I was not expecting to enjoy Lithuania as much as I did. I think it is another one of those underrated places. I’ll be honest, I originally chose Lithuania because it was a cheap plane ticket to a country that I haven’t been to yet. I didn’t know much about it – Lithuania isn’t a country you tend to read about on most travel blogs. However, this was more of a reason for me to go. I love visiting destinations that aren’t full of tourists. The colorful streets and mix of Old Town and New Town feels made this destination well worth my visit.
Lithuania is one of the Baltic states situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and South, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad to the southwest. The official language is Lithuanian and their currency is the Euro. Vilnius is the capital and largest city with a population of 580,000 as of 2020.
Vilnius International Airport
The airport is located only 15 minutes (5.9 km) outside of the city center. It is the largest of the four commercial airports in Lithuania by passenger traffic. With one runway and about 4.9 million passengers a year, Vilnius International Airport serves as a base for airBaltic, Ryanair, and Wizz Air. Because it is so small, the arrival and departure procedures were very quick. I was out of the airport within 30 minutes of landing and to my gate within 30 minutes of getting dropped off.
Artis Centrum Hotels
I stayed at Artis Centrum Hotels for 3 nights during my stay in Vilnius. The hotels in Lithuania are very cheap compared to other European cities. This hotel has a restaurant, bar, gym, pool, and spa. One of the main reasons that I selected this hotel is because it has 24-hour front desk service and I needed to check-in in the middle of the night since my flight arrived at 2:35AM. They even arranged an airport shuttle service for me for 20 euros. The driver was waiting on time outside of arrivals and got me to the hotel within 15 minutes. The hotel’s buffet breakfast is very good, with a large selection.
The hotel is centrally located in Old Town, with mostly everything being within a 5-15 minute walk away. The bus and train stations are a bit further and are about a 20-minute walk, which still wasn’t a bad walk.
St. Catherine’s Church
This is a magnificent church that boasts Baroque and Rococo-style decorations. It is a venue for a variety of cultural performances. This is the first church that I saw in Vilnius and it instantly reminded me of the cathedrals in Sofia, Bulgaria. I love all of the colors and architect of the cathedrals in Vilnius. Each one is different from the next, but all are beautiful.
Vilnius Town Hall
Vilnius Town Hall is a historical town hall in the square of the same name in the Old Town of Vilnius.
This 300kg heavy, pretty egg sits atop a nest and has become a popular meeting point in the city.
This hill offers a great vantage point of Vilnius.
Orthodox Church of the Apparition
Our Lady of the Sign Church is an Eastern Orthodox Church in the Zverynas district of Vilnius, built in 1903. The idea of building a new Orthodox Church in Vilnius came from Orthodox Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit, which also organized a collection of funds in the whole Russian Empire. The church, constructed in the popular Neo-Byzantine style, was consecrated in 1903 by the Orthodox archbishop of Vilnius. He also opened a school for poor children and a library which were to be run by the church’s clergy. Unlike many other Orthodox churches in Vilnius, the church was not closed during World War 1, nor during World War 2. The Soviet government agreed to register it as a parish church in 1948.
Located in the modern part of the city, this footbridge offers beautiful panorama of the old city. The greenery around is also a popular place for locals to chill when it’s warm outside.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Stanislaus and St. Ladislaus of Vilnius is the main Roman Catholic Cathedral of Lithuania. It is situated in Vilnius Old Town in Cathedral Square.
The history of one of the oldest and highest towers in Vilnius Old Town goes back to 13th century. In the 16th century the defensive tower was converted into the Cathedral’s bell tower and acquired its present appearance in the 19th century. The bell tower contains functioning bells and the earliest surviving clock mechanism in Lithuania. You can hear the bells daily at 5PM. The height is 52 m, with the cross at 57 m. The tower offers a panorama view, which only accessible at certain times with a tour that costs 5 Euros. I chose not to do this since you can get views for free at several other spots around the city and I was losing daylight.
Gediminas’ Tower is the remaining part of the Upper Castle in Vilnius. The first wooden fortifications were built by Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania. The first brick castle was completed in 1409. The three-floor tower was rebuilt in 1933. Some remnants of the old castle have been restored, guided by archeological research.
