After a brief sojourn back to the USA, I found myself with an undeniable urge to explore the Baltic states. So with that said, I was incredibly excited to meet up with Michael in Lithuania’s capital. I wasn’t entirely sure of what to see in Vilnius, but together we explored the picturesque city and it quickly became one of my favourite capitals in Europe. For such a small city (only 500,000 people), there are a surprising amount of things to do in Vilnius — here are six of my top picks!
1. Wander through the UNESCO-listed Old Town
Like it’s sisters of Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania is also blessed with an incredibly beautiful Old Town that has found itself called a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, not only is Vilnius’ Old Town filled with lovely cobbled lanes and beautiful architecture, it is also one of Europe’s largest old towns. Wandering through the medieval town is one of the best things to do in Vilnius.
Though there is evidence that the area in and around Vilnius has been inhabited since the Mesolithic age, it became a capital city in the 14th century and some of the buildings and architecture date back to that time. One of the best ways to see the Old Town and learn its history is through a free walking tour with Vilnius with Locals.
2. Marvel at the numerous beautiful churches
Vilnius has traditionally been quite a multinational city, boasting citizens with many different ethnic backgrounds besides Lithuanian. This is particularly evident in the many churches of different denominations scattered throughout the city. Catching a glimpse of these beautiful places of worship is one of the best things to do in Vilnius.
Perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing of Vilnius’ many churches is St. Anne’s Church that, despite its diminutive size, is a fantastic example of gothic architecture. Other churches worth seeing are St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, the Church of St. Francis and St. Bernard, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Orthodox Monastery and Church of the Holy Spirit.
3. Visit the many museums
Again, for such a small city, Vilnius has an extensive and fascinating history and it is incredibly well-documented in its myriad museums. If all of the capital’s churches have you intrigued, why not pay a visit to the Church Heritage Museum? History buffs will love the National Museum of Lithuania, which offers an impressive array of pieces through time. If you want to learn more about Vilnius during the Soviet occupation, make sure you visit the Museum of Genocide Victims/KGB Museum. Visiting one of these or many other museums is probably one of the best things to do in Vilnius.
4. Explore the “independent republic” of Užupis
Located within the Old Town of Vilnius lies a truly fascinating district — the artist’s and creative’s sanctuary of Užupis. This bohemian area is considered to be an independent republic and even has its own flag, currency, and president! Although these things are largely symbolic and you can use Euros here just as well as you can elsewhere in Lithuania’s capital, they do impose a “border control” on April Fool’s Day and issue a stamp upon entering this quirky neighbourhood.
Exploring Užupis and it’s quirky bars, restaurants, and street art is one of the best things to do in Vilnius. Michael and I stayed in this off-beat neighbourhood and it quickly became one of our favourite areas in the city.
5. Spend a lazy afternoon in one of the lush parks
Vilnius is blessed to have a large array of green spaces and if you happen to be visiting the capital when the weather is fine, then you can’t find a better way to spend an afternoon than in one of these amazing parks. The hardest task will be figuring out which one to visit! Park Vingus is the largest park in Vilnius and a very popular option, especially on sunny days. Bernadine Gardens is a wonderful option, as is Hill Park and Balsiai Mythological Park. Regardless which of these many parks you choose, there is no argument that it is one of the greatest things to do in Vilnius — so grab a picnic and a couple of beers!
6. Take a day trip to lovely Trakai
So on a list of things to do in Vilnius, this last one isn’t exactly in the city. Trakai is, however, only 30 kilometres outside of the capital city and that makes it an attractive day trip option for those visiting Lithuania’s capital.
Perhaps the most famous site in the entire country, this lovely little town nestled between two lakes is home to the Trakai Island Castle. The castle is beautiful, picturesque, and incredibly well preserved and it’s well worth the short trip to visit. The town of Trakai itself is also worth exploring and can give travellers a taste of Lithuanian life outside of the capital.
Vilnius is a city that both of us would definitely return to and it was an incredible introduction to Lithuania’s beauty. There so many things to do in Vilnius and I urge you to include this off-beat destination to your Eastern Europe itinerary!
Have you been to Vilnius? Are you planning a visit? Let us know in the comments!