I could spend hours talking about amazing Lithuania, a small country of about three million. Its imposing architecture still bears the marks of the past and its beautiful churches and castles have an enchanting atmosphere. This Baltic country, close to Belarus, Poland, Estonia and Latvia, has a sweetness and charm I never expected, especially in its quirky capital. I want to show you my favourite things to do in Vilnius, so you can add this underrated city to your Eastern European itinerary!
Lithuania’s currency is the euro, which makes life much easier for us travellers (no boring conversions!) and getting there is easier than you might think, with budget-friendly Ryanair operating flights from many countries such as Ireland, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The charming historical centre of Vilnius, the curiously delicious cuisine and the enchanting island of Trakai will make you want to immerse yourself in this historic, magical country. And if you don’t believe me, here are the top nine things to do in Vilnius which will make you realise you need to visit right away. Let’s go!
Explore Vilnius architecture and The Old Town
A colourful, historic city that’s packed full of character. Among the breathtaking buildings you’ll discover winding alleyways that lead to beautiful gardens where you can hide away. The UNESCO-listed Old Town mixes medieval charm with high-end designer stores, its sidewalks lined with so many small cafes and local restaurants that it’s impossible to choose which one to sit at! The city is one of the cleanest in Europe, and when I visited in spring it was brought to life by hundreds of colourful flowers in bloom.
Take a free walking tour of the capital
As any self-respecting backpacker should do when planning a trip, I researched free things to do in Vilnius, and what better way to start the day than by listening to local stories and learning about the city? Arriving at the meeting point, I met my guide Milda, a friendly Lithuanian who loves my home county Brazil. Between sights we exchanged stories about our cultures. After the tour she took us to a local restaurant, but food is a topic for later!
You don’t pay for the free tour service, but if you’re happy with the experience you should leave an amount you can afford as a tip for the guide. In Milda’s case, I also went to Trip Advisor to recommend her personally – she was that great! This is one of my absolute favourite things to do in Vilnius.
Visit the independent Republic of Uzupis
Right next to the historic centre of Vilnius is a district called “Uzupio Res Publika”, which was declared independent in 1997 and is considered a country within Lithuania. The people living here have autonomy, as well as their own president and national anthem. The local constitution features bonkers laws like: “everyone has the right to die, but that is not an obligation” 😲 Take a walk through here and you’ll soon realise you’re in a different environment when you see sculptures and artworks created by local artists scattered around the streets. It has a similar vibe to Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiania or Ljubljana’s Metelkova. Be sure to check out the statue of an angel in the centre of the district that’s considered the guardian of the Republic.
Stay in an awesome hostel
A good hostel is key for travelling on a budget and meeting incredible people along the way. When choosing a hostel, I always think about the location, check the reviews from other guests and (obviously) the price. In Vilnius, I stayed in B&B&B&B&B – yep, that’s actually the name! The cleanliness was top notch, the rooms are big, with plug sockets on every bunk bed (very important!) and the hostel is central enough to be able to do everything on foot. If you’re after a night out, the hostel has a bar with electronic music that goes into the late hours. It’s also close to the station that takes you to the airport, bus terminals and nearby cities. Prices start from £8 a night, so what are you waiting for?
Eat unusual, but downright delicious, local cuisine
I had heard that potatoes are the staple food of Lithuania, but when I ordered a very famous dish known as cepelinai and the menu translation said “potato with fat sauce”, I was a bit scared. I decided to give it a go anyway, and was pleasantly surprised by the tasty dumpling dish I was served. The potato is a bit jelly-like and the sauce was literally fat based with bits of meat in it. Deliciously calorific and different to anything I’ve tried before. Be sure to also try ceburekai, a kind of pasty or empanada stuffed with a variety of meats.
The local hot dog is also a good choice, sold in kiosks around the city and great as a quick, cheap snack on the go. I’m sure you don’t need prompting, but you also need to taste the local beers that typically have a floral, fruity aroma.
Spot quirky monuments
On the streets of Vilnius you’re bound to bump into some unusual monuments, like a colourful statue of an intricately decorated egg. Little curiosities like this are what made me fall in love with the city! In the Republic of Uzupis your eyes will never get bored; it’s packed with quirky features including a statue of Jesus as a backpacker – well worth an Instagram post! Other local artworks in the area include a swing under a bridge that’s decorated with ‘love locks’ and some vibrant graffiti walls.
Visit the incredible Vilnius Cathedral
Also known as St. Stanislaus Basilica, the Roman architecture of Lithuania’s main Catholic church will blow your mind. It looks over a square in Vilnius’ historic centre where you’ll spot plenty of other travellers and their cameras looking for the perfect angle. Near the entrance of the cathedral there’s a famous plaque, and it’s believed that stepping over it and turning around three times will fulfil your wishes. Of course I went for a spin!
Lithuanians were the last pagan people in Europe, but today Christianity is commonly practised throughout the country and the number of magnificent churches is astounding.
Visit the rest of Eastern Europe from Vilnius
One of my favourite things to do in Vilnius… is to get out of Vilnius! Only kidding, but in about 4 hours by bus from Vilnius’ main station you can arrive into beautiful Latvia and its exciting capital city Riga – the nightlife capital of the region! Lux Express and Ecolines buses run this route. They’re clean and comfortable, they have TVs on board and after about one and a half movies you’ll be in a brand new country ready for a whole new adventure. And guess what? In four more hours you could also visit the beautiful capital of Estonia, Tallinn. Along this journey between Latvia and Estonia I watched the most incredible sunset – the driver even stopped so we could get out and appreciate it!
Tallinn 📷 @sapegin
Visit Trakai – the icing on the cake!
Located about 45 minutes by bus from the capital, Trakai was by far the highlight of my travels through Lithuania. The short trek from the bus station is well worth it when you get to see the castle, overlooking the lake with the ‘Trakai’ sign and an array of colourful houses providing an epic backdrop. Seriously, you won’t be able to stop taking photos. It offers a mix of romantic and adventurous attractions with absolutely breathtaking sunsets. The red-brick castle that bears the same name as the city is surrounded by a lake and lush, green hills. The view of the castle is so outstanding that I didn’t even venture inside, I was content just checking out its medieval exterior, but I managed to go to the gate and take a peek.
In the town’s cosy restaurants I tasted more of the local beer and the delicious ceburekai with a killer view. I’d strongly recommend this short trip from Vilnius for romantic getaways, but solo travellers will also love the experience.
So, these are a few of my favourite things to do in Vilnius. Has it made it on to your list yet? If you’ve already visited, let me know some of your favourite spots in the comments below. Happy travels!
About the author:
I’m Paula, a writer from Minas Gerais, Brazil, who’s passionate about travel and fashion. Favourite place in the world: Netherlands. Travel dream: to explore Israel. Follow me on Instagram to enjoy my selfies and photos taken by strangers on my travels 📷.