Want to know what to see and things to do in Vilnius? This is the post for you! We'll show you everything from where to find the best street art, the best bars and the most epic viewpoints, to where to stay and the best time of year to visit - this is our guide to Vilnius, Lithuania's beautiful capital.
Vilnius is the very definition of a perfect weekend break.
It's got cool bars, a beautiful old town, an abundance of history, epic views, a thriving coffee shop scene and some great street art - we're actually kind of surprised that we'd never considered it before.
On a recent trip to Lithuania, we got to explore the best the city has to offer - and want to share it with you.
Here are the top things to do in Vilnius.
Check out the street art
Gone are the days when street art was little more than inane scrawlings in cheap spray paint; graffiti now acts as a socio-political outlet for artists across the world - and it's no different in Vilnius.
Whilst there are pieces dotted all over the city, to take in the city's best, be sure to head to Uzupis, Pylimo Street (where you can find the famous Trump/Putin piece pictured above) and Olimpieciu street (on the other side of the Neris river). The latter, also known as Graffiti Pier is one of the places in Vilnius where street art is encouraged - and entirely legal.
For an up-to-date guide on Vilnius' most famous street art, be sure to check out this map, put together by the tourism board - happy hunting!
View Vilnius from Above
Of the few images that our minds could conjure up when we considered Lithuania, the orange roofs of Vilnius was most prominent. But, as with many such cityscapes, the only way to truly appreciate the view is from above.
The city offers a number of viewing spots, but for the best, our advice is to head to Vilinius University and the campanile of St John's Church (the highest point in town).
Opening hours: May – September 10 a.m. – 6.30 p.m.
Cost: €2.50, and worth every cent!
Address: Šv. Jono g. 12
Pay your respects at the Genocide Museum
We always say that in order to fully understand a new town, city or country, it is important to know a little about its history. Unfortunately for Vilnius, in the latter part of the 20th century, there was a very dark element at play - the KGB.
Housed in what was formerly the city's KGB prison, this hard-hitting Genocide Museum provides a fascinating, if somewhat distressing insight into not only the suffering of the inmates, but also what life was like under Soviet and Nazi rule.
Opening Hours: 10am-5pm on Sundays, 10am-6pm Wednesday-Saturday. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Address: 01400, Aukų g. 2A, Vilnius 01400
If you'd like to understand a little more about Vilnius' soviet history, consider this 'Soviet Stories with a Local' tour.
Visit the Republic of Uzupis
Absolutely no trip to Vilnius would be complete without a few hours spent wondering the streets of its most unusual neighbourhood - Uzupis.
Created by bohemians and artists on April Fools' Day in 1997, Uzupis is a home for the dreamers, and a place where the only requirement for entry is a smile (seriously).
Replete with its own constitution extolling, amongst many things, the rights of cats, dogs and people, and based upon the three mottos: don't fight, don't win and don't surrender, this is a place for those who felt it simply was not enough to gain independence from Moscow, it is somewhere for those who truly wanted to be free. (Discover more about the fascinating republic here)
Things to do in Uzupis include:
- A visit to Bernardine Cemetery - created in 1810 by the Bernadine monks, this is one of the oldest graveyards in Vilnius.
- Check out the street art - Uzupis is a fantastic spot to discover Vilnius' epic street art scene, with many of the best pieces concentrated around the Vilnia River.
- Explore the neighbourhoods' many independent art galleries.
- Visit the Republic's famous cat - he hangs out in Keistoteka bookshop and is adorable!
- Hang out in Tibet Square - adorned with colourful Tibetan prayer flags, this is a great spot to take a break and read a book from the Free Library.
- See the constitution in person - located on Paupio gatvė you'll find the Republic's constitution translated into 23 languages, and engraved on to plaques.
- Eat some incredible food - cooking only with local and seasonal produce, Sweet Roots is an amazing dining option for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. Considered one of the best restaurants in Vilnius, it is a must for those who enjoy whole-food dining experiences.
