City Break in Vilnius Old Town: Discover the Baltic Beauty
Vilnius Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a perfect destination for a city break. With its narrow streets, old architecture and numerous churches, it offers a unique blend of history, culture and charm. The charming capital of Lithuania is a happening town filled with vibrant coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Add museums, historic buildings and parks, and you have a perfect weekend getaway.
Vilnius is a very walkable city, and it’s very easy to get around. I loved exploring Vilnius by simply walking around and taking everything around me. The city has a rich cultural scene, with museums, art galleries and theatres showcasing Lithuanian art and culture. I also found many hipster bars and restaurants with plenty of options for non-meat eaters. No matter when you visit Vilnius, you’ll find something to do and love. Here are some ideas for what you can discover in Vilnius Old Town.
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Vilnius travel guide
Vilnius has one of the largest and best-preserved old towns in northern Europe, and it is an absolute delight to explore. Like many other European towns with Medieval origins, Vilnius Old Town has narrow streets, old churches and historical architecture from Gothic and Renaissance to Baroque and Neoclassical. Here you’ll find many cute stores, cafes and artisanal shops where you can grab some local souvenirs or simply take a break from exploring.
As I wandered the winding cobblestoned streets, it dawned on me that there were no trees. As someone coming from North America, I’m used to tree-lined streets, and whenever I walk around old European towns, the lack of them always gives me pause. As Medieval cities were built with a different purpose, the ones that remain today reflect that. It’s not to say that there are no trees in the Old Town, it’s that you don’t see them in many of the streets.
Pro travel tip: Seeing no trees along the streets usually means you’re in the oldest part of the town you’re visiting. The further you go away from the centre (that can be a street or a block) means you’re entering a newer part of the city where you’ll find trees. Building wider streets lined with trees and buildings, was the style often implemented during the 18th and 19th centuries when many of the major cities were expanded and improved. Now you know.
Vilnius attractions: What to do in Vilnius Old Town
One of the best ways to explore Vilnius Old Town is to walk around and immerse yourself in the city’s architectural heritage. Lithuania has a very long and interesting history, and you can find traces of it as you walk around. From its time as the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to centuries under various ruling powers, including the Russians, Prussians and Germans.
After WWII, Lithuania became part of the Soviet Union for the next few decades and finally regained its independence in 1991 and joined the European Union. Today, you can immerse yourself in the city’s cultural scene celebrating Lithuanian culture, art and history.
Cathedral Square is a great place to start your exploration of Vilnius. It’s the historic heart of the city and a popular meeting point. The square is also home to various events throughout the year, including the Vilnius Christmas Market and a very impressive Christmas tree.
The Vilnius Cathedral and the Bell Tower occupy a prominent space on the square. Both are great examples of neoclassical architecture. At first glance, the church, with its bright white facade and entrance flanked by six columns, looks more like a museum or some former-palace-turned-government building. Take a tour of the cathedral crypts to learn more about some of Lithuania’s prominent historical figures.
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
Just behind the Vilnius Cathedral is the Grand Duke’s Palace, also known as the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Also finished in white, the palace is a magnificent reconstruction from the 21st century after it was destroyed in the 19th century. The palace stands on the ruins of previous castles, and you can see former foundations inside. Today, the palace is a museum where you can explore the history of Lithuania’s ruling families and their impact on the country’s cultural heritage. It’s a comprehensive exhibition with many impressive artifacts, and I learned about Lithuania and Vilnius.
Gediminas Tower and Hill
Gediminas Tower is one of the most recognizable symbols of Vilnius. It’s located on a hill overlooking the city, with a stunning panorama of the Old Town and modern Vilnius. The hill is where Grand Duke Gediminas built a castle in the 14th century after he dreamt of a howling iron wolf. If you visit the Palace of the Dukes, you can find a miniature reconstruction of the castle in those days.
Founded in 1579, Vilnius University is one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities. As it took several centuries to complete, you can see different types of architecture in the complex, including Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicist. There is also an old observatory, a 16th-century library and a bell tower. When I visited, there was nobody around, which also allowed me to admire the stunning courtyard and imagine what being a student here must be like.
Gate of Dawn
The Gate of Dawn is a beautiful Baroque gate that dates back to the 16th century and is the only remaining gate of the old fortifications. It’s quite a site when you come upon it, as it’s immediately clear if it’s a church or a decorated archway. A revered Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary is displayed over the archway, which people can access by climbing a stone staircase.
National Museum of Lithuania
The National Museum of Lithuania is where you can learn about Lithuania’s history and culture. The museum’s exhibits cover various topics, including archaeology, ethnography and art. Highlights include a collection of Lithuanian folk costumes and a reconstructed medieval castle.
The Presidential Palace is a beautiful neoclassical building in the heart of Vilnius. It’s the official residence of the president of Lithuania and a great place to admire the city’s architecture and learn about the country’s political history. The palace once hosted famous visitors like King Louis XVIII, Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I.
