Lithuania was the last Baltic country I visited, having specified on my bucket list that I wanted to go to all three states by the time I turned 21 (and I did – after Riga when I was 15, and Tallinn at 18).
Sure, Vilnius may not have been the prettiest of all the Baltic capitals, but I loved the city so much the first time I visited, that I returned just nine months later.
Whilst the city may be compact, there are lots of things to do in Vilnius, and it’s somewhere I’d like to return to fairly soon – preferably after a few days sunbathing in Palanga, and en-route to Minsk. And if you do happen to see me in Vilnius, you can be guaranteed I’ll be doing these 10 things below!
1. Wander Around the Old Town and Užupis
All Eastern European cities have beautiful Old Towns, and Vilnius is no exception. Pilies Gatve is the main street, with its cobblestoned streets lined with a range of shops, cafes and restaurants. At the bottom of the road lies the cathedral and Gediminas Tower, and if you turn to your left you’ll see Gediminas Prospekt.
There are lots of backstreets to explore, with cute buildings that are ideal backdrops for streetstyle shots.
Cross through the park by the tower, and you’ll reach Užupis: essentially, it’s an independent republic, with its own constitution and president. You can even get your passport stamped there, making it one of my top things to do in Vilnius.
2. Climb up to the Castle
No matter where you are in Vilnius, you’ll no doubt see Gediminas’ Tower high up on the hill, and no trip is complete to the Lithuanian capital without climbing up to it – I’m sure most people would tell you it’s one of the top things to do in Vilnius.
The walk might be steep, but it’ll only take ten minutes, and the views are totally worth it – even if you don’t pay to go into the actual tower.
You’ll also get a good view of the Three Crosses, which are at the top of the neighbouring hill (tip: if you want to reach the crosses, you’ll have to climb down the hill, to then climb up the other hill!).
3. Drink Liquid Chocolate
One of my favourite things about Eastern Europe are the cute chocolatiers that line the streets, all serving cups of indulgent liquid chocolate. I’m pleased to say that Vilnius is no exception!
Head straight to Pilies Sokoladine in the heart of the Old Town, and spend ages agonising over which truffles you want to have with your chocolate, then don’t forget to check out the room that’s made entirely of chocolate.
Trust me, once you’ve had a cup of liquid chocolate, you’ll be heading back every day for the rest of your trip to get your fix of the stuff!
4. Shop on Gediminas Prospekt
Did you really expect me to make a list of my top 10 things to do in Vilnius, and then not include shopping at some point? As if.
It may not have the best shopping in the world, but it’s pretty decent – and Gediminas Prospekt is a good place to start. The Zara store is pretty impressive, and the GO9 shopping centre is home to lots of international high street stores.
The Lithuanians are pretty fashionable, and I’ve bought some nice clothes there, the two times that I’ve visited.
5. Museum of Genocide Victims
Housed in the former KGB headquarters on Gediminas Prospekt lies the Museum of Genocide Victims. It’s very sad and sobering, but I think it’s a crucial thing to do in Vilnius, so you can learn more about the history of the country.
Learn about how the population were treated when Lithuania was part of the USSR, and the atrocities that occurred. You’ll even get to see the actual cells that prisoners were locked up and torture din.
The most tragic thing? Peer through the door of one of the cells, and you’ll see piles and piles of shredded paper. They are the documents of the victims who were tortured in those very cells: following the collapse of communism, all documents were shredded to essentially erase the victims, and make it look like they never even existed.
6. Drink All the Cocktails
Sure, the introduction of the Euro has pushed prices up slightly in Lithuania, but it’s still an extremely cheap place to visit, and the alcohol is no exception.
I suppose I might forgive you (actually, no I won’t) for thinking it’s purely a place for stag dos. There are lots of cool bars and clubs to check out; and in fact, some of the best nights out I’ve ever had, have been in Vilnius.
When it comes to cocktails, you absolutely can’t miss Alchemikas. The bar is tiny, so make sure you get there early, but it’s so worth it. For less than £5, you can get the strongest, quirkiest cocktails in the city. Oh, and did I mention that it’s been voted one of the world’s best bars?
Just don’t order moonshine after doing absinthe shots. Trust me, things will start to get messy real quick.
7. Beat Face Control
Face control was hugely present when I was in Vilnius: basically, if you want to get into the most prestigious clubs, you have to be pretty.
I guess that can be seen as unfair, but I suppose certain bars and clubs want to attract a specific clientele. And besides, not all of it is based on looks: there are a lot of bars that attract a Lithuanian crowd, and other bars that attract Russians; and the Russian places have a reputation for being rowdy.
Anyways, when there’s strict face control on the doors, it can be fun finding out if you’re “pretty” or Lithuanian looking enough to get in. On my first visit to Vilnius, my friend and I were lucky enough to get into the VIP section of Absento Fejos (now sadly closed); the most notorious face control club in Vilnius.
It was definitely a highlight of our trip. If only it was still open, then I’d say that a night in Absento Fejos should be right at the top of your list of things to do in Vilnius.
8. Sing Attention
For all of the Eurovision fans out there (because it’s not just me!), here is one of my top things to do in Vilnius – and you HAVE to do this!
To give you a bit of background: it may seem like tradition, but this is purely coincidental, that I tend to visit the country of my previous favourite Eurovision entrant.
In 2014, my favourite song was Attention by Vilija Matačiūnaitė (sadly the song never made it to the final, which is a shame because it totally would have won). And then, I ended up visiting Vilnius.
So of course, I just HAD to sing (and do all the dance moves) to Attention. And I did it the second time I visited Vilnius, in the toilets of Alchemikas (after said absinthe and moonshine).
Can’t be bothered to sing the whole thing? The least you can do is grab a cocktail and casually drop into conversation “you see me chatting with my girls at bar (true), we’re all pretty”.
9. Take the Train Elsewhere
Before you say anything, no, I’m not suggesting you escape Vilnius as quickly as possible – but it’s nice to get out and see more of what the country has to offer.
The train station itself is a sight to behold: it’s working a combination of serious ex-communist/industrial chic look, and you really need to see it, in order to fully appreciate it.
Trains to Kaunas – Lithuania’s second biggest city – leave every hour, and if you want to ride first class then you can do so very cheaply. Alternatively, if you’d like to see the Hill of Crosses, then catch the three hour train to Šiauliai. This train is much more traditional, and what you’d expect of an ex-Soviet state.
10. Take Selfies with Stalin
My favourite place to take a day trip to? Grutas Park, but you’ll need to catch a bus to get to it. Located in the middle of nowhere by the Polish/Belorussian border, the bus stop is on a random section of Lithuanian highway, and you’ll need to walk through a forest to reach the park.
Once you’re there, be prepared to be transported back to Lithuania in the communist times: take lots of selfies with the Stalin statues, and pose with Brezhnev and Lenin, all whilst listening to the communist propaganda blaring at you through the speakers.
So. Much. Fun.
I really do love Lithuania, it’s one of my favourite Eastern European countries, as it has so much character. There are so many things to do in Vilnius, and now I’m looking at flights to go back ASAP… anyone wanna come with?