It is possible to climb to the top of the hill on foot or by taking a funicular. The funicular costs 1 Euro one-way or 2 Euros round-trip. I decided to take the funicular up the hill since I was running out of daylight and then I walked down the hill. The tower houses a museum exhibiting archaeological findings from the hill and the surrounding areas. The museum has models of Vilnius castles from the 14th to the 17th centuries. Entry to the museum costs 5 Euros.
Presidential Palace of the Republic of Lithuania
The Presidential Palace, located in Vilnius Old Town, is the official office and residence of the President of Lithuania. The palace dates back to the 14th century and during its history it has undergone various reconstructions. In 1997, the palace became the official seat of the President of Lithuania.
Trakai is a historic city and lake resort in Lithuania. It lies 17 miles west of Vilnius. Because of its proximity to Vilnius, Trakai is a popular tourist destination.
The most popular day trip from Vilnius is to Trakai. There are multiple options for getting there. You can take a guided tour, but I think this is way overpriced and not necessary since it is so easy to do on your own. I was more interested in taking public transport, which was ridiculously cheap. The two options are bus or train. I decided on the bus, which runs 2-3 times an hour, whereas the train goes every 2-3 hours. They both cost around 2 Euros each way. From Vilnius Bus Station, you will find the bus in bays 6, 7, or 8 on the local side or you can find a couple on the intercity side.
You can view a schedule inside or simply ask at the information desk for the next available bus. You pay the 2 euros on the bus. The ride to Trakai only took 35 minutes and on the way back it was even shorter, even though I read that it would take 40 minutes each way. Once arriving at the bus station in Trakai, it is about a 20-25 minute walk through the town to where the castle is. It is a peaceful walk with a couple churches along the way. You can choose to walk along the lake or through the streets.
St. Mary Church
This Roman Catholic Church was founded by Vytautas the Great in 1409 and constructed in gothic style. Later it was significantly altered during the Baroque period, and its current appearance is mostly defined by these alterations. The main altarpiece contains the icon, The Mother of God of Trakai.
Orthodox Church of the Nativity
This church stands in the center of the town and has one tower in addition to the bell tower. The church was built in 1863 in commemoration of the defeat of the Polish-Lithuanian Uprising. The church suffered during the First World War when the church towers and roof were destroyed by Germans shooting at Russian positions within the town.
Trakai Island Castle
The castle is located on an island in Lake Galve. The construction of the stone castle begun in the 14th century. Admission to the castle costs 8 Euros and if you wish to take photos in the museum, then you’re supposed to pay 1.50 Euros more although no one asked me for my receipt to prove that I paid to take pictures. You can look up opening times and additional information here.
Before crossing the bridge to the castle, you will come across market stalls where locals sell souvenirs. There are also a few restaurants opposite the castle.
Lake Galve has 21 islands, one of them being the one that houses Trakai Castle. You can take a lake cruise around the islands for around 5 Euros.
After a few hours in Trakai, I headed back to Vilnius. The bus was already in the bus station so the timing was perfect. This time, I got on an inter-city bus, which was nice because it had an outlet for me to charge my phone in the first row of the bus. It only took about 25-30 minutes to get back. I arrived back in Vilnius around 3:30 PM so still had the entire afternoon and evening to do more exploring in Vilnius.
Vilnius University is the oldest university in the Baltic states, one of the oldest and most famous in Central Europe, preceded only by the universities of Prague, Krakow, Pecs, Budapest, Bratislava, and Konigsberg. Founded in the 16th century, it was the easternmost university in the world. Today it is the largest university in Lithuania. The university was founded in 1579 as the Jesuit Academy of Vilnius by Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland.
Pilies Street is one of the main streets in the Old Town of Vilnius. It is a rather short street, running from Cathedral Square to the Town Hall Square. Out of several locations across Vilnius used by market traders, Pilies Street is the most popular. It has a natural advantage over the Town Hall Square as the street is generally busy and less likely to be interrupted by the political or cultural events commonly held at the Town Hall. Many people visit the street to buy gifts. The souvenir shops offer amber ware and amber jewelry, as well as linen clothes. The street also has several delicious restaurants, two of which I ate at.
St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church
The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is a Roman Catholic Church located in the Antakalnis neighborhood. It is the centerpiece of a former monastery complex.
