Lithuania is a country that is often overlooked due to its lack of world famous Instagram locations and its relatively secluded location in the Baltics. The same goes for its 500,000-inhabitants-capital, which hasn’t yet witnessed a post-communism tourism boom like the Latvian capital of Riga.
Although Vilnius is smaller and less well-known than the latter, the Lithuanian capital has completely reinvented itself and is now a vibrant and modern metropolis with a formidable amount of cultural and historical sights at its disposal.
You won’t have to worry about connectivity either, Lithuania is officially the country with the fastest internet connection in the world and much like neighbouring Estonia, its population is technology-crazy.
On that basis, you will certainly not regret embarking on a cultural expedition to Vilnius, a finding which is highlighted by the following 10 suggestions.
- Hike up the hills and enjoy the gorgeous viewpoints
Vilnius has several hills which offer fabulous views over the city and constitute a playground for history enthusiasts.
The first major hill is the Upper Castle Complex located on the left bank of the Neris river on top of which stands the fully restored Gediminas Tower. The castle’s original structure was wooden and built in 1409 by Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas. The fortifications served as a defence mechanism against invaders.
Another hill worth mentioning is the Hill of Three Crosses. The crosses were originally built in the 17th century to commemorate the martyrs of monks in the 14th century. The original site was destroyed by the Soviets and rebuilt in 1989. Akin to the Upper Castle, the Hill of Three Crosses will enable you to enjoy picture-perfect views over the Lithuanian capital.
- Visit the National Museum
Located just a stone’s throw from the Upper Castle, the Lithuanian National Museum (Arsenalo g. 1) will delight history lovers with its over 1M historical exhibits and its manifold ancient items and artefacts about the different periods in Lithuania’s timeline.
This fully renovated museum gives you a glimpse into Lithuania’s highly complicated past, from the time when King Mindaugas united hundreds of Baltic tribes into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (13th century), which became one of the largest countries in Europe (17th century) to Lithuania’s struggle under Nazi rule in the Second World War and the subsequent oppression under Soviet rule.
Another famous episode in Lithuania’s history is the Human Chain formed by the citizens of the three Baltic nations in 1989 to protest against communism. Lithuania’s history is interesting and unique and a trip to its largest and best equipped museum is therefore essential in order to get a better understanding of this young (Lithuania became fully independent in 1991) but courageous nation.
- Explore the fairy tale-like Old Town
Vilnius has a picturesque Old Town full of cobbled alleys and charming small restaurants and shops. It is in fact one the largest surviving medieval old towns in Northern Europe and was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1994. In this area, you will find the aforementioned Upper Castle, National Museum and Vilnius Cathedral (Šventaragio g) along with many other historical points of interest, such as the Baroque Slushko Palace and the Vilnius Dungeons.
- Have a look at an old compound full of Soviet military vehicles
The War Machinery and Transport Museum (Olandų g. 21) is located close to Vilnius Cathedral and boasts a large exhibition of military vehicles used in Lithuania from 1969 onwards. Most of the vehicles stand outside and when you visit the museum in winter, it looks like a disused military compound in Siberia.
The inside part of the exhibition isn’t bad either and the whole site has a spooky yet historically insightful feel to it. A great place to visit for travellers who are interested in military history or just anyone who wants to see historical vehicles.
- Visit some of Vilnius’ diverse religious complexes
Vilnius is one of cities with the highest number of religious sites in all of Europe which explains the fact that well restored churches and other religious institutions are ubiquitous in the Lithuanian capital. This is partly thanks to Lithuania’s religious diversity with Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and Judaism all playing a major role in the small Baltic nation. The most impressive churches include among others the Cathedral Basilica (Šventaragio g), the Cathedral of the Theotokos (Maironio g. 14), the Choral Synagogue (Pylimo g. 39), the Church of Saint Anne (Maironio g. 8) and the Church of All Saints (Rūdninkų g. 20).
- Have some juvenile fun in Vilnius’ self-proclaimed fun republic
The mock republic of Užupis was founded by a group of local artists and considers itself the heart of Vilnius. The fun republic even has its own constitution, government and an army of 12 brave soldiers. The republic moreover has lots of funny signs and some cosy bars and restaurants which makes an afternoon trip to Užupis a great activity in the Lithuanian capital.
- Test your skills with a gun at a shooting range
Not an activity for everyone but Vilnius is known for having a large amount of public shooting ranges where you can, supervised by an instructor, shoot AK 47s, Glocks and other military guns. The instructors are often former Soviet soldiers and can give you lots of insights about what life was like in the Soviet army during the Cold War. If you are into this sort of sport and would like to profit from Lithuania’s relatively lax gun laws, we recommend Suvio Akademija, a club with fantastic English-speaking instructors, a vast selection of weapons to choose from and high safety standards. Their shooting range is located about half an hour south of Vilnius but the trip is definitely worth it.
- Devour a Lithuanian feast in a traditional tavern
Lithuanian cuisine is, on par with the other Baltic nations, hearty and tasty. The platters are large and usually served with beer on ancient wooden tables. Visiting a medieval tavern and indulging on a traditional Lithuanian dish is an absolute must when visiting Vilnius. We recommend Forto Dvaras (Pilies g. 16), a traditional restaurant in an ancient basement where you can try all the national dishes for reasonable prices.
As an international alternative, our suggestion would be Böff Steakhouse (Olimpiečių g. 1), a high-end yet homely institution which serves the finest meat from all around the globe in combination with delicious wine and excellent service.
- Enjoy a night out in one of Vilnius’ party temples
Vilnius has a buzzing and varied nightlife scene which is located mostly around Vokieciu gatve road. The Lithuanian way of partying usually involves enjoying some beers in trendy bars before heading to other bars which double as dance clubs. This tradition explains the relatively low number of actual nightclubs in the city.
In this regard, we recommend CocaInn (Gedimino pr. 2a), a crossover club frequented mostly by students and millennials, Mojo Lounge (Vokiečių g. 2), a fashionable club for all ages, and Pabo Latino (Trakų g. 3), a great reggaeton, salsa and bachata bar with lots of cosy areas around a main dance floor, visited mostly by locals and with a rigid selection at the door.
If you need more info about Vilnius’ best locations for night owls, check this article by Nightlife-Cityguide.