Follow the church trail
It may have been some time since Lithuania regained its independence, but the mark of the soviet regime is still visible, especially amongst its churches. Traditionally a devout Catholic nation, during the time of Soviet occupation, most of the beautifully ornate churches in Vilnius' old town ceased to be places of worship, instead becoming sports halls, museums and warehouses. Desecrated by those who cared little for religion, internally many of the churches have never been restored - but you wouldn't know that from the outside. Instead, these 28 beautiful churches (that's one for every 700 people) stand, it seems, on every corner of the old town, a wonderful sign of how Lithuania continues to flourish on its own.
Now, we'd be very surprised if you managed to make it to all 28 (but by all means, give it a go!), instead be sure to add these to your list: St. Anne’s and Bernardine Church Complex, Saints Peter and Paul's Church, St. Mikalojaus Church and, of course, Vilnius Cathedral.
Explore the Jewish Quarter
Vilnius' Jewish Quarter is a particular pretty section of the city's old town, full of tiny cobbled streets, cute cafes and pretty little doors. Paper lanterns sway in the breeze, and on a warm summer's day, people sit out hidden beneath colourful parasols.
It feels peaceful.
And yet, it doesn't feel terribly Jewish. There are no synagogues in sight, no men in skull caps and no mezuzahs attached to doorways. This is a part of the world where most Jews simply did not survive, with the only traces of their existence seen in a handful of Hebrew street signs, emblazoned with the Star of David.
We wish we had more time to explore this neighbourhood, to learn of its history and its people. If we ever go back, we'll absolutely visit the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum.
Relax in Verkiai Regional Park
Located a little outside of the city on the banks of the River Neris is Verkiai Regional Park, a popular spot for locals and tourists alike who flock here on sunny days to enjoy its great lakes, cycle paths and large green spaces. Don't miss the beer restaurant Verkiai Mill, the perfect antidote to a long swim, jog or walk.
Entry: Open 24 hours and free to enter.
How to get there: By car, take Kalvarijų Street through Baltupiai to the roundabout in Santariškės, and head in the direction of Žalieji Ežerai and Europos Parkas. When you go up the hill, turn right to Verkiai Palace. If travelling on local transport, take bus No. 35 or 36 from the Priest Bronius Laurinavičius bus stop and get off at the Verkių Rūmai stop.
Walk beneath the Gate of Dawn
600 years ago, the town of Vilnius was ringed by a high wall, its only access points being nine protected gates. Today, only one of entrances remain, the Gate of Dawn, and it attracts pilgrims from all over the world who visit seeking miracles from an icon of the Virgin Mary which resides in the Gate's chapel.
Whether you're religious or not, being able to pass through an arch which has been standing for longer than Machu Picchu is quite impressive, and definitely worth a little of your time.
Top tip? Head there early and grab breakfast from the little Parisian inspired café, Café Montmartre, they serve a mean plate of waffles!
Experience Karaim Culture in Trakai
Before our trip to Lithuania, we knew nothing of Karaim culture, or indeed its people. And yet, this small ethnic group, descendents of a Crimean family, has called Trakai home for more than seven centuries.
With a unique language, traditions, culture and cuisine, Trakai is a fascinating place to visit - even if you only have time for the food and the castle!
As non-meaty food lovers, there's always the worry that traditional Eastern European food means 'meat and potatoes', yet we were pleasantly surprised by the vegetarian offerings - especially the cabbage stuffed kybyn (basically a small cornish pasty with, well cabbage - we promise it tastes MUCH better than it sounds!).
Another absolute must-do on a trip to Trakai, is a visit to the castle located on an island in the middle of Lake Galvė. If it's a nice day we'd definitely recommend combining it with a boat ride around the lake - although the castle is impressive up close, we kind of think it's prettier from the distance!
