Top ten things to do in Vilnius


Have you ever wondered what to do if you find yourself in Lithuania’s capital city, described by Rough Guides as the most beautiful city in the Baltics? Of course you have. Read on to find the answer to that age old question…

1 Old Town

Imagine the best Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance architecture you’ve seen anywhere in Southern Europe and plonk it all in a few streets within half a square mile of each other. That is Vilnius’ Old Town, and that is why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highlight is Cathedral Square, with its distinctive freestanding belltower and huge white cathedral which wouldn’t look out of place in Venice. Walking south of the square all the way to the Dawn Gate – the original entrance to the city – you will see numerous grand buildings and enough churches to turn an atheist.

2 Higher Castle

Not much of a castle, more a turret, a visit to the remains of this 13th Century castle is a must for the view from the top. You can either walk up a steep, winding hill to get here or take a funicular train for 3 Lt (£1.20). Once here, it’s 5 Lt (£2) to get in. A museum on the second and third floors showcases the history of the castle and of Vilnius itself – the highlight is a wooden model of how the castle complex once looked. A further flight of stairs will take you to the castle’s rooftop, from where Lithuania’s flag flutters and you can look down at the old town.

3 AJ Sokoladas

Lithuanian cafes make ours look rubbish. AJ Sokoladas is a national chain based in nearby Trakai but with shops throughout the country – the flagship Vilnius branch is just down the road from Cathedral Square (Pilies 8; www.ajsokoladas.lt). It specialises in handmade chocolates available to eat in or take out by the gram, and is licensed too. We celebrated Mrs Culture’s birthday with a glass of cava each and a 200 gram selection of delicious choccies for just 20 Lt (£5).

4 Uzupis

Crossing the River Vilnia, which is really more of a stream, you will reach Uzupis, the area of town which mockingly declared its independence from the rest of Vilnius. The Uzupis Republic has its own constitution written on a plaque and celebrates its independence day on April Fools Day – if you’re here then, you can get your passport stamped.

5 Beer

Who would have thought Lithuanian beer would be so nice? The market leader seems to be Svyturys Ekstra, from the country’s third largest city, Klaipeda. It’s a 5.2% light lager which the wife said was the nicest beer she’d tried on her travels.

6 Vilnius TV Tower

The tallest building in Lithuania at 326m, it’s well worth the effort to get here from central Vilnius. Guidebooks say a taxi here should cost in the region of 20 Lt (£5) from the old town – the driver we approached wanted 40 Lt but I managed to knock him down to 30 Lt. It costs 21 Lt to get in, and you’ll be chaperoned by an old lady first to the cloakroom where you will be ordered to leave your coat, and then to the elevator – it takes 40 seconds to get to the bar at the 165m mark. The window-side seats and tables are on a revolving platform that takes around an hour to rotate 360º giving you time to enjoy a couple of Svyturys while you look down on the housing estates, power stations, rivers and forests of greater Vilnius.

The TV Tower hit headlines in 1991 when Soviet tanks approached it and in an attempt to take-over the local media, thirteen unarmed Lithuanians were shot down. There is a memorial to the victims inside and outside the entrance, and the tower is now a symbol of national pride.

If you don’t fancy forking out for a taxi back, get a trolleybus (numbers 1 or 3) from the main road – you can pay the driver the 2.50 Lt fee.

7 Frank Zappa statue

For absolutely no logical reason, there is a sculpture of the American musician Frank Zappa’s head on a pole in a car park a ten minute walk to the west of the old town on Kalinausko. Apparently it was commissioned by the city’s students and has the honour of being the only statue of Frank Zappa in the world!

8 Wine

Drinking wine can be an expensive business in much of Eastern Europe, but fear not. In Vivo (Ausros Vartu 7; www.invivo.lt) has a great selection of wines by the glass at 9.90 Lt (just under £4), a choice of hot and cold tapas dishes and it seemed pretty busy, even on a cold Tuesday in March. Vilnius has a big university in the heart of the old town, so the students keep the bars and restaurants busy.

