Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, has often been ignored when it comes to Baltic tourism. While it tends to be overshadowed by the medieval charms of Tallinn or the vibrant nightlife of Riga, Vilnius in itself is a bustling capital with an incredible history, beautiful baroque architecture, and many points of interest for visitors. Though doesn’t share a close proximity to the Baltic coast, Vilnius is an incredible city that deserves to be explored.
So is Vilnius worth visiting? The answer is definitively a resounding yes! While many people would think that you might only need one day in Vilnius to see the whole city, we would recommend spending 3 days in Vilnius in order to get the most out of the Lithuanian capital.
How to Get Around Vilnius
Vilnius actually has one of the largest old towns in all of Europe and most of the city’s points of interest for tourists lie either within or in easy reach of the historic centre. This means that most of Vilnius is largely accessible on foot, especially if you’re only spending two or three days in Vilnius.
If you want to visit some sites that aren’t within walking distance, then you will be pleased to hear that Vilnius has an extensive and efficient public transport system that consists of both buses and trams. Single tickets cost €1 for adults and 50 cents for students and can be purchased from the driver. It is also possible to purchase longer travel cards if you believe you will be making more than a few trips on public transport.
Taxi fares in Vilnius tend to be affordable, but it is worth knowing that it is not typical to hail a taxi off of the street in the city and if you do end up doing this, your fare will most likely be inflated. A much easier solution to this is to either use Uber, which is prevalent in Vilnius, or the Taxify app.
Things to do in Vilnius
Despite only being home to 570,000 people, Vilnius has a lot of fun and interesting things to do. While 48 hours in Vilnius is generally enough to see most things and to get a good feel for the city, we would recommend spending at least 3 days in Vilnius in order to be able to get the most out of Lithuania’s capital while also being able to go on a day trip or two.
Vilnius Itinerary: Day One
The first day of this 3 days in Vilnius itinerary sees you mostly exploring the lovely UNESCO-listed Old Town. All of the attractions and activities on this day can easily be reached on foot, which is great to help you get the lay of the land and begin to explore this wonderful city
Free Walking Tour
Begin your first day with a free walking tour from Vilnius With Locals. Their main tour leaves daily at 10:00 and 12:00 from just outside the Town Hall in Vilnius’ main square. The tour lasts about 2.5 hours (with a short break halfway through) and will give you a great introduction to Vilnius and its history and interesting sites.
The tour takes you past all of the main sites in the Old Town including the Town Hall Square, the old Jewish Quarter, St Anne’s Church, and the bohemian neighbourhood of Uzupis before ending in Cathedral Square in front of the Vilnius Cathedral and the Lithuanian Presidential Palace.
Not only does a free walking tour give you a good “first look” at the city, it is also a great way to speak with a local and get some good recommendations and come up with ideas for what you might want to do with your remaining time in the city. It is worth noting that, while the tour itself is free, the guides do work only for tips so it is good practice to tip the amount that you feel the tour is worth.
After the walking tour, take the time to head back to the cool and trendy neighbourhood of Uzupis. Located on the other side of the Vilnia River (that’s what Uzupis means!), this neighbourhood was at one time derelict and crime-ridden. However, it became a haven for artists and creative types due to the cheap rent prices and low cost of living compared to the rest of the city and in 1997, they declared themselves an independent republic.
While this status is entirely ceremonial, the “Republic of Uzupis” mimics other independent republics within cities, most notably Christiania in Copenhagen. Though on a typical day there is no “border control,” they will stamp your passport as you cross the bridge on their independence day: the 1st of April.
They also have their own constitution which is displayed on plaques in numerous languages on Paupio Street. They release new plaques of the constitution in a different language each year and the flag of the country whose language has been printed is hanging in front of the building just opposite the constitution. In 2018, the new language was Armenian.
Take the time to read through the whole constitution because there are some amusing “rites” that have been stated here.
There are also numerous great restaurants and cool bars, cafes, and shops in Uzupis along with some of the city’s best street art.
Hales Turgus is the central market hall in Vilnius. While not nearly as vast as the Riga Central Market in neighbouring Latvia, Hales Turgus is a great place to browse if you want to check out some local Lithuanian produce, are curious about the cuisine, or just want to pick up some great fresh fruits and vegetables.
There are numerous stands in the covered hall selling everything from fresh sausages and seafood, delicious sour pickles, sweet Lithuanian honey, and fantastic Baltic pastries. There are also a couple of trendy coffee shops and trendy fast food stalls in the market, so it is also a great place to stop for a small bite to eat.
Vilnius Itinerary: Day Two
The second day of this 3 days in Vilnius itinerary sees you digging deeper and exploring the city further. Head to a museum or two and take some time to get lost in winding cobbled streets. Vilnius has a wonderful laid back atmosphere and today is the day to take more advantage if it!
Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights
Formally called the Museum of Genocide Victims, a visit to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights may not be the most uplifting of experiences, but it is still one of the best things to do in Vilnius, especially if you want to learn more about both the Soviet and Nazi occupations of Lithuania and the resistance movements.
The museum is a bit outside of the Old Town but is easily reached by bus or an inexpensive uber ride and entry costs €4 for an adult ticket and €1 for a student/concession ticket. It is also worth noting that there is an additional €2 fee if you would like to take photos here.
The museum is excellently curated and really puts into perspective the horrors that Lithuanians had to live through in not so distant past. It also gives some horrible insight on the effect that the Nazi occupation had on the Jewish population of Vilnius, which was once one of the largest in Europe.
