The quirky capitol of Vilnius captured my heart during a visit a few years ago. It’s a small city, and the old town can easily be explored over a weekend trip. But why limit yourself to a weekend? I would definitely recommend budgeting some extra time to explore Vilnius and the surrounding region, but if you are short on time this guide should help.
Spend the entire day exploring the old town of Vilnius which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Several tour operators provide free (and paid) walking tour options, and this is a great option if you want to get some more background and history to the city. If you are going to make your own walking tour, here are a few sites not to miss.
Gates of Dawn
Medieval Vilnius was surrounded by city walls. These (to the most part) no longer exist, except for one remaining city gate, the Gates of Dawn. There is a small chapel inside the gates, but the main attraction, a shining gold icon of the Virgin Mary, is visible from the street.
Gediminas Castle was the home of the Grand Duke Gediminas in the 1400’s. The castle is perched on a hill, near to the old town, and the tower offers excellent views over the city. Walking to and from the castle, will take you along Pilies Street. This cobblestoned street is home to some great cafes and souvineer shops, and is a picturesque place to stop for a break.
Most of the free walking tours leave from here. The Vilnius Cathedral and the neighboring bell tower are symbols of the city. Also, if you are visiting the cathedral, don’t forget to check out the crypts which hold the remains of famous historical figures.
Hill of Three Crosses
Finish off your old town tour by climbing the Hill of Three Crosses. The three crosses themselves of historical importance, and have been replaced several times, most recently after being destroyed by the soviets. It’s a great place to look over the city and reflect after a day of walking.
After exploring the old town and getting your bearings, it’s time to museum it up. Vilnius is home to some world class museums and the following are some you should try to visit.
Museum of Genocide Victims
i have always had a particular interest in Soviet history, and spent some time studying it at uni. So I always make time to visit Soviet and KGB museums while touring Eastern Europe. It’s not the sunniest of material, but it’s important that we all learn about the darkest days of human history so that we can try to not repeat it. The Museum of Genocide Victims is one of the best KGB museums I have visited.
The “independant” republic of Užupis isn’t a museum, but this fun and quirky little neighbourhood is home to loads of artists, musicians, and bohemians so it makes the list anyway. It’s a great place to go to find interesting cafes and restaurants for when you need to recharge from your museum day. Also don’t miss the “constitution”, which has now been translated into almost every language imaginable. My favourite article is number 10 – everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.
National Museum of Lithuania
The National Museum of Lithuania is a massive building holding an impressive collection of 800,000 objects detailing Lithuania’s history and culture. A visit here will certainly broaden your understanding of this small country.
Contemporary Art Centre
The Contemporary Art Centre is one of the better contemporary art museums that I have been to. The exhibitions are always changing, so check out their website to see what will be showing during your visit.