The best of Vilnius in a weekend 🇱🇹

by Nick

Part of the Baltics, this northern European Capital of Culture, is under the radar. The city is vibrant, hipster and rebellious in parts with a bohemian area called Užupis. Possessing a colourful history, range of architectural style and UNESCO World Heritage old town, read our guide to the best of Vilnius in a weekend.


Travel Essentials


Getting there

Airline: Wizz Air from London Luton (LTN) to Vilnius (VNO). From £45, return.
To the city
: Uber is the best option.
Cost: €6.00 (£5.00).
Journey time to centre: 15 minutes.
Distance and direction from airport to centre: 6km (3.7 mile) south of the centre.


Need to know

Visa: From 1st January 2021, UK residents can visit Vilnius for 90 days maximum in any 180 day period.
Travel: See the FCDO website.
Currency: Euro (£1 = €1.11 approximately).
Language: Lithuanian and some Latvian. English is spoken and understood.
Best time to visit: June to August.
Time: GMT +2.

 

Quick facts about Vilnius

  • Lithuanian is one of the oldest language in the world today.
  • Every year the river Vilnia is dyed bright emerald green for St. Patrick’s Day.
  • An anonynous group of people go around the city installing swings.
  • The UNESCO historical centre in Vilnius is one of the largest in Europe.
  • The city has four universities.

 

Day 1 – the best of Vilnius in a weekend

  • The Town Hall – Free.
  • The Old Jewish Quarter – Free.
  • Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Consolation – Free (restrictions during worship hours).
  • Užupis neighbourhood – Free.
  • St Anne’s and Bernadine Churches – Free (restrictions during worship hours).
  • Vilnius University and St John’s Tower – €2.5 (Adult – Tower entry).
  • Palace of the Grand Dukes – €6 (Adult).
  • Gediminas Castle Tower – €5 (Adult).
  • Literatų Street (Literatų gatvė) – Free.

 

The Town Hall

This neoclassical building is the focal point of the square. The tourist information office is inside. There is a plaque commemorating a George W Bush speech from 2002 who said ‘anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America‘. He used the same in other countries during his Baltic tour.

Vilnius in a weekend - Looking across the Town Hall square, Vilnius, Lithuania

Looking across the Town Hall square, Vilnius, Lithuania


The Old Jewish Quarter

Walking along Vokiečių Street leads to the old Jewish quarter, once called the ‘Jerusalem of Lithuania’. One side of the street is German, the affluent side, and the other side is Russian, less prosperous. Vilnius had a huge Jewish population during World War II.

Vilnius in a weekend - Old houses in the Jewish quarter, Vilnius, Lithuania

Old houses in the Jewish quarter, Vilnius, Lithuania


Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Consolation

A Baroque-style single towered church modelled on Dresden Cathedral. This became a multi-purpose building after the addition of several concrete floors. Antennae at the top of the tower sit alongside the Holy Cross.


Užupis neighbourhood

The sign ‘Užupio Res Publika‘ marks the border entrance of the neighbourhood. To access this self-declared UNESCO World Heritage site, cross one of the five bridges of the Vilnia river. The bohemian area is an artisans dream, having lots of unusual things to see. These include a statue of Jesus with a rucksack and a decaying piano. This neighbourhood is the most interesting area of Vilnius in a weekend.

Vilnius in a weekend - A decaying piano in Užupis, Vilnius, Lithuania

A decaying piano in Užupis, Vilnius, Lithuania


An Užupis novelty passport stamp costs €3.  The ‘Constitution of Užupis‘ contains 38 points, translated into several languages. They line a wall in Paupio Street. The Constitution promotes free thinking and liberalism, officially blessed by Pope Francesco in 2018. Many are philosophical, such as number 38;

Everyone has the right to understand nothing.



Vilnius in a weekend - The row of Constitution plaques, Užupis, Vilnius, Lithuania

The row of Constitution plaques, Užupis, Vilnius, Lithuania

 

St Anne’s and Bernadine Churches

Built around 1500, these Gothic-style churches are popular with wedding ceremonies. Following Lithuanian tradition, couples release a pair of doves as a sign of their love. Vilnius has approximately 70 churches, most of them in Old Town.

Vilnius in a weekend - St Anne's and Bernadine Churches, Vilnius, Lithuania

St Anne’s and Bernadine Churches, Vilnius, Lithuania


Vilnius University and St John’s Tower

The Church of St Johns from the 1400s is part of the University of Vilnius. The top of the tower provides the best views across the old town. Take the glass-sided elevator, or the steps, to reach the top.


Palace of the Grand Dukes

Constructed in the 15th century, it sits on the ruins of a site from the 4th century. There are also Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art collections. The basement up to the third floor covers mainly Lithuanian history.

