It didn’t take very long for us to fall in love with Vilnius. Lithuania was our first-ever visit to the Baltic countries, and we weren’t sure of what to expect when we landed. We came to find that the city is filled with picturesque streets, beautiful architecture, a strong culture, tasty foods, and so much history.
There are many activities to intrigue any traveler in Lithuania’s capital and we hope to go back to experience more one day. While we feel that we only brushed the surface of all that the city has to offer, we compiled this list of notable things to do in Vilnius from our time there so far.
Before we get into the activities, it’s worth bringing up the Vilnius Pass. Like many larger cities in Europe, Vilnius has created a pass that grants free items or admission at some attractions and offers discounts at other attractions, activities, restaurants and more. Here are the things included in the pass.
Passes range from €34 to €61 per adult depending whether you pick the 24, 48, or 72-hour pass and if you choose to add public transportation tickets. Before buying the pass, we recommend that you calculate how much it will save you to buy the pass versus paying for activities individually. If you are planning to include many of the activities on the pass, it may be worth it!
1. Visit Cathedral Square
Cathedral square is a prominent feature of Old Town Vilnius. The square has hosted many events, Christmas markets, and more over the years, but people also gather there daily to take in the city sights. We passed through the square multiple times, but really enjoyed being there near sunset when many people were out shopping, meeting up with friends, skateboarding, etc.
Looming over the square is the Vilnius Cathedral, or Basilica of St. Stanislaus and St. Ladislaus. Visitors can enter the cathedral for free. For €10, you can also go below ground to take a tour of the Vilnius Catacombs/King’s Crypts.
Just outside the cathedral is the old Bell Tower. It was once part of the old defensive tower of the city’s lower castle before becoming a bell tower. For €6, visitors can climb up into it for a view over the square and learn more about the history of the tower and workings of the clock.
Lastly, keep an eye out for the Miracle Tile when walking around the square. It is believed that if you spin on the tile while making a wish, it will be fulfilled!
2. Hit the Museums
Vilnius has a variety of museums covering a range of topics, from art and Lithuanian history to toys and illusions. During our time in the city, we only had the time to visit a handful of exhibits. Here are a few great museum options to consider adding to your list of things to do in Vilnius.
Palace of the Grand Dukes
- Cost: €10 per adult for all routes
- Hours: September through May, the museum is closed on Monday, open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Thursday, and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Sunday. During the summer months of June through August, the museum is open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday and 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
- Contains exhibits on Lithuanian history, lives of Grand Duchy members, Lithuanian culture, and more. Read more about visiting the palace in our post here!
Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights
- Cost: €6 per adult
- Hours: The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday, open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Sunday.
- The museum is inside an old KGB prison. Exhibits provide information on Soviet and Nazi occupation in Lithuania, the prison system, the many prisoners and victims executed here.
Lithuanian National Museum of Art
- Cost: €6 per adult
- Hours: The museum is closed Monday, open from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. on Sunday
- This exhibit is a part of Lithuania’s large national museum. It contains paintings, sculptures, and other art along with a variety of historical artifacts.
- Cost: €11 per adult
- Hours: The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. except Tuesday when the museum is closed.
- If you’re more interested in modern art, head to the MO Museum to see rotating exhibits containing works by contemporary Lithuanian artists.
Museum of Illusions
- Cost: €12 per adult
- Hours: The museum is open 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Sunday.
- This museum contains fun interactive elements and illusions. It’s a unique activity if you have a little time to spare.
As mentioned above, there are many other museums in Vilnius. There are a few prominent landmarks that also contain exhibits, such as Gediminas Tower and the bastion. We’ll talk more about those below!
3. Overlook Vilnius from Gediminas Tower
One of the most iconic landmarks in Vilnius is Gediminas Tower. As you walk around Old Town Vilnius, you’ll likely see the brick structure perched up on a hill.
