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There are just a few cities in Europe that have left a lasting impression on me. Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania and one of the least visited European capitals, was one of them. I cannot tell why exactly, but I think it’s because Lithuania felt like an isolated country and I had this feeling of being far away in an exotic place that few people know about. I visited three years ago and I haven’t been able to forget how much I enjoyed this Baltic city.
We visited in late October but the weather had already dropped to as low as -8 degrees. On the first evening, we tried to explore the neighborhood where we stayed at, but it was too cold! We hadn’t packed appropriately (I’d never do that today after 5.5 years in Europe 😉 ) and we layered every single piece of clothing we had but they were still not enough. Today I am sharing a list of suggested activities to do in Vilnius based on my own experience.
Visit Old Town
It goes without saying that old towns in European cities are not to be missed. Enter through the Gate of Dawn and start your tour of the UNESCO world heritage site. Notable sites include Vilnius Cathedral, bell tower that stands right next to the cathedral, Vilnius castle complex that has three castles (Upper, Lower and Crooked Castles), St. Anne’s Church, Town Hall and the old town square, among others.
You’ll love seeing these historical buildings that have existed in Old Town since the Middle Ages. Vilnius is a multi-cultural city inhabited by Lithuanians, Germans, Russians and Jews, and we could see this in the synagogues and Orthodox churches in Old Town.
I also recommend seeing the flag-raising ceremony at the presidential palace, a short and solemn ceremony where you’ll get to see medieval guards in their 14th century uniforms as well.
Go to a ‘country’ inside a city, Uzupis Republic
Artistic and Bohemian district of Vilnius, this self-proclaimed republic has its own constitution, president, anthem and flag. It is where you’ll find the hippest festivals in summer, see street art and meet dreamers.
Right across the Vilnia river, the entrance to this district is through Uzupis bridge where you’ll see padlocks left by lovers, and a mermaid statue on one of the river banks. It was very cold and quiet when we went, so we only strolled around. Enter the cozy cafes, visit the oldest cemetery in Vilnius ‘Bernardine’ and see the art gallery right near entrance.
Uzupis Republic is a must for artistic and creative souls!
Climb the Castle Hill for panoramic views
Near the cathedral, you will see Gediminas Castle Tower on a hill, which is the remaining part of Upper Castle. You can take a funicular or walk up. Inside the tower is a museum that displays archaeological findings from the area and models of Vilnius castles from 14th-17th century. The tower, where the Lithuanian flag was first raised during independence movement from the occupying Soviet Union in 1988, is of historical importance to the country.
We walked up and enjoyed lovely panoramic views of the old town and the newer part of the city. In fact we liked it so much that we returned in the evening for a sunset view from the city and sure enough, old town looked magical under orange sky.
Stroll around Bernardine Gardens
This public park is located right at the heart of Vilnius, beside Vilnia river. If you need some tranquility, go to this green park that’s located in old town and enjoy the fountains and gardens. Bernardine spans over 9 hectars in area and even has special sections like monastery exposition, botanic exposition and a recreational area.
We just walked along the river, enjoyed beautiful autumn scenery and fed the ducks. Depending on the time you want to visit, it’s a good idea to check if any events or festivals are taking place in the gardens as well.
Visit Trakai Castle
Trakai is only a half an hour bus ride away from Vilnius bus station. This historic town is most known for its beautiful castle built on an island on a lake.
We went inside the castle complex and learned about the incredible history of Lithuania, that also included Lithuanian-Polish commonwealth. The castle complex was extensive, perhaps we could have used a guide.
The town has colorful wooden houses, seeing what took me back to my student years in a small town in Finland.
We lazily walked around the town, browsed through souvenir stalls and enjoyed unique Trakai specialty called Kibinai, stuffed pastries with onion and meat filling. It was an extremely pleasant day and I loved visiting this lovely, laid-back town. Don’t forget to take a camera! 🙂
Go hot-air ballooning over Vilnius!
Perhaps the most fun activity on this list, riding on a hot air balloon in Vilnius to enjoy the city views is a great option too. Hot-air ballooning is a popular hobby (and so is basketball 😛 ) in Lithuania and going on a hot air balloon ride above Vilnius is one of the more unique ways of experiencing this beautiful city.
There are a number of companies organizing hot-air balloon tours in Vilnius and considering what an affordable destination Lithuania is, this activity is a real possibility for all kinds of travelers who are looking for a bit more fun.
//Have you ever been to Vilnius or would you like to visit?