There are so many awesome things to do in Vilnius, Lithuania. The country’s capital is one of my absolute favorite cities in this region of Europe.
Whether you want to explore museums, history, culture, or simply eat your way around Lithuanian cuisine, you can do it all in Vilnius. It’s also one of the greenest cities in Europe (in one of the greenest countries in Europe).
So if you travel here during the summer months, check out some of the parks on the list. During the winter months, well, pack a thick coat and enjoy warming up in the evenings at some of the local restaurants and pubs.
Short on time? Check out my one-day guide to the city.
For fun nightlife and the best bars, you’ll want this article.
What to Do in Vilnius Lithuania
1. Gediminas Tower
Gediminas Castle Tower or Gedimino pilies bokštas in Lithuanian is the last remaining tower from the upper castle in Vilnius.
The original castle was built in 1409 by the Grand Duke Vytautas. The entire turret that you see today was rebuilt for safety and longevity in 1933 by Polish architect Jan Borowski.
To get to the tower, you can either walk up to the top or you can take a small glass cable car from the Lithuanian National Museum (also called the Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania).
To go to the top of the hill is completely free. You don’t need to pay to take in the view at the base of the tower. If you want to go inside the tower, it costs €5.
Inside the tower, there are three floors. The first floor is simply where you pay to enter and head up the staircase. On the second floor, there is an interactive exhibit that shares the history of the tower with visitors.
You can learn about the arrival of the crusaders, the Renaissance period in Vilnius, and what the castle looked like in all of its glory back in the 15th century.
On the third floor, you get to experience a small piece of what it felt like to be part of the Baltic Way. If you’re not familiar with the Baltic Way, I highly recommend reading about it in articles like this one. It was a huge part of Lithuania’s recent history and one that many people who are 35+ years old remember vividly.
2. Vilnius Cathedral
Vilnius Cathedral, or properly known as the Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Ladislaus of Vilnius, is the center point of the city. It is a Roman Catholic cathedral and in fact the main Roman Catholic cathedral in all of Lithuania.
The cathedral sits on top of land that has been a place of worship since pagan times. It is believed that in the pre-Christian days the Baltic Pagan god Perkūnas was worshiped on this very ground.
Archaeologists postulate that when the Lithuanian King Mindaugas (the country’s only king) converted to Christianity in 1251, he ordered for a church to be built in this place. When Mindaugas died in 1263, the church was taken down and pagan worship resumed. The remains of this church were discovered late in the 20th century during renovations.
The first known cathedral to have been documented in this place was built in 1387 when Lithuania officially converted to Christianity as a country. It burnt down shortly after in 1419.
As the second king of Lithuania, Vytautas was about to have his coronation (one that never came), another cathedral was being built to replace the burned one. The walls and pillars of this cathedral that were built back in 1429, still stand to this day.
As Lithuania changed hands over the centuries, at one time part of Poland, and then free, and then part of the USSR, then taken over by the Nazis, and then again handed back to the Soviets, the church underwent long periods of neglect, rebuilding, neglect, rebuilding.
The church that stands now had extensive renovations between 2006 and 2008. You can explore the church on your own or with a guided tour that occurs a few times a day and takes you down into the crypts.
You can also enter the bell tower which stands separately from the cathedral within the square. It costs €5 to enter and you can walk all the way to the top. Check opening hours on their website.
3. Three Crosses
This is a completely free monument worth checking out if for nothing else than the views.
However, it’s worth knowing a little bit of the history of this place before visiting.
Legend has it that seven Franciscan Friars were beheaded on the top of this hill. They arrived in Vilnius sometime around the mid-14th century and began preaching the gospel to people. The pagan citizens of Vilnius were not too happy about it and they burned down the monastery and killed all of the friars.
This story didn’t actually start circulating in writing until the 16th century. Sometime around then (dates are iffy at best), three wooden crosses were placed on the hill to commemorate these martyrs. In 1869, the wooden crosses collapsed and Tsarist authorities did not allow it to be rebuilt.
It wasn’t until 1916 that it was replaced in concrete by artist Antoni Wiwulski. This one was destroyed by the Soviets in 1950. During the independence movement in 1989, they were replaced. You can still see the old crosses behind the monument as you walk up the steps.
In addition to being a place of historical significance, it also has an absolutely incredible view back over Vilnius.
4. Cold War Bunker
History buffs will find this one of the most fascinating things to do in Vilnius.
