‘Vilnius was declared the capital city of Lithuania back in 1991 after the nation separated from the Soviet Union. It is one of the oldest surviving medieval towns in Europe…’
Vilnius’ Old Town itself is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an easy stop to get to, whether flying direct, hopping a train from a neighbouring city, or rolling in on the bus. If you have time to spend in the city, these are the must-see sights to check out while you’re there…
Dating back to 1251, the cathedral that sits in the Old Town is Lithuania’s most important place of Catholic worship. Officially known as the Cathedral of St Stanislaus and St Ladislaus, this neoclassical structure has been destroyed and rebuilt on many occasions. It now stands proudly, with its gleaming white facade and massive Greek style pillars, in the Cathedral Square.
The front exterior of the cathedral shows a sculpture of the Four Evangelists. On the roof, stand three more sculptures, representing St Helena, St Stanilas and St Casimir. There is no charge to enter the cathedral and, although it’s plain inside, it’s a lovely space.
The internal chapel of St Casimir is one of the highlights of the building. This is the final resting place of the Saint, who resides along with another statue; the Sapiega Madonna. The Madonna is said to have performed many miracles throughout its life. Consequently, it’s one of the city’s most important religious symbols.
Vilnius Cathedral’s bell tower is located next to the church, but is a separate building and has a small fee. It’s an conical structure and has a series of steep staircases. These lead to the bell on the top floor and offer a panoramic view of the Old Town.
The tower stands at 52 metres and, including the cross on top, reaches a total height of 57 metres. The bell tower clock was installed in 1672 and is the oldest in the city. The belfry itself is one of the oldest structures in Vilnius. The entire ground floor dates back to the 13th century when it was built as part of the city’s defensive walls. The upper floors have since been reconstructed, with the latest work completed in the 19th century.
If you don’t have a fear of tight spaces or heights, the view from the top is well worth the climb.
Lithuania National Drama Theatre
Aside from the building itself, above the main archway sit sculptures of The Three Muses, which have become a symbol of the city. Personally, I thought they were mildly terrifying but apparently this isn’t the message they’re supposed to convey.
‘The muses sit above the entrance to the Theatre and represent Comedy, Drama and Tragedy, as opposed to my initial guesses, which were Fear, Danger and OMGWTFISTHAT??…’
Joking aside; they are really striking, but I’m so, so glad I never have to walk past them alone at night. I’m even more glad I don’t live in the apartments directly across the road, due to them staring at me. The theatre and its muses are located on Gediminas Street, just a short walk from the Cathedral.
KGB Building/Genocide Museum
Without sounding odd, everything about this government building absolutely seems like it would have used by the KGB. It’s nondescript, is creepy AF, and just looks… Soviet. I have no idea what I mean by that, but let’s just say that when I saw it, I was all like ‘Yep. This place has Russian government spies written aaaaall over it’
There’s not much to alert you to the fact that it used to house all manner of prisoners. First of all, it was the heart of the KGB while they were in Vilnius. The ground floor of the building is now used as museum and sets the rather sombre tone you would expect.
The exhibitions inform you of the loss of life and use of torture that went on within the stone walls. The lower portions of exterior stones surrounding the building are inscribed with the names of the freedom fighters that perished within. There are also several tours conducted in the basement, which will take you around the prisoner cells, if you’re that way inclined. These are conducted in a range of languages.
A short walk around the side of the building leads you to an another memorial and, just opposite this is the Genocide Museum. This is every bit as awful as it sounds. I mean that in terms of the theme of the museum, as opposed to the quality.
This tower stands on a hill overlooking the city and is the last remaining part of the Upper Castle of Vilnius. There’s a museum on site, which shows archaeological finds from the hill and surrounding grounds. However, the main draw here is undoubtedly the view that the elevated position of the tower affords across the city. It’s a steep climb up the mound and it’s well worth it for the views from the top.
St Anne’s & St Francis’ Church Complex
Located in the Old Town, on the banks of the River Vilnia, sits the Church of St Anne’s, the Church of St. Francis and Bernadine, and a large monastery. St Anne’s has a fabulous red-brick facade, which towers above the street. This was originally built for Anna, the Grand Duchess of Lithuania.
‘Anna was clearly quite a special lady as it’s an amazing structure. I don’t have anything named after me, so I’ve clearly gone awry at some stage in life. I’m not bitter, though…’
The Church of St Bernard and St Francis sits next door and, although rather more squat, it’s equally beautiful. It’s enhanced with terracotta roof tiles that glint in the sun and has a rather Italian feel. This is no mistake, however, as the building was constructed in honour of St Francis of Assisi and Bernandino of Siena.
The Churches within the complex are some of the best and most important examples of Gothic architecture in Vilnius. These, along with the city centre, are recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Church of St. Anne’s is an example of late, flamboyant Gothic style, while St Bernard and St. Francis’ was built in the Belorussian Gothic style.
What are your favourite sights in Vilnius?