Magnificent Vilnius is home to one of the world’s largest surviving medieval old towns and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The city is a magical treasure trove of Baroque, Gothic, Neoclassical, and Renaissance architecture all within a medieval layout and a bewitching natural setting.
Visitors to Vilnius will discover a dizzying warren of narrow streets, squares, palaces, churches, museums, architectural monuments, quirky statues, ornate city houses, and so many cool and happening bars and restaurants that you will instantly wish you were staying longer. From food to sports, and nature to nightlife, here are our tips on where you should visit in Vilnius.
Vilnius for foodies
The good news is that Vilnius remains one of the best value capital cities in Europe to dine out in. Brazilian, Lebanese, Greek, Moroccan, and Georgian are among the eclectic choices of international cuisine to indulge in, and these days everything from vegan to gourmet, and bagels to burgers are on offer to diners.
Trattoria de Flavio is an authentic Italian restaurant with a real Italian owner who clearly wants diners to return. Sophisticated Žuvine on Didžioji is in the heart of Old Town, consistently offers excellent food and lovely outdoor views. Šturmų Švyturys also enjoys rave reviews.
There are fantastic dining options throughout the Old Town’s almost four square kilometres of medieval loveliness. Outside of here, Uzupis and Zverynas are the other areas most worth considering for a meal. If you enjoy a good hamburger then check out the Burger Fest at the Lithuanian Theatre on August 6. Lithuanian Gastronomy Week takes place November 2-8.
Sports in Vilnius
Running enthusiasts should look out for the Vilnius Women Run on August 8, and the Vilnius Marathon also expected to go ahead on September 13.
The national sport of Lithuania is unquestionably basketball. Not only is Lithuania one of the top-ranked national teams in the world (currently 4th) but its club sides participate in European competition. Rytas Vilnius is the top Vilnius-based side. Catch national team, European- and domestic club matches at the Siemens Arena and the Jeep Arena.
Football and ice hockey are also relatively popular, with a football match on offer most weeks between early spring and late autumn. The LFF National Stadium is the best place to catch a game. Lithuania is due to host Kazakhstan on September 4, Belarus on October 11, Albania on October 14, and the Faroe Islands in November.
MMA, rugby, cycling (Vilnius hosts a bicycle marathon on August 23), athletics, and winter sports are also popular in Lithuania.
Music and events in Vilnius
Vilnius gained a lot of international media attention in April 2020 when the city declared it would turn itself into a vast open-air cafe, with many bars and restaurants allowed to use public spaces to enable them to maintain the new social distancing rules. The move has proven to be very popular and successful with coronavirus cases in Lithuania remaining in single digits while visitors and locals alike have enjoyed a very social summer of partying and dining outdoors. Islandaijos and Vilniaus gatves are where many of the best bars and clubs remain and make sure to cater to outdoor distancing. Vilnius offers every imaginable style of bar and pub from the most down-to-earth student pubs you’ve ever visited to sexy cocktail bars that would put Miami and London to shame. Old nighttime favourites include Pablo Latino and hipster-friendly Vejai. Vilnius is also now ‘overflowing’ with craft beer bars. Beer House & Craft Kitchen, for example, has more than 300 different beers on offer. The artsy Užupis district is also a great place to spend an afternoon or a night out.
‘Cinema under the stars’ film festival and Vilnius City Fiesta are two prominent events on the immediate horizon. The city festival will run from September 4-6 and promises to be ‘’filled with music, good food, culture, and a great atmosphere’’.
Science in Vilnius
The energy and technology museum offers interactive fun and numerous exciting discoveries for all of the family. The museum is located in a former power plant that dates back some 120 years. The power plant equipment on display here includes authentic steam boilers and the original control panel room and makes for a fascinating visit. The Museum of Illusions is another fascinating museum which is definitely one of the most fun in the city. Numerous displays here trick the mind into seeing things not quite as they really are. If you think you can’t be fooled, pay a visit here! The fun part is trying to understand for yourself how the illusions work before the staff finally let you in on the secret.
Art in Vilnius
The Modern Art Museum MO opened its doors in 2018 and is a must for art lovers. The collection features many of the most famous Lithuanian artwork from the past 50 years, with some 5000 pieces on show in total. Elsewhere, the city is full of museums and art galleries with Europos Parkas sculpture park one of the more quirky. While the entire Užupis district will be a dream to those interested in art. The Užupis residents actually declared independence from the rest of Vilnius (and indeed the world) in 1998. The self-declared ‘republic’ has its own currency, flag, constitution, and - as one might expect - more than its fair share of weird and wonderful statues, art galleries and studios, and unique graffiti.
Notable events in Vilnius in the coming months include Design Week from September 21-27, and ARTVILNIUS contemporary art fair, the largest visual arts events in Eastern Europe, which will take place in the Lithuanian capital from October 2-4. The biggest highlight of all though is Vilnius Culture Night on September 25, when art will invade the streets, galleries and even some unexpected spaces in Vilnius once the sun sets’. More than 150 music, photography, theatre, dance, and art installations are promised.
Nature in Vilnius
First-time visitors to Vilnius are often taken aback by how interwoven and in harmony with nature, the city is. Rivers, forests, parks, and hills are as much a part of the Lithuanian capital as its stunning architecture and beautiful people. Vilnius Old Town covers almost four square kilometres and nature is always near. Kalnu Parkas, close to the Old Town, is a 25-hectare park with the views from the Hill of the Three Crosses highly recommended. West of the city, Vingio Parkas is a lovely 160-hectare park located next to the Neris river. Hot air balloon trips are available here and offer dreamy views of the Lithuanian capital from above.
History in Vilnius
Out of town, but doable as a long day trip, the open-air museum is an absolute delight, combining nature with history. Set in 200 hectares of forests and hills, you can explore several kilometres of recreated traditional village life here. This is actually the largest ethnographic museum in the whole of Europe.
Nearer to Vilnius, Trakai’s photogenic Gothic island castle should definitely be visited even if historical sites are not top of your list. The whole area is full of lakes, islands and forests and is also home to numerous historical and cultural highlights.
Back in Vilnius, the whole city is a living, breathing museum with 28 churches, dozens of museums, as well as palaces and towers galore. The Gate of Dawn, Vilnius Cathedral Square, and Gediminas Tower are some of the must-see attractions, with the KGB museum and the Money Museum of the Bank of Lithuania among some of the best historically oriented museums.
Author: Justin Walley