During the Cold War, over 300 bunkers were built underground in Vilnius. They were built to protect citizens from chemical, biological, and nuclear attack, air bombardment, and any other threats that could possibly befall the city.
The bunkers weren’t just sealed off from the city above, they were also supplied with everything you might need for survival. This includes food, medical supplies, filtered air, measuring devices, and even games to play to keep yourself occupied.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the bunkers were either destroyed, sold off and reconstructed, or simply fell into disrepair. There may still be a few that are in good condition, but they are not open to the public.
Walking through this bunker is truly one of the most incredible experiences that I’ve had in Vilnius. There are several tour options depending on when you are visiting and how many people are in your group. You must go on a tour, you cannot just show up and visit. Find out more on their website.
5. Church of St. Nicholas
The Church of St. Nicholas in Vilnius is the oldest surviving Catholic church in Lithuania. It is also the most historically significant church in Vilnius and one worth checking out, even if just on the way to Šnekutis.
The Church of St. Nicholas was originally built in the 14th century and was first mentioned in writing in 1387. Between 1901 and 1939, this was the only church in Vilnius where you could attend a church service in Lithuanian. After World War II, the main cathedral was closed and St. Nicholas became the de facto Cathedral of Vilnius.
Archaeologists believe that most of what you see today is part of the original church built back in the 14th century. The belfry was added in the 17th century and several sculptures were added in the 1930s. Otherwise, what you see is what was built all those centuries ago, still standing, still operating as a Catholic church today.
6. Bastion of Vilnius
In addition to being home to a very interesting history museum, this bastion was built roughly 4oo years ago as part of the wall that fortified Vilnius. Along the fortification, there were 10 gates (one of which I mention in #7). It had a perimeter around the city of about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles).
Between 1655 and 1671, during long battles with Russia, much of the fortification was destroyed. In the late 18th Century, they turned this whole area into a city dump. It wasn’t until 1987 that it was cleaned up, restored, and turned into a museum.
The museum costs €4 for adults and €2 for kids, students, and pensioners. Inside, you’ll find information about the defense practices that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania used when this bastion was built. There are all types of old weapons here like canons, grenades, and mortars.
Walk through the tunnels of this underground fortification and learn a little bit more about Lithuania’s early history.
7. Gates of Dawn
Of the 10 gates that used to give visitors and residents access to the city through its walls, only one remains.
As you stand on the outside of the walls (on the side along the main busy road), you’ll be able to see firing holes where soldiers could position themselves to shoot intruders.
The gate is now far more famous for its religious links than it is for its history as part of the Vilnius fortification. On the other side of the wall, the side that faces the small pedestrian street, there is a chapel that you can visit.
Inside this chapel is a painting called Madonna of the Gates of Dawn or the Madonna of Vilnius. It is the most famous renaissance painting in Lithuania. It was painted specifically for this chapel in the 17th century. There are a lot of stories tied to this chapel and specifically to this painting.
In 1799, the Russian Empire destroyed the city’s defensive wall. But they didn’t touch the Gate of Dawn. It is speculated that they were afraid of the painting because they had never seen one where the Madonna was not holding the baby Jesus.
Now people from across the region come to this chapel to pray for miracles.
8. Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights
To say this is my “favorite” museum in Vilnius makes it seem like it would be fun. But I will say that it is the museum in Vilnius that has stayed with me the longest. It’s the one that made me want to learn more about the history of Lithuania and delve deeper into its past.
This museum is also commonly referred to as the KGB Museum. During Soviet occupation, it was the headquarters of the infamous Soviet secret police, known as the KGB.
Before the KGB got their hands on it though, it was also the office that the Nazis used as their Lithuania headquarters as WWII ravaged on. Needless to say, it’s not the most uplifting place, but if you have any interest in WWII or Cold War history, this is a very well done museum with tons of information.
The offices have been preserved to look exactly as they did when the Soviets left. There is also a prison in the basement that has been left as it was during the occupation.
It’s also a really fascinating place to learn more about the freedom fighters of Lithuania. These are the men and women who secretly passed messages, kept their books and language alive, and fought against the Soviets across the country.
9. MO Museum
MO Museum is for all of the art lovers out there looking for the best things to do in Vilnius. MO is a contemporary art museum that focuses on artists from around Lithuania.
Most of the exhibits are temporary, so you can come every time you visit Lithuania (or once a month or so if you live here!) and see something completely different.
The museum also hosts concerts, live shows, and other art-centered events throughout the year. Sometimes there are lectures (often in English!) or educational events where you can get involved in creating your own art (or at least learn some basics).
