Vilnius isn’t really a place that too many people seem to visit. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that the average person in the United Kingdom couldn’t correctly identify which country it is the capital city of, let alone locate its precise location on a map.
But that’s a real shame, because Vilnius is one of the most underrated cities in Europe, and yet its virtually anonymous reputation doesn’t lend to its ubiquitous appeal and beautiful appearance.
It is the epitome of don’t judge a book by its cover – or rather ‘don’t just stick to what you know.’
There’s plenty to see and plenty to do and it’s only a small city, so it plays into the hands of any tourist as virtually everywhere (with the exception of the TV Tower) is reachable by foot.
It is a blend of both old and new, and its historical old town and modern business district are supplemented by greenery and the Neris river, which flows through the city.
And with Ryanair and Wizz Air both offering low-cost direct flights from a total of seven UK destinations, now is the time to go and explore this relative urban mystery.
Here is what you can get up to with 48 hours in Vilnius.
You could, alternatively, travel to Vilnius via coach from Riga with Lux Express, and hit more than one country on your travels.
To get from Vilnius airport to the city itself, take the train. The station is clearly signposted, and just a couple of minutes’ walk from the terminal. The journey takes about 15 minutes and costs less than €1 one way, which is much cheaper than getting a taxi, though cabs are readily available.
Where to stay
City Hotels Rudninkai have newly refurbished, modern rooms at around £30 per night for a double. They provide unbelievable value, and in addition to being in a great location, just on the edge of the old town, the hotel also has a spa, restaurant, beer garden and helpful staff.
Flight time to Vilnius is just a little under three hours, so if you can get a morning flight you can arrive at your hotel right around lunchtime.
Once you’ve checked in, or dumped your bags because your room won’t be ready until the 2pm check-in time, grab a quick bite. Many of the convenience stores sell hot dogs, which are perfect for lunch as they’re cheap, tasty and can be found all over the city centre.
Get your bearings, and then head down to Gediminas Avenue (A), Vilnius’ answer to Oxford Street, where you’ll find plenty of shops and things going on.
Gediminas Avenue is also home to the Museum of Genocide Victims (B), which is housed inside the former KGB (the Soviet Union’s secret agency) headquarters, where the crimes of the Soviet regime were planned and executed for 50 years.
The exhibits inside cover the occupation of Lithuania by Soviet forces, and range from the fallout of World War II through to the lasting impression that the occupation has had on the country, with the museum giving perspective from the sides of both agents and citizens.
The Museum of Genocide Victims is a short walk back down Gediminas Avenue from the Money Museum of the Bank of Lithuania (C), who provide an interesting and interactive look at the different currencies of the world.
On a nice summer’s day, a walk down to Bernardine Park (D) just before sunset, and take a picturesque walk along the Neris, where you’re bound to bump in to some of the local ducks.
For dinner, head back towards Pilies Street (E), where there is an abundance of quaint restaurants and cafés that offer food to whet your appetite.
Sample traditional Lithuanian cuisine – think meat and potatoes – at Gabi Restaurant (F), which is situated down one of the alleyways off the street. Here you can get a stein of the local beer Svyturys for under €4, which works out to be less than £1.50 per pint.
Get up early and ask the receptionist, concierge or host at your hotel to call a taxi to take you to Lithuania’s tallest structure, Vilnius TV Tower (G), which should cost around £5.
The tower played a major role in the evens of January 1993 where 13 civilians were killed and a thousand injured opposing Soviet seizure of the structure in the wake of the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania.
There’s a museum and memorial in remembrance of the victims, but the big pull is the amazing, panoramic view over Vilnius. Just make sure not to come down until you’ve finished, as each ticket is valid for just one return trip in the elevator.
If you want to be uber-prepared, make sure you order a return taxi. If not, it’s approximately about a five minute walk to the nearest trolleybus which can take you back into town.
Don’t forget to check out Gediminas’ Tower (H), which watches over the city centre. It stands on a grassy knoll, and can be reached by foot. But an inexpensive trip up Tower Hill in the funicular is worth doing for unfolding views during the ascent.
The tower is the remaining part of a castle complex which stood there centuries ago, and inside is a museum showcasing archaeological findings from the hill and its surrounding areas, as well as a floor dedicated to the Baltic Way, a human chain began at the tower and stretched all the way to Tallinn, Estonia.
There is also a cracking vantage point from the tower’s roof, providing a great place from which to view the old town and the rest of Vilnius.
Gediminas’ Tower also rises over the Lithuanian National Museum (I), and whilst it provides a great photo opportunity, the Museum itself isn’t all that good. Although photography buffs may appreciate the ethnographic exhibition about the lives of the people of rural Lithuania in the midst of the Soviet regime.
Spend the rest of the daytime roaming around the rest of the old town, which bares plenty of attractive buildings.
Head down to Town Hall Square (J), which at night comes alive with plenty of places to eat, drink and dance the night away.
There are plenty of different types of grub to choose from, and for a post-meal drink try nearby Crazy Bull (K), which is on the top floor of the building to the left (as you look at it) of the town hall. Dirty Duck, a pub, is also a nice place for drinks and is situated in the same building.
They serve reasonably priced drinks, serve food, show major sporting events and have pool tables. What more could you want for a night on the town?
If you can manage to shake off the alcohol from the night before, get up early and check out the Gates of Dawn (L) – a religious site that Pope John Paul II visited in 1993.
And if there’s time dash to Vilnius Cathedral (M), and tour the crypts beneath it, if you can fit it in before it’s time to leave.