Vilnius was the the last capital of the three Baltic Republics on my Baltic Explorer trip and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in this landlocked city. It didn’t help that I arrived on the bus from Riga in the rain and the bus and train station are not in the nicest part of town. But things started to look up as soon as I started exploring the city on foot and Vilnius has a lot in its favor!
I was lucky to stay at the Radisson Blu Royal Astoria Hotel near Town Hall Square, with a view of St. Casimir’s church, which is a great place to start a walking tour. The large square in front of the impressive Town Hall has seen its share of historic events and today has nice restaurants with outdoor seating all around.
In Vilnius, there is less risk of getting lost: It’s layout is more modern than Riga or Tallinn and a few long, fairly straight (yet cobblestoned) streets take you to most of the sights! Follow the pedestrian street Didzioji and on along Pilies. There are lots of churches all over Vilnius (over 30), so I will only point out a few of them – you won’t miss the rest, just look up! The first thing I noticed on my tour is that the old heart of Vilnius is also the new heart of the city! Instead of having a “tourist” center and the “regular” center, it’s all one, lively and beautiful downtown! You’ll see students from the nearby university in the cafe next to tourists and business people hurriedly walking by on their way to the next meeting! It makes for a fun walk of seeing historic sights and watching people all in one go! Along Pilies are plenty of cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating, inviting for a break!
Towards the end of the street, turn right into Sv Mykolog – it will take you to the two churches of St. Anne and Bernadine, a beautiful combination!
A short distance onwards back on Pilies, you will reach Cathedral Square, with the palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania to the right and the Cathedral with separate bell tower on the left. Above it on the hill, the Gedimas Tower is keeping watch over the city. You can walk up to the tower via a path to the right or use the funicular from the river side. You’ll get a nice view over Vilnius and it’s worth the trip to the top either way! There is also a tourist office on the square and they have good maps, a handy “Vilnius in 3 Days” guide, lots of other brochures and good advice!
Behind the Cathedral towards the river are the old and new Arsenal, parts of the old fortress, that hold the National Museum (worth a visit, read my review here)! If you are in the mood for a shopping break, take Gedimino Street leading away from the square. If you’d lke to see the Musuem of Genocide Victims, covering the Soviet and Nazi occupations, you will find it off Gedimino, across from Lukisky Square.
As you make your way back, look for the tourist signs that are posted all over town for the Presidential Palace, South of Cathedral Square. It’s an impressive building, right in the heart of the city with a nicely decorated plaza in front.
The university is right next door, so you will have tourists snapping pictures and students taking a study break in the plaza. As you head further South, look for tiny Stikliy alley – it’s part of the old Jewish neighborhood of Vilnius and today has lots of little restaurants, including awesome Bistro 18!
The alley ends on Town Hall Square, bringing you back to the start of your trip. If you still have energy left, you can head further South to the Dawn Gate, the last remaining gate of the city walls. Or head to the “Republic of Uzupis”, an artist colony that felt they need their own president and anthem. Right behind the republic are the beautiful Bernadine Gardens inviting you to relax your legs under the trees on one of the benches along the little river! Check out my custom map with all the sights to plan your own walk through Vilnius!