Lithuania’s capital and largest city, Vilnius, is steeped in history, with lots for visitors to see and do. Located in the southeast of the Baltic state, the city straddles the banks of the Neris River and has long attracted traders and travelers to its ancient streets. Consequently, there is a very multicultural feel to it, with German, Polish, Russian, and of course, Lithuanian influences all on show.
Home to impressive churches and cathedrals, cozy cafes, and quirky art installations, Vilnius boasts one of the best-preserved Old Towns in Europe. While it was once known as ‘the Jerusalem of the North,’ its thriving Jewish population was sadly wiped out during the Second World War. A number of historic tourist attractions, cultural landmarks, and fascinating museums are tragically all that remains of the sizeable community.
Nowadays, however, it is a very pretty and peaceful place, with plenty of parks and green spaces dotted around. It is this lovely, laidback feel that make the things to do in Vilnius a delight to explore.
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12. Vilnius University
One of the oldest higher education institutions in the whole of Central Europe and the Baltics, Vilnius University was remarkably founded all the way back in the 16th century. As various buildings, courtyards, and galleries were added over the years, it showcases a wide range of architectural styles.
Wandering around the campus is a treat as you pass wonderful Baroque, Classical, and Gothic features. The two main attractions are its lovely library and the Church of St. John, both of which make for majestic sights. While the university may be centuries old, it still hums with life as students and tourists alike congregate in the Grand Courtyard.
11. Vilnil Museum of Illusions
Only opened in 2016, the Vilnil Museum of Illusions is a fun and fascinating place to visit that is dedicated to a rather unique and unusual field. As the name indicates, the museum looks at optical illusions. Some of its interactive exhibitions really are mind-boggling to behold.
Perusing its creative, perspective-altering installations, 3D paintings, and virtual reality displays make for a cool experience. In addition to this, the museum also hosts amazing LED dance shows and performances every week.
10. Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
Once the cultural and political center of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, this fantastic palace actually only dates to 2018. This is because the original was destroyed in 1801 after having stood in the same spot since at least the 15th century. Located within Vilnius’ Lower Castle, the reconstructed palace now features some marvelous Baroque, Gothic, and Renaissance-style ceremonial halls and serves as an excellent museum.
While exploring its grounds, you’ll get to see the ruins and remnants of the former palace and lots of interesting exhibitions on the history of Lithuania. With so many wonderful artifacts, artworks, and architecture on show, the Grand Duke’s palace has something that will interest everyone.
9. Gediminas Tower
Boasting one of the best views of the city, Gediminas Tower has watched over Vilnius and the Neris River ever since 1409. Set upon a prominent hilltop, the tower is one of the only remaining parts of the Upper Castle still on show and was rebuilt in its current form in 1933. The three-tiered red brick tower looks very distinctive. Inside, there are some fabulous models of what the castle used to look like.
The main highlight, however, is the breathtaking view you can enjoy from its observation deck. To reach Gediminas Tower, visitors can take a delightful little funicular ride up the side of the hill to the important and historical sight, which acts as a symbol of the city.
8. Uzupis Statue
Surrounded on three sides by the Vilnia River which loops around it, Uzupis is the artsiest and most bohemian neighborhood of the city. Meaning ‘beyond the river’ in Lithuanian, the self-proclaimed ‘republic’ certainly has its own distinctive look, feel, and identity. This is perfectly encapsulated in the magnificent statue that lies at its heart – the Angel of Uzupis.
While the angel blowing on a horn was erected in honor of Zenonas Steinys, a local animator, the bronze sculpture has since come to represent the rejuvenation and revitalization of the quirky district.
7. Gate of Dawn
Built between 1503 and 1522, the gorgeous Gate of Dawn is the only remaining part of Vilnius’ city wall still standing. Not only a significant historical and cultural landmark, the gate is also a popular pilgrimage site as it is home to a famous and revered chapel of the same name.
Within the chapel is an exquisite painting and icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and many people come here to pay their respects or pray for miracles. Entering Vilnius for the first time through such a monumental gate really is an unforgettable way to start your trip.
6. Vilnius Cathedral
Glimmering in the light, the bright white Vilnius Cathedral and beautiful belfry before it are one of the main symbols and sights in the city. While a wooden cathedral was first erected here all the way back in 1387, the current Neoclassical building only dates to 1783.