Vilnius in a weekend - Palace of the Grand Dukes, Vilnius, Lithuania

Palace of the Grand Dukes, Vilnius, Lithuania


Gediminas Castle Tower

The entrance ticket reads city history and a unique panorama. Gediminas Castle originates from 1409, with the tower rebuilt in 1933. Reach the top of the hill by steps or taking the funicular., which is above the Neris and Vilnia rivers. The Tower remains the most visited tourist attraction in Vilnius. At the top, there is also a small museum with medieval weaponry and warfare history.  Entry is €5 (Adult single).

Vilnius in a weekend - Gediminas Castle Tower, Vilnius, Lithuania

Gediminas Castle Tower, Vilnius, Lithuania


Literatų Street (Literatų gatvė)

A street in Old Town lined with over 200 artistic plaques dedicated to writers who have lived or worked in Vilnius. Thomas Harris, the author of Silence of the Lambs, has a plaque here as his main character, Hannibal Lecter, is Lithuanian.

Local legend is that Fyodor Dostoevsky, the author of Crime and Punishment, stayed at the Hana hotel in 1867. Whilst here, he freaked out, convinced that the hotel owner was trying to kill him, so he locked himself in his room.

Approaching Literatų Street, Vilnius, Lithuania

Approaching Literatų Street, Vilnius, Lithuania


Day 2 – Vilnius in a weekend – Fabijoniškés and Trakai


Fabijoniškés

Fabijoniškés is now on the map because of the HBO show Chernobyl. The residential buildings resemble those in Pripyat, the Soviet Ukrainian town where Chernobyl workers’ families lived back in 1986. The show’s filming used residents.

Fabijoniškés residential block, Vilnius, Lithuania

Fabijoniškés residential block, Vilnius, Lithuania



Getting there:
Number 10 bus from Užupis to Fabijoniškés.
Cost: €1.00 (Adult single)
Journey time: 25 minutes to reach Stambiaplokščiai namai, located at S. Stanevičiaus 47.


Trakai

Located 28 kilometres west of Vilnius, many communities, including the Karaims, lived here. These were are an ethnic group derived from the Crimeans. Whilst their origins are unknown, some settled in Trakai, speaking a dialect with only 100 speakers in the world. The lakeside location and island castle is one the highlight of Vilnius in a weekend.

Upon arrival, exit Trakai bus station, turn right and follow the main road for 20 minutes to reach Trakai island castle, overlooking Lake Galvė.

Getting there: Bus from Vilnius Bus station marked Trakai.
Cost: €8 (Adult single Trakai Castle).
Journey time: 40 minutes.

Vilnius in a weekend - Overlooking the lake towards Trakai castle, near Vilnius, Lithuania

Overlooking the lake towards Trakai castle, near Vilnius, Lithuania

 

Food and drink

Pilies Kepyklele is perfect for coffee and delicious cake.

Coffee and cherry cafe at Pilies Kepyklele, Vilnius, Lithuania

Coffee and cherry cafe at Pilies Kepyklele, Vilnius, Lithuania


Etno Dvaras serves original Lithuanian dishes in the heart of Vilnius. Try the potato pancakes with bacon and mushroom sauce. The food is wholesome and tasty, served by staff in traditional Lithuanian costume.

Aline Leiciai is a Lithuanian restaurant serving good Lithuanian food at a reasonable price. The Cepelinai, a traditional  Lithuanian dish of dumplings made from grated potatoes and stuffed with meat, is tasty and very filling. One Cepelinai is more than enough.

Coffee 1 is a funky coffee house in Užupis, next to the Angel monument with an industrial New York-style feel. Coffee served here is roasted in Latvia and Lithuania. They offer a range of Lithuanian cakes, with vegan options too, and the service is good. It is a popular spot.

Coffee 1 in Užupis, Vilnius, Lithuania

Coffee 1 in Užupis, Vilnius, Lithuania


Snekutis is a local bar serving good food and a range of local beers. The bar staff are helpful with recommendations.

Near the bus station is Hales Turgus (Hall Market), a former transportation building. There is a wide selection of local foods and delicacies on offer. It is popular with locals and is the place to come for cheap, tasty food. Opposite the market is a building-sized street art painting by an Italian artist.

 

The verdict

Discovering Vilnius in a weekend is easily achievable. It is a small, compact, and walkable city offering excellent value for money with friendly people. With Europe’s largest baroque old town, cobbled streets and the artistic community of Užupis, it makes for a fun weekend. The crowd is young and buoyant, with trendy bars and cafés.

Trakai is a must-see, where it is possible to sleep in on the lakeshore during the summer months. Venture further afield to Druskininkai or Palanga.

Combine a visit to Vilnius as part of a longer Baltic trip, incorporating Riga and Tallinn to explore this region of northwestern Europe with its natural forest and lakes.

 

More information – Vilnius in a weekend

Lonely Planet Vilnius.

The ghost city of Pripyat affected by the Chernobyl nuclear explosion.

Read about our other European weekend breaks.