It’s a really beautiful gallery space and one I highly recommend checking out if you enjoy contemporary art. Find out about their events on their website.
10. Vingis Park
The largest park in Vilnius, Vingis Park is the Central Park of the city. This is the place to come to ride bikes, go for a run, meet friends for a walk, or to bring a frisbee and play frisbee golf (there’s a 5-hole course here!).
Vingis means bend in Lithuanian. The park sits along the bend in the Neris River and is 400 acres (162 hectares) of green space right in the city center.
There is a whole outdoor arena here where concerts take place all summer long. Behind the seating area, there are rentals with everything from bicycles and scooters to electric cars (for kids). There are food trucks and ice cream stalls on warm weekends.
Best of all, it’s where you can sit back in the evenings as the sun is setting and watch the hot air balloons take off into the sky. Or better, yet, do #11 and take part.
11. Take a Hot Air Balloon
This is absolutely one of the best things to do in Vilnius. If you have never taken a hot air balloon ride before, then I can’t recommend this enough. Even if you have, you haven’t taken one like this.
Vilnius is the only capital city in Europe that allows hot air balloons to fly directly over the city center. You’ll float up over the red rooves of the city, taking all of the sites you visited during the day, and you’ll toast with a glass of champagne as the sunsets along the horizon.
Lithuania is one of the flattest countries I’ve ever been to and getting up above this flat terrain means that on a clear day you can see for miles and miles. It’s magical.
12. TV Tower
The TV Tower in Vilnius is both a fantastic view and a place of historical significance.
It is the tallest structure in Lithuania (not to be confused with the tallest building in the city, which is also the tallest building in the Baltics). It is 326.5 meters or 1,071 feet tall and has a restaurant and viewpoint at the top. The viewpoint and restaurant sit at 165 meters or 541 feet.
On January 13, 1991, the Soviets attempted to seize the TV Tower (and indeed re-seize Lithuania as a whole to rejoin the USSR). A large gathering of civilians stood at the base to protect it. The Soviet tanks surrounded the tower and opened fire. During this open fire, 14 unarmed civilians were killed and 700 were injured.
Inside the TV Tower, there is a small museum that explains more of what happened that night. Outside the tower, there are small plaques that surround it marking the location of where each of those people died.
13. Rent Bikes or Scooters
Trafi allows you to call a taxi, take the bus, rent a bike from the local bike-share network, and grab an electric scooter. It is your one-stop shop for all transportation in the city. It even helps you figure out the bus you need to take and the nearest stop to where you are standing.
There are tons of electric scooters and bikes around Vilnius (the app will show you where they are). You can grab one for a very low price and ride all over the city. This is the best way to get around in my opinion and allows you to explore the parks, river paths, and more of the city in less time than simply walking everywhere.
14. Walk (or Ride) along the River
When I say “the river” I really mean one of the rivers. The city has two which are beautiful and worth wandering along (or riding along!).
The Neris River is the largest river that runs through the city and if you hopped on a boat you could take it all the way to Kaunas.
There is a long pathway that takes you nearly the entire length of the river within the city limits. You can walk, jog, or grab a bike using your Trafi app and ride along the river.
The other river, the Vilnia River, runs through the leafy neighborhoods of Užupis, Paupys, and into the park at Belmontas. My favorite place to experience it is in Užupis and at Bernardine Garden.
During the summer months, there are people kayaking down this river, which eventually feeds into the larger Neris River. When it’s hot, people come here in their bathing suits to sit in the river and cool down. It’s clean, crisp, and beautiful at any season.
15. Take a Walking Tour
Like any good European city, Vilnius has a ton of “free” walking tours that are available. If you’ve never taken a free walking tour before, it’s basically a pay-what-you-feel model of tour.
You take the tour with an experienced and knowledgeable guide around the city (there are different options available) and at the end of the tour you give the tour guide a “tip.” This is the only way that the guide gets paid. Depending on the length of the tour, I tend to give anywhere between €5 and €10 per person.
I’ve taken two excellent tours with this free walking tour company. The tour of the old town is a great way to get to know the city and some of its history. They go back to nearly the very beginning and share tidbits of information that lead you back to the present day.
The other tour that they do, which I really loved, is the undiscovered city tour. The tour takes you to a neighborhood that I never would have known about, just to the north of the city center, and you explore the Soviet history of the city. Our guide shared stories that her grandfather had told her about life in the 70s and 80s.
16. Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania
The Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania is a museum that is just behind the cathedral. It was originally built in the 15th century for the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the future Kings of Poland.
