Lithuania is a fascinating country with a rich cultural heritage, despite its dark and difficult history. This is extremely evident in the city of Vilnius, Lithuania’s vibrant capital. Vilnius is steadily becoming a popular city break for Europeans and is emerging as a fantastic international tourist destination. From its bustling atmosphere and ever-growing arts and culture scene to its medieval old town and stunning architecture, there are so many reasons to visit Vilnius!
While you could easily spend a few days or longer exploring Vilnius, you can see a lot in 24 hours! Expat Explore has listed Vilnius’s top attractions and experiences to help you make the most of your 24 hours in the city!
If you’d like to learn more about Lithuania’s captivating history, just pay a visit to one of Vilnius’s impressive museums! History buffs are truly spoiled for choice. The Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, housed in the former KGB headquarters, is possibly the city’s top museum. Here, learn about the crimes of the Soviet Regime and visit the former KGB prison.
The Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History is dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of Lithuanian Jews. 90 percent of Vilnius’s Jewish population was killed during the Holocaust. This museum’s exhibits reveal this tragic past while showcasing important artworks and historical objects.
Other excellent Vilnius museums include the Money Museum which houses the world’s largest coin pyramid, the fun and informative Toy Museum and the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania which contains the palace’s original walls as well as an important selection of artefacts.
The Vilnius Old Town is one of the largest medieval old towns in Northern Europe. Due to its spellbinding range of architectural styles, the Old Town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Beautiful Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical buildings sit side by side and line the 70 streets that make up the Old Town.
The Old Town is home to a number of palaces and religious monuments. Visit some of the top sights including the Presidential Palace, the official residence of the president of Lithuania, and Cathedral Square, known for its iconic tower. The square is also a vibrant centre of public activities such as military parades, fairs and religious festivals.
The Old Town also houses the Gate of Dawn, a major Catholic pilgrimage site. Built in the 16th century, the Gate of Dawn displays an ornate icon of the Virgin Mary, said to bless travellers and guard the city. St. Anne and Bernardine’s Church Complex is another must-see. The striking Gothic exteriors and interiors of the complex also feature gorgeous Renaissance and Baroque details.
Another prominent fixture of the Old Town is the Hill of Three Crosses. You’ll see this imposing concrete monument on many Lithuanian postcards. The Three Crosses were first built out of wood around 1639 and collapsed in 1869. Tsarist authorities refused to allow the monument to be rebuilt. The first concrete version was built in 1916 but, sadly, torn down by Soviet authorities in 1950.
Finally, the current crosses were built during the Lithuanian independence movement. The crosses became an important symbol of freedom after their unveiling in 1989.
Perched atop a hill in the city centre, Gediminas’ Castle offers 360° panoramic views of Vilnius’s Old Town! The Gediminas Tower is the last remaining part of the original castle built by Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas in the 12th century. View restored remnants of the original castle within the tower’s museum.
As Vilnius is predominantly flat, Gediminas Castle certainly stands out and has become a beloved symbol of the city and Lithuania as a whole. Many Lithuanian poems and folk songs depict the tower which proudly displays a Lithuanian flag on its roof. To get to the top, take a walk or enjoy a funicular ride!
Vilnius has a thriving café culture and there is no shortage of quirky cafés to enjoy a cuppa and watch the world go by! Lithuanians are big coffee drinkers and fond of speciality brews. With multiple coffee shops lining each street, you won’t have to look hard to find a coffee shop that fits your needs! From quirky and cosy spots to sleek and modern spaces, there’s something for every caffeine addict.
Why not indulge in a Lithuanian dessert along with your coffee? Lithuanian cuisine features a wide range of irresistible sweet treats. Cheese curd is one of the country’s staple ingredients and is enjoyed in desserts such as doughnuts, crêpes, cakes, pancakes and varškės sūrelis, cheese curd covered in dark chocolate. Other moreish Lithuanian teatime treats include Tinginys, a rich chocolate cake and zephyrs, a meringue-like cookie.
Related: These are the best places in Europe to grab a cup of coffee!
To see an alternative side to Vilnius, visit the bohemian Užupis neighbourhood! Loved and frequented by artists, Užupis is often compared to Paris’ Montmartre. The tiny district has even declared itself an independent republic with its own constitution and flag! Užupi has become world-renowned for its exceptional street art which covers its buildings in colourful murals. The street art of Užupis ranges from cute to quirky and occasionally provocative and controversial. The most famous artwork depicts Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin getting up close and personal!
Užupis was quite a dangerous and dilapidated neighbourhood during Soviet times. In 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet regime, artists from the nearby Art Academy began squatting in abandoned buildings. However, from 1994, a new generation of artists, poets and actors began moving into Užupis due to low real estate prices.
Užupis has undergone a revival in recent years, largely credited to multiple initiatives in support of the arts. Galleries, art centres and the first art incubator in the Baltics offer new and established artists the chance to display their works to the public.
Lithuania may not be as famous as other beer-brewing countries in Europe but it certainly boasts some of the best beers around! Lithuanian beer-making dates back centuries and is an integral part of the country’s heritage. Made using local ingredients and ancient techniques, Lithuanian beer is completely unique to other European beers. However, Lithuania’s oldest, and the world’s oldest, drink is mead, or midus. Made by fermenting honey with water and spices, mead has been produced in Lithuania for over 6,000 years! It’s no wonder that midus has been named a national heritage product!
Vilnius has no shortage of breweries and bars with options ranging from traditional brews to modern craft beer. Traditional beers tend to be sweeter and less carbonated than newer or more commercial beers. Be sure to enjoy some beer snacks when visiting a local bar such as cepelinai, potato dumplings with meat or cheese. Other bar snacks include kepta duona, fried rye bread served with cheese sauce and lašiniai, non-rendered pork fat, spread on bread.
Can’t wait to explore Vilnius? All of our tours which travel to Lithuania include up to 24 hours in Vilnius! Spend a day discovering this fascinating city and region when you book a Baltic or Northern Explorer tour!
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