Vilnius Town Hall
Although the original town hall dates back to the 15th century, the building today is an 18th-century neoclassical construction. Today, the building is used as a theatre and opera venue. The large square in front of the building is often used for markets, concerts and exhibitions and is lined with restaurants and bars.
Pilies Street is a charming pedestrian street lined with souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. You can admire the charming architecture and immerse yourself in the atmosphere. It’s a great place to pick up some Lithuanian souvenirs or enjoy a cup of coffee while people-watching.
Churches in Vilnius Old Town
There are many churches in Vilnius representing different faiths. The majority of them are Roman Catholic, followed by Russian Orthodox and Lutheran. Some of the most note-worthy include the Gothic St. Anne’s Church, Bernardine Church and Monastery, the Barouque St. Casimir’s Church, the Vilnius Cathedral, Saint Catherine church and the Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox church.
Vilnius Old Town for foodies
When it comes to culinary adventures, Vilius is a great city break destination. Whether you’re looking for a break from sightseeing or simply want to try the local cuisine, you have plenty of options to choose from. I was blown away by the many cafes where you can enjoy a cup of coffee, tea or mulled wine as you people-watch or simply enjoy the moment.
Vilnius Old Town has a diverse food scene, with options ranging from traditional Lithuanian cuisine to international fare. I was impressed by the selection of vegetarian and vegan restaurants that serve outstanding dishes. You might even find non-meat dishes at various restaurants, but you should always double-check the menu before you order.
Traditional Lithuanian cuisine is hearty and filling. It features a lot of potatoes, meat and dairy products. Some popular Lithuanian dishes to try include cepelinai (potato dumplings stuffed with meat or chees, served with sour cream and bacon), kugelis ( baked potato pudding made with grated potatoes, onions, and eggs), skilandis ( smoked meat dish made from beef or pork), mushroom soup in a bread bowl and saltibarsiai (cold beet soup) which is delicious.
Vilnius is also home to a growing craft beer scene, with many local breweries and beer bars serving up delicious brews. Overall, foodies will not be disappointed by the culinary offerings in Vilnius, with plenty of traditional dishes and modern cuisine to explore.
Vilnius Old Town Tours
Vilnius is a great place to explore on your own, be that on foot or by renting a bike. But if you’re looking for some guided tours, here are a few you should consider.
Getting to Vilnius – Practical Information
Vilnius is located in the southeast part of the country and is easily accessible by plane, train or bus. The airport, which looks more like an old-world train station than an airport, is located just a few miles from the city center and is easily accessible by public transport and taxi. Vilnius also has Uber and Bolt, which are very affordable and a great option to get around town.
When it comes to getting around Vilnius, I found it easy and safe. Before going to Lithuania, I discovered that my translator apps didn’t offer Lithuanian as an existing language option. I was able to download it on one of them, but I could only use it without images, meaning I can’t take a pic of a menu or use my phone camera to capture text and automatically translate. Most people here speak English, although not everyone, so it’s always good to have a way to translate text when you need to.
Where to stay
To get the most out of your visit to Vilnius Old Town, it makes sense to stay in the Old Town. While Vilnius is not a huge city, being close to the centre allows you to see it close up and at all times of the day. Vilnius has a lot of happening bars and clubs, so by being close to the action, you get to immerse yourself in it. That’s not to say that you can’t stay outside the Old Town, you just have to factor in how long it will take you to get there either on foot or by transportation.
Silvija House is in the heart of Vilnius Old Town, close to the city’s most popular bars, restaurants and nightclubs. All rooms have free high-speed Wi-Fi, large flat-screen TV with cable and are soundproofed, ensuring a peaceful and restful stay. I stayed here the first time I visited Vilnius and had a great experience. Check availability for Silvija House.
Apartments Satva is a lovely accommodation in Vilnius Old Town, just a short walk from many of the city’s top attractions. Each unit has a dishwasher, microwave, toaster, and kettle, with some units possessing a kitchen with a fridge. There is also free Wi-Fi, and there is a lovely garden outside. The owner told me that they renovated these apartments recently, so you can imagine what living in the centre of Vilnius is like. Check availability for Apartments Satva.
Final thoughts on Vilnius Old Town as a destination
Vilnius is a great destination for cultural adventurers looking for a more unique experience. While the city is less widely known in North America, it offers plenty to all visitors. So if you want to learn more about the Baltic countries and explore a new fun destination, come to Vilnius Old Town for an exploratory city break. I must warn you that once you visit, you’ll likely want to book a return trip ASAP. I can’t say I blame you.
Vilnius travel guide FAQ
Travel Planning Resources
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- Flights: Find the best flight deals on Kiwi.com (my new go-to for flights) or WayAway (and earn cashback!).
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