More recently it served as one of the main locations for meetings with heads of European countries during Lithuania’s presidency of the Council of the European Union. The palace’s largest hall can hold up to 512 people.
During the summer the palace hosts concerts, comedians, film nights, lectures, and other events in the outdoor courtyard.
The museum is quite large and has several “routes.” Depending on your interests, you can visit just one of the “routes” which each cost €2 or you can pay to see the entire museum for €5.
There are four routes in total including history and architecture, reconstructed interior areas of the palace, weaponry and everyday life, and the museum exhibition center which usually houses an art or history exhibit that changes regularly.
Read more about the different things you can see at the museum here.
17. St. John’s Bell Tower
Located on the Vilnius University Campus (also worth wandering around), this bell tower offers, in my opinion, the best city center views around.
For €5, you can go up the glass elevator or brave the 198 wooden stairs to the top of the bell tower. The bell tower viewing platform sits at 45-meters tall or 147-feet.
Originally built in the 17th century, you can be sure that the glass elevator and restructuring that has taken place over the years is sturdy enough to keep you and all the other tourists safe.
18. The New Arsenal of National Museum of Lithuania
The New Arsenal building is the home of the National Museum of Lithuania. I was originally thrown off by the name thinking it was just going to be an armory museum of sorts, but it is perhaps the best museum in the city.
The museum delves not only into the history of the country but also into the different ethnic cultures that exist around the country. All of the buildings around this complex including the New Arsenal, the cathedral, the palace, and Gediminas Tower are all part of what was the upper and lower castle of Vilnius.
During the 16th century, the New Arsenal was the private residence of Sigismund Augustus, the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland. It then housed artillery or other military paraphernalia from the time of Russian occupation in the 18th century until the start of World War II.
Tickets cost €4 for adults and there is a fantastic audio guide to go along with it.
19. Walk 100km around Vilnius
Ok, I don’t recommend doing this all at once. But for people who love the outdoors, this is one of the best things to do in Vilnius.
The path was opened fully in 2016 and it basically joins up 10 different trails around the city. Most of the trails are unpaved, making them very popular with distance runners, walkers, and cyclists.
Check out the website here to find out about path access, getting there, and to get maps of each of the trails.
They are relatively easy to follow. There are markers around all of the paths to follow if there is ever a split in the path or a turn to make at any point.
While it’s mostly a great thing for those that are living in Vilnius, it’s also a wonderful way to explore different parts of Vilnius. If you are going to be spending any length of time here, do as the locals do and get out to explore nature.
20. Explore Different Neighborhoods
If you are going to be in Vilnius for more than a few days, you should without a doubt get out of the different neighborhoods besides the old town to get to know the city better.
- Užupis – even if you only have a few days in Vilnius, this is one of the best central neighborhoods to visit. It’s artist, quirky, beautiful, and has some of the best pizza in the city. Watch my video about Užupis here.
- Žvėrynas – one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Vilnius, it’s also one of the most beautiful. Located just outside of Vingis Park, it’s easy to explore both in a single morning or afternoon.
- Paupys – Located just next to Užupis, Paupys has a beautiful flower market, quiet streets, a ton of green space, and really excellent cafes.
- Šipiškės – This is the neighborhood you would visit if you went on the undiscovered walking tour I mentioned above. If you don’t have time for an entire tour, at least take a stroll through the neighborhood to see all of the old wooden houses.
21. Take a Day Trip to Trakai
No trip to Vilnius could be complete without a trip to this incredible castle. One of the best things to do in Vilnius isn’t technically in Vilnius. But it’s worth the trip. It is the fairytale castle of Lithuania and should not be missed.
It is an easy 30-minute bus ride from downtown Vilnius. You can also get there by train, but the trains are less frequent and slightly more expensive. The bus only costs €2 and goes at least once an hour, sometimes more during the busy summer months.
You can find out about bus times here. The buses leave from the main bus terminal in Vilnius.
Summer is the most popular time to come here. You can spend the entire day at this outdoor park and museum. The castle is a whopping €12 during the summer (it’s only €8 during the winter). However, I think it’s worth every cent. It is so beautiful and there’s so much to explore within the walls of the castle.
I found this article to be very helpful while planning my trip to Trakai.
Besides the castle, you can also take a boat ride around the lake. There are bikes to rent and paths that you can follow around the lake. If you rent a car in Vilnius, you can drive out to some of the smaller beaches and towns, and museums around the area as well.