Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, a country in the Baltic region of Europe. It 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 a list of the top attractions around Vilnius.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 went there. 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 is also a memorial 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.
4. 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). 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 also 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!
5. Gediminas’ Tower
Gediminas’ Tower offers fantastic views of the Old Town. It also has a small museum which features models of castles as well as archaeological finds. The tower can be reached by taking a funicular or climbing up the hill.
6. Church of St. Anne
The Church of St. Anne is a Gothic style church in Vilnius’ Old Town. With such unique architecture, it is a must-see sight!
Uzupis is a neighbourhood in Vilnius that declared itself a republic in 1997. It has its own flag, anthem and constitution. It is a popular district for artists.
8. Three Crosses
The Three Crosses are a monument on a hill near Gediminas’ Tower. 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.
9. Vilnius Cathedral
Vilnius Cathedral is a Neoclassical style Catholic church with beautiful, pure white columns.
10. Vilnius Old Town
With its unique architectural style, you can easily spend hours exploring the streets of Vilnius’s Old Town. It is even an UNESCO World Heritage Site!