10 things to do and see in Vilnius

A complete and detailed guide about 10 things to do and see in Vilnius in 1, 2 or 3 days

10 things to do and see in Vilnius
10 things to do and see in Vilnius

Vilnuis has one of the best preserved old town centre in Europe and can be considered one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Unfortunately it’s still not considered one of the must see places in Europe and it’s a pity.

The Old Town is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the Cathedral Square and the Town Hall, the Jewish Quarter and the “independent republic” of Uzupis. To see all at once the small but perfect city center, you can  climb up to the Hill of Three Crosses or Gedeminas Tower, two symbols of national history. In Vilnius there are many churches and religious places of all worship: don’t miss  the Cathedral, the Church of St. Anne and the Synagogue in the Jewish Ghetto. In this page we suggest 10 things to do and see during a holiday or a weekend in Vilnius.

If you are looking for a hotel in Vilnius, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 200 hotels with prices, pictures  and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com

The Old Town in Vilnius

1

About 80 districts, 70 streets and 1.487 buildings concentrated in a little more than 3 square kilometers, make the Old Town (Senamiestis) one of the most beautiful historic centers in Europe.

The Old Town in Vilnius
The Old Town in Vilnius

That’s why it’s protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also characterized by different architectural styles such as Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Neoclassical.

The heart of the Old Town is made by two squares: Cathedral Square (see point 2) and the one of the City Hall, both in the neoclassical style. You’ll admire beautiful views,  but Pilies street, that from 1530 bring to the Castle of Vilnius, offers the most beautiful one. Once it was crossed by the king’s cortège, nowadays there are  tourists looking for souvenirs or some restaurants. In the old town you can admire also the Jewish and Uzupis District  (see points 5 and 7).

The Vilnius Cathedral

2

The Cathedral was built where once there was a  temple dedicated to the god of thunder Perkunas. People says that it was the first place of worship consecrated to Catholicism and  the point from which began the Christianization of Lithuania.

The Vilnius Cathedral
The Vilnius Cathedral

The cathedral, dedicated to Saints Stanislaus and Ladislaus, was built between 1779 and 1793 in Neoclassical style with a portico composed by 6 columns  and a  pediment on which is represented the scene of Noah’s sacrifice back from the flood. The interior is simple, with three naves with vaulted ceilings and the beautiful Baroque chapel dedicated to St. Casimir. Very unique is the bell tower. Between the Cathedral and the Bell Tower there is the Stebuklas (miracle), a stone that according to legend grants the wishes if you turn 3 times around it…

Where: old town centre
How to get there: by feet

Gediminas Tower and the Vilnius Castle

3

We suggest you to take the cable railway  and then to climb up to the Gediminas Tower, the remains of the ancient Castle of Vilnius.

Gediminas Tower and the Vilnius Castle
Gediminas Tower and the Vilnius Castle

The castle, built in the IX century, was the house of the Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1323 but, above all, the fundamental construction of the defensive system of the city. Destroyed by fire in 1400, the remains were devastated. The Tower that you will see now is a reconstruction of 1960 and hosts a museum. The national flag on the roof of the tower has a great symbolic importance for all Lithuanians. Over the centuries, before the Poles, then the Nazis, then the Russians tore it off but the Lithuanians have always raised their flag. From the tower you can admire a wonderful panorama of Vilnius and its surroundings.

Museum

Where: Behind the Cathedral.
How to get there: by   the cable railway  from the river (3 Litas, 1 €)
When – Hours: 10 am -7 pm  from May to September and 10 am -5 pm  October to April
Tickets: 5 Litas (about 1,5 €)

The Hill of Three Crosses in Vilnius

4

According to the legend, the Three Crosses in Vilnius are located in the place where a group of French monks were martyred.

The Hill of Three Crosses in Vilnius
The Hill of Three Crosses in Vilnius

According to the folk tale, 7 were killed and other 7 were  tied to wooden crosses and thrown into the river, with the recommendation to go back where they came.

The crosses that today are on the hill, are not those of 1400 because they have been destroyed or removed several times, the last time in 1950 by the Soviet regime. These crosses  have been carved in 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Three Crosses Hill is  one of the most beautiful places in Vilnius, not because of the view of the city but because it’s a place of secular devotion turned into a symbol of freedom during and after Communism. The climb to the hill is hard  and can be difficult when it snows or rains.

Where: from Gediminas Tower, across the river and then the forest.
When – Hours: always
Tickets: for free

The Jewish District of Vilnius

5

When in 1941 the Nazis came to Vilnius in the city there were about 40,000 Jews. During that time the city  was also called the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” for the big number of Jewish .

The Jewish District of Vilnius
The Jewish District of Vilnius

When in 1945 the Nazis were sent away  by the Red Army, in Vilnius remained a few hundred Jews, almost all survived because they run away into the woods outside the town.

