Don’t you love stumbling across new destinations that you immediately fall in love with and find out that they far exceed any expectations you may have had prior to visiting? This is exactly what we experienced when we left the gorgeous Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius. Following an amazing 48 hours in Warsaw, Poland, we headed to Lithuania to experience the very best things to do in Vilnius. Just like the rest of our Baltic states adventure, this was a fast and furious journey around the Lithuanian capital but we certainly got value for money during our stay!
Whether you are an avid historian or simply want to learn about Lithuanian culture, visitors to Vilnius will immediately realize that this is a city stacked full of rich history, heritage, and proud local culture.
Renowned for the myriad of baroque style architecture and the iconic medieval old town, Vilnius is a city that you will find hard not to fall in love with. Let’s take a look at how you can best spend 24 hours in this city (or longer if you are fortunate enough to have a few days in this part of Lithuania).
Where to Stay in Vilnius?
Regardless of where you visit around Europe, you will never be short of accommodation options. Vilnius is no different and ultimately it’s going to come down to three different components – budget, location and hotel style/preference. We think that we have found a hotel that satisfies all three of these but it’s always personal preference and we are slightly biased given that we had an amazing one night stay there.
The Panorama Hotel is situated in the Old Town of Vilnius next to the Gate of Dawn and the Town Hall Square ensuring that guests are in the perfect location to explore the very best of the medieval city.
Did I mention affordable? That’s right, you can stay here for approximately $40 a night!! And finally, hotel style…well, it’s a contemporary style hotel and offers spacious rooms and an excellent breakfast buffet. What more do you need when visiting Lithuania?
Things to Do in Vilnius
You have to embrace the history and gorgeous medieval architecture when you explore Vilnius. The majority of our time in Vilnius was spent exploring the “Old Town” and honestly, this is the best part of the city to experience.
I’m sure many of you that are familiar with Vilnius or at least have heard of the Lithuanian capital will know about the stereotypes of Eastern (Northern) Europe. Many of these are negative and associate the Baltic nations as being “underdeveloped.” This is far from the truth and we hope to dismiss all of these stereotypes by sharing our experiences in Vilnius.
Here are some of the landmarks, attractions, and experiences that we encountered during our rapid tour of Vilnius:
- Gates of Dawn
- Church of St. Anne
- Bell Tower of Vilnius Cathedral
- Vilnius Cathedral
- Cathedral Square
- Three Crosses
- Old Town Architecture
Let’s take a look at which each of these spots is significant enough to spend time exploring during your visit to Lithuania.
Gates of Dawn
The Gate of Dawn, also known as Sharp Gate, is a city gate that dates back to the early 16th century. This monument is iconic throughout Vilnius primarily because of its religious affiliation and the intention of artifacts on these gates to prevent attacks and guard the city.
Today, this is frequently referenced as the entrance to Vilnius’ Old Town but regardless of your religious affiliation, this is an architectural masterpiece that you cannot help but appreciate.
Church of St. Anne
If you love gothic architecture, you are in for a real treat when you start exploring Vilnius, particularly when your eyes catch glimpse of the incredible Church of St. Anne. Dating back to the year 1500 when construction was completed, this place of worship was allegedly found by the one and only Napoleon Bonaparte, who claimed to have wanted to take this back to Paris in the palm of his hand.
The reality is of course, very different but we can all live in Napoleon’s dream!
The church of St Anne is a masterpiece of the late Gothic period. (Vilnius Tourism)
The vivid colors of the red brick are stereotypical of a flamboyant gothic style architecture and this is perhaps the best example across Europe of this particular style. It is an iconic building in Vilnius, not only because of the unmistakable sight of the facade but also because of the importance for locals and visitors alike that want to visit this church to worship.
We caught a glimpse of the inside which consists of a baroque style architecture but the real beauty here is when you take a stroll along the street and admire the exterior of the Church of St. Anne!
Bell Tower of Vilnius Cathedral
The Bell Tower of Vilnius Cathedral is one of the oldest towers in the city and offers gorgeous panoramic views of the Old Town for those interested in climbing to the summit. Standing at 52 meters (170 feet) in height, it towers above the Cathedral Square and is a popular attraction for visitors.
Aside from the spectacular views, the history of this Bell Tower is what makes this such an attractive landmark. The tower originally formed part of Vilnius’ 13th-century defensive wall, before transitioning to a belfry in the 16th century. For a small admission fee, visitors can climb the staircase to the summit and appreciate the very best of Vilnius.
The Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Ladislaus of Vilnius is an incredible landmark in the heart of the Old Town. Although the original cathedral dates back to the mid 13th-century, the current construction was completed in 1783.
The neoclassical style is epitomized throughout the design and in 1922, this cathedral was granted the title of “Basilica” by Pope Pius XI.
Many key figures in Lithuanian history are buried underneath the cathedral, notably, the remains of Vytautas The Great, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, and King Alexander of Poland. The interior of the cathedral is breathtaking and well worth taking some time to explore.
In terms of public life in Vilnius, there is no other place more iconic than Cathedral Square for locals to pass through and interact among themselves. This is a regular location for military parades, religious festivals, and other public events.
It is not only the most lively and important location in Vilnius but is also one of the most significant and widely known among visitors to Lithuania.
In addition to being the location of Vilnius Cathedral and corresponding Bell Tower, Cathedral Square is home to a number of monuments depicting iconic figures in Lithuanian history. The bronze monument of Gediminas, for example, represents one of the first rulers of Lithuania.
Gediminas’ Tower was closed due to renovation during our visit but this is yet another iconic landmark close to Cathedral Square.
The Hill of Three Crosses is an unmistakable sight on top of a hill overlooking the city of Vilnius. These are not just a spectacular sight but also a reflection and representation of national identity and resistance to the occupation. They were initially placed in this location in memory of seven Franciscan monks who were murdered in pagan Lithuania.
History suggests that these crosses were first constructed in the 14th century yet were destroyed in 1950. Located in Kalnu Park, it’s fair to say that it’s a challenging ascent to reach the summit but once you arrive at the Three Crosses, you cannot help but appreciate the breathtaking views across Vilnius.
Old Town Architecture
Be sure you spend plenty of time just allowing yourself to get lost around the old streets of Vilnius. There are so many charming “back streets” that you can wander down and admire the gorgeous architecture.
Hop inside a coffee shop such as Caffeine Roasters and enjoy one of your favorite espresso beverages while interacting with locals who we found to be an incredibly friendly bunch.
If you are fortunate enough to visit Vilnius at Christmas, you can enjoy the Christmas markets where local vendors sell their homemade products. This is a great place to buy souvenirs as they are cheaper than souvenir shops scattered around the Old Town.
After spending an amazing day in Vilnius, our Baltic state adventure continued on to the Latvia where we spent another epic 24 hours in Riga. You will see many similarities among the Baltic cities, Tallinn included but each one has unique characteristics local to that nation.
Vilnius is a city full of character and a rich history. You could easily spend several days exploring everything this city has to offer and we look forward to having the opportunity to return in the future to explore in more detail.
Have you visited Vilnius or anywhere else in Lithuania?