The Old town of Vilnius is one of largest old towns in Northern Europe, included into UNESCO World Heritage list.  Vilnius has the names of Little Rome, North Athens and Little Jerusalem.

Churches, museums and living houses of the Old Town were built over several centuries, creating a blend of many different architectural styles. See the iconic buildings of Vilnius: Cathedral Basilica, the most important place of the country‘s Catholics; 16th century Gates of Dawn – the main place of Pilgrims; the historic symbol of the city – Gediminas Castle; or a superb example of Flamboyant Gothic architecture – 15th century St. Anne’s Church.

Today, Vilnius has gained a reputation as a cosmopolitan, safe and friendly city.

Vilnius Old Town, top places to visit in Lithuania
Museums in Vilnius
Dating from the 13th century the castle was rebuilt in 1419 by Grand Duke Vytautas following the great fire of Vilnius. In 1610 it was used as a prison for the ruling classes. During the 1655-1661 Russian occupation the towers and defensive walls were almost completely destroyed.

Inside the tower itself find models of the castle as it was in the 14th and 18th centuries. The view on a good day is recommended. The walk to the top is a bit of a struggle for many, although there are benches thoughtfully provided along the way. Alternatively, use the funicular-type train which runs up and down the hill’s northern slope. 

Address: Castle Hill
The sign outside reads that between 1940 and 1991 this building housed the representative institutions of the NKVD and KGB. The exhibits inside relate almost exclusively to the period of oppression and the so-called genocide of the Lithuanian people by the Communist regime.

Understandably a must-see part of any trip to Vilnius for people wishing to understand this often bleak and violent period in the country’s history. Between 1941 and 1944 the building was controlled by the Gestapo. As a testament to the suffering endured by the ethnic Lithuanians, especially under the lunacy of Stalin, the place is a must-see for any visitor to Vilnius.

Address: Aukų st. 2a
Lithuania’s oldest museum, parts of the collection inside this intriguing history lesson date back to the 13th century. On permanent display are religious and secular items highlighting the cultural and ethnographic life of the nation, including recreations of traditional homesteads, clothing, paintings and much more.

The museum also puts on temporary shows, of which some are truly outstanding. It is a vital key for unlocking the secrets of the Lithuanian people.

Housed inside the charming 17th-century Chodkevičiai (Chodkiewicz) family palaceis this splendid little museum.

Enjoy a great collection of local painting, drawing and sculpture plus a couple of rooms stuffed full of exemplary furniture. All of it representing the last several hundred years of achievement. They also put on temporary exhibitions here, of which some are well worth checking out.

MO Museum, a personal initiative of Lithuanian scientists and philanthropists Danguolė and Viktoras Butkus, functioned as an art museum without walls for close to ten years.

The collection of 5000 modern and contemporary pieces contains major Lithuanian artworks from the 1950s to this day. From October 18th, 2018 MO has become an excellent place to spend free time. MO invites visitors to attend exhibitions, film screenings, educational activities, concerts and events geared to all age groups. One of MO’s goals is to create an active community of MOdernists who support the idea of MO and want to help us create a new kind of museum – together!

Address: Pylimo st. 17

The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania was originally constructed in the 15th century for the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the future Kings of Poland. After its demonisation in 1801, work on a new palace started in 2002 on the site of the original building and it took 16 years to complete it in 2018.

Visitors to the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania can see both permanent and temporary exhibitions. There are four routes to choose from, which presents history and cultural heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and its rulers, the rich and important collections of archaeological artifacts and European decorative and fine arts from the Gothic to the Baroque periods as well as important materials related to Lithuanian philology. 

