Vilnius itinerary: how to spend 2 days in Vilnius
This post is a Vilnius itinerary on how to spend 2 days in Vilnius. Vilnius is the proud capital of Lithuania. Located at the confluence where the rivers Vilnele and Neris meet each other.
Vilnius is the largest and oldest city of the country. In 2023 Vilnius celebrates its 700th anniversary. It was duke Gediminas in 1323 who first mentioned Vilnius and who invited merchants and craftsmen to come and stay in the city.
Vilnius soon developed into a thriving trade town whose rich history can be seen everywhere in the UNESCO protected old city. Colorful merchant homes and plenty of ancient churches in neoclassical or baroque style.
Nowadays it is also a vibrant capital with a great restaurant and cafe scene. There is a young and dynamic atmosphere that makes it easy to forget the darker pages of its more recent past under Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
People in Vilnius don’t take their independence for granted though and there are plenty of museums and places to learn more about the long road to freedom for Lithuania.
My Vilnius itinerary
In this Vilnius itinerary on how to spend 2 days in Vilnius I focus on the major highlights. Vilnius is a compact city. Although it has one of the largest old towns in the Baltics it is still easy to explore everything on foot.
My own Vilnius itinerary was spread out over 4 days, but also included some day trips and off the beaten path destinations.
I would recommend at least 2 days in Vilnius to get a good feel for the city. This allows you to see the major sights in the Old town and visit some of the city’s museums.
2 days in Vilnius itinerary
Vilnius itinerary day 1:Old Town
The first day of your 2 days in Vilnius itinerary focuses on the UNESCO protected old town. For me Vilnius immediately felt different from the other Baltic capitals.
Start the day at the Vilnius Cathedral square. A sacred place for centuries where locals prayed to the pagan god Perkunas. Now it is the main Catholic Cathedral of Lithuania. From the outside the building looks pretty new, but it is soaked in history.
The Grand Dukes of Lithuania were crowned in the church. Many important people in Polish and Lithuania’s history are buried in the catacombs and some of the frescoes and paintings date from the 14th century.
Palace of the Grand Dukes
Behind the cathedral lies the palace of the Grand Dukes. You might be surprised to hear that the palace opened its doors as recent as 2018.
A brand new building, but it is a reconstruction of the original 16th century palace that was the center for the Dukes of Lithuania for many years. It is now home to an excellent and interesting museum about the history of the palace and Lithuania
The Gediminas tower is another reconstruction. The current tower was built in 1930 at the same site as the first wooden fortifications made by Gediminas and the first medieval stone castle of duke Vytautas.
The story goes that Gediminas had a dream in which a wolf stood on top of a hill where he killed a bison that day on a hunting trip. Gediminas consulted a priest who told him that the meaning of the dream was to found a new city around the hill and so Vilnius was born.
You can either climb the hill or take a funicular. The views over Vilnius are wonderful
Uzupis, just below Gediminas hill, has always been a bit different. Maybe because it is almost an island surrounded by the Vilna river. It was only in the 16th century that the first bridges were built connecting it to the mainland.
Uzupis used to be a jewish neighbourhood, but most Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The area was neglected during Soviet times, but after Lithuania’s independence a group of artists brought new life to this small neighborhood.
Uzupis looks much better now with its street art, trendy cafes, boutiques and art workshops. In 1997 the artists declared their own republic with its own flag, currency, president and constitution.
The Dalai Lama visited the Republic in 2013 and received honorary citizenship. Uzupis is small and well worth the small detour. Don’t miss the angel of Uzupis and the constitution.
St. Anne’s church
If you like Gothic architecture then don’t miss the St. Anne’s church. This Catholic church was built in the 15th century for Anne, the grand duchess of Lithuania and the first wife of king Vytautas.
It was one of the few churches that remained open during the Soviet Union time.
The Literatu gatve is one of the most scenic streets in the old town of Vilnius. The decorations on the blue walls are all dedicated to writers that somehow have a link to Vilnius.
Among them Adam Mickiewicz. A polish poet that was born in Belarus and lived in Vilnius for most of his life.
Vilnius university is the oldest university in the Baltics and together with Tartu university among the most important in the region. The University courtyard is surrounded by classic buildings and has its own church.
Not far from the university buildings is the Presidential Palace. Due to numerous renovations it looks pretty new, but its history goes back to the 14th century.
This is when the Grand Duke of Lithuania donated the land to the Vilnius Diocese. It was the residence for the Bishops of Lithuania until Russia annexed Lithuania and Russian governors took over the palace. Since 1997 it is the official office of the President of Lithuania
Before WW2 Vilnius had a large Jewish community. Napoleon even called it the Jerusalem of the North. It was one of the most important cultural and religious centers for Jews in Eastern Europe.
This all changed with WW2 when Lithuania was occupied by Nazi Germany. In 1941 the Germans established the Jewish Ghetto right in the old town of Vilnius. By 1943 there were almost no Jews left and the ghetto was closed.
What was once the ghetto is now again part of the old town of Vilnius. Watch out for the signs on the walls such as on Stikliu gatve that indicate the former borders.
Vilnius town hall square
The town hall square is at the heart of the old town in Vilnius. From the 15th century it is the place for major events and celebrations in the city.
Around the town hall square you will find some of Vilnius most beautiful churches. Among them the baroque Casimir church and the Russian orthodox monastery
Gate of Dawn
The Gate of Dawn is the only city gate that remains out of the ten medieval gates around Vilnius. But it is not just a gate. It holds a chapel and is an important pilgrimage site.
