While researching things to do in Vilnius I found little in the way of blog posts or newspaper articles about the city which is one of the reasons I believed it was going to be the least interesting of the Baltic States capitals.
Once again my preconceptions where proved wrong.
Vilnius is a pretty city with (seemingly) more going on than neighbouring Riga and it’s worth spending at least a few days or more if you want to include a day trip to Trakai.
UNESCO Old Town
The historic centre of Vilnius has cobblestone streets lined with buildings from almost all architectural styles and I was surprised to discover it’s one of the most beautiful Old Town’s in Eastern Europe. There are huge squares, cute narrow lane ways and too many churches to count. The diversity of architecture and its influence on the rest of region granted the city UNESCO status. Wander through the streets for hours or go cafe hopping.
The big open square at the end of Gedimino Prospektas is the heart of Vilnius where you’ll spot friends meeting up and tourists taking endless pics of Vilnius Cathedral.
Gates of Dawn
Looking down on the people from the Gates of Dawn is the elaborate shrine and painting of the Virgin Mary. People around the world still believe in its miracle working powers and the local catholics cross themselves before passing through the gate.
The recently restored Bernardine Gardens is packed with pretty flower displays in the warmer months and is the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch on a park bench or for a bit of people watching.
The riverbank is where the locals like to go after work. They’ll most likely be drinking (a lot) with friends or running along the waterfront footpath.
More things to do and see:
- Užupis – the hipster quarter in Vilnius and a self-declared independent republic with its own flag, currency, president and constitution. Their independence day, Užupis Day, falls on 1st April.
- Museum of Genocide Victims – particularly interesting if you’re curious about the Soviet occupation and the atrocities of that period.
- Gedimino Tower – for views over the city.
- St Anne’s Church – the unusual brick Gothic church.
Even though I visited in August, when many Lithuanians are on holidays, the cafes were still busy and there were a few festivals going on. You can see all the current events and festivals here.
Day Trip to Trakai
Peaceful lakes and a pretty red brick castle are what draws the crowds to Trakai. While it was easily the most touristy destination I visited in Lithuania at the same time it was the most serene (just stay away from the tour groups). Try the kybyns a kind of meat or vegetable pie introduced to Trakai by the Karaites, a minority group who originated from Crimea.
While in Vilnius we met up with fellow travel blogger Ele who introduced us to the city and more importantly put us onto the best Lithuanian cheeses. She works as a private tour guide in Vilnius and Kaunas and happily showed us some of the highlights of her home town plus I got to pry her for information on the Soviet occupation, something I’m fascinated by. I highly recommend her guide services if you want to discover more of Vilnius, especially if you’re interested in history or quirky, off the beaten path things to do.
Where to Stay
For a short stay I recommend the Novotel Hotel which is in a great spot in the old town on the main street Gedimino Prospektas. If you’re staying a bit longer I liked the Airbnb apartment where I stayed, located not far from the Novotel and just in front of the notorious Lukiškes Prison. Don’t worry, I assure you it’s a perfectly safe area. 🙂