Lithuania’s capital city Vilnius has been quietly charming tourists for years, drawing in visitors with the largest baroque Old Town in eastern Europe, then wowing them with an offbeat elegance, a complex history and a cultural scene that’s uniquely Lithuanian. Vilnius under-promises and over-delivers.
Is Vilnius worth visiting? It sure is! There are a wide range of things to do in Vilnius for all visitors and it’s definitely a highlight of any trip to the Baltics. Despite being a city with a small population of just half a million, it’s extraordinarily welcoming. It’s the perfect place to get lost for a few days and a popular stop on the Baltic tour route.
Streets are cobbled and the city centre is the largest preserved example of baroque architecture in Europe. It’s littered with Catholic and Orthodox churches and no matter where you are in the city, you can see the ever-present Gediminas Tower.
The city is full of small cafes, charming shops, restaurants, art, and history. I had a fantastic time exploring and can’t wait to return one day. It’s full of interesting activities and sights too. And, on the whole, most of the main sites in Vilnius are easy to reach on foot as the city is incredibly walkable.
The Old Town of Vilnius is one of the largest in Europe. There are a number of things to do in the city, but certainly one of the best things is to just get lost and wander through the wonderful cobbled streets. There are a number of lush, green parks, great street-side cafes and interesting museums to pop into as well, particularly the fascinating Museum of Illusions found in the Old Town.
In fact, I really recommend visiting the Museum of Illusions. Most museums tend to be historical, and while Vilnius does have its fair share of museums depicting the city and country’s rich history, this particular museum is a little more on the fun side of things. It’s fairly new—only open since 2016—and features over 70 exhibits featuring mind-bending optical illusions, virtual reality, and installations designed to have you questioning your eyes!
If you like Gothic architecture, then you will love St Anne’s Church. It’s a masterpiece of the Gothic era, and if you opt for a walking tour, this will definitely be on your list of stops. It’s survived 500 years and is an iconic sight of Vilnius. It’s also free so great if you’re visiting Vilnius on a budget.
The cathedral of Vilnius is also worth a visit due to its pure beauty. You’ll often find this is included in the generic walking tour route, and the tourist information centre is right across the street. It’s a great spot for photos too!
The Republic of Uzupis, a neighbourhood on the other side of the river and within easy reach of the Old Town, is another tourist highlight, especially if you’re interested in seeing Vilnius’ alternative side. Seen as the bohemian part of town, there is a lot of street art in this area along with some cool, independent shops, trendy cafes and craft beer bars, and some of the best restaurants in the city.
Make sure you visit the Gediminas Castle Tower. This feature is what’s left of what was once the upper castle! It’s on a hill and 100% one of the top things to do in Vilnius. It gives you a great view of the “old town” and then the “new town” which is the small area filled with skyscrapers. You can get a tram up for one euro or so or you can walk up, which is free. Once you get to the top, you’ve got your view!
Another great thing to do in Vilnius is visit the Gate of Dawn. It’s particularly notable as it’s the last remaining gate of five from the wall that once surrounded the city limits. Due to the gate’s age (construction on the wall began in 1503), as well as the famed painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the nearby gate chapel, the site attracts pilgrims and travellers from all over the world. Nowadays, it’s something of a shrine. Since the Virgin Mary is often associated with sunrise, the gate became locally known as the Gate of Dawn.
I always make sure I eat local wherever I am and Vilnius was no exception. One dish I really loved was cold beetroot soup or Šaltibarščiai. It’s made from hard-boiled eggs, cooked and shredded beets, fresh cucumbers, dill, and green onions. All the aforementioned ingredients are chopped and put into a pot, and then soured milk or kefir is added. The soup can be seasoned with salt and some pepper to taste.
Šaltibarščiai is Lithuania’s most popular summer dish. It’s served mainly during the summer months and comes with hot boiled potatoes or a hard-boiled egg, although in my case it came with mashed potatoes! It’s recognised by its bright pink colour, perfect for brightening up your Instagram feed! Definitely, one of the cooler dishes (in more ways than one) to enjoy in Lithuania!
When visiting the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, chances are you might start wondering if there’s a lighter side to this great, although at first glance, somewhat serious cultural city. And I am here to tell you that, of course, there is. Just outside the Old Town, there’s Halės Turgus (Halės Market), the oldest market in the capital. But as you approach the main entrance of the market, you definitely cannot miss a cool mural overlooking the market entrance from across the street.
So there you go, my top things to do in Vilnius. It’s truly a fantastic city and it’s the cleanest city in Europe I’ve ever been to. Like squeaking clean, not a single bit of rubbish in site!
If you’re on a tight budget (as I usually am) and want cheap(er) accommodation, you need to stay somewhere a bit far out from the Old Town. However, don’t worry too much about distances as public transport by bus is efficient and relatively fast.
I recommend staying a minimum of 3 nights in Vilnius. You could definitely do longer, but less than that won’t give you the true experience. It’s a perfect city break spot, and the perfect time frame for a city break is around 3 nights!