Vilnius, the capital of the largest Baltic State, is a city with a rich architectural heritage that tells the story of an interesting past. Its unusual location on the extreme east of the country is the result of centuries of wars when historical Lithuania lost great portions of its medieval territory. The city was historically so important that both Poland and Russia fought each other to dominate it. If compared to its Baltic counterparts, Tallin and Riga, Vilnius heritage is ‘relatively new’, with baroque being the style of excellence.
Vilnius is located in Eastern Lithuania, 25 km from the border with Belarus, on the confluence of two rivers: Vilnia and Neris. The medieval Old town – Senamiestis lies to the south of Neris River with Pilies – Didžioji Street, being the best example of baroque architecture in the city. To the West of the Old Town, within the New Town – Naujamiestis, Gediniminas Avenue ending at the Cathedral, represents the best of the neoclassical architectural style. The streets in the Old town are narrow and curvy, while those of the New town are wide and straight. The northern part of the city with its huge avenues and motorways is home to a large agglomeration of modern superblocks surrounded by lush green areas. Built during the USSR period, this area is a fine example of socialist urban planning.
The beautiful Old Town is undoubtedly the highlight of the city, with numerous churches built according to many different styles giving it a peculiar religious feel. The Vilnius Cathedral, the center of the Archdiocese of Vilnius, was built in the late 18th century in a neoclassical manner. Next to the Cathedral the Bell Tower from the 16th century was built over a wall to defend the lower castle. In the same area, the Upper and Lower Castles include the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. The St. Kasimir’s Church, the Vilnius University and the Church of St. John are among the most glamorous baroque buildings in the Old Town. On the eastern end of the Old Town, near the Vilnia River the St. Anne Church and the Church of San Bernard present Lithuania’s most important gothic pieces. Across the river the Užupis District offers an authentic unpretentious artistic vibe, and is an absolute must!
The ideal location for a place to stay is the Old Town, though it can be pricey. A great less expensive option nearby is the New Town, just up the hill west of the Old Town. This area is safe, well equipped with stores and shops and within walking distance from the main sights. Though there are several hostels and guesthouse close to the bus and train stations, the neighborhood is not that nice so it is not worth the trouble.
Vilnius is a middle size city, with a reasonably sized historical core. In the Old Town walking is by far the best option, because it lets you explore its many hidden corners. Within the Old Town, Biking is a bit complicated since most streets are cobbled and crowded with people, while public transport is quite limited. Outside of the Old Town it’s a completely different story. Longer distances make it difficult to walk around, unless you have plenty of time, and streets are flat and wide, perfect for great bike rides. Public transport there is quite efficient and in good shape. Since a few years ago public bikes are in use too. Taxis are reasonably priced.
The most atmospheric capital of the Baltic States, Vilnius is a city with a vast heritage. Its Old Town is a showpiece of different historical layers: gothic, baroque, renaissance and neoclassical. Surprisingly, great examples of ultramodern architecture were built just across the river Neris where a new fancy commercial district is emerging. However, what sets Vilnius apart from the rest of typical heritage cities is its unique young artistic energy. It can be felt anywhere around the Old town, and once you cross the small bridge and step into the Užupis District you realize you are in a really cool city. Offering several great daytrip excursions, such as Europe Park and Trakai, Vilnius is a truly fantastic destination.
Vilnius Travel Guide
- Stay in the Old Town. Happy Frog recommends Real House Apartments
- The Cathedral and its square;
- Upper and the Lower Castle with the Palace of the Grand Dukes;
- Anne and San Bernard churches
- The Commercial District across the river Neris;
- The Vilnius University.
- Have dinner or a beer in Vasaros Terasa.
- By bike, on foot, by bus.
- Go on an excursion to Europe Park and Trakai.
DO NOT MISS:
- Wander around the Old Town and enter its baroque churches;
- Walk down Gediniminas Avenue;
- Discover beautiful sculptures around the Old Town;
- Spend the evening in Užupis District;
- Explore modern superblocks north of the river Neris.