Attractions in Vilnius
The large open square in front of the 14th century cathedral in the north of the Old Town has been an important gathering place for the residents of Vilnius for centuries, and you are guaranteed to pass here several times, en route to the castle or as you stroll through Pilies gatve. Here the public ceremonies and announcements took place in the Middle Ages, and here markets were organized up to the 20th century. The 58-meter-high tower west of the square is a remnant of the Defense Force.
If you walk up the long, winding cobblestone streets to the top of Gediminas kalnas, the 50-meter-high hilltop behind the cathedral, you get a glorious view of Vilnius and the Old Town.
Here was the region’s center of power in the Middle Ages, but today there is not much left of the once mighty castle. The 20 meter high stone tower still standing here, with the flag of Lithuania towering at the top, has almost become a national symbol that you will recognize from postcards and posters. Affordable entrance.
Vilnius Castle Museum
If you visit Vilnius Castle Museum which is just below Vilnius Castle, you can see among other things a model of what the castle once looked like in the 1300s. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 6 p.m. 1100 to 1700. Entrance 10 kroner.
National Museum of Vilnius
Vilnius National Museum was founded in 1855 and today has over half a million objects on display, many of them excavated by Gediminas kalnas, which is right next door. Here, the history of the city is told from prehistoric times up to the present, with the main focus on the Middle Ages. The old weapons and armor department is especially popular. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 6 p.m. 1000 to 1800. Entry 10 kroner.
St. Anne’s Church
Although the cathedral is the most important religious building in Vilnius, it is the Gothic and impressive St. Anne’s Church (Sv Onos baznycia) that adheres to the retina of most tourists in retrospect. The church was originally built in wood in honor of King Vytauta’s wife Anna, but burned down in 1419 and rebuilt in today’s stone structure at the end of the same century.
Its most striking feature is undoubtedly the facade, which is constructed in 33 different types of red stone. It is a well-known legend in Lithuania that Napoleon must have been so captivated by the building that he must have expressed his desire to take it home with him to Paris. In reality, he let his cavalry use it as a stable.
Ausros Vartai (Daytime Gates)
Vilnius’ oldest street is the Ausros Vartu Gatve shopping street, and in the southern part of it is the only gate in the original city wall that remains intact. The gate, which is called the Ausros Vartai (Daggryporten), dates from the 16th century and has a small chapel just above the arch. The chapel has become a destination for Catholic pilgrims, among them the very Pope John Paul II, thanks to a renaissance painting by the Virgin Mary that supposedly has healing powers.
During the Nazi occupation, around 95% of Vilnius’ Jews were exterminated, and this museum’s simple exhibition is a reminder of what this persecuted people was exposed to. In Pylimo 39, the only remaining of over a hundred synagogues is located in Vilnius, and it was saved because the Nazis used it as a warehouse.
The Jewish Museum is located both in the so-called Green House in Pamenkalnio 12 and in the Jewish Community House in Pylimo 4. Free admission, but a voluntary donation is received with thanks. Open Monday to Friday from 1 p.m. 1000 to 1700.
High in the 325-meter-high TV tower in western Vilnius, you will find a rotating restaurant that offers panoramic views of the city while dining. For dessert, you can throw yourself into Europe’s highest knit jump. In December, the otherwise beautiful little tower is transformed into the world’s tallest Christmas tree with the help of several thousand light bulbs.
The TV tower has also become a memorial symbol of the 12 residents of Vilnius who were killed here by Soviet forces in January 1991. Outside you will see hundreds of small crosses and candles set in memory of these modern martyrs. Open daily from 2 pm 1000 to 2100, entry 35 kroner.
KGB Museum in Vilnius
In the former headquarters of the dreaded KGB is now located Genocido Auku Muziejus (Museum of the Victims of Genocide), or the KGB Museum, as it is also called. During World War II, Gestapo had its headquarters here. You can now visit the soundproof torture chamber, the small cells and the execution cellar, and many of the guides are former inmates.
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 6 p.m. 1000 to 1700. On Sundays the museum closes at. Entrance costs only a few dollars, but it is recommended to spend extra money on an English-speaking guide who can tell you the story of the different rooms.
The university was founded by the Jesuits in 1579 and is the oldest in Eastern Europe. For over four hundred years, Vilnius University has been the center of science in Lithuania, and is built in a mixture of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance style. In 2006, the university had over 23,000 students. The address is 3 Universiteto St.
Tourist in Vilnius
Vilnius city center is so small and compact that it is no problem for a fairly pedestrian to get around on foot and yet get to most of the attractions. If you prefer a guided sightseeing tour, there are several operators in Vilnius who can help you with this.
