and other Italian classics.
9. Sofa de Pancho – a superb little restaurant offering Mexican classics like tacos, tortillas and chili con carne, as well as great cocktails.
10. Prohibicija – one of the best places for craft beer in the city, with an extensive selection of great beer to choose from.
11. Sky Bar – if you’re on the lookout for a bar with great views over Vilnius, Sky Bar is your best bet. This chic bar is located on the 22nd floor atop the Radisson Blu Hotel. A wide variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, cocktails and finger food.
Where to Stay in Vilnius
The Old Town is the best place to stay in Vilnius as it is a good base to see all the major sights. There are plenty of good options in or in the vicinity of the Old Town for all budgets.
- Hostel: Jimmy Jumps House, in the heart of the Old Town.
- Budget: Hotel Panorama, within 2 minutes of the main train and bus stations.
- Mid-range: Art Hotel Moon Garden, great choice in the Old Town.
- Splurge: Grand Hotel Kempinski Vilnius, excellent top-choice pick in the Old Town overlooking the Cathedral Square.
Best Time To Visit Vilnius?
Vilnius is a year-round destination and when you travel depends on what you want to see and experience there.
Late spring, the summer through to early autumn or more precisely the period from May to September is undoubtedly the best time to visit Vilnius. The days are long, and there’s usually enough fine weather to allow you to stroll around. Another advantage of visiting Vilnius in the summer is that many attractions, especially those with outdoor features, operate longer opening hours.
Temperatures cool down rapidly from the beginning of October onwards, although autumn can be an extraordinarily beautiful season in which to visit, with the golden brown leaves of deciduous trees contrasting with the dark-green pines.
Vilnius can be quite atmospheric in winter when it is generally blanketed in snow, although it can also be gray and barren. Winter days can be either bitterly cold or uncomfortably damp. Days are very short and sometimes the sun doesn’t make an appearance for days on end. When it does snow, the brightness of snow and ice provides a lovely reflective quality.
Is Vilnius Safe?
Yes. Lithuania is one of the safest countries in the world, and for the most part crime in Vilnius won’t be an issue. Your chances of becoming the victim of a crime are remote, but the city is not crime-free. The most common offenses against foreigners involve petty theft, an activity that is concentrated in touristy spots in the Old Town.
Violent crime against foreigners is rare, but you can use common sense to reduce the risk. Avoid unfamiliar, unlit areas at night, particularly if you are alone.
How Does Tipping in Lithuania Work?
As far as tipping in Lithuania is concerned, service charges are generally included in hotel and restaurant bills. The general rule is to leave 10 percent or less of the total bill rounding up to the next euro or round number is often acceptable. Gratuities for waiters, hotel housekeepers, tourist guides and many others in the service sector are purely optional. Obviously, a little extra is appreciated for special services rendered, but it isn’t mandatory or expected.
Now, what do you think? What are some of the best things to do in Vilnius? And is Vilnius on your bucket list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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