Very elegant to gaze upon, it is here in the cathedral that the Grand Dukes of Lithuania used to be coronated. Fitting of such an auspicious occasion, the interior is lavishly decorated, with lots of splendid artworks and frescoes on display. Its crypts and catacombs are also well worth exploring: these house the remains of many of the nation’s most famous figures, and the tombs themselves make for a magnificent sight.
5. KGB Museum
Recently renamed the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, the KGB Museum (as it is informally known) certainly looks at a tough, troublesome, and tragic part of the country’s history. Located in a huge building that once acted as the KGB’s headquarters in Vilnius, the museum houses lots of harrowing displays that document the country’s 50-year occupation by the Soviet Union.
Its vast collection includes artifacts, photos, and the prison cells themselves in which the Lithuanian resistance were tortured and executed. Although it is not for the faint-hearted, the KGB Museum is definitely worth visiting for the important light it sheds on Lithuania’s troubled past.
4. Church of St Peter and St Paul
Although the Church of St Peter and St Paul does not appear all that special at first sight, visiting it really is a must when in Vilnius. This is because its breathtaking Baroque interior boasts some spectacular stuccoes, with around 2,000 intricately carved figures on show. It is this huge number that makes the church unique in Europe.
Painted in a dazzling bright white, its interior sparkles before your eyes and looks very elegant and ornate. Interspersed among the never-ending stuccoes are some wonderful frescoes for you to enjoy, as well as a fantastic Rucoco pulpit. Built between 1675 and 1704, the Church of St Peter and St Paul offers a visual extravaganza with so many sculptures and stuccoes for you to take in.
3. Hill of Three Crosses
Towering above Vilnius, the Hill of Three Crosses boasts brilliant 360-degree panoramas of the city and its surroundings. While its viewpoint is the main attraction, the hill and the three crosses set atop it are actually an important historic site, and symbol of the country’s rebirth.
As the legend goes, wooden crosses were erected atop of the hill all the way back in the 17th century to commemorate seven Franciscan friars who were beheaded here. In the fifties, however, the Soviets removed them, with the current monuments only being built in 1989 as the union was collapsing. As such, the Three Crosses came to symbolize the nation’s reawakening. Popular among both tourists and locals alike, many people come here in the evening to watch the sun set over the city.
2. St. Anne’s Church
Lying on the banks of the Vilnia River, St. Anne’s Church is undoubtedly one of the most impressive and beautiful buildings in the city. Dating to the year 1500, the church was built in a Flamboyant Gothic style, and this is what makes it so appealing. Flanked by two towers, with a delightful spire lying between them, its elegant red brick facade really does make for a beautiful sight.
While its Baroque interior is somewhat plain in comparison, its main altar is well worth checking out. One of the most prominent landmarks in Vilnius, the gorgeous St. Anne’s Church lies just a stone’s throw away from many of the Old Town’s most important sights.
1. Old Town
One of the largest and most well-preserved historic centers in Northern Europe and the Baltics, Vilnius’s Old Town is a treat to explore, with marvelous medieval buildings wherever you look. Encompassing some 74 different quarters, it is home to a wide array of different architectural styles. You’ll find Baroque and Classical palaces and artisans’ guilds on show alongside Gothic and Renaissance churches and cathedrals.
Interspersed among its many historical sights and cultural landmarks are atmospheric cafes and restaurants that also date back centuries. With numerous different sides to it, you can be walking through the castle complex one minute, Cathedral Square the next, before finding yourself in the Vilnius Ghetto. With so much for you to see and do, Vilnius’ Old Town is the highlight of any trip to the city.
Best Time to Visit Vilnius
Tucked away in the southeast of the country, Lithuania’s capital Vilnius sees the most people visit in both summer and winter. While July and August are perfect for sightseeing, outdoor dining and making the most of the warm weather, December sees magical Christmas lights and sometimes snow transforms the Old Town into a winter wonderland.
With average temperatures reaching 16 to 22°C (61 to 71°F), May through September is by far the best time to visit Vilnius. Many of its biggest events like the Capital Days Festival and Vilnius Culture Night also take place. Along with Christmastime, this is the busiest and most expensive period.
Although the city is already greyer and darker, many also visit for the Vilnius Jazz Festival in October. Its glittering golden trees also make for some great photos alongside its beautiful Baroque buildings.
From November to early January, the city’s cozy Christmas market and colourful decorations convince many to brave temperatures of -3 to 4°C (26 to 39°F). A festive atmosphere prevails despite the long dark days.
After the New Year’s Eve celebrations, the city sleeps until spring when its pretty blooming flowers appear again.