Gediminas Tower was built by the Grand Duke Gediminas himself. Legend says that while in the area on a hunting excursion, he dreamt of an iron wolf howling from the hilltop and interpreted this as a sign to build a great city here. Thus, a wooden castle was built. In the early 1400s, a stone castle was built by a later Duke after the wooden castle had burned down. Gediminas Tower became part of a large brick fortification structure used to defend the city against attacks.
Today, the building holds a museum covering the history of the tower and castles in the area along with some broader Lithuanian history. You’ll also get a nice view over Vilnius! Entry to the tower costs €6, but visitors can access the grounds around the tower for free. Learn more about visiting Gediminas Tower here.
4. Explore Bernardine Gardens and Climb the Hill of Three Crosses
Just near Gediminas Tower and Old Town Vilnius is the beautiful Bernardine Garden. This beautiful green space has fountains, a variety of flowers and trees, benches and chess tables, and trails along the river. It’s a nice little escape from the bustle of the city.
From the gardens, you can also access the trails leading into Kalnai Park. There are a few things to see when exploring the park, most notably the Hill of Three Crosses. Three stark white crosses stand tall over the city – you can see them from Gediminas Tower and the city below. The old monument sits even higher than the tower, offering some really pretty views over Vilnius. Read more about exploring the park here.
5. Wander the Streets of Užupis
Užupis is a vibrant, artsy district within Vilnius separated from Old Town by the Vilnia River. In the 1990’s the residents of this area declared their own independence, creating their own constitution, currency, and government. The republic’s ideals include free thinking and expression, escape from the pressures of modern life, and the ability to be your true self.
This little self-declared republic is full of cafés, shops, street art, and quirky details. As you wander the streets, don’t miss the Angel of Užupis, the unique constitution posted on the street walls, and the Užupis Bridge, under which there is a swing and mermaid sculpture.
6. Stroll down Literatai Street
Literatai Street is a picturesque alleyway in Vilnius’ old town. The street has been called various names throughout the years but only received its current name in the early 20th century based off the print houses and book shops that once operated here. Adomas Mickevičius, a famous poet, also lived here during the early 1800’s.
Today, the walls of Literatai Street are covered with unique plaques, sculptures, and other small pieces that are dedicated to various authors. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in literature, it is worth a quick stroll down the street.
7. Walk Through the Gates of Dawn
The Gates of Dawn were once part of Vilnius’ defensive wall built in the 1500’s. There were several gates built around the city, but the Gates of Dawn are the only gateway still standing.
The Chapel of Our Lady was erected near the gate and the renaissance painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary that once sat in the gate has drawn many pilgrims from around the world to this site since then. Also near the gate is the Church of St. Teresė – once a monastery of the Discalced Carmelites that later became a part of the church of the parish. Both the chapel and church can be visited free of charge, but check the webpage for hours and other info.
8. See Vilnius’ Many Churches
Aside from the churches mentioned above, there are numerous other churches in Vilnius. Even if you aren’t religious or planning on going inside, it’s still interesting to admire the architecture and learn a bit about the building. We really enjoyed that many of Vilnius’ notable buildings had plaques outside providing some information on the site and its history. Following are just a few of the churches we came across when exploring Vilnius.
- St. Anne’s Church: A gothic-style brick church in old town. This building is very well known in Lithuania and, of all the churches in Vilnius, we thought this one was the most beautiful!
- Church of St. Peter & St. Paul: A baroque-style church with an intricate interior. It is often referred to as one of the most beautiful churches in Europe.
- Church of St. Catherine: A baroque building easily recognizable for its light pink exterior. Many cultural events are held here today.
- St. John’s Church: A gothic church with baroque elements. The church is considered to be part of the university complex. The bell tower is one of the highest points in the city and visitors can climb it for a great view of Vilnius.
- Church of St. Casimir: Another baroque church recognizable for its pastel color and large crown sitting atop the tower.
- Church of St. Nicholas: The oldest remaining church in Vilnius. It has been damaged and restored many times throughout its history, but it has strong gothic features.
- Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit: This church is well known for its very intricate and ornate interior.
