Why choose Vilnius for city break?
If you follow us or have read any of the blogs you probably know that Justina was born, raised and grew up in Lithuania. She lived in Vilnius during her study years and she has a great knowledge of Vilnius sightseeing spots and its old town in particular. The old town of Vilnius is where she spent most of her time as she studied there. She fell in love with the city and never stopped exploring as she lived there.
Vilnius is a long-standing historic capital of Lithuania with its roots going back to medieval times. It is a wonderful destination for a city break as it has a rich cultural scene, nightlife, loads of greenery, parks, cheap transportation, affordable quality hotels, picturesque historical old town but it isn't too busy, it's quite peaceful compared to other European capitals. Sounds like a long and promising list, that's right.
We live in London now but we go there at least twice a year to visit Justina's family and friends who live there but also to enjoy this beautiful city which just keeps on growing and improving year on year.
In this blog post, Justina shares some of her favourite things to do and see in the capital of Lithuania (these are just a few things, there is so much more!)
Your guide to Vilnius
Explore the old town
Old town of Vilnius plays a massive part in the country's historical past and is a Unesco world heritage site. It's one of the biggest in Northern Europe (correct, not Eastern, we are in Northern Europe)!
Main historic and architectural monuments you should visit
Vilnius Cathedral square and bell tower - a must
Palace of grand dukes - a must
Church of St Anne (they say that Napoleon wanted to take that renaissance architecture wonder with him when he was crossing Lithuania) - a must
Church of St Paul and Peter
University of Vilnius (founded in 1579 it's the oldest university in Baltic states) - a must
Main walking streets
Pilies street oldest street in the old town , pedestrianised route with restaurants, boutique shops, souvenir shops and cafes. Pilies street is the best place to look for Lithuanian souvenirs and gifts. Open air market stalls dotted along the street selling handmade items of clothing, famous wool scarfs, gloves, and slippers. This is where you will also find lithuanian "gold" - amber shops.
Vokiečių street another beautiful promenade linking Vilnius town hall "Rotušė" to Gediminas avenue. Some of the best coffee and dessert places are located over here as well as modern art gallery (huge white buildingby the side of the town hall). If you walk from the town hall towards Gediminas avenue you will unavoidably cross two very famous streets for their bars and nightlife - Vilnius and Islandijos streets.
Wonder off Vokiečių street towards university street and you will get into a little labyrinth of cobbled picturesque old town streets featuring local designer shops, boutiques, wine bars and trendy dessert places and cafes. Just when you need those instagram “worthy” shots! Every corner of Stiklių street is picture worthy.
The longest avenue in the old town starting at Cathedral Square and ending by the river Neris next to the Lithuanian parliament. This is where you will find most of the government institutions and embassies, theatres, restaurants and the only shopping mall in the old town “Gedo 9”. Constructed in 1836 1,8 km long(just over a mile) it's the main street in the old and cannot be missed during your visit. Walk along the avenue and explore it's buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, squares and you can even pay a visit to the Drama theatre or museum of occupation and freedom fights to learn more about Lithuania's history at the time.
Visit Republic of Užupis
It’s a unique and small neighbourhood short walk from the old town located on the other side of the river Vilnia. I would agree with many who say that it's a very tiny area in the town but also the most bohemian area in the whole of Lithuania housing art galleries, boutique shops and artist galleries. Recently some very popular bakeries and restaurants opened there making it a great place for food if you want to escape the business of the old town. If old buildings are your weakness, you will be in for a treat!
It is called the Republic of Užupis as if it's another country because back in 1997 it was declared an independent state of Vilnius town. It has its own flag, unofficial currency, president and constitution. Constitution that has been translated in 23 languages and is displayed on the mural wall in Paupio street. Dalai Lama has visited the constitution himself in 2013 and in September 2018 Pope Francesco gave it a blessing during his visit in Lithuania.
Best time for visiting Vilnius
In the winter months with heavier snowfall and frost (“whitest” months are January to March) city parks look like something out of a fairytale however most of the days are hazy and quite dull and wet therefore it's not the best time to explore the town. I would recommend visiting during spring (real spring starts around the end of April when everything starts blooming) and of course during the summer. The hottest time of the year with temperatures of up to 30 something degrees is the second half of the summer which is the end of July and August. However, you should always be ready for some unusual weather (mainly rain showers) and weather is quite unpredictable in Lithuania. As an example, summer can start as early as May but it never stays hot more than two months. Nowadays seasons have become less predictable and much less defined than they usedto be so it's almost impossible to tell. What remains certain is that late spring and summer is the most enjoyable time for visiting Lithuania and doing some sightseeing outdoors.
Main parks and green spaces in the old town for outdoor activities are:
river Neris and so called white bridge area around the river (skate park, volleyball, beach in the city)
Cathedral square and park around it
Visit tallest building in Lithuania
TV tower is the highest building in Lithuania at 326.5 m. Since it’s opening it has been and still is a home to lithuanian radio and television centre but it's also a significant monument of Lithuania's past. In the events of January 13th in 1991 during soviet occupation years it was a place where horrid attacks took place when soviet troupes occupied the tower in order to stop broadcasting Lithuanian news and radio. Crowds of unarmed people flocked to the site to resist the occupation but soviets sent tanks and 14 died in the fight that we now call “fight for freedom”.
If you would like to visit this monument and watch Vilnius from the highest point in the country, entry ticket will cost you anywhere from 9 to 52 euros depending on what activity you choose and the time you visit. In 2021 they have opened an open-air terrace at 165 metres where you can do so-called edge walk for those seeking an adventure. Mind you, this construction has been standing here since 1981 and was built under soviet regulations but there are constant works to it being done to keep it safe and usable. It is still very old and outdated building so don’t expect modern or posh environment. What is cool is that there is a restaurant inside the tower which is set on the platform which slowly spins around its axe and takes 45 min to complete the full circle. You can enjoy coffee and some traditional Lithuanian food whilst appreciating changing panoramas from your seat and don't worry you won't get dizzy, you can barely notice spinning as it moves really slow. I visited in December a few years ago and I personally would recommend going in the spring/summer season on a clear sunny day as the chances of getting clearer and better views are much greater then.
Here are some of my shots of what the views look like from the top in the winter!