One Day In Vilnius (The Best 24-Hour Itinerary)

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I recently had the pleasure of visiting the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius for just one day before heading out on a cycling tour of the country. Having never been to Vilnius, and filled with energy and excitement I wanted to see and do as much as physically possible in the little time I had.

Vilnius is a relatively small capital city, as such in a full day here you can see the vast majority of the main tourist attractions. However, if you have the chance I’d highly recommend extending your trip to two or three days and taking a day trip to other nearby towns and cities too.

Morning

You’ll begin your morning in Vilnius Old Town which is one of the best preserved old towns in Northern Europe, and as a result, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 due to its exceptional value in terms of architecture, history, and cultural significance.

Cathedral Square

The Cathedral Square here is one of the most popular and significant gathering places for both locals and tourists in the city and has long been a key location for public ceremonies, gatherings, and celebrations.

The Cathedral Square is framed by a small number of notable structures and landmarks including a statue of Grand Duke Gediminas, one of the most revered rulers of Lithuania and the Vilnius Cathedral, more formally known as the Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Ladislaus of Vilnius.

Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Ladislaus of Vilnius

The Vilnius Cathedral is one of the most iconic and important religious buildings in Lithuania with a history that is estimated to date back to the 13th century. Over the centuries, the cathedral has been rebuilt several times, adopting various architectural styles with the current neoclassical facade being established in the late 18th century.

The cathedral is free to enter and inside you’ll find a variety of pieces of art as well as a crypt where many notable figures from Lithuania’s history are buried, including several Grand Dukes of Lithuania.

If you have some extra time during your morning in Vilnius then consider going up the bell tower of Vilnius Cathedral.

The Bell Tower is 52 metres tall (57 metres including the cross) and is a heritage symbol of Vilnius. Entry into The Bell Tower is €6 for adults and the height provides magnificent panoramic views across the entire city.

Gediminas Tower

From Vilnius Cathedral it’s a short walk or cable car ride (for just €1 per person, each way) up to Gediminas Tower. This 3-story brick tower was originally part of a castle (Gediminas Castle Tower) constructed in the 15th century and sits upon a hill which makes for fantastic views across the city, especially if you happen to be there at sunrise or sunset.

With just one day in Vilnius, I personally opted for a free walking tour of the city. This guided tour is hosted by a local guide and covers the vast majority of the major landmarks in the city centre over a period of 2 – 3 hours.

St. Anne’s Church

Heading back down to the city centre, I recommend taking a short stroll through the Vilnius University campus courtyards as you head towards St. Anne’s Church. This Roman Catholic church and a prime example of the Flamboyant Gothic architectural style, making it one of the city’s most striking landmarks and a great place to visit while in Vilnius.

Given my short time in Vilnius, I also chose to stay in the luxury four-star Artagonist Hotel on Pilies Street. This way I was in close proximity to Vilnius Old Town and could really maximise my one day in the city.

Afternoon

When it comes to lunch, I recommend heading to Pilies Street which is filled with quaint shops, cafes, and beautiful architecture. I personally ate at Grey which is located at the end of the street on the corner.

Literature Street

After lunch, I recommend heading to Literatų Gatvė (Literature Street) which is located just off Pilies Street. This is a unique street much like an open-air gallery which has been dedicated to Lithuanian writers and poets.

This street was first established in 2009 when Vilnius was designated as the European Capital of Culture however, since then the street has grown to feature more than 200 plaques and is often photographed and featured on social media.

Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights (KGB Museum)

From Literature Street it’s an easy 20-minute walk along Gedimino pr to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, also known as the KGB Museum.

The Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights is situated inside the former KGB building where the crimes of the Soviet regime were planned and executed for fifty years. During your visit you can see;

  • Former KGB prison cells
  • The premises where death sentences were implemented
  • Modern exhibitions

This museum of genocide victims does an incredible job of educating visitors about the loss of independence that Lithuania faced in the middle of the 20th century, repressions by Soviet authorities, and the self-sacrificing and persistent fight for independence.

The Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights is only open Wednesday through Sunday. As such if you’re visiting on a Monday or Tuesday then you’ll need to exchange a visit here for an alternative attraction.

In this case, I’d recommend either visiting the church of St. Peter, the National Museum of Lithuania or the church of St. John.

Republic of Uzupis

On your way back into the city, take a stroll through Užupis. This neighbourhood was long considered a more impoverished part of the city, mostly inhabited by craftsmen, tradesmen, and the Jewish community. However, the post-Soviet era saw the region undergoing a significant transformation, which has coloured its present-day character.

On April 1st, 1997, the residents of Užupis declared their neighbourhood an independent republic. While the declaration was, in essence, an April Fool’s Day joke, the sentiment has endured, with the community commemorating their “independence day” annually.

A cornerstone of this self-proclaimed republic’s identity is the neighbourhood’s own Constitution which is displayed proudly on a wall in several languages. This constitution lists both humorous and poignant rights, such as the right of “a dog to be a dog” and the acknowledgement that “people have the right to have no rights.”

Gates of Dawn

Before dinner, I recommend visiting the nearby Gate of Dawn. This is the only surviving gate out of the original nine gates in the city’s defensive walls which were built in the 16th century. These walls were constructed to protect Vilnius from potential invaders.

