I am not sure how many people think of Vilnius, Lithuania, when I say I went on vacation to Europe. But it’s a city well worth visiting. And writing about. And since I have an emotional attachment to it more so than an average person, who has never been there, as I sat down to write this blog, I faced two choices of how to present it.
The first one would be to write something poetic like this:
How do you write about a city that you love, yet a city you do not live in? I guess, you try to find words. And these are the words that come to my mind when I think about Vilnius.
Old yet modern. Big yet cozy. Historical, mysterious yet playfully mischievous. If you just walk on the main tourist attraction routes, you see beauty and elegance but the full picture is revealed once you sidetrack into little courtyards, which seem to be living a life of their own…
My second choice – and the one I’m sticking with – was to tell you, my dear reader, what would definitely be worth your time when you visit this beautiful place. Because this advice, although less poetic, is more practical. And you will come up with your own descriptive words once you go there.
Whether you are a religious person, or not, there are so many gorgeous churches from so many different time periods in Vilnius, that it truly is one of the things people do when they visit this lovely city. Here are a few to consider.
Meet up with your friends at the bell tower in the Cathedral Square and start exploring. Visit the Cathedral, which is among the most beautiful in the world. Besides being an active church, it also offers exciting excursions to underground chambers.
While you are on a roll, why not visit another church. St. Anne’s church is a beautiful masterpiece of a Gothic period. It has survived wars and disasters for over 500 hundred years and stands still like a true symbol of Vilnius, even though legend has it that when Napoleon was moving through the city, he wanted to take this church back to Paris on a palm of his hand.
The Bernardine church
The full name is the church of St.Francis of Assisi and it is another spectacular example of gothic architecture. Unlike St.Anne’s, it did suffer from fires more than once but the magnificence and the aura one feels once inside is undeniable.
Go up high for the best views…
The tower sits atop a hill right next to the Palace of Grand Dukes. You can either take an elevator or walk up via a stone path. You will end up at the last remaining tower of what used to be a castle. There is a museum inside and an observation area on top, which opens up incredible 360 degree views of the capital city of Lithuania.
The Hill of Three Crosses
Right across the river Vilnele is the Hill of Three Crosses. Here is where another great panorama opens up. There is a legend that the crosses were placed there in 17th century by some monks as a memory to martyrs. The crosses were rebuilt in 1989 when Lithuania’s movement for independence from the Soviet Union gained ground.
The Bastion Hill
The Bastion was part of the Defence wall that surrounded Vilnius. It is a barbacan, which currently houses a military museum. When you are in the courtyard on the roof, you are treated to yet another angle of the beauty of the city. But when you descend the stairs into a centuries old fortification with gun ports in the wall, you may begin to wonder if this is the place where you might find the infamous Vilnius Basilisk…
… and come back down for more fun
The Palace of Grand Dukes
The Palace is adjacent to the Cathedral. It was just recently rebuilt and is now an active museum of Lithuanian history. It also boasts a gorgeous courtyard, where people can enjoy concerts during the summer months.
This park is right in the heart of the city, surrounded by the famous places I have already mentioned above. For the longest time it was, although popular, but just a simple park and only recently was it renovated. Beautiful fountains, ponds, walking paths, children’s playground – it truly is an oasis in a city that will revive your soul.
Pilies (or Castle) street is the main artery of the Old Town of Vilnius. It is not a very long street but it is filled with life – from restaurants, to street musicians, to ware sellers and art galleries and souvenir shops… Winding narrow streets branch off of it and take you to courtyards and surprise you with wall art…
Vilnius University ensemble
Just take a right off Pilies street and you will end up in the compound of the oldest university in the Baltic States and one of the oldest in Northern Europe (est. 1579), which also happens to be my Alma Mater. The campus features a variety of courtyards named after prominent Lithuanian figures and a fantastic church of St.Johns, which, by the way has an elevator to bring you up to the skies again …
And there you have it. This list is just a scratch on the surface because there are so many more things to see and do not only in Vilnius, but also in the entire country. But I do hope this was enough to add Vilnius to your bucket list of places to visit.
P.S. Photo credits – my father, whose love of Vilnius I inherited, and who is a walking encyclopedia with a keen eye for great photos.