9 Holy Miko’s

This little restaurant on a side street in the old town is worth hunting down for its friendly staff and good value, well presented meat dishes. (Sv Mykolo 4; www.holymikos.lt)

10 Hotel Atrium

In fitting with the rest of Vilnius, the four star Hotel Atrium is a quirky one. You can imagine it being one of the best hotels around in the 80s, but I doubt if much has changed since – it has no elevators and the leather furniture in the rooms comes straight out of Wall Street. Considering it only has 28 rooms, there’s a hell of a lot of space. Our double suite (only £65 with breakfast, booked through www.trivago.co.uk) had two levels and was bigger than my house, and the reception area was as big as Cathedral Square. The location is perfect too, just steps from Cathedral Square, while the free wifi comes in handy. (Pilies 10; www.atrium.lt)

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26 comments

  1. Argh! We’ve just travelled through Latvia and Estonia (well, Riga and Tallinn) but we missed Lithuania and I’m feeling a bit guilty about it. We didn’t intentionally skip it, it’s just that a friend recommended the Stockholm-Riga ferry to us so we took that and we’ve been working our way north east from there (we’re currently in Helsinki). I regret missing out on Vilnius and Lithuania!

    • Cheers for the comment. That’s your incentive to return one day, then. Vilnius is lovely, quirky and one of the cheapest cities I’ve been to. The centre is pretty small and you can probably see it all in one day. But I’d say Tallinn is nicer so don’t be too down on yourself!

  2. Great post about Vilnius! About the Frank Zappa statue..well it’s a bit funny, there was a thought-rumour-misunderstanding that he was an offspring of two Lithuanians who fled the country in WW2. I would be surprised, though, if there was someone to believe this story!

  3. Excellent post – and I agree with just about all your choices! Yes: the wine, beer and wine and beer snacks at Vivo are excellent! We had two evenings there in February 2012, once enjoying the beer and once the wine.

    If push came to shove, I think I’d have made a tour of the University one of the top ten Vilnius things to do/see. But what this is really saying is: Vilnius is a fantastic place to visit! There’s lots to see. Mind you: Kaunas is ace as well. Phil.

  4. Nice list and tips about Vilnius! To best understand a country I like to explore city markets. There is a nice sunday flea market and Kalvarijų Market is a permanent one, really old style and authentic

  5. Thanks for stopping by my blogg. I have visited Vilnius 22 times in the last 7 years and find it a fascinating city with a complex but intriguing history. Do visit Trakei and make sure you sample Svyturis beer, I used to be able to get it in Tesco in the UK but recently it has disappeared from the shelves. The bell tower is a must visit at the university but NOT if you suffer from vertigo.

  6. Excellent post! I would love to visit Lithuania :)

  7. Forget the comment about not visiting in winter, it is wonderful especially when the snow comes. Granted it does get down to -30c but it is a relatively balmy -15c during the day. Just do what the locals do and dress up warm. I spent two weeks in the city in January 2 years ago and the above temperatures I have quoted are what I experienced. Go vist, you will never regret it.

    • I went in march and all the snow had been cleared and piled up high around Cathedral Square. It is romantic in the cold but to be honest I prefer to be outside. Wearing two coats, hat, scarf and gloves can only keep you warm for so long!

  8. A friend of mine is there right now. I will here what he has to say, so far it looks interesting enough to deserve a visit. Not in winter, perhaps! :-P

  9. Sharing this with my wife. She visits Vilnius for work on occasion.

  10. Lithuania has been on a list of countries I plan to visit. At the moment I have 2016 Trans-Siberian Tran-Mongolian trip in the works but a side jaunt to a Frank Zappa statue may now be in the works. Thanks.

  11. Another place to visit. You have a wonderful travel blog. Thanks for liking my recent post on Myanmar.

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