St. Anne’s Church
This is a Roman Catholic church in Vilnius’ Old Town, on the right bank of the Vilnia River established between 1495 and 1500. It is a prominent example of both Flamboyant Gothic and Brick Gothic styles. It is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Church of St. Casimir
This is one of my favorite churches in Vilnius. It is a Roman Catholic Church in Vilnius’ Old Town, close to the Vilnius Town Hall. It is the first and the oldest baroque church in Vilnius, built in 1618.
Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas
This church is one of the oldest Eastern Orthodox churches in Vilnius. According to a popular legend, the first wooden Orthodox chapel located on the place of today’s St. Nicholas church was built around 1340.
This impressive Rococo gate from 1761 has been reconstructed and is one of the two main gates of the city.
Gate of Dawn
The other gate is the Gate of Dawn, or Sharp Gate. It is one of Vilnius’ most important religious, historical, and cultural monuments.
Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit
This church is a Russian Orthodox church in Vilnius that was rebuilt between 1749 and 1753 in the Vilnian Baroque style.
The Vilnius city wall was a defensive wall around Vilnius that was built between 1503 and 1522 for protection from the attacks by the Crimean Khanate at the beginning of the Muscovite-Lithuanian Wars. The stone and brick wall was a key element of he defensive system of Vilnius, and was paid for by the city’s landowners. It contained nine gates and an artillery bastion. Some of the original constructions have survived.
Cathedral of the Theotokos
This is the main Orthodox Christian church of Vilnius and the entire Lithuania. The cathedral was built in 1346. In 1748, the cathedral was abandoned after a major fire and the building was used for various other purposes. It was reconstructed in the Baroque style in 1785. The cathedral was once again destroyed by the Russian army during the Polish-Russian war. It was reconstructed again in 1868 in a style imitating medieval Georgian architecture. The cathedral was then damaged during the Second World War before being restored in 1948. Today the cathedral belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church and was once again renovated in 1998.
Angel of Uzupis
This is a lovely tall statue of archangel Gabriel playing the trumpet and standing on an egg in the middle of the square.
The Bernardine Garden is a public park located on the right bank of the Vilnia River between the Gediminas Tower and Bernardine Monastery and it covers over 9 hectares. Most of its territory is parkland, divided in monastery exposition, the botanic exposition, and other recreational territory including a children’s amusement park. It hosts a variety of festivals and exhibitions every year.
The Hill of the Three Crosses
Three Crosses is a prominent monument in Vilnius, on the Hill of Three Crosses, originally known as Bald Hill, in Kalnai Park. According to a legend, seven Franciscan friars were beheaded on top of this hill. Wooden crosses were built in the location since the early 17th century. It soon became a symbol of the city and an integral part of the city’s skyline. As wood rots, the crosses needed to be periodically replaced. In 1916, a concrete monument was put in its place. It was tore down in 1950 by order of the Soviet authorities. A new monument was erected in its place in 1989. The monument was depicted on 50 liras banknote.
There are two ways to get to the Three Crosses. I took the wooden steps up from the park and then the paved path down that takes you to the main road by the Tower.
A spectacular panorama of the Vilnius Old Town can be observed from a small observation deck at the base of the crosses.
Where to Eat
Pilies Katpedele is a great place in a great location where you can find traditional Lithuanian food for a good price. I ordered soup for my starter, Siberian dumplings for my main, and traditional waffles for dessert. I also got their homemade mulled wine, which comes in different flavors. All of that and two glasses of white wine only cost me 22 Euros.
Etno Dvaras was my favorite restaurant in Vilnius. I loved the atmosphere and cozy feel of the restaurant. There is a large menu that offers a variety of traditional dumplings. I tried one version of the steamed dumplings and also got the fried dumplings. The price was very reasonable.
Manami is located just across the bridge going into the New Town in a shopping mall. This is an excellent place for Asian food lovers. They have daily deals and affordable places. I ordered gyoza and a mixed sushi platter that was delicious. I can’t remember which drink I ordered from the menu because I just pointed to a picture that looked good, but it was the best cocktail I’ve ever had! This is an excellent restaurant if you are trying for something besides the traditional Lithuanian food. There are also several other options of places to eat in this mall, all of which looked very good.
Bona Pizzeria (Trakai)
Bona Pizzeria is located just across from the Trakai island castle. It was warm inside with a beautiful view of the castle. I enjoyed the kibinai and soup. I wasn’t hungry enough for the pizza, but it did look good.