Vilnius blew me away. For many reasons. Firstly, it’s incredibly beautiful. The baroque old town is full of intricately detailed and colored buildings, with church towers dominating the skyline. Yet the town is also close enough to nature that you don’t feel overwhelmed by city life and can readily take a stroll by the river, through a forest or up a hill (the city is founded on 7). Then there’s the tangible youthful student vibe, with locals exuding elegance, intelligence and class. Despite being a capital city, Vilnius has more of a small town feel, and the size makes it perfect to get around on foot- my favorite way to explore. Here are 5 unmissable things to do in my favorite Baltic city.
1. Wander the Old Town
Founded on the Gediminas Hill in the 1320s, on a site already settled for 1,000 years, Vilnius is rich in history. In fact, the whole old town is world heritage listed. And it’s the largest baroque old town in Europe. If that wasn’t enough to tempt you, there are great cafes, elegant hotel bars and plenty of cosy stores selling local handicrafts- linen, amber and handmade chocolates.
2. Explore the University’s 13 Courtyards
The Vilnius University was founded in 1579 and is not only the oldest university in the Baltics but one of the oldest in Northern Europe. There are 13 interconnecting courtyards to explore, with the Grand Courtyard the most impressive. It’s also possible to visit the University Library which houses the oldest book written in Lithuanian.
3. Discover Abandon Buildings
While the most famous abandoned building is probably the Sports Palace, just across the river from the Castle Tower, my favourite place to experience the remnants of a bygone era is the area of Užupis. It’s well worth spending a morning or afternoon exploring this district, I couldn’t get enough of the area. If this is your type of thing then check out this blog– a curated list of abandoned places in Lithuania.
4. Climb Cathedral Tower and Gediminas Castle Tower
The Castle Tower, dating back to the 16th century, is all that remains of the old Vilnius castle. It can be reached by a short climb up a hill overlooking the town. The view from the top is well worth the walk. Below the hill, the stunning cathedral has a bell tower you can climb for more 360° views, as well as headphones throughout with various historical information. It’s well worth the 4.50€ entrance fee. Finally, Cathedral Square at the base of the tower is the perfect place to relax in the afternoon sun and watch the world go by.
5. Catch Sunset at the Three Crosses
A longer hike up to the Three Crosses Monument is best just before sunset. For the perfect evening, pack a picnic and drinks and watch the sun come down over the city.
After you’ve explored the city, head out to Trakai for the perfect castle and nature filled day trip.
- I stayed at Downtown Forest Hostel and Camping and it was perfect. Just out of town but a 5 minute walk to Užupis. The staff were friendly, and there were great communal spaces and bets of all free coffee in the morning!
- The currency is Euro and I found the town to be great value- for budgeting info check out this post
- In terms of transport, I found Uber to be exceedingly good value; a 15 minute ride from the airport after midnight was 7€ and only 5€ on the way back. As the old town is relatively compact walking is best and when venturing to Trakai a local bus is 2€ in each direction. The bus station and train station are next to each other.