One of the most interesting metropolises in Northern Europe is the Lithuanian capital Vilnius with its historic Old Town. Different nationalities have shaped the culture of the metropolis for centuries, which is known, among other things, for the Vilnius Baroque from the Middle Ages. Contemporary culture can also be felt in the Lithuanian metropolis. Vilnius is a young and bustling city with many attractions, sights and cultural institutions. Since 1994, the Old Town has been a World Heritage Site.
In historical Vilnius you can find many buildings from the Baroque period, but also from Renaissance and Gothic eras. On Cathedral Square, the Archbishop’s Cathedral in the style of classicism is a sight of Vilnius. Due to the economic boom since joining the European Union, many modern buildings have been built. As the cultural capital of Europe in 2009, numerous cultural institutions have been established. Numerous festivals, such as the Folklore Festival or the Dance Festival, characterize the cultural life as events. The spectacular architecture and multicultural flair have made Vilnius one of the most visited tourist metropolises in the Baltic States.
Tip 1: Old Town
Even the few hundred meters across the Pilies Gatve to the town hall square are like a time travel through European architectural history. Baroque churches and stuccoed Wilhelminian style buildings mingle with red brick Gothic, Classicism meets Renaissance. What is immediately noticeable is that, in contrast to many European cities, the typical old-town tourist kitsch is as absent as the tourist crowds. At least in winter, the old town seems to belong to the people of Vilnius, who live here and run their errands here. Be it in the time-honored university pharmacy or the interior stores on Stikliu Street, where glassblowers and artisans used to have their workshops.
In hidden passages I discover galleries, in the alleys we come across antiquarian bookshops and bookstores like Bookafe. The courtyards of the university, one of the oldest in Europe, are worth a look, as is the Literatai Gatve. On the blue wall you’ll find plaques with drawings and texts, small busts and a set of teeth bared – a tribute to writers, famous and not so famous. One of the oldest streets of the Old Town is Bernadinu Gatve, from here you can get to the Church of St. Anne and Bernadine, one of the most beautiful churches in Vilnius.
Tip 2: Gate of Dawn
When you enter the Old Town of Vilnius from the south, you automatically pass the Gate of Dawn. Originally, the city walls of Vilnius had ten gates.
The Gate of Dawn (Aušros Vartai) is the last preserved city gate of Vilnius and is first mentioned in documents in 1514. On the outside of the gate you can still see the coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and well-preserved embrasures.
You may notice that many people cross themselves when passing through the gate. This is due to the fact that the Gate of Dawn has become a place of pilgrimage.
This is because in the upper part of the gate there is a chapel in neoclassicism style. There is kept an image of the Virgin Mary, which is venerated by Catholics and Orthodox alike. The icon is also called “Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn” and “Our Lady of Vilnius”.
Tip 3: Vilnius Cathedral
The Cathedral of Saints Stanislav and Vladislav is the main place of worship for Lithuanian Catholics and the venue for the country’s most important Christian and national celebrations. It is located in Vilnius Old Town, directly on the Cathedral Square.
In 1922, the cathedral was given the title of “Basilica” by Pope Pius XI.
Inside the cathedral there are more than forty works of art from the 16th to 19th centuries, including frescoes and paintings of various sizes. During the restoration of the cathedral, the altars of a presumably pagan temple and the original floor, which was moved during the reign of King Mindaugas, were uncovered.
In addition, the remains of the cathedral built in 1387 were also found. On the wall of one of the underground chapels of the cathedral was found a fresco from the end of the 14th century, the oldest known fresco in Lithuania.
Tip 4: Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
The Grand Ducal Palace in Vilnius is the former palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania. It was the residence of the Polish-Lithuanian rulers for centuries.
The original walled castle was extended by the respective rulers, mixing Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. However, the original was destroyed in the 19th century. The building complex is a replica.
Nowadays the building houses the National Museum of Lithuania. Numerous exhibitions deal with various aspects of the history of the palace, the city of Vilnius and the country of Lithuania. In the basement of the palace there is an archaeological exhibition.
Tip 5: Gediminas’ Tower
Gediminas Castle Tower or Gediminas Tower,as locals call it, is a symbol of Lithuania and the most photogenic object in all of Vilnius. Lithuanians are so used to seeing Gediminas Tower as it is today that sometimes you forget that it is actually just the remaining tower of the castle that stood there from the 15th century.
This tower is surrounded by legends, poems and songs from recent times. Gediminas Tower was a part of the Upper Castle built by Grand Duke Gediminas, the father of Vilnius. Perhaps that is why Gediminas Tower is so popular and a very popular historical sight.
People believe that in the place where the tower stands, the city of Vilnius was actually born. Gediminas Tower has many secrets, visit it and try to find out at least some of them. Certainly one of the most beautiful Vilnius sights that should be visited.