Things to Do in Vilnius
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a historical wellspring, and no trip is complete without exploring the medieval Vilnius Old Town (Vilniaus Senamiestis. Evolving over centuries, the oldest part of the city features labyrinthine streets busy with restaurants, bars, and shops, and offers visitors a charming gateway to the Higher Castle.
Though dwarfed somewhat by Vilnius' towering Bernardine Church, St. Anne's Church remains an architectural gem known for its rose windows, ornate spires, and late-Gothic design. Centrally located in the Old Town, the church's facade is its draw; the humble interior is quick to see, so it's an ideal stop on a walking tour.
The marvelous 17th-century Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Sv. Apastalu Petro ir Povilo Baznycia may seem typically baroque, but the relatively dull exterior belies its interior brilliance. Step inside to find detailing that's almost overwhelming, from thousands of intricate statues to a boat-shaped, art nouveau chandelier.
Uzupis may feel like a city within a city, which is no surprise, since this artsy district actually declared independence from greater Vilnius more than two decades ago. Though left to crumble under Soviet rule, the renewed bohemian enclave is packed with galleries, bars, and restaurants, and offers easy access to Old Town sights.
As the only remaining defensive wall in Vilnius, the 16th-century Gate of Dawn (Ausros Vartai is a top historic attraction. The fortification and its church are perhaps best known as home to a revered religious icon, the Vilnius Madonna—which some believe is imbued with healing powers—making the sight a top draw for Orthodox visitors.
Vilnius University (Vilniaus Universitetas is among the oldest universities in the region, and it showcases a microcosm of Lithuanian history. Find diverse architecture, a 16th-century library, and great views from St. John‘s Church. Atop the church's bell tower, you can appreciate views from the tallest building in the Old Town.
This red-brick landmark above the Old Town is one of the last remaining vestiges of Vilnius' medieval Upper Castle. Beyond its historic exhibition spaces, visitors to Gediminas Castle Tower (Gedimino Pilies Bokštas can admire fantastic views from this hilltop landmark with panoramic vistas of Vilnius from its viewing platform.
Located on Daukanto Square and surrounded by stately mansions, Vilnius' Presidential Palace is an ornate residence befitting a head of state. It's hard to miss its grand neoclassical exterior and charming palace gardens. It's an easy stop while exploring the Old Town, and the flag-changing festivities, held each Sunday, are a top draw.
From mind-bending 3D paintings to interactive optical illusions and distorted mirrors, the Vilnil Museum of Illusions is filled with fun exhibitions to challenge your perceptions. Entertaining for all ages, the museum offers the opportunity to take unique and Instagram-worthy photos.
Located in the former headquarters of both the KGB and the Gestapo, the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights (Okupaciju ir Laisves Kovu Muziejus is a must-see for history enthusiasts. From prison cells and an execution chamber to history exhibitions, the museum offers a careful look into key events of modern Lithuanian history.
More Things to Do in Vilnius
Built in the 15th century and taking center stage at the heart of Vilnius’ Old Town, the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is a masterpiece of baroque architecture and one of the city’s most important monuments. Reopened in 2018 after a 15-year reconstruction, it’s now home to the National Museum of Lithuania.
Vilnius’ main boulevard stretches from the River Neris in the west to the sweeping expanse of Cathedral Square in the southeast, and is named after the country’s greatest hero, the legendary Grand Duke Gediminas, who is credited with founding the fledgling country of Lithuania in the 13th century. Built in 1836 as Vilnius expanded with the arrival of the railway line from St Petersburg, Gediminas Avenue (Gedimino Prospektas) was originally named Georgij Avenue and has been renamed several times according to the regime in power. The wide avenue is lined with trees and glamorous Baroque townhouses in pastel colors; these house many government ministries and courthouses as well as banks, the national library and several leading Lithuanian theaters. By day a popular shopping and meeting place, Gediminas Avenue comes into its own at night when it morphs into one of Vilnius’ most upmarket dining spots.
As the street bisects Vilnius city center, landmarks along Gediminas Avenue include Seimas Palace, built in 2007 in modernist style as befits the seat of the new, independent Lithuanian Parliament. The 17th-century Lukiškės Square borders the avenue to the north; now a tranquil green lung of the city, it was the site of public hangings in the 19th century and during World War II, dissidents were executed here by Soviet troops.
