Vilnius is the capital city of Lithuania, located in the hilly interior of the country, close to its southeastern border with Belarus. It is the second largest city in the Baltic States, with just over half a million inhabitants.
As the only non-seaside capital in the Baltics, it is somewhat harder to reach than the others in this guide. The only route to Vilnius is by bus or plane, and it lies somewhat off the direct route that we took from Riga to Warsaw.
That said, Vilnius is well-worth the visit. It is the top tourist destination in Lithuania and was a major Jewish cultural centre in medieval Europe — sometimes referred to as the “Jerusalem of the North”.
Your Morning — Explore the Old Town
The Old Town of Vilnius is located in a low-lying region ringed by hills, along the banks of a smaller river. Vilnius’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the highest concentration of churches in all of the Baltic States: 28 churches, one for every 700 inhabitants.
I don’t recommend that you try to visit all of them. My top picks would be the Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit (which has an amazing interior), St. John’s Church (part of Vilnius University), and Vilnius Cathedral (see below).
Vilnius University is located in the centre of the Old Town — see the main courtyard, facing St. John’s Church above. It is one of the oldest education centres in northern Europe and the oldest in the Baltic States. The university has religious roots, as you would expect, that established its prestige in the region up to the present day.
While visiting the University, climb the Bell Tower of St. John’s Church for a nice view of the university, spend some time exploring its interconnected courtyards, and check out the murals in the university bookstore!
The Uzupis neighbourhood has a very interesting history in Vilnius. A former Jewish ghetto, the neighbourhood was filled by impoverished artists and vagrants after the Soviet era. Today it has become an artistic and cultural hub for the city, drawing comparisons to Montmartre in Paris and Christiania in Copenhagen — like Christiania, it also declared itself an independent republic in 1997.
Check out the constitution of Uzupis, attached to a wall in Paupio Street, and look for other examples of street art or graffiti, which the neighbourhood is famous for.
Your Afternoon — Climb to Gediminas’ Tower
After finding a lunch spot in the Old Town, I’d recommend you spend your afternoon taking a hike up to Gediminas’ Tower and capture some panoramic views of the city. On the way, you can check out the best church in Vilnius and a beautiful public square, both located in the city centre.
Vilnius Cathedral & Square
On your way to the tower hill, you’ll pass your Vilnius Square, where you will find the Vilnius Cathedral — the most important church in the city. Out of the 28, this is one church that’s definitely worth the visit. The square tends to be filled with tourists, street performers, and locals, but it’s a great place to sit and take in the city for a little while!
Pictured at the beginning of this blog, this ancient tower is a military fortification, built by Gediminas, a Grand Duke of Lithuania. Legends say that Gediminas was told to build the tower in a dream and establish a city around it. Even today, the tower continues to be the most important local and national symbol for Lithuanians and inhabitants of Vilnius alike!
Gediminas Tower is located on a hill, overlooking the Old Town of Vilnius to the south and the modern downtown to the northwest (see a photo of the downtown across the river below). It is not a long climb and the views that it promises are the perfect way to finish a day exploring the city — or a week exploring all of the Baltics!
Thanks for reading my What to Do in Vilnius in One Day guide— part of my series on the Baltic States. Loved reading it or have a recommendation that you’d like to see included? Leave a comment below to let me know!