Housed in the former KGB headquarters, there is also a former Soviet jail in the basement of the museum where you can tour the cells and learn more about what being a prisoner during occupation would have been like.
It is not a happy museum to go to, but it is an incredibly important look into Lithuania’s troubled history. Expect to spend at least 1.5-2 hours here in order to see and learn everything.
After a chilling morning at the museum, take the time to stroll through the picturesque Jewish Quarter, which was a former ghetto during the Nazi Occupation, and spend some time relaxing in the tranquil Bernardine Garden. There are many lush, green spaces in Vilnius and if the weather is fine, many locals and tourists alike like spending time in them.
Bernardine Garden is also very close to Cathedral Square and the Gediminas Castle tower, though the latter is currently closed to visitors due to the fact that it is sinking.
Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum
If you are curious to learn more about the Jewish population of Vilnius, then a visit to the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum is a great idea. The museum has a number of permanent exhibitions in place that will give a lot of insight into why Vilnius was once referred to as the “Jerusalem of the North.”
Before WWII, Vilnius has one of the largest Jewish populations in all of Europe and was also the capital of the Yiddish language (the language that was once commonly spoken by Ashkenazi Jews). Almost the entirety of Lithuania’s once strong Jewish population was wiped out during the Nazi Occupation and this museum does an excellent job of preserving the culture and traditions of Lithuanian Jews.
Although the museum might seem small from the outside, there are a number of exhibitions so allow at least 1.5 hours to see everything. Entry is €3 for adults and €1.50 for student/concession tickets.
Vilnius Itinerary: Day Three
If you are only spending two days in Vilnius, then the first two days of this itinerary are going to be a perfect introduction to the city. However, if you have three days to spend in Vilnius, then the last day should be spent on a day trip exploring some of the Lithuanian countryside outside of the capital.
The lakeside town of Trakai is one of the most popular day trips from Vilnius for both locals and tourists alike. Located only about 30 kilometres from the city centre, this charming area is a fantastic escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Trakai’s biggest selling point is the lovely Trakai Island Castle, a beautiful red brick medieval fortress situated on an island in the lake. This attraction can get very busy during the summer months with eagre day-trippers and tour groups keen to pretend they are in Game of Thrones, but it is still very much worth visiting as the scenery surrounding it and the castle itself is idyllic.
There are a number of nice lakeside restaurants and cafes around the town and there is also ample opportunity to hire a peddle boat or take a sailing trip on the lake. The water is also quite warm in the summertime and it’s a popular spot for swimming, so be sure to bring your bathers on a hot day!
Though the grounds and the perimeter of the castle are free of charge to visit, there is a €8 fee for entry for adults and €4 for students if you want to have a look inside the castle. There is also an extra €1.50 fee if you want to take photos while inside.
Places to Eat in Vilnius
Vilnius has an incredible up and coming food scene and there are a number of fantastic restaurants in the city. So cast aside your preconceived notions about heavy and bland Eastern European food, because the quality of the cuisine in Vilnius will blow you away! Here are some of our top restaurant picks:
Contrary to the name, this is less of a pub and more of a trendy bistro. Mason Gastropub, located just a stone’s throw from the Town Hall Square, serves delicious “modern Lithuanian cuisine” along with some international favourites. They also have a full bar and great wine list, along with a nice outdoor seating area.
This outdoor cafe in a small square in the Old Town, Chačapuri is a fantastic budget option if you love Georgian food! This place, unsurprisingly, specialises in the traditional bread and cheese dish but they also have a number of other delicious Georgian salads and other dishes. They also have a good selection of Georgian wines.
If you’re looking for a great place for lunch or a nice dinner, then Kitchen is a fantastic option. They have a more international menu but also use local ingredients with a healthy take. Located just above the Town Hall square, there is also an outdoor balcony that is a perfect place to sit and people watch while enjoying your meal.
If you are in Vilnius for a special occasion or fancy a romantic dinner, then look no further than Sweet Root. This innovative restaurant is definitely one of the most high-end in the city, but there are few pretensions in the casual atmosphere. The incredible 7+ course tasting menu only uses locally sourced and seasonal ingredients and is absolutely phenomenal. If you are interested in food and the concept of “New Nordic” cuisine and feel like splurging a bit, then be sure to book a table at Sweet Root.
Where to Stay in Vilnius
Because Vilnius is growing in popularity both as a jumping-off point for a longer Baltics itinerary or as a stand-alone city break, there are numerous accommodation options available throughout the city for every kind of budget. Here are our top picks for places to stay in Vilnius:
Jimmy Jumps House/Hostel – located just off of the Town Hall Square, this small hostel with a lively atmosphere is the perfect place to stay if you’re travelling on a budget. They have both dorm and private rooms at affordable prices and also include breakfast in the room rate. They also organise social events in the evening. Click here to see their latest prices on Hostelworld or Booking.com
Hotel Tilto – located close to Cathedral Square and Bernardine Garden in the Old Town, this boutique hotel comes very highly rated. They have a range of rooms on offer and also have breakfast included in the room rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Airbnb – Airbnb is a fantastic option if you want to see how locals live in Vilnius. There are numerous private rooms and apartments listed on the website such as this great private apartment in the Old Town! Click here to browse the best Airbnbs in Vilnius!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse the best deals for hotels in Vilnius!
Vilnius is a lively city with a lot to offer travellers. With a number of interesting places to visit and things to do, spending 3 days in Vilnius will certainly be a great addition to any trip through the Baltic States!
Even if you’re only going on a short city break to Vilnius, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you planning to visit Vilnius? Have you been? Let us know in the comments!