The historic capital of the Grand Duchy is a veritable treasure trove of medieval wonders and gorgeous Gothic come Russo-flavoured Baroque architecture. With cobbled roadways, weaving under the buttresses to the Upper Castle citadel dating from the 13th century, to the fascinating history with thriving creativity. Vilnius is definitely worth a visit…
TOP 10 PLACES TO VISIT
1. MUSEUM OF OCCUPATIONS AND FREEDOM FIGHTS (KGB MUSEUM)
Its bloody history began when this former gymnasium become the headquarters of the Gestapo during 1941 when the Nazi occupied it. From 1944 it were occupied by the Soviet Secret Police – the KGB until 1991 when Lithuania became independent from the Soviet Union. The museum is divided into two parts - the upper two floors document the Lithuanian partisans’ resistance against the Soviet occupiers, the deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia and day-to-day life in the LTSR and the other part of the museum are the prison cells, and execution and torture chambers in the basement. Today the cells are exactly how the KGB officers left them upon leaving in 1991.
2. GATES OF DAWN
Not only famous in Lithuania but also aboard, this is one of the most visited shrines in Vilnius. This is the only surviving gate of the first original five gates in the city wall that was built between 1503 and 1522. The painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, can be viewed in the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn. The picture, which is also called “Vilnius Madonna”, was painted in 17th century. It is painted in the Renaissance style, in tempera on oak boards, later repainted in oil. Since the middle of the 17th century it has been said to have miracle-working powers. The Holy Mother of God of the Gates of Dawn has been granted the title of Mother of Mercy twice.
3. THREE CROSSES MONUMENT
It is claimed that the origins of the three crosses date back to the 17th century when three monks placed them there to pay tribute to a group of fellow monks who were martyred in the 14th century. According to the history books, seven monks were killed and seven were tied to wooden crosses and floated down the Neris River, with the instruction to return to the west where they came from. The current monument were built by the architect and sculptor, A. Vivulskis in 1989 to replace the one that had been removed by the Soviet authorities in the 1950s, with pieces remaining on the far side of the slope. The Hill of Three Crosses is also known as Kreivasis Hill, Plikasis Hill or Tauro Hill.
4. GEDIMINAS’ TOWER
The tower is a long-standing symbol of Vilnius and one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. As part of Gediminas’ Castle and home to the Grand Duke Gediminas in the 1400s, what we see today is the last remaining tower of the castle. Located atop a small hill, those who choose to visit castle are rewarded with crystal clear views of the city. You can also visit the small museum at the top of the tower with exhibits related to local history. You can only have access to the observation deck if you purchase a museum ticket.
5. VILIUS CATHEDRAL CRYPTS
The crypts are underneath cathedral and hold the remains of famous historical figures who played important roles in the development of Lithuania. The crypts also home to the royal mausoleum. You can learn more of the history of the cathedral, history and facts of the impressive artifacts on display by the guided tours on offer.
6. PALACE OF THE GRAND DUKES OF LITHUANIA
The palace was once the most famous in Europe in the 15th and 17th centuries, but was demolished in the beginning of the 19th century. The palace is located within the confines of the Lower Castle. The Gothic, Renaissance and Early Baroque halls of this multifunctional Museum are ideally applicable to organize a different size and content public events, official visits, conferences, meetings, seminars, concerts, performances, receptions and other. In the reconstructed Palace of the Grand Dukes you will find the museum where two exhibition tour routes directly related to the historical functions of this residence. The first tour will show the historical and architectural development of the palace by highlighting the ancient ruins still in place, excavated artifacts and by using models and iconographic materials. The second tour route will bring the visitors into the ceremonial halls, which have been reconstructed in such a way as to show the evolution of architectural styles – from the late Gothic to the Renaissance to the early Baroque.
7. VILNIUS PICTURE GALLERY
Located in the beautiful and spacious estate of the noblemen Chodkiewicz and is noted for its impressive interiors of late Classicism. Visitors can become acquainted with the development of Lithuanian art from the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century in the permanent exhibition. It is home to a collection of works by artists of Vilnius Art School. Different exhibitions, evenings of culture, concerts of classical music are organised at the Gallery.
8. AMBER MUSEUM-GALLERY
The Museum was founded in 1988. The exhibits on display tell visitors about the morphology of amber. It is revealed in the exhibits of various sizes, forms and colour. Also on display is the unique collection of the Juodkranė treasure. In the basement of the museum visitors can also see the ceramics baking shop of the end of the 15th century. Visitors can also see the ceramics baking shop of the end of the 15th century found in the basement of the Museum. Exhibitions of the authentic earthenware, and works of artists working with amber are constantly held at the Gallery. One can also buy amber jewellery of modern and classical design here.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT
The best way to get around in Vilnius is by public buses, trolley buses, fast buses, taxi, Uber, bicycle or car.
The best time to visit Lithuania is from April to mid June or mid June to late August, when there’s usually enough fine weather to allow you to stroll around the cities and make significant forays into the great outdoors.