Here’s my guide to the best of the best in Vilnius – all the things you should check out on your own Lithuanian holiday.
I have a bazillion blog post drafts right now, but I was inspired in Vilnius and wrote this blog post on the bus in record time! To be honest, two days in Vilnius wasn’t enough – I already can’t wait to return. The city has a bit of a wow factor that instantly draws you in. From the Old Town to Užupis to New Town’s street art, here are my recommendations for the things you absolutely, definitely, should not miss on a visit to Vilnius.
Know before you go
First things first, let’s cover the basics. Lithuania uses the Euro and everyone I met was happy to speak English to me. The restaurants I visited had menus with English translation as well, or I just used Google translate for supermarket items and pastries #priorities. Speaking of Google, I did a little search beforehand to find out about Lithuania’s tap water, which is drinkable (well, I’m still standing at least 🤷🏻♀️).
How to get to and around Vilnius
I got an Ecolines bus from Warsaw to Vilnius. It was my longest journey to date – over eight hours. But each bus seat has entertainment (I may have watched four movies 😬) and there’s decent WiFi. However, I’m guessing that most people will fly into the airport, which is only a few kilometres from the city centre. SO convenient. Vilnius doesn’t have a metro system, but there are public buses and Uber. However, I found I walked everywhere as the city centre is very compact.
Where to stay in Vilnius
I was really happy with the accommodation I booked in Vilnius, so I have to share! As always, I checked the options on both Booking.com and Hostelworld and discovered Old Town Trio. I got a discount through Booking.com, so the (very large and modern) room cost me $45 per night. It included a comfy bed, a large desk and wardrobe, and a shared bathroom across the hall. During my entire stay, I never had to wait for a bathroom. The WiFi was great, the rooms were so quiet, I could walk to both the Old Town and the bus station, and a breakfast buffet is available for €6. I couldn’t fault it and highly recommend, for both couples and fellow solo travellers.
What you can’t miss in Vilnius
Guys, you have to visit Užupis during your time in Vilnius. I actually went there on a walking tour with Vilnius with Locals Tours, which was even better. Our guide told us so many interesting facts – like how it’s a Republic and its constitution was declared on April Fool’s Day over 20 years ago! There’s also a President and we briefly met the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the local pub a.k.a government headquarters. People can also become Ambassadors, as our guide was officially the Ambassador for Tall Ladies 😂.
She then told us we could get an “official” Užupis stamp in our passport at the local post office/information centre. As Ambassador, she put mine in the back of my passport (it’s being retired after this trip, so I thought I could sneak it in there). I also put a pin in Townsville on the world map on the wall inside! There’s even a little area in Užupis dedicated to Tibet, as the Dalai Lama has visited Vilnius four times thanks to Užupis. Ok, I’ll stop, but PLEASE visit Užupis!
Walking tours (yes, plural)
Speaking of, you should all know by now how much I love walking tours. The two (!!) I did in Vilnius were fantastic. I started my first morning doing the Old Town and Užupis Free Walking Tour, and then spent my second afternoon on the Free Alternative Tour.
On the first tour, we learned a lot about Vilnius and Lithuania in general. This includes its history, its “second religion” and the Lithuanian foods you have to try in the city. The Alternative Tour takes you away from the Old Town to a lot of street art murals around the New Town. Our guide told us the stories behind a lot of pieces, as well as more things about life in Lithuania. I just love learning about places from locals and seeing a city through their eyes.
Checking out the view from multiple angles
There are several places to check out the view in Vilnius. I personally paid €3 to climb the Bell Tower of St John’s Church, which is located on the Vilnius University campus. You get an elevator most of the way and then have to climb up a narrow set of wooden stairs to get to the top. But as always, the view was worth it – even if it takes you five minutes to carefully climb down one staircase a stair at a time!
Other viewpoints include Subačiaus apžvalgos aikštelė, Gediminas Castle Tower (it is €4 to climb the tower here) and the Three Crosses. You can walk between the last two locations.
Traditional Lithuanian cuisine
Guys, I tried and failed on this account 🙈. The guide on the Old Town Tour told us about cepelinai, which is Lithuania’s national dish. Basically, they are big potato dumplings with a meatball inside. I tried it at Pilies Katpedele Restaurant in the Old Town and it was not my cup of tea AT ALL, and I love meat and potatoes! I don’t know if it was just the restaurant, but I did see it on the menu at Charlie Pizza the next day and they had a roasted option, which could be better.
Other things to try in Vilnius include fried bread (a popular appetizer to enjoy with beer), cold beetroot soup and šakotis for dessert. Like many European cities, Lithuania is also passionate about beer, so order a local beer and you will fit right in. We also ventured through Halės Turgus on the Alternative Tour and our guide pointed out that a) meat is life, b) bagels are very popular and c) you need to try honey because Lithuania is home to the happiest bees in Europe. This is according to an official EU report so it’s legit.
The baked goods
This European trip has kind of turned into a bakery tour 😂. But who knew bakeries were such a big thing everywhere? In Vilnius, I did indulge in a pastry here and there. I recommend Boulangerie Vilnius, which was around the corner from my hotel. I also had a delicious donut from Holy Donut (the labels here include English translation). A couple of other places on my list included Crustum, and Pinavija Cafe and Bakery.
Getting lost in the Old Town
Vilnius’ Old Town is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s filled with cobblestone streets and little laneways, which are made for aimless wandering. Spend your time in the Old Town seeing both the big sights and ducking down the alleys. By big sights I mean Vilnius Town Hall, Gates of Dawn, Vilnius Cathedral and Old Town’s many, many churches.
Photographing a church or five
Yep, Vilnius is home to a lot of churches. Back in the Soviet era, many of the churches were fortunately not destroyed, but instead used as storerooms before being restored. I won’t list all of the churches you can see across Vilnius, but some of the more beautiful ones include the Church of All Saints, Vilnius Cathedral (it’s massive), Church of St. Casimir, Church of St. Anne and the Church of St. Catherine.
Spotting street art
Although I recommend spotting street art on the Alternative Tour I mentioned, here are a couple of recommendations. There’s an awesome piece by renowned Italian street artist, Millo opposite Halės Turgus. Check out his website, as he has painted murals around the world. I also recognised this work by Brazilian twins OSGEMEOS, as they have a piece in Vancouver. As it turns out, their grandfather was Lithuanian and this is a tribute to him.
Finally, go for a wander around the former Elfa Factory, which has been transformed thanks so an annual street art festival.
This is why I have to go back to Vilnius. On my bus trip to Vilnius we stopped in Kaunas, which is Lithuania’s second biggest city. It’s only an hour from Vilnius and after doing some research, I’m disappointed I won’t be checking it out on this trip! I mean, there’s even a free walking tour available 😉. The other day trip option from Vilnius is Trakai Castle. The town of Trakai is meant to be as impressive as its castle in a lake. Trakai is only 40 minutes from Vilnius and apparently a bus ticket is €2. However, if you are a fan of organised tours, here’s a very reasonably-priced option.
There you have it – nine reasons why you need to visit Vilnius. I also HAVE to mention Vilnius’ hilarious tourism campaign last year, which I hadn’t heard about until it was mentioned on both walking tours. The city calls itself the G-Spot of Europe and the slogan is, “nobody knows where it is but when you find it – it’s amazing.” You can also visit the official website to build your own personal pleasure map 😂. So… have you booked flights yet?
P.S. For more European travel goodness, check out my last Euro trip itinerary, which is a one-stop blog post filled helpful information. I also have travel guides for cities like Paris, Prague and Budapest.
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