9. Visit the Old Bastion of the Vilnius Defense Wall
Various attacks have plagued Vilnius throughout the centuries, and the museum inside the Bastion of the Vilnius Defense Wall provides information on Vilnius’ defense system, artillery, tales of the city’s past, and more. The museum is housed within the old fortification bastion that was once part of the city’s outer defensive walls. As you walk about the exterior, you’ll see parts of the old structure and there is a platform that offers pretty views over the city.
Visitors can walk the grounds around the bastion for free. Tickets to enter the museum cost €5 per ticket and the museum is open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily except Monday.
10. Try some Lithuanian Cuisine
We definitely filled up on tasty Lithuanian cuisine as much as we could when we visited! Following are a handful of dishes we enjoyed.
- Cepelinai: potato dumplings usually filled with meat.
- Potato Pancakes: We encountered these a few times – sometimes they had a meat filling. Usually served with a sour cream-type sauce.
- Kepta Duona: Fried bread covered with garlic and sometimes cheese (we could eat this every day!)
- Kibinai: These are pastries traditionally stuffed with lamb and onions, but now come with many different fillings. They somewhat reminded us of empanadas. They were originally introduced by the small Karaite community who migrated to Lithuania long ago, but these delicious pastries can now be found widely – even in grocery store bakeries.
- Cheese: Being from the United States, we don’t get the greatest cheese. So we were thrilled to see so many varieties in grocery stores. Soft cheeses are a common staple.
- Rye Bread: Another staple found in pretty much all bakeries and grocery stores we went in.
- Šaltibarščiai: A cold (and bright pink) beetroot soup usually served with potatoes on the side. This is commonly eaten in the summer, but we wanted to try some despite being there in the chilly fall months.
- Koldūnai: dumplings with various fillings including mushrooms, minced meat, cheese, and more.
- Seafood: While seafood wasn’t as popular in Vilnius as it was in Klaipėda, there are still some very delicious and fresh seafood options due to Lithuania’s access to the coast.
Sweets & Drinks
- Mead: There are many kinds of mead that we encountered in Lithuania. Some were lighter and carbonated like a cider while others were a much stronger hard liquor. The flavors vary as well, some having a traditional honey taste while others having stronger fruity or cinnamon tastes.
- Vodka: Lithuania also produces a fair amount of Vodka within the country.
- Šakotis: A traditional cake made by turning a spit while drizzling the batter in layers. We learned that these are popular for special occasions. We found them widely available in grocery stores and bakeries.
- Spurgos: Donut-like pastries often filled with a fruit jam.
- Liquor-Filled Chocolates: We’re not sure that this is considered to be a traditional Lithuanian snack, but we encountered so many different types of liquor-filled chocolates! Some included vodka, rum, whiskey, and even tequila sunrise. They were pretty tasty.
You can find traditional bites in a variety of spots in Vilnius. For cheap mead, a variety of dishes, and a relaxed atmosphere, head to Snekutis. Džiaugsmas, Ertlio Namas and Grey also have some traditional items if you’re looking for something a little fancier.
If you want to try a variety of recommended foods, consider a food tour! This isn’t something we opted for, but Get Your Guide and Viator list some options.
11. Take a Day Trip to Trakai
Trakai is one of the most visited spots in all of Lithuania. Yet we found it to be very peaceful. While Trakai isn’t in Vilnius, it is only a short ways outside of the capital and is easy to get to by tour, public transport, or your own vehicle.
While there, you’ll encounter quaint streets, beautiful countryside, and historical landmarks including the famous Trakai Castle. Trakai is a lovely spot to escape the bustle of the city and enjoy some time in nature. For more information on taking a day trip to Trakai, see our post.
12. Take in the Views from the TV Tower
The Vilnius Television Tower is the tallest building in Lithuania. Whether you want to harness up and sit on the edge of the tower, take in the views more calmly from the observation decks, or have a nice meal at the tower restaurant, you’ll undoubtedly have some stunning views over Vilnius.
Tickets to access the viewing platforms start at €10 per adult. For more information on tickets, hours, and reservations, click here.