Whole Vilnius city is full of architectural sites, however, we only recommend a couple of them as “Must see” places. For people who enjoy exploring cities and their history as we do the tour around Vilnius architectural sites will be very interesting. So, if you are looking for great local tips of which part of the city you should explore first, you came to the right place!
Old Town arteries
We want to start with two main arteries of Vilnius Old Town which are a must see or we should say must walk through places – it is Pilies street and Gediminas avenue. Walking through or quite near, you will find many other objects you need to see while in Vilnius.
Pilies street is the oldest and most flamboyant street in the Old Town of Vilnius. If we look into history, the street was the main entrance to former Vilnius Castle. Many noble people passed this street on their way to the Castle, built their houses and used broadest places of the street to create markets. One more interesting fact is that houses were built at different times and architecture really varies in this street. You can find Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque buildings quite near one another. Also, in the street near Cathedral square you can witness a beautiful view of Gediminas Tower.
Second artery is Gediminas avenue which connects the historical city center, Cathedral Square to Seimas Palace. It was built due to the fact that Vilnius started growing and developing faster in the middle of the 19th century. There was a need for main street as new trading, industrial and residential developments were created next to the Old Town. Nowadays it is mostly full of clothing and coffee shops, restaurants and bars, not to forget governmental institutions.
St. John Church tower
One of the Vilnius University buildings is the Church of Sts. Johns and its bell tower. The bell tower of the church reaches 68 meters height and is considered among the highest buildings in the Old Town. To get to the top you can use either elevator or stairs, however, we recommend stairs as they are original way to get to the tower. Also, when you reach the top using stairs there will be more satisfaction of your achievement. From top of the bell tower you can see whole old town as on a palm of your hand. The view is majestic, you can spend hours exploring every tiny details of houses, architecture and their inner yards. It is open every day at 10AM–7PM during the April-May months and in September, whereas during the summer months it will stay open from 11AM to 8PM.
Cathedral and its tower
The Cathedral and its tower are located near “The Palace of Grand Dukes of Lithuania”, between the end of Pilies street and beginning of Gediminas avenue.
Cathedral or Basilica is probably the most important worship place for Lithuanian Catholics which original temple dates back to between 13th or 15th century. It is also an iconic place when the talk turns to Vilnius, many see this building as the one representing it. Through history many key figures were buried in the Mausoleum beneath the chapel of St. Casimir.
The Belfry which in 13th century was part of defensive wall surrounding Cathedral, Lower and Upper Castle. Being one of the oldest and tallest towers of the Old Town of Vilnius it became the symbol of the city. It acquired its present appearance in the beginning of the 19th century, its height reaches 52 meters. From top you can witness beautiful panorama of Vilnius Old Town and also exposition of bells and the old clock of the city.
St. Anne’s Church
St. Anne’s Church was built during late Gothic period and it is definitely a masterpiece. There is a legend surrounding it that when Napoleon Bonaparte was marching through Vilnius. He was fascinated by the beauty of the church and wanted to take it back to Paris in the palm of his hand. Unfortunately, the reality was a bit different from this legend. During the march of Napoleonic army through Lithuania, French cavalry forces used the church as their stables. However, Napoleon did mention in a letter to his wife that “Vilnius is a very beautiful city”. This church survived more than 500 years unchanged to the present day.
Church of St. Peter and Paul
Saint Peter and Paul’s Church is a masterpiece of the 17th-century. It was built in Baroque style and is famous for its exceptional interior where one can see about 2,000 stucco figures. According to an old legend during pagan times in place of this church a temple for pagan love goddess Milda once stood. For us it is one of the most stunning church in Vilnius and a pearl of Baroque style which is a must visit place while you are in Vilnius.
Bastion of the defensive wall of Vilnius
Bastion of the defensive wall is part of Vilnius fortifications, also, by locals often called “Barbican”. It was built in 17th century using Renaissance-style by German military engineer Friedrich Getkant. The Bastion was severely damaged during the wars and part of it was recently renovated. However, for us coming to this place is worth it because you can enjoy a picturesque view of Vilnius Old Town from the Bastion terrace or hills nearby.
The Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace or often called “Prezidentūra” (President’s Office) by the locals. Building was built in the square of Simonas Daukantas, not far from Vilnius Cathedral and its tower. Before it became an office of the President it was nobleman’s house. When Lithuania was occupied and annexed to the Russian Empire the palace served as a residence for the Governor General of Vilnius. In 1997, the building was renovated and currently the President of Lithuania and his Chancellery are working here.
On Saturdays you can get into a free excursion around the Presidential Palace, there you will see the interior of the historical building and you can even visit the office of the President. On Sundays at 12 PM a solemn flag hoisting ceremony is held which takes around 10 minutes. What is interesting is that during this ceremony you can witness soldiers of the Honor Guard Company of the Lithuanian Armed Forces dressed in medieval armament. Uniforms are reconstructed to resemble the ones of the guards of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of the 14-century Algirdas’ epoch. If you plan your route right, this is a thing to see near the palace.
Vileišis Palace is a unique Neo-baroque building located close to Saint Peter and Paul’s Church. So, if you are visiting either – you should visit both. The building is gorgeous and looks like from a fairy tale. It is currently used as Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore.
The Gates of Dawn
Nowadays the Gates of Dawn or how locals call them “Aušros vartai” had many names. First, they were called Medininkai Gate as it is on the road to Medininkai. Later in Polish they were called Ostra Brama – the “Sharp Gate” as they were in the southern part of the city, which was called the Sharp. Only later, due to the cult of the Virgin Mary they could be related to the sunrise, dawn and now is one of the most visited shrines in Vilnius by not only Lithuanians but many foreign nationals, especially by Polish tourists. Famous painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, in the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn is known all over the world. There are many churches in other countries who have copies of this painting. Moreover, these Gates are the only gates left standing from five original Vilnius city wall gates that was built between 1503 and 1522.
Best of luck planning your trip in Vilnius!