I’d never heard of Vilnius, until I was at the airport for another trip and saw it on the departures screen, and then a few weeks later spotted cheap return flights from Leeds Bradford. One of my favourite things about this trip was that I didn’t do much research. This meant discovering lots of lovely surprises as we wandered around the snowy streets, and allowed us to experience our own version of the city, and find our own things to do in Vilnius.
I realise that in a small city you’re pretty much guaranteed to do the same things you’d have done if you’d read up on it, but nonetheless, here’s my guide on things to do in Vilnius, based on my wintery experience of Vilnius in January.
Vilnius? Never Heard of It!
If, like me last year, you haven’t heard of Vilnius, here’s the top line. Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and the country’s biggest city, and it’s the second biggest city in the Baltic States (which includes Latvia and Estonia – definitely on the bucket list this year).
Despite this, it doesn’t feel like a large city because you’ll likely spend your time exploring the old town, with its charming cobbled streets, stunning architecture and cosy cafés. The old town can easily be walked around in a day, although we stretched that to several days but stopping off pretty much everywhere that served hot mulled wine. You can have a read about the cosy bars and pubs in Vilnius in this blog post.
Vilnius is known as the G-spot of Europe, thanks to a marketing campaign by their tourist board stating that nobody knows where it is, but once you find it it’s amazing!
Things To Do in Vilnius
How you spend your time in Vilnius will probably depend on when you visit. Our trip mainly consisted of playing in the snow, falling over on cute little side streets as we tried to explore, and warming up with copious amounts of dumplings.
In the summer however, I’d imagine you’d stroll through the beautiful city park, spend a lot longer than we did enjoying the main attractions and sip crisp white wine whilst watching the world go by from cobbled corners. Whatever the weather, you’ll definitely still want to make the most of this gorgeous city, so here are some of the things to do in Vilnius.
The Cathedral Bell Tower
I really like climbing tall buildings and admiring the views from the top – it’s my favourite thing to do in a new city (other than eating and drinking, of course). We began our first day in Vilnius by wandering in the direction of the old town from our AirBnB and randomly choosing pretty streets to walk down!
Pretty soon, we discovered a square featuring Vilnius Cathedral and its adjacent bell tower. There was a service going on in the Cathedral, so we headed straight into the bell tower and paid the 4.50 EUR to climb to the top. The climb itself was a lot of fun – there was a mixture of narrow staircases and ladders and you could clang some bells half way up!
The top section of the tower was open to the elements with of plenty of chances to throw snowballs from the top of ladders, and the main bells were impressive. To top it all off there’s a lovely view over the old town to finish with. This is definitely one of the top things to do in Vilnius, especially in the snow.
Right next to the Cathedral and the Bell Tower is Gediminas’ Tower, situated on a hill and resulting in even more impressive views. You can walk up to the tower, or get the funicular (another favourite of mine on holiday) and then climb up a few floors, taking in some history on your way, until you reach the observation deck for some 360 degree observing. If you’re looking for things to do in Vilnius, don’t miss this out!
The Hill of Three Crosses
We definitely saved the best until last on our mission to find the best viewpoint in Vilnius. The hill is next to Gediminas’ Tower, but we saved this until our last day as we weren’t flying until the evening – and three climbs in one day are a bit much.
You can reach the crosses from a couple of directions but, not on purpose, we chose the hard route. The easiest way to climb the hill would be by entering the park from the direction of Gediminas’ Tower, crossing the first bridge, turning right and walking a couple of hundred metres until you find the steps. You can then follow the steps straight up to the peak.
Instead, we walked a long way around the base of the hill, up a VERY snowy road and then scrambled up a steep snowy bank whilst trying not to slide back down and die. Regardless of this, it was completely worth the effort and my trip highlight.
Gates of Dawn
This is the only remaining gate to the city (there were originally five that were built between 1503 and 1522) and represents a religious and cultural shrine. The gate itself is fabulous and definitely worth a visit, not only to see the gate itself but also because the area around it has a great buzz to it and is full of bars, restaurants and shops.
We also walked to the Bastion of the City Wall which was just around the corner, and enjoyed some great views (again) from here over the surrounding area.
Užupis Neighbourhood – Arty & Bohemian Things to Do in Vilnius
Užupis is a self-proclaimed Republic, and it takes great pride in this. You can even get your passport stamped here in return for a smile! It’s a wonderful area to walk around, with plenty of cosy pubs to stop off at, but what sets it apart is the art.
Užupis is known as the bohemian and artistic district and this is evident throughout – at one point we randomly turned a corner into an alleyway packed full of quirky ‘things’ (I don’t really know how else to describe it).
Another highlight from Užupis was the cemetery, which we stumbled upon by accident. I’m not usually one for cemeteries, but in the snow this place was magical to walk around.
Other must-sees were an amazing Christmas tree (Christmas was still very much on at the end of January) and the Constitution, which is literally the best Constitution ever. Of the 41 terms, my favourites were the following, and you can read the full list here.
“Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday” – it was my birthday weekend after all
“Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies” – the perfect excuse to get one
“A dog has the right to be a dog” – completely agree
“Everyone has the right to be happy” – positive vibes, yes please
“Everyone has the right to be unhappy” – let’s stop putting pressure on ourselves to be happy all the time
Trakai – Things to Do Near Vilnius
Not strictly in Vilnius, but definitely worth the trip if you have time and close enough to include in a post about things to do in Vilnius. Trakai is a town about half an hour away from Vilnius on bus or train – we got the train, but make sure you purchase a ticket in advance as it’s more expensive if you buy on the train.
The main pull to Trakai is the castle, which is situated on a lake and genuinely looks like something out of a fairy tale. The most popular time to visit is summer when you can have picnics next to the lake or hire a rowing boat, but visiting in January was stunning and you can walk across the frozen lake.
The Supermarket – Things to do in Vilnius for Foodies
A bit of a silly one to end on, but I had to include it in my things to do in Vilnius post because I was so impressed! There was a 24 hour supermarket just a few minutes walk from our accommodation, and we visited the night we arrived for a few supplies for my birthday breakfast in bed the next morning.
Foreign supermarkets are always fun, but this was another level: from the fresh sushi counter, to the extensive salad bar, to the endless selection of salami, to the mind-blowing bakery selection, this supermarket had everything! Incase you’re wondering, my birthday breakfast consisted of sushi (obviously), chocolate croissants, bread, salami and goats cheese. We also got the most amazing blue cheese crisps as a late night snack one night.
So there’s my list of things to do in Vilnius, enjoyed during our very snowy weekend to the G-spot of Europe. If you’d like to read more about Vilnius, I also have posts on where to eat in Vilnius and cosy places to drink in Vilnius.
Finally, if you’d like some more city break inspiration, you might enjoy these posts:
- 15 Travel Destinations for a Cheap, European City Break
- Things to Do in Wroclaw: The City of Dwarfs
- Why Sofia is the Perfect Destination for a Relaxing Summer City Break
- How to Spend 24 Hours in Ljubljana if You Like Food and Wine
- 7 Things to Do in Cluj Napoca