Postcards from Vilnius
Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is a great destination for a long weekend or a few days city holiday. It’s easy to combine Vilnius with exploring other destinations in Lithuania, or to make a wider tour visiting also the other charming capitals of the Baltic countries. We first visited Vilnius in 2007, and liked the vibe of the city already back then. However, it took us 13 years to go back, and Vilnius in 2020 was a different experience – the city for sure has developed a lot. Luckily the charm of the historic Old Town hasn’t changed, and we truly enjoyed our short stay. From Vilnius we also made a day trip to nearby Trakai, with a handsome Island Castle and Karaim heritage.
The Old Town of Vilnius is amazing, and surprisingly big! The total area of this medieval town is 3,59 square kilometres, and there are all together 70 streets to explore! The landmarks of the old town include Vilnius Castle Complex, several palaces and churches, as well as numerous museums. Take your time to wander along the narrow alleys and squares, and to admire the rich mix of architecture styles. In early 16th century a defensive wall was built around the town, and some parts of the city wall and gates still exist today.
Cathedral Square is probably the most popular square of Vilnius and the heart of the city life. Right next to the square is the neo-classical Vilnius Cathedral and the bell tower and other remains of the Castle Complex. Back in the medieval times, this site was occupied by the Lower Castle of Vilnius and its fortifications. The Cathedral has a long history, and it is believed that the same site used to be a place of worshipping the Baltic pagan god Pergunas in pre-Christian times. The first cathedral was built in 13th century, and it has been rebuilt several times, and the current church was built in nep-classical style in late 18th century.
The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania was originally built in the 15th century, and located inside the walls of the Lower Castle of Vilnius. It was for centuries the centre of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The original building was demolished in 1801, and the renaissance-style new palace that is on the site today was only built in between 2002 and 2018. On the hilltop behind the Palace are the remains of the Upper Castle of Vilnius and the Gedimina’s tower, the only surviving tower of the Upper Castle.
The climb up on top of the castle hill is rewarded with great views over both the Old Town of Vilnius, the 19th-century New Town (Naujamiestis) right next to it, and to the modern Šnipiškės quarters on the other side of Neris River. The Gedimina’s tower on the hill is home to a museum with exhibitions of the archaeological findings from the Castle Complex area.
The Monastery and Church of the Holy Trinity is one of the historical churches in Old Vilnius. The monastery complex is entered through a massive, beautifully decorated gate, known as the Basilian Gate. According to a legend, the first church was built in 1347 on the place where the Algirdas noblemen Antony, Johan, and Eustachy died as the first martyrs for Christian faith and the first Christian saints in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.