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A few of our recommendations for things to do in Vilnius. Depending on the amount of day trips you plan to do, it’s worth spending 3-4 days in and around the city.
Free Walking Tour
Top of our list for things to do in Vilnius is the Vilnius free walking tour. It’s a great way to orientate yourself to the city and find out a bit more about its history and culture. Tours are tip based, so you don’t pay anything up front, and at the end of the tour give the guide a tip based on how much you think it was worth.
The tour is run by Vilnius with locals, and departs from in front of the Town Hall every day at 10am and 12 midday.
Gediminas Hill and Tower
Gediminas Tower is the remaining part of the castle in Vilnius. It’s situated atop of a hill that overlooks the city. You can either climb the hill on foot or go up via the funicular. It’s well worth the climb. From the top of the hill you get a great view back over the city.
Once you’re at the top of the hill, you can go inside the tower for €5. It’s a small history museum that details the old castle of Vilnius. And the views from the top are pretty great. The tower is open every day from 10am to 9pm in summer, or 10am to 6pm in winter
- The hill is named after Gediminas, who is credited as the founder of Vilnius and Lithuania. Read more: A brief history of Vilnius
The free walking tour takes you around a lot of the old town, but it’s definitely worth having a bit of a wander yourself as well. A few of the things to check out include:
Vilnius Town hall and Town Hall Square: The centre of the old town. The “square” is actually triangular in shape, and hosts many cultural events every year.
Church of St Anne: A roman catholic church, built in the 15th century.
The Dawn Gate: Built in the 16th century as a gate to the city, this gate became one of the most important religious sites in the city
The KGB Museum in Vilnius is the former headquarters of both the Gestapo and the KGB in Lithuania. The headquarters has now been converted into a museum with information about the Lithuanian occupations throughout the 20th century. As well as the information contained in the museum, you can also explore the prison cells and torture chambers that used to be used here.
- For a bit more of a background on the occupations: A brief history of Vilnius
Entry to the museum costs €4. It’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, open from 10am to 6pm Wednesday to Saturday, and 10am to 5pm on Sunday.
One of our favourite things to do in Vilnius was to visit Užupis. Užupis is an area within the old town of Vilnius, just across the river. It’s also its own country. On the first of April 1997 (April fools day no less), the residents of Užupis, mainly artists, decided that they would break from the city, and country, and become the Republic of Užupis.
As it was all a bit tongue in cheek, they were completely supported by the government at the time (and still are). Užupis has its own flag, its own currency, its own army, and its own constitution. Every year, on the first of April, they celebrate their independence, and if you happen to be visiting on that day you can get your passport stamped to say you’ve been there.
The constitution of Užupis is a pretty entertaining read. There are 39 articles, and while some of them are fairly standard, a lot of them are very tongue in cheek. Some of the better ones include “a dog has the right to be a dog”, “everyone has the right to cry”, and “everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance”. It’s all displayed on a wall within the area, and has been translated into various different languages.
Aside from the novelty factor of being its own country, the actual area is very bohemian and artistic. It’s dedicated to Frank Zappa, even though he has no particular relevance to the area or even to Lithuania. It seems more likely that he represents the artistic, free thinking culture that Užupis stands for. There is a lot of cool street art to check out, and plenty of nice cafes and bars to relax and have a drink in. Užupio Kavinė is one of the best, its a bar right on the river, and a great spot to relax and have a few drinks.
Trakai Castle Day Trip
Trakai castle is a castle complex on Trakai island, about 30km outside of Vilnius. The castle itself was constructed in the 14th Century. You have to walk across a long thin bridge to get to the castle. It’s one of the most popular day trips to do from Vilnius, and if you have the time, it’s well worth it.
Buses run daily between Vilnius and Trakai. The bus takes around 30 minutes, and costs around €2. It’s easiest just to head to the bus station and buy a ticket there on the day. If you want to check the timetable or plan your trip, you can check it online.
Cost for entry to the island is €7, or €15 for a guided tour. It’s open at different times throughout the year, and closed on Mondays throughout winter. To double check the opening times, head to the Trakai museum website.
Hill of crosses Day Trip
The hill of crosses is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Lithuania. It’s a Catholic pilgrimage site, and a site of resistance for the local catholic population throughout the centuries of occupation they endured. People started leaving crosses on the hill as early as the 19th century, and it’s thought that now there are over 100,000 crosses scattered over the hill. The Pope visited the site in 1993, declaring it a place for hope.
Getting to the hill of crosses from Vilnius
The hill is a couple of hours outside of Vilnius, and it can be a little tricky to get to. On public transport, you can get a train from Vilnius to Siauliai, and then walk to the Siaulia bus station. From there, jump on a bus towards Joniskis, and get off at Domantai. Then it’s still a 15 minute walk up the road, following the signs. To get back to Vilnius, it’s just the opposite, and just keep in mind that the bus station you need to go to initially is on the other side of the road and a little further down.
As the public transport is a little tricky, unless you’re confident it can be better to do a tour here. Vilnius with locals run tours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for €50 per person. You just need to book a couple of days in advance, as the tours can book out.
Alternatively, if you’re coming from or going to Riga, Traveller Tours offer a day tour and transfer between the two cities, that takes you via the hill of crosses. It costs €55, but you’re getting a transfer between the two cities as well, so it’s definitely worth it. From Vilnius, the tour departs from outside the Town Hall, and if you’re coming from Riga, it departs from outside Riga Old Town Hostel. You can book online, and just need to book a couple of days in advance.
- Tip: If you’re coming from or going to Riga, the day tour / transfer with Traveller Tours is the best and easiest option. It saves you time, and you get the price of your transfer in the tour too.
Paneriai Half Day Trip
Last but not least on our list of things to do in Vilnius is visiting Paneriai. Located just outside of Vilnius, Paneriai is a site that was used as a concentration camp during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. Between 1941 and 1944, Paneriai saw the mass murder of around 100,000 Jewish people.
The site now functions as a memorial to the victims of the genocide. The mass grave pits are still visible, and there are various monuments and dedications to the victims. There is also a small museum, which details some of the atrocities that took place at the site. It’s an important place in the history of Lithuania, and if you have the time it’s worth a visit to pay your respects to some of the holocaust victims.
To get to Paneriai, you catch a train from Vilnius train station. There are multiple trains per day, and you can just buy a ticket at the station on the day. The site and museum is open from 9am to 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday. The site itself is free to enter, and the small museum is entry via donation.