Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania with a remarkable, cosy & UNESCO Heritage listed Old Town center, which is furrowed with alleys & streets, with breathtaking architecture & museums together with preserved historic environment. The city is divided by river Vilnia, with North being modern with skyscrapers and high rise apartments and in South it’s the sight of history & tradition jutting in the air with famous Vilnius University in the centre. The city is around 1000 years old with home to more than 100 churches, from different period & styles. In total there are around 324 Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Classicism and XIX century architectural buildings in the city.
All the churches & most of the sites in the city are FREE to visit and do not require any fees. And the places which charge, the fee is fairly low!
How we end up here? For how many days? And our accommodation?
It was primarily because of one of our close friend’s wedding at Krikštėnai, around 60 kms from Vilnius. We decided to arrive 3 days before the wedding day in order to explore Vilnius city. Our stay in the city was for 2 nights/3 days with an Airbnb host – the apartment was in Old Town.
Getting into the city from Airport is fairly easy & a cab costs only ~6 EUR to Old Town Center. There are public transport as well, between Central St & Airport and costs around 1 EUR per person.
Usual things to see/do?
The best option is to get a Vilnius City card from the Tourist Office – which make entries to some museums free, alongside providing discount on different restaurants & shopping opportunities. There is even option to choose either a FREE Guided Walking Tour or Audio Guide or Mp3 Audio Guide. We took 24 hours card without public transport towards the end of our trip.
Irrespective of how long the stay is, the below places are definitely not-to-be missed in Vilnius:
- Cathedral Square (The Cathedral, Belfry) – A junction rather than a square with a beautiful building which had been renovated numerous time and now has a renaissance architecture. Make sure to go inside and go till the end on right side – there is a small room with art pieces preserved from old times. Behind the Cathedral is the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania – worth a visit if one has got the time.
- The Upper Castle/Gediminas Tower – The most important symbol of the city overlooking the Cathedral & the Palace of Grand Dukes. The tower has got a museum – the top floor the museum presents the historical ‘The Baltic Way’ along with a documentary. Apart from the tower, there are castle ruins as well on the hill.
- Hill of crosses – Get up here to get exceptional panoramic city view (much better views than Gediminas Tower). This lies behind the Gediminas Castle, but on a different hill. So one has to come down, walk through the Bernardine Garden and take the wooden stairs to reach the top of this hill.
- Užupis – A country within a country founded by Lithuanian artists, which has it’s own government & constitution and has an army of 12 people! It’s lot different then rest of the city. The main highlight is their constitution which is written on the wall.
- Literatų Gatvė/Literatų Street – A street presenting the art of all styles & sizes on the walls paying homage to the poets and writers who have influenced Lithuanian literature.
- Museum of Genocide Victims/KGB Museum – NOT TO BE MISSED EXPERIENCE, purely because of it’s in-depth representation of the Genocides during Soviet & Nazi times, and especially walk through the prison cells which have been preserved in it’s original form!
- Town Hall Square – Again a junction with triangle shape rather than a square with base towards Gates of Dawn and a beautiful Town Hall. More of a place to hang out, or to sip a beer on a sunny day!
- The Gates of Dawn – The most religious monument, pilgrims travel here to visit the chapel and pray to Virgin’s Mary painting, that believed to have miraculous powers.
Few churches worth mentioning are: St. Nicolas Church – The oldest orthodox church & may be the oldest building in Vilnius; St Anne & Bernardine Churches; Russian churches in & around Town Hall Square and Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit.
What more? Hidden/Out of regulars!
Alumnatas courtyard – the place which opens up to a view to the rear of the presidential palace. The courtyard is a bit tricky to find and has an elephant statue holding a chessboard for people to play on. We visited this place as part of our walking tour.
Barbakanas bastion – The place where one can admire the remains of 16th Century Vilnius city wall. Moreover, the city view from this place is pretty nice as it’s on a hill.
Vilnius University Courtyard – Probably the best places to soak up the city & it’s history. The University lies in the Old Town and is the oldest in the Baltics.
Bernardine Garden – Even though it’s besides Cathedral Square, it’s mostly over looked. However, it’s one of the nicest places in the city to hang out. A great place to watch local life & interact with locals.
How about Coffee Breaks?
There are tons of cafes all over the city which provides a nice cosy setting to relax and sip in nicely brewed coffees & their traditional pastries or cakes.
Pinavija Cafe & Bakery – A small & cosy cafe with lovely décor, quite girly though! Have wide varieties of snacks to choose from, which tastes delicious. Quite popular among locals as well. Tried the Napolean cake along with some traditional pastries!
Vero Cafe – Chain of cafes, which can be found all over Vilnius. Great place to relax and spend some quality coffee time while being connected to Internet! Though, it’s pretty usual to find free WiFi in Vilnius at most of the places.
Forto Dvaras – Probably one of the most advertised and popular restaurant serving traditional Lithuanian Cuisine in Vilnius. We went once for the dinner and that’s the place I tired ‘Smoked Pork Ears’ – raw in taste and it went well for first 4-5 pieces and that’s max one can eat from the plate! Loved this weird beer snack 😛
Senoji Trobele – Another restaurant serving traditional Lithuanian Cuisine, which actually had better taste than Forto Dvaraa – but again both the places are worth trying.
Debut Cafe – A usual Thai Cafe in center with good food choices and decent taste.
Uzupio kavine – Nice option for eat out with some drinks by sitting alongside the river.
Yes, during our last day in Vilnius, there was Vilnius City Fiesta 2015 as part of which there was Street Market in front of Cathedral Square on Gediminas Avenue serving all sorts of Lithuanian food, hand made items and drinks – it was quite interesting to see the different things this country has to offer.
Also, there are couple of great Apps which provides lot of info about the city. We tried the Android version and loved both of them (a great alternative to maps and to avoid all the paper-hassle):
Vilnius is one of the city which cannot be overlooked and since it’s not very popular among travelers, it’s one of the places which is quite untouched and has a sense of freshness attached to it! And economically comparing to other European capitals, it’s fairly cheap!
So, hop on to bus/train/flight/car or whatever & travel to Vilnius 🙂
Until next time Viso Gero (Goodbye in English)!