Pilgrims believe that the icon of the blessed virgin Mary has the power to perform miracles.
Vilnius itinerary day 2: History
The second day of your Vilnius itinerary you can delve deeper into its recent history as the capital of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic
A period that most Lithuanians experienced as a time of repression and lack of freedom.
Every Baltic capital has a KGB museum. I personally found the one in Vilnius to be the best.
The exhibition tells the full story from the KGB to the resistance from the partisans and forest brothers.
The museum is in the former KGB headquarters. Most of the building is still the way it was during Soviet times, including the cells where political prisoners were held.
Green house Jewish museum
Not far from the KGB museum is the Green house. This museum is about the city’s Jewish heritage. Once dubbed the Jerusalem of the East, Vilnius had a large Jewish community before WW2.
The Green house museum tells their story. From their rich cultural life to the atrocities that happened during WW2. In my opinion a must visit when you are in Vilnius
Vilnius Tv tower
The Vilnius TV tower is an iconic place that played an important role in the road to Lithuania’s independence.
On the 13th of January 14 people got killed when defending the tower from the Soviets. The Soviets unfortunately managed to take over and stop the broadcasting of independent news.
However, the dramatic events of that night sparked more protests and determination for independence. Finally in August 1991 Lithuania became an independent country.
More than 2 days in Vilnius
If you have more than 2 days in Vilnius you are lucky, because there really is plenty to do in the city. With 2 days in Vilnius you can see the main sights, but one or two extra days will allow for some more off the beaten path places and a day trip to Trakai
Trakai is one of the most popular day trips from Vilnius. The castle in Trakai is one of the most scenic and well preserved castles of the Livonian Order in the baltics. Located on an island in lake Galvé it’s location can not be more picturesque.
The castle alone makes Trakai well worth a visit. But, there is more to Trakai. Trakai is also home to the Karaite minority. A small ethnic group in Lithuania, related to the Tatars, that speak their own Turkic language.
Trakai is the only place in Lithuania with a Karaite restaurant that serves deliciouds Karaite food. Most famous are the Kibinai (filled pastries). There is also a small museum about the Karaite people and their intriguing history.
How to get there: there are frequent buses and trains to Trakai. The bus station is about a 30 minute walk from the castle and therefore I would recommend to go by bus. The train station is a bit further away.
If you saw the HBO series of Chernobyl, then the suburb of Fabijoniskes might look familiar to you. Many of the scenes of Pripyat were actually filmed in the Fabijoniskes district and other places in Vilnius and Lithuania.
It is not difficult to understand why because the suburb with its Soviet style flat apartments feels like a journey back in time. If you have any interest in Soviet architecture then Fabijoniskes is an interesting place to visit. You can just wander around or follow the 6 kilometer Seskine trail
Hale market hall
I can not visit a city without going at least once to a local market. The Hale market hall is among the oldest and largest market halls in Vilnius. A great place to taste local food and buy fresh fruit and vegetables.
Vilnius itinerary travel tips
Where to eat in Vilnius
Etno Dvaras: A bit touristy, but an excellent place for Lithuanian food. The picture menu makes it easier to choose what you want. Although the choice is enormous and everything looks very good. They also have branches in other cities in Lithuania such as Klaipeda and Kaunas so I ended up a couple of times in their restaurant and I was never dissapointed.
Berneliu uzeiga: Berneliu Uzeiga has a similar concept to Etno Dvaras. A large picture menu with Lithuanian delicacies like Cepeliniai and others. A bit touristy, but nevertheless delicious food for a great price. They have a restaurant in Kaunas too.,
Pyrmas Blynas: This restaurant had great reviews. It is located in an old church and has great pancakes indeed and very friendly staff.
Lokys: Lokys is a traditional Lithuanian restaurant in the old town with an interesting menu including beaver meat stew. The beaver meat stew was good, but we also really enjoyed our soups that we had as a starter. I can definitely recommend the Lithuanian cold beetroot soup or the mushroom soup.
Where to sleep in Vilnius
Budget hotel: The Ivolita Vilnius is within walking distance of both the train and bus stations as well as the old center. It is good value for money with decent and clean rooms.
Midrange appartment: If you stay longer you can consider to stay at an appartment. Vidos Apartementai is near the center and is good value for money.
How to get to Vilnius
Vilnius has an international airport with direct flights to most European capitals. The new Rail Baltica is working on better train connections that makes it easier to reach Vilnius in a more sustainable way by train. Rail Baltica plans to connect the Baltic capitals with Warsaw using new modern high speed trains. They should be up and running by 2026.
Until then, international train connections with Vilnius are limited. The train is still a great way to travel within Lithuania though with excellent connections to Kaunas, Klaipeda and Ignalina for Aukstaitija Narional Park.
If you want to travel to Riga I can recommend Lux express that has comfortable buses from Vilnius to Riga and Tallinn. To check other bus companies and bus routes within Lithuania you can use autobusbilietai.
How to get around Vilnius
Vilnius has an excellent public transportation network with buses going all over the city. If you spend only 2 days in Vilnius you can download the Trafi app to buy tickets and travel information.
When to visit Vilnius
Vilnius is an all year round destination, although most people prefer the warm summer days. The downside of visiting Vilnius in summer is that it will be very busy and prices for accommodation will be high. I visited in winter and although cold it had its charms as well.
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