Vilnius tourist attractions: The city center is located around the town hall square. The main street of the historic center is Pilies, which connects the Grand Duke’s Castle with the Town Hall. Vilnius Old Town is one of the largest in Eastern Europe. Although for the most part built in Baroque style, having developed over the course of several centuries, it has numerous Gothic and Renaissance buildings in an original mix of styles.
THE HISTORICAL CENTER
The historic center, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries was surrounded by a wall and a complex of castles which consisted of the Upper Castle (on the Gediminas hill), the Lower Castle (at the foot of the hill) and the Crooked Castle (on the hill next). In 1994, UNESCO included the historic center of Vilnius on the list of world heritage sites. This decision was made due to the presence in the historic center of buildings in the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style and for its medieval appearance.
One of the symbols of the city and one of the attractions of Vilnius is the Gedimina Tower of the Upper Castle (Aukštutinės pilies Gedimino bokštas). This is the only surviving tower of the three that adorned the castle in the 14th century, of which the ruins of the walls also remain. Inside the tower there is a museum that describes the history of the castle, from the top of the tower you have a magnificent panorama of the historic center of the city.
Among the few remains of the defensive works of the city, there is the so-called Bastion (Bastėja), a Renaissance fortification dating back to the 17th century, and the Gate of Dawn (Aušros Vartai), the only remaining gate of the 10 that once opened on the walls, dating from the sixteenth century. Next to the gate there is a small neo-classical chapel from 1829 which preserves a miraculous painting of the Virgin Mary, dated to the 17th century.
The City Cathedral (Arkikatedra bazilika) is a neo-classical style building. Its foundation dates back to the thirteenth century, but its current appearance dates back to the eighteenth century. The interior is full of frescoes, paintings, sculptures and tombs. To note is the fresco of the “Crucifixion” (XIV century) and the Baroque chapel of San Casimiro (Šv. Kazimiero) full of decorations and frescoes. The Cathedral Bell Tower (Arkikatedros varpinė) is located above the remains of the Lower castle. The round base of the bell tower was probably part of the castle. The 57-meter-high bell tower houses a 17th-century clock.
OTHER CHURCHES OF THE CAPITAL OF LITHUANIA
The whole of the Church of Saint Anne and of the Church of Saint Francis and San Bernardino (Šv. Onos ir Bernardinų bažnyčių ansamblis). These are probably the most important attractions in Vilnius. The Church of Saint Anne, in late Gothic style dates back to the XV-XVI century, has the particularity of having been built using 33 different forms of brick. The Church of Saint Francis and San Bernardino, also in Gothic style, was built in the late 15th century. Renovation works carried out between the 16th and 17th centuries brought elements of Renaissance and Baroque architecture making the church a curious hybrid of styles.
The Church of St. Peter and Paul (Šv. Petro ir Povilo bažnyčia), probably the largest Baroque church in Lithuania, is another Vilnius attraction. Begun in 1668, it contains masterpieces of Italian and Lithuanian art. The interior has a rich decoration of sculptures and figures.
Among the numerous churches – in the old town alone, there are about 40 churches of different architectural styles – worth a visit: The Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit and the attached Orthodox monastery (Šv. Dvasios cerkvė ir Vilniaus stačiatikių vienuolynas). A 17th century Baroque style building, rebuilt in the 18th century, the interior is in Rococo style. The Church of Saint Casimir (Šv. Kazimiero bažnyčia) is a Baroque church built by the Jesuits in the early 17th century. This church was built to commemorate Saint Casimir, patron of Lithuania. The church in the time of communism was transformed into a museum dedicated to Atheism.
THE TOWN HALL AND THE UNIVERSITY
The Town Hall (Rotušė) is a neo-classical building dating back to the 18th century by Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevičius. The President’s Office (Prezidento rūmai) is a 19th century empire-style palace, here originally was the ancient bishop’s palace, which during the Tsarist era was the residence of the Russian governor. The University of Vilnius (Vilniaus universitetas), is one of the oldest European universities, dating back to 1579. The University is made up of many buildings in different styles ranging from Gothic, to Renaissance, to Baroque, to neo-classical. Inside there is the church of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist of the XIV-XVIII centuries. The University Library dates back to the 16th century and preserves important ancient texts.
THE THREE CROSSES
The Three Crosses (Trys Kryžiai), is a monument to the first Christian martyrs. They were seven Franciscan monks who came to Lithuania to convert the population to Christianity, who were torn to pieces by the pagans. Legend has it that the martyrs’ bodies were buried on this hill where a chapel was later built and then crosses were placed. These crosses were destroyed by the communists in 1950. The monument to the three crosses is on the site today.