However, over time most parts of the wall were torn down, leaving the Gate of Dawn as a lasting relic of the city’s medieval fortifications. Above the gate, you’ll find a chapel which houses a portrait of the Virgin Mary.

This distinct portrait without baby Jesus is deeply venerated not only by the city’s Catholic population but also by Orthodox Christian believers. Many believe that this painting has miraculous powers, which has led to its widespread reverence, making it one of the best places, and most popular places to visit in all of Vilnius.

Being that above the gate is a chapel, the public is free to enter this area. However, during select times of the day, the window shutters between the cathedral and the street below open. This allows you to see the street below from the cathedral, or the portrait of the Virgin Mary from the street.

Evening

For dinner, I recommend heading to Senatorių Pasažas. This food court houses several of the best restaurants in all of Vilnius, with many benefiting from both indoor and outdoor seating. We personally chose to eat at Nineteen18 here, however, this is an intimate 42-seater restaurant and therefore I highly recommend reserving a table in advance.

Presidential Palace

Across the street from Senatorių Pasažas you’ll find the Presidential Palace. This is the official residence and office of the President of Lithuania and is used for official state ceremonies, meetings with foreign dignitaries, and other presidential functions.

The history of this palace dates back to the 14th century. However, over the centuries, the palace has undergone numerous reconstructions and renovations, reflecting various architectural styles from Gothic to Classical.

I recommend visiting this palace on an evening, as in warm-weather months, the courtyard and park here are open to the public from 18:00 to 23:00 on Monday through Friday and 11:00 to 23:00 on weekends and holidays.

Entrance to the Presidential Palace Courtyard and Park is done via the University Street gates or the security checkpoint at 28 Totorių Street. All visitors are required to go through security screening and have their bags checked. 

If you happen to be visiting Vilnius on a Sunday then I highly recommend trying to visit the Presidential Palace during the daytime too. That’s because on Sundays there are free tours of the palace in both Lithuanian and English between 10:00am and 3:00pm (registration must be made online at least three days in advance) and a solemn flag hoisting ceremony at 12:00pm.

Participating in the flag hoisting ceremony are soldiers of the Honour Guard Company of the Lithuanian Armed Forces dressed not only in ceremonial uniforms but also in medieval armament.

The soldiers dressed in reconstructed uniforms of the guards of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of the 14th-century Algirdas’ epoch carry the message that the present-day Lithuanian Armed Forces are guardians of the honourable history of the country, a part of its centuries-old history.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have you still got questions about your one day in Vilnius? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions first-time visitors to the city have.

Is Vilnius Worth Visiting?

In my opinion, Vilnius is well worth visiting on a tour of Europe or the Baltic States. This city is the capital of Lithuania (one of three Baltic Countries which also include Latvia and Estonia) and boasts an extensive number of historical and cultural sites for visitors to explore.

Is One Day In Vilnius Enough?

While you can see some of the most popular tourist attractions in Vilnius in just one day. I’d highly recommend extending your visit to two or three days if you can. This gives you the chance to explore the city in more depth and even take a day trip to Trakai, The Hill of Crosses or other popular towns and cities in Lithuania.

What’s The Best Way To Get To Vilnius?

Being the capital city of Lithuania there are direct flights from most airports in Europe daily. The airport is located just outside the city, and you can commute between the two locations using public transport, taxi or by using a pre-booked private transfer service.

Alongside this, there are also a number of trains from nearby countries including Sweeden and Poland which makes Vilnius popular with those Interrailing around Europe. Finally, for those travelling on a budget, Vilnius can be accessed by coach. Most notably FlixBus offers services to Latvia, Poland and Estonia.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Vilnius?

In my experience, the summer months (June – August) are the best time to visit Vilnius as you’ll benefit from warmer temperatures. However, this is also peak tourist season in Vilnius and as such the crowd levels will be slightly higher and accommodation may cost more.

Subsequently, if you’re looking for a slower, more affordable Vilnius then the shoulder months either in Spring or in Fall (Autumn) may be better.

Where Is The Best Place To Stay In Vilnius?

If you’re only visiting Vilnius for a short space of time then I highly recommend staying as close to Pilies Street as you can. This street is in the heart of the city and within walking distance from several major attractions as well as many popular restaurants and bars.

What’s Public Transport Like in Vilnius?

Public transport in Vilnius is primarily comprised of trains and buses, both of which have well-developed routes and an efficient timetable. However, those with a reasonable level of fitness should be able to explore the majority of attractions in Vilnius on foot.

Can You Visit The Hill of Crosses From Vilnius?

The Hill of Crosses is one of the most visited shrines in Europe and can be visited from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. The journey from Vilnius to The Hill of Crosses takes roughly 2.5 hours each way, as such I highly recommend booking a guided tour that includes round-trip transportation.

Can You Visit Trakai From Vilnius?

Trakai is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Lithuania. Situated 27.5km from the capital of Vilnius you can either hire a car, get a train or go on take a guided tour with return transport here.

Trakai is an entire day trip in itself and sadly can’t be done as part of a one-day visit to Vilnius (unless you don’t want to explore the city). Some of the most popular things to do here include;

  • Touring Trakai Island Castle
  • Watersports on Lake Galvė
  • Karaim Kibinai tastings
  • Karaim Ethnographic Exhibitions

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