Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, a country in the Baltic region of Europe. Vilnius is known for its Old Town and beautiful baroque architecture. I had a great time exploring the city and I feel that Vilnius is an underrated destination! Here’s my guide to the top 10 things to do in Vilnius.
Top Attractions in Vilnius
Visit Trakai Castle
Trakai Castle is a magnificent red brick castle located on an island in the middle of a lake. It is about 30 minutes away from Vilnius. Originally constructed in the 14th century, it fell into disrepair after the wars with Muscovy in the 18th century. After World War II, it was reconstructed and is now a major tourist attraction.
You can take a bus or train to Trakai from Vilnius. I wanted to learn more about Lithuania and the history of the castle, so I booked a tour through Viator with a company called Vilnius City Tour. The guide gave a lot of interesting facts during the bus ride and castle tour, and after the castle tour there was free time to eat lunch, walk around, and buy souvenirs.
Visit the Museum of Genocide Victims
The Museum of Genocide Victims is an important place to visit in order to understand the history of Lithuania. In 1941, it became the Gestapo headquarters during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. After the Nazis left in 1944, it was occupied by the Soviet Secret Police (also known as the KGB). In 1991, the KGB left Lithuania, and their former headquarters was turned into a museum. The museum contains exhibits about the Lithuanians’ resistance against the Soviet occupation on the two upper floors, while the prison cells and execution chambers are located in the basement.
The museum is open 5 days a week (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays). The admission fee for adults is 4€. If you are a student or senior the fee is 1€.
Admire City Views from Vilnius TV Tower
The 326m tall Television Tower dominates Vilnius’ skyline. While I was on my way to Trakai Castle, I noticed the tower looming above the much smaller buildings. It stood out so much that I knew I definitely wanted to visit it! So the next afternoon I did.
The tower has a tragic history as on January 13, 1991, during the disintegration of the USSR, Soviet tanks surrounded the tower in an assault that killed 14 unarmed civilians. On the ground floor of the tower, there is a small exhibition about the events of January 13th. Outside the tower, there are crosses dedicated to the victims. It is free to visit the exhibition but you must pay to visit the observation deck. There is a revolving restaurant on the same level as the observation deck where you can have a meal and enjoy the view of Vilnius. Each rotation lasts 45 minutes.
Vilnius TV Tower is open 7 days a week, from 10am to 10 or 11 pm. You can view ticket prices here.
Find Out Your Weight in Gold at the Money Museum of the Bank of Lithuania
Located a short walk from Vilnius Cathedral, the Money Museum features exhibits about the history of money in Lithuania and all over the world. Entry is free (although the security guard jokingly told me I had to pay when I asked him if entry was free). It is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
The museum features several interactive exhibits, such as the one where you can weigh yourself and see your weight in gold, silver, and platinum. There’s also a huge interactive screen where you can read facts about every country in the world, like currency and population. You can take a quiz after you finish viewing all the exhibits. If you answer all the questions correctly, you can print out a souvenir banknote with your photo on it!
Climb to the Top of Gediminas’ Tower
Located at the top of a hill, Gediminas’ Tower offers fantastic views of the Old Town. After dreaming of a wolf howling at the top of the hill, Gediminas (the founder of Vilnius) chose this spot to build a wooden castle in the early 1300s.
Inside the tower there is a small museum which features models of castles as well as archaeological discoveries. The tower can be reached by taking a short funicular ride or climbing up the hill.
Admire the Gothic Architecture of the Church of St. Anne
The Church of St. Anne is a Gothic style church in Vilnius’ Old Town. With the exception of the Neo-Gothic bell tower, which was designed in the 19th century, the appearance of the church has stayed the same over five centuries! During his visit to Vilnius in 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte was so impressed by the church that he said he wanted to take it back to Paris in the palm of his hand. It certainly is one of the must-see attractions in Vilnius!
Explore the Quirky Neighbourhood of Uzupis
Uzupis is a bohemian neighbourhood in Vilnius that declared itself a republic in 1997. It has its own flag, anthem and constitution. The constitution has interesting rules like: “Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat,” and “A dog has the right to be a dog”.
It is a popular district for artists, and many open-air art exhibitions are held in Uzupis.
Climb the Hill of Crosses
The Three Crosses are a monument on a hill in Kalnu Park. The hill has a great view of the Old Town. Legend has it that 7 Franciscian friars were beheaded on the hill in the 1300’s. During the Soviet Occupation in 1950, the Three Crosses were destroyed. The citizens of Vilnius wanted them to be restored, so in 1989 the Three Crosses were rebuilt. The crosses are a symbol of resistance to the occupation and one of the most famous landmarks in Vilnius.
Hang Out in Cathedral Square
Cathedral Square is a popular place for locals to meet. At Christmastime, a large Christmas tree decorates the square. At the entrance to the square is Vilnius Cathedral, a Neoclassical style Catholic church with beautiful, pure white columns. From ground level, the Neoclassical facade makes it look more like a Roman temple. Next to the cathedral is a bell tower which used to be part of Vilnius’s defensive wall. It has been rebuilt several times throughout the centuries.
Wander Around Vilnius’s Old Town
With all the unique buildings and relaxing cafes, you can easily spend hours exploring the streets of Vilnius’s Old Town. It is even an UNESCO World Heritage Site!