The television tower (Televizijos bokštas), 326.5 meters high, is one of the tallest buildings in Europe, using a lift you can reach a platform located 165 meters high from where you can admire a beautiful view of the city.
ATTRACTIONS IN THE SURROUNDINGS OF VILNIUS
Among the attractions in the surroundings of Vilnius are to be mentioned: About 30 km from Vilnius are Trakai and Old Trakai (Senieji Trakai), famous for its castle and natural landscapes. The city was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the residence of the Grand Duke. In old Trakai there is the neo-Gothic church of the Virgin Mary and St. Benedict of Revelation built at the end of the 19th century. Finally another attraction of Trakai are the Karaites, a Turkish-speaking population that still retains its traditions.
Other interesting attractions in the surroundings of Vilnius, 35 km north-west of the capital, is the archaeological site of Kernavė, the first Lithuanian capital, one of the oldest cities in Lithuania. Here in the local museum, the remains of objects found in excavations ranging from the Paleolithic to the Middle Ages are visible. Interesting are the remains of 5 defensive structures located on different hills that formed the defenses of the ancient capital. In 2004 UNESCO included the archaeological site of Kernavė (Kernavė Cultural Reserve) in the list of world heritage sites.
The ruins of Medininkai Castle and the nearby morainic hill of Juozapinės. During the summer the Žalieji ežerai (Green Lakes) are very popular destinations, especially the Balsio lake. Finally, it should be noted that the geographical center of Europe is located 26 km north of Vilnius. A monument was placed on the site, and at the local tourist office it is possible to receive a certificate attesting the visit.
Attractions in Christmas in Vilnius: between the end of November and the beginning of January the Christmas event in the capital (Kalėdos Sostineje) takes place with markets in the squares of the old town, concerts and theatrical performances. Christmas markets in Vilnius.
WHAT TO SEE: VILNIUS MUSEUMS
Vilnius has about 60 museums ranging from the most varied cultural themes: art, nature, architecture, history, science, theater, music and cinema, literature etc. Among the most important and interesting we can list:
The Bastion Museum (Vilniaus bastėja), located on a Renaissance bastion (first half of the 17th century) of the city walls. This museum consists of a long tunnel (48 meters) that connects the cannon positions with each other, old cannons are exhibited. From here you have a splendid view over the city.
In the Vilnius Castle area there are three interesting museums: the Vilnius Castle Museum (Pilies muziejus), located in the Gedimina Tower (Gedimino pilis). It is the museum of the Vilnius Castle, it presents reconstructions and models of the castle from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, as well as weapons and historical material from old Vilnius. The National Museum of Lithuania (Lietuvos nacionalinis muziejus), one of the main museums of the city, houses above all collections of archeology, history and ethnic culture of Lithuania. The Museum of Applied Arts (Taikomosios dailės muziejus), which exhibits sacred art and icons, in addition. This museum presents the exhibition entitled: “Treasures of the Ducal Palaces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania”.
MUSEUMS FOR ALL TASTES
The Radvila Palace (Radvilų rūmai), the palace was built at the beginning of the 17th century by Jonušas Radvila who was a castle of Vilnius. Today it houses portraits of the founder’s family and documents on its history, as well as numerous art exhibitions.
The Jewish State Museum Vilna Goan (Valstybinis Vilniaus Gaono žydų muziejus), built in 1997 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Vilna Gaon. The museum is made up of three detached buildings that show the different aspects of Jewish culture and tragedy: the Paneriai Memorial, the Jewish Museum Ž.Lipšic, and the Center of Tolerance. The museum’s collection displays objects of Jewish culture, photographs, books, historical material and writings.
The Museum of Genocide Victims (Genocido aukų muziejus) is a museum dedicated to the victims of the genocide of the Lithuanian people, which was interpreted during the Soviet occupation. The museum is housed in the building of the Soviet repressive services of the NKVD and KGB which operated here between the second half of 1940 until August 1991. The premises of the prison, of the death room are visible, as well as documents, photographs and maps that show the forced Sovietization process between 1940-1941.
Alexander Pushkin Museum (Literatūrinis A. Puškino muziejus), dedicated to Alexander Pushkin, is housed in the residence of Varvara and Grigori Pushkin in the suburb of Markučiai. Here are 6 rooms with authentic 19th century furniture, plus 21 books by Alexander Pushkin and 34 of his works published when he was still alive.