Churches in Vilnius
Once forming part of the city’s original defensive walls and constructed on the site of an earlier wooden church dating from the middle of the 15th century at the behest of an order of Bernardine monks. The current vast Gothic church with Baroque and Renaissance additions dates from 16th century.
As the old photographs on display show, the church interior was truly breathtaking before the Soviet authorities took control of the building. Returned to the Bernardine monks soon after independence, a mammoth restoration project continues to this day. Current highlights include 14 magnificent rococo altars and the oldest known crucifix in the country, dating from the 15th century. The neighboring monastery is the oldest part of the ensemble. Once famed for its extensive library and independent-minded monks, the monastery was closed soon after the failed Uprising of 1863 and turned into a barracks for tsarist troops before falling into the hands of the city’s Art Academy at the end of WWI.
Address: Maironio str. 8
The most important Catholic building in Lithuania, Vilnius Cathedral first built in 1251 by a newly converted Grand Duke Mindaugas on the site of a supposed pagan temple.
After Mindaugas’ death in 1263 the church was given back to the Catholic Church on the country’s official conversion to Christianity in 1387. The current building dates to around 1419, with countless modifications and additions made after that. Its present Neo Classical form is largely down to the work of the Lithuania’s first true architect, Laurynas Stuoka Gucevičius. The rather plain nave betrays eleven chapels, among them the must see High Baroque Chapel of St. Casimir, Lithuania’s patron saint. It is one of the country’s national treasures. The three statues of St. Stanislaus, Helena and Casimir on the roof are representing Poland, Russia and Lithuania. In 1950 the building was confiscated by Soviets. Spending several years as an art gallery and even mooted as a car repair workshop at one time, the Cathedral was returned to the Catholic Church in 1988. The standing bell tower, a popular contemporary meeting place, was originally part of one of the gates in the city’s defensive wall. It has been added to several times over the centuries which gives it its peculiar shape.
Address: Katedros str.1
Unquestionably one of the city’s most famous landmarks is St. Anne’s Church. The history of it starts with the alleged construction in the 14th century of a wooden house of worship on this spot in honor of Ona, the wife of Vytautas the Great.
The first historical records of a church here date from 1394, although the current Gothic masterpiece is believed to have been built between 1495 and 1500 to a design by the Bohemian architect Benedikt Rejt (1453-1534). Unlike other historical churches in Vilnius, St. Anne’s has managed to escape the ravages of time almost unscathed and is arguably the least changed of them all. Composed of 33 different styles of brick assembled into a delicate and intricate whole, the effect is simply quite stunning. The interior is surprisingly free of ostentation, although this is hardly needed due to the spectacular design of the structure. The free standing bell tower has nothing to do with the original design, being built only in 1873. A visiting Emperor Napoleon in 1812 famously if somewhat apocryphally noted he’d like to take the building back to Paris in the palm of his hand.
Address: Maironio str. 8
Believed to have been built on the site of worship to Milda, the pagan goddess of love. This breathtaking Late Baroque masterpiece was commissioned to celebrate victory over the Russians in 1668 by Michael Casimir Pac, the Grand Hetman of the Lithuanian armies.
Financed by two of Pac’s cousins and completed under several master craftsmen, the rather plain façade betrays an interior by Giovanni Pietro Perti and Giovanni Maria Galli that’s quite simply out of this world. Containing over 2,000 astonishing stucco moldings representing miscellaneous religious and mythological scenes. Of equal magnificence are the 20th century altar containing a wooden figure of Christ, Antakalnio Jėzus (Jesus of Antakalnis) which features real human hair brought from Rome in 1700 and the Latvian chandelier made of brass and glass beads and dating from 1905.
Places of Interest in Vilnius
Although more famous for his painting, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911) has quite a reputation as a composer.
This is the house in which the great man lived for a short time in a small room that can be visited. The rest of the building, which during Čiurlionis’ time was both a family house and a shop, features reproductions of his paintings and a small concert space.
Address: Savičiaus str. 11
Completed in 1522, the Dawn Gate is the only remaining gate from the city’s original defensive walls.
As was common at the time, an image of the Virgin Mary was placed above all gates to protect the city, and the story of the Dawn Gate starts from this simple historic fact. The current image, known as The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy, was painted on eight pieces of oak in around 1630 by an unknown artist. Then it was embellished with gold and silver about 40 years after that and was housed inside a purpose-built chapel above the gate in 1706. It is believed to have magic healing powers. Interestingly, the Dawn Gate is revered by both the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and is such an important part of the city’s cultural heritage that it remained open throughout the Soviet occupation. Watch closely as people walking underneath say a silent prayer. The chapel is open to the public and is accessed via a small door on the left as you’re walking up the hill.
Address: Aušros Vartų str.12
This highly recommended permanent outdoor gallery on Literatų street is dedicated to writers past and present who have all left their mark on the city.
Comprised of small, mixed-media prints, drawings and paintings celebrating everyone from Jonas Mekas to Czesław Miłosz to Romain Gary. The gallery, all the work of local artists, grew from humble beginnings in 2008 and now features over 100 superb pieces.
Address: Literatų str.
The official residence of the President of Lithuania, the Presidential Palace started life in the 14th century as a much smaller structure built at the behest of the city’s first Bishop Andrzej Jastrzębiec.
Many illustrious figures have spent a night in the building over the centuries, among them Tsar Alexander I, Napoleon Bonaparte and Polish national hero Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935) to name but a few. After independence in 1990 the building served several purposes until assuming its current role in 1997. The presidential flag can be seen flying over the building when the President is in residence or in the city. Changing of the Guard takes place on Sundays at 12:00.
Address: S. Daukanto Aikštė 3/8
Established in 1579 and one of the oldest universities in Eastern Europe, the splendid ensemble that makes up Vilnius University’s main campus buildings embraces just about every major architectural style of the last 400 years.
Originally belonging to the Catholic Church, the University became a secular seat of learning in 1773 and has remained so ever since. Closed for much of the 19th and the first 18 years of the 20th century. Famous past students who’ve studied here include the Polish Romantic poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki, the Lithuanian writer and historian Simonas Daukantas (see him on any 100 Lt note) and the Lithuania-born Polish Nobel Prize-winning author Czesław Miłosz. Vilnius University houses the oldest library in the country. It is also famed for its lovely 13 courtyards. The ensemble was fully restored in 1979 and is well worth investigating.
Address: Universiteto str. 3

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