We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.

Vilnius surprised me the most on my Baltic itinerary. Lithuania is one of the lesser-known Baltic states. But after my visit, I appreciate why Vilnius is a UNESCO Heritage Site. There are so many things to do in Vilnius.

If you’re short on time, take one of the recommended walking tours so that you see the highlights. While most people only spend a day in Vilnius, I recommend at least a weekend or a couple of days so that you can add a day trip or two. Here are my recommendations on the best things to do in Vilnius:

BEST THINGS TO DO IN VILNIUS

Cathedral and Bell Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania

FREE WALKING TOUR

Starting with a free walking tour is the best way to orient yourself to the location of everything and become familiar with the city’s history. I took two free walking tours with this company (no, they are not sponsoring me to brag about them – I enjoyed them!). The Old Town Free Tour and the Undiscovered Free Tour were worlds apart. 

VILNIUS OLD TOWN

If you love historic and well-preserved medieval towns, you’ll fall in love with Vilnius’ old town. Buildings dating back to the 16th century and earlier, Vilnius is one of the largest remaining old towns. Preservation has led to it being a UNESCO Heritage Site. Stroll the narrow streets dotted with merchants selling amber and other local products. Bars and restaurants satisfy travelers’ bellies.

brick Gediminas Castle Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania

GEDIMINAS CASTLE TOWER

Climb to the top of the hill for some of the best views in town. The Gediminas Castle Tower houses a museum and was rebuilt in 1933. Initially built by Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, in 1409 out of bricks, and is the last remaining part of the Upper Castle.

MUSEUM OF OCCUPATIONS AND FREEDOM FIGHTS (KGB MUSEUM)
Aukų st. 2A

Located in the former KGB building, this museum pays homage to the country’s struggle to gain independence through various occupations. Visitors can see a KGB prison and even an execution room.

MUSEUM OF ILLUSIONS
Vokiečių st. 8

If you’re like me and fascinated by those photos that trick the eye, this is the museum for you. Lights and shadows play tricks on your mind. Science tricks our eyes and perceptions. Take a minute after testing your senses by visiting their 2D cafe (for those of us who are older, think of it as the drawing for the AHA “Take On Me” Video).

GATES OF DAWN
Aušros Vartų g. 14

One of ten defensive gates of the city of Vilnius, completed in 1522, and the only remaining one, the Gates of Dawn, has since become a pilgrimage destination. 

St. Anne's Church in Vilnius, Lithuania

ST. ANNE’S CHURCH

Established around 1500 on the banks of the Vilnia River, St. Anne’s Catholic Church is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. The church still celebrates mass. The baroque interior is a sight to behold, but visiting hours are limited. 

CHURCH OF ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL

This former monastery complex demonstrates Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Baroque. The interior is an art lover’s dream. There are over 2,000 decor elements; can you find them all? Don’t forget to look up as the ceilings and items hanging from the ceilings all contribute to the magnificence of this house of worship.

HILL OF THREE CROSSES

Three concrete white crosses mark the spot where you can see some of the best views of Vilnius. The crosses represent three Franciscans who died when pagans tied them to crosses and threw them down the hill.

Cathedral and Bell Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania

CATHEDRAL BASILICA OF ST. STANISLAUS AND ST. LADISLAUS OF VILNIUS

Perhaps one of the most recognizable buildings in Old Town Vilnius, this neo-classical building is the main Roman Catholic Cathedral of Lithuania. Grand Dukes of Lithuania were crowned here. The current church was completed in 1783, though several churches have existed in this exact location since the 1400s. The oldest fresco in Lithuania survives in this church, along with important artworks. Don’t miss a visit inside, especially to the Chapel of St. Casimir. 

BELL TOWER

Located at the corner of the plaza in front of the Vilnius Cathedral, visitors can climb inside the Bell Tower (note that there is no elevator!). The Bell Tower stands where one of the original towers of the lower castle once stood. This is a great spot to take photos of Old Town Vilnius.

Cathedral Square in Vilnius, Lithuania

CATHEDRAL SQUARE

Cathedral Square is the center of Vilnius life. Concerts, fairs, and public celebrations all take place here.

The Square was built in the 19th Century and features many places that visitors should not miss, including the main Cathedral, the Palace, the Bell Tower, and the Gediminas Statue. It is also on the way to many other locations, such as Uzupis and Snipiskes, as well as shopping and restaurants.

If you want to be near the action, a hotel here is ideal.

White Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius

PALACE OF THE GRAND DUKES OF LITHUANIA
Katedros a. 4

One of the most recognizable buildings in Vilnius, the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, currently serves as a national museum. During its golden era, the Palace was renowned for its library, tapestries, and social life. It was destroyed by the end of the 19th century. The current palace was re-opened in 2009. 

PANERIAI 
Naugarduko st. 10

Located just on the outskirts of Vilnius, the Memorial Museum of Paneriai remembers the thousands of Jews murdered by the Nazis. The park includes various memorial stones and even a massacre pit. It is best visited with a guide to understanding the history of what happened here.

