Vilnius, Lithuania is a perfect destination for a European city break. Once you have answered the question: “Where is Vilnius?” and located it on the map for your next trip, you will discover that it is compact, comparatively inexpensive, offers plenty of sights to keep you going “oooh” and “aaaaah” and great food, coffee and beer to fuel you in between the sightseeing. Vilnius has a particular Eastern European charm, but at the same time is less discovered and flooded by tourists than Prague and Tallinn. I would dare say that this is the most adorable city in the world, and coming from Vilnius myself I know what I am talking about.
I wrote posts about places I visited in other countries, but a week ago my cousin asked me: Do you have any post for the first-time visitor? Something which will give them the list of the must-visit places, foods to try and things to do in Vilnius. And I realised that while I have some posts on some districts of Vilnius and people living in Vilnius, I actually do not have the most basic information on what to do in Vilnius.
I sat and thought of things I would show people, who came here for the first time and felt slightly jealous, imagining how they will explore Vilnius and fall in love with it. It is a similar feeling to loving a book, imagining how someone else will read it for the first time and how happy it will make them feel.
So here is the guide for your first time in Vilnius. Prepare to fall in love forever!
The pictures in this post are taken by my fellow Vilnius-lover Dovile from Photful Photography.
Table of Contents
- 0.1 1 Stroll through the Old Town
- 0.2 2 View the city from above
- 0.3 3 Cross the river to visit the Republic of Uzupis
- 0.4 4 Taste local food
- 0.5 5 Explore the former Jewish Ghetto quarters
- 0.6 6 Relax in one of the parks
- 0.7 7 Check out the churches
- 0.8 8 Cool off in the fountains
- 0.9 9 Drink coffee… and then some more coffee
- 0.10 10 Explore history and culture in the Museums
- 1 Some practical information about Vilnius:
1 Stroll through the Old Town
Let us start your Vilnius weekend from the beginning. The heart of the city is the Old Town, and while we will go a bit more in detail on the different parts of it, you need to feel Vilnius first. To do that there is no better way to just stroll through the cobbled streets of Vilnius old town. Make sure you see the white Cathedral Square with the Bell Tower. Next to the Bell Tower there is a little tile, on which you will notice the word “Stebuklas” (meaning “Miracle”). Step on the tile, close your eyes, think of a wish and turn around three times. This is Vilnius for you – full of small miracles, you just need to know where to look.
Continue on the street called Pilies, stopping to admire the street musicians. Wander into the University Quarter, check out the Presidential Palace and peek into any of the small court yards you find on your way – some of them are nothing special, but some hide treasures like most picturesque small balconies with red gardenia flowers and fat red cats sleeping on the warm stones, ancient sculpture of a blue Madonna or a little marble chess table with two elephants holding it on their backs (please let me know, if you have found any of those!).
Continue all the way up to the City Hall and further to the Gate of Dawn, which used to be the gate in the city walls. Depending on your interests, this tour can take anything from an hour to a full day or even more. I myself still discover new things here.
2 View the city from above
Now you have felt the atmosphere of Vilnius from the inside, it is a good time to have a look on it from above to get a bit better idea of the structure. Although Lithuania is a pretty flat country, Vilnius offer plenty opportunities to see the city panorama from above, and you just have to chose one of the options which is most in your style.
First and most obvious is climbing one of the hills in the city centre. One of them is Hill of Crosses, with three white crosses on top of it. Another is the Gediminas’ Hill with the red brick tower on the top of it. And the third and least known is so-called Bekes Hill with nothing on it, but a great view from its top.
If you are more into the stairs, you can then chose either the St John’s Church in the University of Vilnius or the Bell Tower near the Vilnius Cathedral.
For a view with a coffee or a meal try the TV Tower, which has a rotating restaurant in the middle of it, making it jus a perfect place for Vilnius sightseeing in a relaxed way. And if you want to enjoy the view slowly, drive or walk by the panoramic spot on Subaciaus street with a little coffee shop, a trampoline and binoculars. What more could you ask for?
Finally, if you want a view which you will never forget, go for a hot air balloon flight over Vilnius. These are very popular, so if you are feeling adventurous, try it yourself, and if not – enjoy watching many colourful balloons flying above the city.
3 Cross the river to visit the Republic of Uzupis
Let’s go abroad! Yes, you have heard me correctly. The Republic of Uzupis, although located right next to the Old Town has proclaimed its independence and has now its flag, government and constitution. The latter is particularly worth mentioning, as for me it is the most reasonable constitution I have ever seen. It has the important points, which many states have somehow omitted, like for example:
Everyone has the right to be unique.
No one has the right to violence.
Everyone has the right to be happy.
Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
To read all the 41 point, stroll through the district of Uzupis past its symbol: the Angel to the street of Paupio. Spend some time to explore the district, its small bridges over the river of Vilnele and the swing underneath one of them, its sculptures and boutiques.