More info: Whilst you're perfectly at liberty to wander around the outside of the castle, if you want access inside, it's going to cost you €7. Find more information here. If you don't have your own transport, consider taking this recommended four hour tour to Trakai (£30 per person, but includes entry to the castle)
Wander the Old Town
Included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Old Town of Vilnius is one of the largest surviving medieval old towns in Northern Europe - and it's so pretty! Pastel coloured walls and quaint little streets, it's a delight to explore.
It also happens to be where some of the city's best bars can be found, and the local beer scene offers a great place to rub shoulders with the locals. Looking for an 'authentic experience'? Then check out Amatininkų Uzeiga and Busi Trecias - this post has more info on great bars in the area.
More of a foodie? Don't miss Hales Market, one of the oldest markets in the city, dating back to 1906 and consider taking a food tour which includes lots of samples of local cheese, juices and meats.
Sunset from Hill of Three Crosses
For a country that is apparently pretty flat, Lithuania places an awfully large number of sites atop seemingly large hills - case in point, the Hill of Three Crosses.
Not of terribly great interest during daylight hours (although the sculptures of the The Three Crosses, built at the dawn of the collapse of the Soviet Union, are fairly impressive), this viewpoint comes alive at sunset when purple hues play across the skies and street lights twinkle in the distance. Definitely an excellent spot to watch the sun come down on your weekend break to Vilnius!
Address: T. Kosciuškos g. (yep, that's the address!)
Where to stay in Vilnius
Whilst much of Lithuania relies heavily on local tourism, Vilnius has been attracting foreign visitors for some time, and as such it is home to many accommodation options. Here are our picks!
For those on a Budget
Litinterp Guest House: ideal for couples on a tight budget, this small guest house offers comfortable rooms in a quiet setting, slap-bang in the middle of the old town. Doubles from £30 a night.
Jimmy Jumps Hostel: From the name, you may have guessed that this hostel is a little lively - but if you're looking for a fun place to stay this might be perfect. Dorm beds start from £8.50 a night and includes a free waffle breakfast. They also have a guest kitchen.
Downtown Forest Hostel and Camping: If Uzupis sounds like your sort of place, then this is probably your sort of hostel. Although not technically in the forest, it's large garden makes for a beautiful setting and a fantastic base from which to explore Vilnius. Dorms from £6.25 a night.
If you fancy a bit of a splurge
During our time in Vilnius, we got the chance to stay at the Artagonist Art Hotel. And all we can say is wow! It's absolutely lovely. Lots of original art, beautiful rooms and the best damn hotel breakfast we've had in years! Check out prices and availability here.
Turns out that Vilnius is heaving with apartment rentals - here, take a look! Personally we prefer Airbnb (if you' haven't signed up yet, use this code to get £30 off your first booking) but it's fair to say that if your prefer your own kitchen and a little privacy, Vilnius has you covered.
When to Visit Vilnius
This kind of depends on what you want.
Whilst the winter brings with it a sort of magical wonderland, with deep snow, frozen rivers and cute Christmas markets, it is certainly not suitable for those that despise the cold or have a love of scandalous hot pants. In fact, with temperatures that dip well below freezing for five months of the year (November - March), visits in winter may be for the hardy sort only!
The weather in Vilnius picks up a tad in April, but to increase your chances of warmer days stick to June to late August. Just remember that even in summer, you'll still need a jacket at night.
Getting to and around Vilnius
Getting to Vilnius should be relatively straight forward, with a city airport receiving flights from all over Europe, however, at the time of writing, it will be shut until the end of August 2017 for runway work. Before that, you'll need to fly into Kaunus.
Taxis from Vilnius airport to the city centre should cost around 10 Euro. Click here to check flights to Vilnius and Kaunus.
Given the size of Vilnius, getting around the city is simple - you can do most of it by foot. However, if you fancy a break, you'll be pleased to know that there's an excellent city bus system, starting at 5 a.m. and finishing at midnight. There is a top-up card available, however for shorter stays it is advisable to get a one, three or ten day pass. For more information, see this website.