Nicknamed “The Rome of the North” and “The Jerusalem of Lithuania”, Vilnius is full of historical and religious treasures. not to mention the oldest baroque old town in Northern Europe.
But Vilnius is not only a living museum: it has a pioneering and confident charm that is reflected in its growing food scene, vibrant nightlife and creative arts district. And with cheap direct flights from many European hubs, the Lithuanian capital is just starting to grow to become a true city lover.
Old town of Vilnius
Vilnius Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the city’s main attractions. It contains all the ingredients of your stereotypical historic center: churches with picture books, impressive palaces and a network of cobbled streets leading to the main squares.
What may surprise visitors is the size of the old city. Although it is easily accessible on foot, it seems to extend for several kilometers, especially compared to the small Baltic cities of Tallinn and Riga.
Getting lost in the labyrinth of alleys is a pleasure for you to admire the medieval architecture and discover the stalls that sell local crafts. But there are of course a handful of highlights that every visitor wants out of his list: the majestic Cathedral Square, home to the main church of the city and the pretty bell tower (somewhat dull); the golden gate of dawn, the last remaining historical gate of the city and an important Christian pilgrimage thanks to its famous statue of the Virgin Mary without the child Jesus; and the impressive brick complex of St. Anne’s Church, a gothic masterpiece so beautiful, according to Napoleon, that he wanted to bring it back “in the palm of his hand” in Paris.
St. Anne’s Church of Vilnius
The hill of the three crosses – look at the view
Kalnu Park has three white crosses that overhang the style of Christ the Redeemer of Vilnius. Legend has it that the cross dates back to the 17th century, when three monks left them here to commemorate the three monks killed here three centuries ago. Those who are here today are replicated versions – Soviet troops removed the originals in the 1950s, but you can still see them below, lying in a mess crumbled between the new brilliant crosses. It’s a hike up the hill (we lost the number of steps), but it’s worth it.
The hill of the three crosses
Hill of Three Crosses (c) Carys Homer
Although the view is incredible at any time of the day, we suggest you come here at sunset to watch the night on the pastel pink rooftops of the city.
Museum of occupation and struggles for freedom
This is undoubtedly one of the most sober sites in the city, but a must for anyone interested in the history of the Soviet Union. This revealing museum, once home to the Gestapo and later the KGB, shows the horrors and turmoil of Lithuanians in the 20th century. The first and second floors define the image with informative representations and videos telling the story of thousands of men, women and children captured, tortured and executed during the First and Second World Wars and the Soviet regime that followed.
In the basement, visitors can enter the cells of the ruined prison where these monstrosities took place, which have remained intact since the last KGB officer’s departure in 1991. It is a frightening experience to be in the Hearing execution room or look in one of the whitewashed rooms, but that’s the key to understanding the country’s recent history.
The bronze angel on the central square of Užupis (c) Carys Homer
The bohemian neighborhood of the city is more than an artistic district. It is a republic in its own right, self-proclaimed. One of the oldest districts of Vilnius, Uzupis, formally seceded from the rest of the city in 1997. The district has its own president, a hymn of foreign ministers and even its own constitution, which can be read on the wall President Užupio Kavine loves dogs, the Foreign Minister loves cats.
Take a stroll through the narrow cobbled streets and discover many independent boutiques, trendy café-bars and craft breweries, as well as gaudy street art in almost every corner. Do not miss the only mermaid from Vilnius and the Angel Užupis – the chandelier of this small republic.
If you have time for a single excursion during your stay in Vilnius, go to Trakai. This historic town, located just 25 km west of the city, is the epitome of the picturesque with its beautiful wooden houses, beautiful lake and epic castle. Trakai, inhabited since the 14th century, is home to the largest population of Jewish Karaites and is the best place to enjoy a kybyn – a traditional pastry a bit like a Cornish mashed potato with cabbage, chicken or meat chopped.
The best way to discover the area is to kayak (it is best to book with a guided tour north-northeast). You can easily spend the morning or the afternoon at the sea, go hiking from the turquoise lake to the turquoise lake and the impressive structures. admire Trakai Castle and Užutrapis Manor.