Vilnius

Vilnius by CC user ullisandersson on Flickr

Introduction

Like its Baltic neighbors, Vilnius is still in the process of regaining its former glory after a 20th century that saw its residents get brutalized by Nazi Germany and oppressed for over 40 long years by the Soviet Union. It has come a long way since those days though, restoring its Old Town and associated structures mostly to the way they were in their heyday, while embracing the future with open arms.

Vilnius is a great place to start your exploration of the Baltics, as its attractions will fill at least three days of solid sightseeing for those determined to discover all of its major sites.

Vilnius Old Town by CC user 56218409@N03 on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

Start your adventure in the capital of Lithuania by exploring the Old Town of Vilnius. Out of all the medieval-era towns that have preserved since the time of their construction, the one in Vilnius is the largest, covering an area of three and a half square kilometres.

This will make those that love to explore such charming places very happy indeed; if you count yourself among this crowd, give this part of Vilnius at least two days of solid exploration. Numerous styles of design, from Gothic to Baroque can be spotted here, so stroll slowly so you can properly appreciate how architects of centuries past thought of buildings not as a functional space solely, but also as a work of art.

One of these design elements included the gaps in the former city walls, of which the Gate of Dawn is the only surviving structure of its kind in Vilnius.

Those that were demolishing these obsolete defensive positions paused at the idea of taking down such a spectacularly beautiful entryway, which includes the religious icon such as The Blessed Virgin Mary.

This and other symbols of Christianity were put in place to bless travelers heading out on a long journey, so visiting might not be the worst idea before heading out into the countryside to explore other sights in Lithuania.

There are many cathedrals to see in Vilnius, but if you only have time for one, shower your attention upon the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Once the centrepiece of a Catholic monastery, this church is well known for over 2,000 pieces of stucco artwork, all of which were crafted by the artists Giovanni Pietro Perti.

Covering the ceilings with depiction of the life of Jesus and other saints of the church, and with sculptures made of this building material, the décor within make this cathedral a masterpiece among lesser houses of worship within Lithuania.

Gediminas Tower by CC user 112693323@N04 on Flickr

Other Attractions

Like most other parts of Europe in centuries past, Lithuania was ruled by a monarchy, the fabulous remnants of which can be appreciated at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Constructed in the 15th century for the dukes that were ruling the duchy of Lithuania at the behest of the kingdom of Poland, the opulence of this refurbished palace will be apparent, from the rich carpets and tapestries of the throne room, to the numerous chandeliers that can be found throughout the property.

Unsurprisingly, this venue is often the backdrop for welcoming heads of state when they drop by, and while visitation is restricted while this is occurring, the grounds of this palace are open to the public the remainder of the time.

If the weather is particularly gorgeous when you are visiting Vilnius, be sure to stroll through the Bernardinai Garden, as it is a well-loved public space for may local residents. While much of this park is given over to the exposition of various plants during the growing season, other parts of the Bernardnai are ideal for families, as amenities ranging from a small amusement park to a giant chess board will keep parents and their little ones suitably occupied over an entire afternoon. Be sure to check out the singing fountain in the evening, as it is spectacularly lit after sunset.

Finally, if you are looking for a vantage point from which to take a killer photo of Vilnius’ skyline, your best bet in the core is to head to the top of Gediminas Tower. While it is a great spot to snap some excellent pics, it is also a structure that is at the core of the national identity of Lithuania, as it has existed as a key defensive point for over 600 years, and it was where the Lithuanian flag was first hoisted after the country won back its independence from the USSR in the late 1980’s.

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