Day 1 in Vilnius
Since most of the attractions in Vilnius do not open to the public until 10 pm. 1000 or 1100, there is little point in getting up early. After a hearty breakfast, we head to the heart of the city, the Cathedral Square in the Old Town, where we start today’s tour. This place was used in pre-Christian times to worship the god of thunder Perkunas. Lithuania was one of the last pagan countries in Europe, and was not Christianized until in 1387. Today’s cathedral dates from the 16th century, after numerous restorations and reconstructions due to fires.
East of the cathedral, the path starts at Gedimino kalnas, the hilltop where Vilnius Castle once majestically roamed the city. Today, there is not much left of the castle, but the 20 meter high stone tower with the flag of Lithuania waving at the top has become a national symbol and you have glorious views of the city from this place. Just below is Vilnius Castle Museum, where you can see, among other things, a model of what the castle looked like in its heyday.
On the way down again you can take a detour east and cross the river Vilnia. Then you come to another of the city’s landmarks, the Three Crosses. This is a large white cross with three crosses to commemorate fourteen Franciscan monks who, according to a legend here, must have been murdered by local pagans in the 1300s.
From the hilltop, you can easily see the spiers at your next visit destination, the magnificent Gothic St. Anne’s Church, which often makes a greater impression on people than the more important cathedral does. The facade with its sky-striking red stone tower is its most impressive feature, though you should definitely take a walk inside the St. Anne Church as well.
Continue south from the church and turn left across the bridge, where you will possibly come across some sort of Moorish border guards who will see and stamp your passport. But relax, they just joke, and follow up the Uzupio’s semi-parodic declaration of independence. This area is often called Vilnius’ answer to Montmartre, with its many art galleries, studios and bohemian cafes. If the weather is nice, you might have lunch on the cozy outdoor terrace of Uzupio Kavinè, overlooking the Vilnia River.
After looking around here and perhaps visiting the art gallery Stiklo Karoliukai, you return to the center via Uzupio gatve westwards, and turn north into Boksto gatve. You will now come out into Vilnius’s most charming but popular pedestrian street Pilies gatve (Slottsgaten). In this cobblestone street you will find many small market stalls selling crafts, postcards and souvenirs. Amber jewelry is a classic here, and amber from Lithuania is considered the best in the world, which is proven to be full in the city’s amber museum / gallery in the side street Mykolo gatve 8.
In the afternoon you can continue north, past the cathedral, and you will come to the National Museum of Lithuania. If you would rather sit down and relax with a drink, go right past the museum, turn left into the Zigimantu gateway and reach the Zaliasis Bridge with its working statues from Lithuania’s Communist era. On the north side of the river you can see the 22-storey Reval Hotel Lietuva, and at the top there is a bar where you can enjoy a drink and the view while watching the darkness descend over Vilnius.
After a trip back to the hotel room, it’s time to think about dinner. Back in the pedestrian street Pilies gateway in the Old Town you will find the Argentine restaurant El Gaucho Sano under the Atrium Hotel, and they serve some of the juiciest and darkest steaks to be found in Europe. Afterwards, if you’re ready to taste Vilnius’ nightlife, you’ll have countless bars and restaurants around you.
Day 2 in Vilnius
Today we start the tour of the relatively newly built Gedimino Prospektas shopping street, where you will find the city’s more exclusive shopping chains, shopping centers and designer shops. But in the middle of the main square of Lukisiu is also the old headquarters of the first Gestapo and later the KGB. This has now been turned into a museum, and it is definitely worth NOK 100 to hire one of the former inmates to guide you around the building and tell you what he was exposed to here. You will see soundproof torture chambers, small naked prison cells with water floors, tiny juniper cells, the execution cellar and more.
If you think this was depressing, you will hardly be more excited by the next stop. As you exit the KGB Museum, head east and turn south into Vilniaus gatve. Then you will come to the Jewish districts, where the Holocaust Museum in Pylimo gives you a bleak introduction to the tragic history of the Jews in Vilnius. The Jewish quarters are otherwise pleasant enough to stroll around, with its narrow cobblestone streets and low, colorful houses with small cafes where you can have lunch.
Afterwards you can walk out on the city’s oldest street, Ausros gatve, where you will find many shops. This street leads south to the Dawn Gate (Ausros Vartai), the only remaining of the nine gates in the city wall that originally surrounded the city. At the top of the gate is a small chapel that has been the target of Catholic pilgrims, thanks to a Renaissance painting by the Virgin Mary who is said to have healing powers. Pope John Paul II was here during his Vilnius visit.
As the evening approaches, it’s time for a taxi to the western district of Karoliniskes, where an express lift will take you up to the 325-meter-high TV tower. 190 meters above the ground lies the rotating restaurant Pauksciu Takas, which you have foresaw enough in advance to call (+370) 2525338 to book a table. Here you can have dinner with panoramic views of Vilnius.