The Bastion of the Vilnius Defensive Wall (Vilniaus Gynybinės Sienos Bastėja) is one of the last surviving parts of the city’s historic wall. Built in the 17th century, it is a horseshoe shaped building with a tower and connecting tunnel. Damaged during the Russian occupation in the late part of the 17th century, the bastion gradually lost its defensive function. By the beginning of the 19th century, most of the defensive wall had been destroyed and the bastion was turned into a garbage dump for the city.
Reconstruction of the bastion began in 1966 as the tower was rebuilt and the tunnel and interior rooms were renovated. A museum opened within the bastion in 1987 and there visitors can see weapons and armor from the 15th to 19th centuries, as well as cannons and stone cannon shells. A viewing platform also offers a nice view of Vilnius’ Old Town.
A centuries-old piece of the city's infrastructure, Bernardine Church (Bernardinu Parapija was built atop a razed 15th-century church, survived wars and invasions, and once formed a piece of Vilnius' defensive walls. This worship space is an architectural gem mixing baroque and Gothic detailing and features ornate interior carvings.
Soaring to a height of 1,071 feet (326.5 meters), the Vilnius TV Tower is Lithuania’s tallest building, standing watch over the city’s Vingis Park. In addition to being a functioning radio and TV tower, it’s also a popular vista point, with an observation deck and revolving restaurant.
Though many shops around Eastern Europe offer amber trinkets for sale, Vilnius' Amber Museum-Gallery (Gintaro Muziejus-Galerija is in a class of its own. The ground floor space is part gallery-museum and part shop, and visitors can learn about Baltic amber in its plethora of colors, buy jewelry, and enjoy a daily amber polishing display.
Druskininkai Aquapark, Lithuania's largest waterpark, contains water slides and swimming pools, a hotel, a spa and wellness center, and an entertainment center with a bowling alley, as well as a food court and a nightclub. It’s the ideal one-stop destination for travelers looking for great rainy-day activities.
The National Art Gallery in Vilnius is a branch of the Lithuanian Art Museum. It is home to more than 46,000 exhibits of 20th and 21st century Lithuanian art. Works of art are displayed chronologically and each of the 10 exhibition halls has a different theme, different period and different point of view, highlighting important events and facts in recent Lithuanian history. Some of the more notable collections include modern art in Lithuania and Vilnius in the first half of the 20th century; works of Lithuanian artists affected by World War II and the Soviet occupation of Lithuania; Lithuanian art and photography in the second half of the 20th century; art of Lithuanians in exile; and contemporary Lithuanian art at the end of the 20th and start of the 21st century. The lobby and the courtyard often feature new art works.
With a long and storied history dating back to the 13th century, the Vilnius Cathedral is a sacred landmark to the Lithuanian people and the heart of the country’s Catholic spiritual life. Having been burnt and rebuilt several times and surviving the Soviet occupation, the cathedral and belfry have undergone a thorough renovation since Lithuania’s independence in 1990.
Few institutions better capture Lithuanian history than the National Museum of Lithuania. This Vilnius institution is not just a single museum but a collection of museums offering exhibits about everything from archeology to art history. The New Arsenal houses the museum's main collection, focused on state history.
Located in the Bank of Lithuania complex, the Money Museum (Pinigu Muziejaus offers a fresh and engaging take on a sometimes drab topic: the evolution of money and banking, from bartering to systems with notes, coins, and credit. You can find two floors of interactive exhibits, a collection of paper money, and a treasure trove of coins.
Located just south of the artsy Užupis district, Subacius Hill is an easily-accessible lookout point offering views across Vilnius. The telescopes and information placards explain what you're looking at and help you spot landmarks as you gaze northwest. On a clear day, you can see St. Anne's Church and the hilltop Gediminas Tower.
Lukiskes Square (Lukiskiu Aikste is the largest in the city, and its history dates back to the 17th century when this corner of Vilnius was a bucolic enclave dotted with wooden houses. Since, the park has been enveloped by urban space, where it's bordered by Gediminas Avenue, and steps from the baroque Church of St. James and St. Philip.
The ornate Church of the Holy Spirit (Sventosios Dvasios Baznycia is lavish compared to many of the other churches in Vilnius, with its baroque and rococo detailing, and decorative interior. Marvel at frescoes, reliquaries, and the incredible 18th-century organ. This free destination is a worthwhile stop on a tour of the Old Town.