Until the time of the Nazi invasion, Jews had lived freely in the city, in their own neighbourhood but had not known the ghetto experience. The Nazis, however, built two ghettos to control them better: the Great Ghetto (29,000 Jews) and the Small Ghetto (11,000 Jews). From that moment violence and abuse  happened every day until the final solution of extermination. Most Jews were killed in Paneriai, a forest, about ten kilometres from Vilnius. A large part of the Jewish Quarter palaces, now house some institution  that remind that period: the Jewish Community of Lithuania, the museum dedicated to Vilna Gaon (the famous jew essay around the world) and the monument dedicated to Tsemakh Shabad , the legendary doctor in the ghetto. The Great Synagogue was completely destroyed first by war and then by the Soviets, so you can only visit the beautiful Choral Synagogue in Moorish style.

Church of St. Anne in Vilnius

6

The Church of St. Anne, perhaps the most beautiful one of Vilnius, is the gift that the King Vytautas gave to his wife Anna.

Church of St. Anne in Vilnius
Church of St. Anne in Vilnius

The first building dates back to 1394 but the present church is the result of changes made in 1582 and then in 1900. A fine example of gothic style, the Church of St. Anne is now one of the photographic postcards of Vilnius. The red brick, the two towers, and the façade are an irresistible tourist attraction.

The beauty of the church is the result of an innovative use of architectural elements: those typically Gothic are contained in rectangular frames that give an overall sense of dynamism and order. Built using 33 different types of painted brick, the Church has a baroque interior with a single nave. It seems that Napoleon, during the Russian Military Campaign expressed a desire to “Bring it in France on the palm of his hand”.

Where: At 600 meters from the Cathedral toward Uzupis
How to get there: by feet
When – Hours: From May to September 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. From October to April 5:00 to 7:00 pm
Tickets: free entrance

Uzupis District in Vilnius

7

Like Cristhiania in Copenhagen, and (once) Montmartre in Paris, Uzupis is a “Republic” apart, a city within a city. Here live mainly artists and intellectuals and they organize festivals, exhibitions, cultural events, concerts, performances and exhibitions of all types.

Uzupis District in Vilnius
Uzupis District in Vilnius

Uzupis district is the most fashionable and expensive in Vilnius but until a few years ago it was the most dangerous place in the Lithuanian capital. It was precisely the low prices of homes (no one wanted) to attract poor artists in search of accommodation. Since then it has  become a separate place and has even its own constitution, its President and a coin. The Constitution, which you can see posted at the beginning of Paupio Street, contains extraordinary “banalities” that could be an inspiration to many constitutions of other states.

The name Užupis means “place near the river” and, in fact, the district is  directly placed on the Vilnia. One of the two symbolic characters of Uzupis is a bronze mermaid created by sculptor Romas Vilčiauskas. If you want to see it, you have to walk along the riverbank and look for the niche in which it is housed. Always the same sculptor is the author of the statue of the Archangel Gabriel, who plays the trumpet (angel of Uzupis) located in the main square of the district

Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius

8

For those who believe that trips are useful for their personal discovery and growth, a visit to the Museum of Genocide Victims (Genocido Auku Muziejus) is shocking but an inevitable experience.

Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius
Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius

In the former headquarters of the KGB, the notorious secret police of the Soviet regime, was set up this path that tells the dark years of persecution lived by the Lithuanian people. About one million people were deportee in Siberia and never came back.

In the ground floor and the first floor  there’s an  historical journey through the repression suffered by the Lithuanians with pictures, documents, videos, uniforms. The underground is the most shocking place, with prisons, torture and executions chambers.

Where: Auku G2a
When – Hours: From Wednesday to Sunday, from 10 am  to 6 pm.
Tickets: 6 Litas (about 2 euro)

Things to eat in Vilnius

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The Vilnius kitchen is a successful response to the terrible Baltic climate: potatoes, meat, cheese and vegetables are the basic components of the main dishes of Vilnius.

Things to eat in Vilnius
Things to eat in Vilnius

There will never miss from the menu cepelinai : big potato dumplings stuffed with meat and spices. They are also called Zeppelin to the size and shape, similar to that of the old blimp. To make things even less digestible, the cepelinai are sauteed with bacon, onion and sour cream. Potatoes are the protagonists (kugelis) of potato sausages (vėdarai) and also of the šakotis cake.

The Polish domination over Lithuania is clear  even at the table, with koldūnai, dumplings stuffed with meat, cranberries, cheese or vegetables. Don’t miss the soups, among which the most famous is the unpronounceable šaltibarščiai, made with chard, eggs and cheese. They drink mostly beer produced locally, almost very light.

Where to sleep in Vilnius

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Vilnius is still a very economical destination with a good range of hotels, B&Bs and apartments for tourists. It’s not difficult to find a room in the Old City for less than 40 euro per night.

Where to sleep in Vilnius
Where to sleep in Vilnius

You can sleep in an excellent 3 star hotel  spending a little more, while with about 100 Euros you can enjoy  super-luxury hotels or 5 star. Of course on weekends and during the high season (from spring to early autumn) there is more demand then we recommend you to book in advance.

If you are looking for a hotel in Vilnius, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 200 hotels with prices, pictures  and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com