I believe Central Europe is one of the most fascinating yet underrated regions. Long history, rich culture, delicious food, friendly locals… and every country is so much different than the another! But while internet is full of various information about most popular tourist destinations (I’m looking at you London or Paris) finding something useful about this part of the world can be sometimes a challenge. I know as I’ve been looking for that info as well! Therefore I’m gonna start a new series of posts with top attractions in my favorite cities in Central Europe. The first one will be about things to do in Vilnius, probably the least known capital of the Baltic countries. I know this is not super original idea for posts but may be useful for some of you going to Lithuania (that was named one of the top destinations in 2015 by Lonely Planet!).
I’ve been to Vilnius couple of times now, I enjoy the city every single time and I’m always glad to return there. Just for some reason I’m always there in autumn or winter time but if it’s great in the somehow sad months I only can imagine how great it must be there in the middle of spring or summer. No matter what time the city is simply charming with narrow streets in the UNESCO listed Old Town, beautiful baroque churches and so many quirky, alternative places! It is the perfect mix and I’m sure everyone will find something for him/herself. Even if recently Lithuania has joined the Euro zone the country is still a pretty good value for money and is a great, somehow unknown, destination that can impress many.
So without further ado here are most interesting things to do in Vilnius, at least according to me:
An absolute must in Vilnius! The self proclaimed republic and the bohemian heart of the city. Uzupis has its own president, currency, flag, army (around 11 men) and so on – all the attributes that a country should have. But the biggest attraction is the constitution of Uzupis – 39 articles that tell you the rights of the place, such as everyone has the right to be happy and a dog has the right to be a dog. You can find the whole text, translated into couple of languages, on the wall along Paupio street. One day might not be enough to wander around Uzupis if you want to explore the area properly, step into courtyards, check all the quirky pubs, spot some original street art around and just enjoy the bohemian feel and slow life of this neighborhood. That’s definitely my favorite part of Vilnius!
Here you can read more about bohemian Uzupis.
No matter how bad this might sound Vilnius has some really beautiful cemeteries. Two of them that are really worth a visit are Bernardine Cemetery in Uzupis and Rasos Cemetery not far from the train station. Both of them look similar, are located on the hillsides and are equally old (18th-19th century). I can’t say which one has more stunning tombstones (usually dating back to the beginning of the 20th century) and which one is prettier so I’d just say – visit both of them!
I wrote about beautiful Rasos cemetery here.
Vilnius is often called „the city of churches” and this is very accurate. There are so many of them in the Old Town, you stumble across one every few steps, and most of them are so beautiful! But once you step inside things get even better! The majority of Vilnius churches was built as great examples of baroque style and they are sated with rich adornment. I always feel overwhelmed by the beauty of them and don’t know where to look, every tiny detail seem to be important and so interesting! Not far from the Old Town there’s one more church well worth visiting – St. Peter and Paul’s in Antakalnis district – another masterpiece known for its 2.000 stucco figures!
St. Anne’s Church
This little church deserves it’s own point! Built in the Gothic style hasn’t changed for over 500 years! It is so extremely beautiful everyone falls in love with it, including Napoleon Bonaparte. He was so much under the charm of the building that wanted to take it to Paris with him (on the palm of his hand…). Across the street from the church there’s a tree with the knitted sweater!
Gates of Dawn
Another religious place but a very important one (especially for Polish people) and known all over the world. But despite being so famous it’s very easy to miss the place – the shrine is hidden inside the gate (the last remaining one of the Vilnius city walls) and to get close to the painting of Blessed Virgin Mary you need to enter the random door on the left side and then go upstairs. Even if you’re not a religious person the Gates of Dawn will impress you. Try to be there in the evening, when all the tourist groups are gone and there are only older ladies praying in front of the painting.
Wander around the Old Town
This is a pure pleasure! The Old Town in Vilnius is fairly big and it’s easy to get lost there: the maze of narrow streets leads you next to churches, beautiful houses and suddenly you might not know anymore where you are! The best thing you can do then is stopping by at one of many cafes to figure out your way around. When discovering this part of the city don’t miss Literatu street with quirky and funky tiles on the wall, commemorating poets and writers connected to Lithuania (both local and foreigner)!
Take a look at more pictures of the Vilnius Old Town.
View from Giedyminas’ Tower
I’m always a huge fan of looking at the city from above and Vilnius has some great points to admire the city’s beauty. The most known is the Upper Castel with Giedyminas’ Tower and no wonder this place is so popular! The view all over the town is stunning with rooftops and church towers on one side and Neris river with modern downtown in the background on the other. For even better view go to the top of the Giedyminas’ Tower (entrance 2€, including the museum). Alternatively you can climb the Three Crosses Hill nearby, the view isn’t bad from here either!
The representative street of Vilnius, with beautiful architecture from the end of 19th/beginning of 20th century. Most of the fancy shops and public institutions are located in here. I especially like the view from the Avenue towards the Cathedral Square!
It’s no surprise I’m a huge street art fan and try to find it just about everywhere. But Vilnius has a really good street art scene with variety of forms and a really big creative outburst. It can be found all over the Old Town and Uzupis – you just need to look carefully to find it in the hidden lanes and gates! One of the best murals I’ve ever seen – „Think” – is also in Vilnius on Odminiu street. But except of traditional street art forms the city has some quirky monuments too, like the lucky belly, angel of Uzupis or an apple. Try to find as many of them as possible!
You can find more about Vilnius street art here.
day trip to Trakai
Only 30 kms away from Vilnius a small Karaim town of Trakai can be found. It is a true gem as the place is not only incredibly picturesque with the lake and the castle built in the middle of it but also with the unique Karaim culture. This ethnic group came to this area in the 14th century and preserved their traditions, culture and cuisine up until now. In Trakai you will find some beautiful Karaim wooden houses where local restaurants are located, your best options to try this unusual dishes!
You can read more about Trakai in this post.
So these are my top 10 things to do in Vilnius for the first time visitor, you can’t leave the capital of Lithuania without seeing all of these! If you’re interested in alternative Vilnius take a look here.
Here’s the map with all the spots you need to see (minus Trakai)
Have you been to Vilnius? Would you like to visit? What’s your favourite Central European city?
Are you planning a trip to Eastern Europe? Do you like that region as much as I do? I’ve created a Facebook group where you can look for advise or inspiration and share your travel stories and pictures from Eastern Europe and beyond. Join now!
If you think of visiting Lithuania or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
- Old Town in Vilnius in pictures
- Street art in Vilnius, Lithuania
- Bohemian Vilnius – The Republic of Uzupis
- and more!
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