Uzupis Wall in Vilnius, Lithuania

UŽUPIS 

Are you looking for a Bohemian artistic neighborhood? Then go over to Uzupis. If you’ve got the time, I’d recommend spending at least a relaxed day here. Officially calling itself the “Republic of Uzupis,” they claim April 1st (April Fool’s) as their independence day, has its constitution, and you can even get your passport stamped.

The area attracts artists and those with a laissez-faire attitude. Located across (seven) bridges over the river Vilnia. The bars around here have a relaxed party atmosphere, so it is a great place to hang out on the weekend.

TV Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania

VILNIUS TV TOWER
January 13

The tallest building in Lithuania was built during the Soviet occupation during the 1970s. A visit to the observation deck will give you some of the best sights of Vilnius. 

The 19th floor (equivalent to the 55th floor of an apartment building) is a rotating restaurant named “Paukščių takas” (Bird Trail). Make restaurant reservations and time it around sunset for the best views. 

FIND STREET ART

Like a lot of cities, Vilnius’ walls feature murals and its parks sculptures from local and foreign artists. As you stroll along the streets, keep your eyes open for all kinds of art. Some murals take on a 3D effect with an app that is downloadable to your phone. Locating street art is one of the best things to do in Vilnius.

while wall with poetry art in Vilnius, Lithuania

DISCOVER STREET POETRY
Literatų g.

Also known as Mykolas Alley, Literatai Street celebrates authors. Painters, wood, and metal workers, among others, created art pieces memorializing their favorite authors. You could spend hours admiring each work on this alley that connects to Old Town Vilnius.

WATCH SOME BASKETBALL

The one thing Americans seem to know about Lithuania is that they are famous for their basketball players. In city parks across town, you can watch a pickup game of basketball and see the developing players from this country.

Wooden house with modern building in back in Snipiskes district in Vilnius

VISIT THE ŠNIPIŠKẺS DISTRICT

This neighborhood of Vilnius, located across the river from Old Town, is a confluence of old and new. Here, modern high-rise buildings surround late 19th and early 20th-century wooden houses. 

Protected by building restrictions, these wooden houses are a step back in time, many without indoor plumbing. With unpaved streets and the inability to replace old buildings with new ones, efforts at preservation continue. The anachronism between the new and old architecture is striking.

mural of old Jewish man on wall in Vilnius, Lithuania

JEWISH QUARTER OF VILNIUS

The Jewish Quarter of Vilnius was established in 1633, though some Jewish tradespeople existed before that. In 1742, Jews were permitted to live and trade through most of Vilnius. Much of the area was destroyed during the Nazi and Soviet occupation. Since Lithuania’s independence, an effort has been made to preserve the history of the Jewish contribution to Vilnius.

Queen bed in white room at Airbnb in Vilnius, Lithuania

WHERE TO STAY IN VILNIUS

I booked this Airbnb, which was as lovely in person as in the photos. While the alley entrance may look scary, the location and interior were fabulous. I tend not to splurge on hotels, but it doesn’t mean you can’t.

Prefer a hotel? These hotels have great reviews and locations too:

Luxury: Grand Hotel Kempinski Vilnius

This hotel sits right on Cathedral Square. If you’re celebrating a big event, this is the place! Beautiful rooms, spectacular location, and fabulous service. Guests report not wanting to leave.

Affordable: 15th Avenue

Located a 7-minute walk from Cathedral Square and within Old Town, guests love the convenience and location of the 15th Avenue Hotel. With a 24-hour staffed lobby, air conditioning, and free wifi, this boutique hotel’s location makes it easily walkable to Vilnius’ main attractions.

DAY TRIPS FROM VILNIUS

Trakkai Castle in Lithuania

Trakai Island Castle

Built in the 14th and 15th centuries, the location of this castle on an island made it the perfect fortress. Trakai served as the Lithuanian capital before it moved to Vilnius. Visitors can experience the rebuilt castle while learning all about Medieval history. 

There are multiple ways to visit Trakai, including a guided tour or a public bus. For those looking for a fun outdoor adventure, consider riding a bicycle or even kayaking from Vilnius to Trakai for an all-day adventure. 

Crosses at Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

Hill of Crosses

Located between Vilnius and Riga, the Hill of Crosses is a pilgrimage location in northern Lithuania. Supposedly started in 1831, this compact area is covered with thousands of crosses. Visited by Pope John Paul II in 1993, one of his sermons plays over the loudspeaker. 

Today, the Hill of Crosses serves as a symbol of love. Many newlyweds come to the Hill of Crosses to take photos to celebrate their love.

wooden houses at Rumsiskes Open Air Museum in Lithuania

Rumšiškės Open Air Museum

The Open Air Museum demonstrates the ethnographic regions of Lithuania as they existed at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The buildings represent towns, houses, and farm living at the time in each area. There is even a tribute to the exile and resistance movement from the Nazi and Soviet occupation. Plan a full-day tour.

Have you visited Vilnius or Lithuania? What else would you like to know about the trip?

Don’t forget to check out these related posts:

Happy travels,
Annick, The Common Traveler

Save this post for later: pin it or share it!

The Common Traveler shares the Ultimate Guide to Vilnius, Lithuania. Here are the best places to see, things to do, where to stay, etc. It also directs you to what foods to try and where to try, as well as what souvenirs to bring back. Check it out!

#lithuania #vilnius