… before orientation or during a weekend trip! Vilnius is the largest city in Lithuania and the national capital, but we only stayed two days during orientation. During that time, we saw some incredible things, but having stayed there for a week, there is much more to see and do. More than can be managed in two days. Now, I cannot say that every orientation schedule is the same, but if you’re planning ahead, we went to the Museum of Genocide Victims (also known as the KGB Museum), Trakai, Palanga, and Nida during orientation. Going back to the museum is highly recommended to absorb the history and information that they have compiled inside. It’s sobering, but a deeply enriching experience to understand the history of Lithuania.
Now! What else should you do in Vilnius while you’re there? First, know that the city is incredibly beautiful. By American standards, the city is quite small, especially within Old Town.
1. Wander Old Town
My first suggestion is to wander Old Town. Pick a street and follow it to see where it goes. Explore the parks, especially along the riverbanks. Imbibe the ambiance of a medieval city with narrow cobbled streets, courtyards, full of boutiques and coffee shops. There are some really delightful little places you can stumble upon by accident, ranging from second-hand bookstores to a medieval and historical crafts center.
2. Republic of Užupis
As is the case in many cities, this used to be one of the seedier parts of Vilnius, but then the artists moved in. Since then, this neighborhood has become a favorite of expats, tourists, and the local hipster community. This is one of the art areas of the city full of galleries and artisan shops. Perhaps more interestingly, they have created their own Constitution and claim to be a small, independent republic. The constitution is engraved on plaques on a wall along the street in many languages and is fully worth reading. It contains laws like “Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation” and “everyone has the right to be loved, but not necessarily.” The slightly ambiguous nature is on purpose, I believe, and adds for some incredibly interesting discussion about what they mean. Plus, there’s a really good pizza place with outdoor seating so you can people-watch, and you can get your passport stamped!
Vilnius Old Town is a city of churches, many of which are several centuries old. They include Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, and even an Evangelical Lutheran church that is remarkably difficult to find. Their architecture is utterly unlike anything that I have seen in the United States. I posted one of the pictures I took here on the left. They are all unique in their designs and feel, so it’s worth visiting as many as you can. As you learn about the churches, you get a sense of the city’s history. As a side note, be sure to see the cathedral that’s connected to Vilnius University and that whole area. It includes the Lithuanian Presidential Palace, which you can tour or see their garden.
4. Be a Viking!
Okay, this was my favorite activity while I was in Vilnius. It combines the education of a historical reenactment and the relaxation of a river-boat tour. The normal tour is about an hour in the boat as you travel along the river, either by a motor or by oar, while the guide explains the Baltic Viking culture, history, and lifestyle. It’s a good way to see the city from the water and learn some ancient Lithuanian history through hands-on activities. Great thing to get a group together for, especially if any of you study history.
5. Hot-Air Balloon Ride
Alright, so this an incredible opportunity to get a very unique view of Vilnius, Trakai, and the surrounding area. The weather in Lithuania at the start of the fall semester is wonderful, especially in the evenings. The weather is perfect and the lighting is brilliant. This is another thing to plan ahead for and bring a group of friends to experience it together. There are sunset and sunrise options, both of which are breathtaking. This picture was from a sunset ride that went over Trakai. It is the most expensive experience on the list but is worthwhile if you can make it work.
Anyway, there’s lots more to see, like the Gediminas Castle museum, which is a delight, despite the steep climb. There are several art museums and history museums, which are also good to visit. Spend some extra time there. It is well worth the experience!