If you hadn’t thought about visiting Vilnius in Lithuania, we urge you to reconsider. The sizeable city in the Baltic region makes for an ideal weekend getaway. With a charming Old Town, a thriving food scene and dark history from its Soviet and Nazi Germany occupations, 24 hours in Vilnius will give you a wonderful sample of an underrated destination. To enjoy the Lithuanian capital and its surrounds, we’ve outlined a Vilnius guide that will have you admiring some formidable architecture, sampling delicious local cuisine and venturing a little bit further from the city centre.
A 24-HOUR GUIDE - WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN VILNIUS & BEYOND
Breakfast at Pinavija Cafe & Bakery
Prepare yourself for a day of walking and sightseeing with a scrumptious breakfast at Pinavija Cafe & Bakery. With its striped wallpaper and floral decor accents, the brunch menu offers freshly baked bagels, organic eggs and healthy breakfast bowls. If you’re after a light bite, then you have a difficult choice ahead of you at the devastatingly inviting cake cabinet. If the weather is good, nab one of the tables out on the pavement otherwise there is plenty of seating inside for larger groups.
Morning wandering the Old Town
The best of Vilnius is in the Old Town. You’ll see a blend of modern and medieval architecture here. The city centre is relatively flat so wandering the streets is easy to navigate on foot. Start at Vilnius Cathedral. The impressive Roman Catholic cathedral stands on an old pagan temple site. Out the front, the Bell Tower of Vilnius Cathedral casts an imposing figure over Gedimino pr., one of the main thoroughfares of the city. For a vantage point over the city, head to Gediminas Castle Tower. The 3-storey brick tower was originally part of a 15th-century castle. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations during our visit but we have read accounts which speak of impressive views over Vilnius.
Afterwards, make your way towards Vilnius University to admire the prominent architecture. While in the area, make sure to photograph Pilies Street and the grand Church of St John’s. Fans of Gothic architecture should head over to St Anne’s Church whose original construction dates back to the early 16th century.
If you’re wondering where to go in Vilnius for your mid-morning coffee, we recommend stopping by StrangeLove located on the edge of Bernardine gardens. Finish your morning exploring the Old Town at the Gates of Dawn.
Lunchtime at Šnekutis
Potato lovers rejoice! If you’re wanting to taste traditional Lithuanian food without breaking the bank, sit down for a meal at Šnekutis. Order a couple of plates to share – half portions will suffice. Saltibarksciai is cold beetroot soup with sour milk and dill. It usually comes served with potatoes. We were sceptical when the bowl was placed in front of us – it was literally pink! But we loved it! The soup is refreshing and the flavour subtle. Make sure to order cepelinaiand (large potato dumplings) and žemaičių blynai (potato pancakes). Local beer is also available on tap to wash all the carbs down. A visit during lunchtime will guarantee you a table but if you’d prefer to visit during the evening, come rub shoulders with the locals when the live band kicks off too.
Afternoon at Trakai
Take a short drive or train ride out to Trakai Island Castle. The restored 15th-century turreted castle sits on an island connected by a footbridge approximately 30 minutes west of Vilnius. Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour through the castle and its grounds. The rooms feature detailed placards of Trakai’s history, artefacts from the 16th and 17th centuries and cabinets filled with weapons, traditional dress, manuscripts and furniture.
Continue sampling the local delicacies by trying a kibinai whilst in Trakai. Closely resembling a pastie, these traditional pies are usually filled with mutton and onion or vegetables. If you’re counting calories, then we’d suggest hiring a rowboat or paddle boat for some exercise out on the lake!
Sunset at Užupis
Head back into Vilnius to the Republic of Užupis. A neighbourhood in Vilnius, the district is legally an independent republic with its own flag, president, constitution and army. Previously one of the most neglected areas of the city, Užupis has become quite popular with young artists. As such, it has been compared to Montmartre in Paris and Christiania in Copenhagen.
If you’re looking for an aperitif before dinner, then we’d suggest stopping by Devinkė Baras Beer Garden as you cross the river into Užupis. Alternatively take a walk along the banks of the Vilnia River.
TIP: If you didn’t manage to squeeze in a visit during your morning exploration, make your way up to Gediminas Hill for sunset and panoramic views over Vilnius Old Town.
Stay in Užupis for dinner
If you’re super organised, make an advance recommendation at Sweet Root. Recommended to us earlier in the day by the kind locals at Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories, the contemporary restaurant offers a tasting menu featuring ingredients that are produced, caught and foraged locally. Sweet Root only offers one sitting each evening the restaurant is open. Unfortunately we were turned away as walk-ins so book ahead to not be left disappointed.
The maitre d’ of Sweet Root was kind enough to offer us an alternative a short walk up the hill. Šturmų švyturys offers a daily menu based solely around fish. The simple menu features three choices for entree, mains and one dessert. The attentive wait staff are on hand to ensure your selected dishes can be perfectly accompanied by a matching wine. The outdoor dining area makes you feel as if you are dining in a friend’s backyard whilst a visit from the chef to your table rounds out the dining experience.
More time in Lithuania?
Should you have more time to spend in Vilnius and/or Lithuania, here are some additional suggestions:
The Geographical Centre of Europe
According to research conducted by the French National Geographic Institute, the geographical centre of Europe is located 26 kilometres north of Vilnius near the village of Purnuškės. A nine-tonne boulder and white granite column mark the spot, which also happens to be right next to a golf course! If visiting on a weekday, make sure to collect your free visitor’s certificate to prove your visit!
If you’re looking for a place to unwind and pamper yourself, make your way to the spa town of Druskininkai. In the late 18th century, it was believed that the waters in the area contained healing properties. Today, the area is home to several spa resorts, a water park and a snow arena.
The Ninth Fort
The Ninth Fort is part of the Kaunas Fortress that was built in the late 19th century by the Russian Empire. When the Russian troops retreated in 1915, Nazi Germany moved in and the fort became a place of imprisonment and execution. Today, visitors can walk through the historic museum which is part of a larger memorial complex.
Treetop Walking Path
Approximately 33% of Lithuania is covered by forests. To literally walk above the trees, head to the famous Anykščiai Pinewood and wander along the Treetop Walking Path. Standing 21 metres high above the ground and up to 34 metres at the highest lookout point, it’s here that you will truly feel small amongst the giant pines. At the tower, you’ll be greeted with a breathtaking view of the Šventoji river.
Hill of Crosses
Fast becoming Insta-famous, the Hill of Crosses has become a place of Christian pilgrimage. Featuring over 100,000 crosses of various sizes, the hill has withstood numerous attempts of demolition during the Soviet occupation and each time, risen up strongly. It’s an eerie yet peaceful spectacle to witness.
Visit a Museum
Have you travelled through Vilnius, Lithuania? We’d love to hear about your adventures!