4 Taste local food
If you are hungry, I have good news. There are so many good places to eat in Vilnius that your only problem will be to pick one of them. Eating in general is one of my top things to do in Vilnius city. If you want to try some local foods, here is what are the most traditional ones:
Fried garlic bread with cheese as a starter
Cepelinai – giant boiled potato dumplings with meat inside
Saltibarsciai – cold bright pink beetroot soup with hot boiled potatoes on the side
Many variations of meat and potato dishes, usually served with sour cream and rather heavy (but tasty too!)
Tinginys and Sakotis – two traditional cakes
5 Explore the former Jewish Ghetto quarters
Did you know that Vilnius was called Jerusalem of the North due to a very big Jewish population? Vilnius tourism is not only about happy moments, so next I would take you to the Small Ghetto quarter, beginning near the City Hall from Didzioji street. This Ghetto was liquidated in 1941, and the Big Ghetto made up of the Rūdninkų, Mėsinių, Ašmenos, Žemaitijos and others. The Big Ghetto was too liquidated in 1943, and later the Soviets destroyed the Great Synagogue.
Now the streets of the former Ghetto look just like all the others, bustling with life, with just plates on the walls to inform the tourist of what was happening here in the past. In order to learn more about this part of Vilnius history, I would recommend booking a guided tour. It does not have to be long, and I guarantee that you will get a lot out of it.
6 Relax in one of the parks
Seeing all those Vilnius tourist attractions can be a bit tiring, right? If this is the case, I know just a place for you to relax a bit. Head straight to one of the parks for Vilnius. The one in the Centre is called Bernardinai Gardens, where you can admire the herb gardens, have a little dessert and let your kids play at the playground.
If you want to head out of the centre for a bit, try Vingis Park near the river Neris, which is half park and half pine forest with paths great for cycling and rollerskating. I used to spend every day of my first years there with my grand mother, and even have some trees I still greet personally when I go there.
To have even more of a nature experience, try Verkiai Park. If Bernardinai is a proper city park, and Vingis is a mix of a park and a forest, then Verkiai is a 30% park and 70% vast foresty land, where you can go for a proper hike.
7 Check out the churches
When you are in Vilnius Old town, look around yourself and count how many churches you can see – there will be many. My friend from Malta once told me that Vilnius was the only place, where he has seen more churches than in Malta – and that means something.
If you want to visit some from the inside, here are some places for to visit in Vilnius:
The Gate of Dawn – famous for the golden icon of Madonna, which you can actually see from the street without entering the actual church.
Church of St. Peter and St. Paul – white baroque church. The most impressive part is the decoration inside, so do pop in.
Vilnius Cathedral – well, the main church of Vilnius.
Churches of St. Anne and Bernardinai – two churches stuck together, representing the early and the late Gothic styles (very handy for Vilnius teachers to use as an example, when teaching children art in school).
8 Cool off in the fountains
Some years ago I had an impression that the fountains in Vilnius are on only when it rains. Well, it is not the case any more, and some fountains are so cool that you might feel the urge to jump in yourself.
For some urban bathing on a very hot day, consider the new fountain on Lukiskes square. There you will for sure have some company of bathers: children and adults alike. Another similar fountain is located next to the Amberton Hotel near the Vilnius Cathedral. And if it is still hot, head straight to Uzupis or Bernardinai Park and dip your tired feet into the river Vilnele.
9 Drink coffee… and then some more coffee
Oh, I can go on for ages about the best places to drink coffee in Vilnius, because this is one of my favourite Vilnius activities. Actually, I already did go for ages about it once, so here is a link for you to the 10 best places to have coffee in Vilnius. Cheers!
10 Explore history and culture in the Museums
Are you a museum person? I am definitely not, but I sometimes give in and visit them on a rainy day (oh, I forgot to mention there are plenty of those in Vilnius!). Sometimes I am surprised how much I actually enjoyed the day there and promise myself to go to the museums more often *and then remember this promise a year later*. But you are probably not like me, and like a bit of culture. Here are some good ones to try:
The Genocide Museum near Lukiskes square (remember the fountain where you just bathed in?). The history of KGB in Lithuania – very recent and relevant.
National Gallery – to learn more about Lithuanian art as well as to admire the perfect building which hosts it.
Toy Museum – Oh, I loved that one. Only I did not realised that I myself am that old that MY toys belong in the museum already. But it is a perfect example of an interactive museum, where you can play with toys from the stone age to modern days.
Modern Art Centre (SMC) – changing exhibition, so worth paying a visit on each of your visits to Vilnius, if you are a modern art lover.
Some practical information about Vilnius:
Getting to Vilnius
You can get some really good deals to Vilnius with low-costs. Ryanair and Wizzair fly here, and you can get some great prices from many European cities. Another airline worth checking is AirBaltic – a bit more expensive than the two above metioned ones, but still decent. And of course you can check out some other deals with any flight search engine to get the best part from your destination.
Some of Vilnius Hotels for you to chose from:
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