Old Town Vilnius, also known as the Vilnius center, Vilnius Old Town, or Senamiestis in Lithuanian, is typically where tourists go when they visit Lithuania and its capital city, which is—you guessed it—Vilnius! In fact, they may not see anything but Old Town Vilnius because that’s where the most famous and most historic sights of the city are located.
Vilnius Old Town is also where much of the Lithuanian capital’s action is—you can shop, dine, and enjoy cultural activities here. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that maintains its historic look and feel with curving lanes and charming, colorful facades.
So, if you’re planning a trip and will incorporate Old Town Vilnius into your itinerary of Lithuanian sights, what should you know to get the most out of your visit?
Table of Contents
- Must-see Old Town Vilnius Sights
- Restaurants in Senamiestis
- Culture and Events
- Tours of Old Town Vilnius
- Supermarkets and Services
Must-see Old Town Vilnius Sights
The Senamiestis District of Vilnius is, no surprise, where you’ll find the bulk of its important sights—after all, it grew from medieval times out of this center, so layers upon layers of history can be found here, with plenty of architectural styles to demonstrate the development of the city, including Renaissance, Baroque, and Neo-Classical styles. The list below only scratches the surface of sights to see in Old Town Vilnius, but if you’re short on time, the following are the high points to hit.
Gediminas Tower is unmistakably the number-one sight of Vilnius Old Town. This tower, which sits atop Gediminas Hill, watches over the old town just as it did in days past.
Gediminas Castle itself has deteriorated over the centuries, but the tower element, which now contains a museum and has a rooftop viewing platform, remains a symbol of Vilnius. Climb the winding route from the base of the hill to see Old Town Vilnius—and the surrounding neighborhoods—stretch out before you.
Gediminas Tower has a museum inside, which shows how the castle looked during various points in Lithuania’s history, and you can take it in as well as the rooftop viewing platform when you visit Vilnius.
Vilnius Cathedral, located at the base of Gediminas Hill, is another important symbol of Vilnius with its white columns, bell tower, and generously proportioned square. This Roman Catholic church, has a chapel that pays homage to Lithuania’s patron saint, St. Casimir, while its catacombs reveal their mysteries during a guided tour.
The paired-down interior is a testament to the many years of Soviet rule, which saw the cathedral’s decorations stripped and its interior put to various uses—none of them related to worship. Vilnius Cathedral once again serves as a house of religion and is open to view.
Cathedral Square is at the heart of the historic center and where many events take place. It’s also a common meeting spot and where the main Vilnius Christmas tree is erected. From the various stone outlines on Cathedral Square, you can see evidence of how it looked during the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Cathedral Square is where significant cultural architectural development has taken place–a story that you can get a deeper understanding of at the Palace of the Grand Dukes, a museum on the square that offers multi-media exhibits about the history and evolution of Lithuania.
Vilnius Old Town is also home to the Presidential Palace, which has hosted many a famous guest in its time, including King Louis XVIII, Napoleon, and Tsar Alexander I. You can either peek into its courtyards, catch the flag-raising ceremony at noon on Sundays, or take a tour (pre-booking is required).
Located across from the Presidential Palace, Vilnius University is a maze of pretty courtyards and antiquated spaces that recall the university’s origins in the 16th century.
This grand complex has a beautiful library, an old observatory, and more recent frescos. It’s worth booking a tour to see all the highlights of this place of learning. Vilnius University is an essential element to the historic center.
You’ll also want to visit the Vilnius University church and if you like panoramas, its bell tower, which can be seasonally accessed with a separate fee.
Town Hall Square
Town Hall Square is a central square in Old Town Vilnius with a fountain, a space large enough for markets (including a Christmas market), and the Vilnius Town Hall, which sometimes acts as a concert venue or exhibition space.
The historic buildings in various architectural styles on the perimeter of the square contain restaurants and shop selling Baltic amber, Lithuanian linen, pottery, designer clothing, jewelry, books, and more.
Gates of Dawn
The Gates of Dawn are the only remaining gates of Old Town Vilnius’s old fortifications. Over the archway is an icon of the Virgin Mary, which supplicants visit via the stone stairs to the left, sometimes climbing them on their knees. It’s an important site for Catholics, the choice of religion for the majority of spiritual Lithuanians and the neighboring Poles.
St. Anne’s Church
The Gothic architectural style came late to Lithuania. St. Anne’s Church, modest in size compared to the most famous examples of Gothic architecture, is one of the city’s gems. This Roman Catholic church was built at the end of the 15th century and was one component among many that helped the historic center be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Hill of Three Crosses
The Hill of Three crosses sits behind Cathedral square on a hill in a park. The three white crosses are lit at night and can be seen from various parts of the city.
You can also walk up to the Hill of Three Crosses to get a view of the historic center from above.
Restaurants in Senamiestis
You don’t have to leave Vilnius Old Town to get a good meal, and you can experience anything from local Lithuanian cuisine to fine dining tasting menus.
For local Lithuanian cuisine, visit Amatininku Uzeigas on Town Square or Aline Leiciai, on Stikliu Street. There, you’ll be able to sample potato dishes galore and Lithuanian meats and cheeses.
For quick bites with plenty of selection, visit either Downtown Food Hall on Smetanos Street or Gastronomas Food Hall on Gedimino Avenue.
In the mood for a burger? Try Drama Burger at its Gediminas Avenue location or Boom Burger across from Vilnius Cathedral.
Balzac, St. Germaine, and Montmarte are all restaurants advertising French cuisine—these restaurants all have friendly outdoor terraces for summertime dining, too.
If you are looking for brunch in Vilnius, Senamiestis also has you covered from eggs Benedict to full English breakfasts.
If you’re feeling tired of wandering and don’t know what you want, consider stopping at Senator’s Passage, where you can get a quick bite from the grill station, a glass of wine and a cheese plate from the wine bar, or a more substantial meal of locally sourced ingredients at 14 Horses Restaurant.
Higher-end dining can be found in the likes of Dziaugmas restaurant, Amandus, or 1918.
For seafood, consider a visit to Selfish or Farmer & the Ocean, both on Vilniaus Street.
Shopping in the Lithuanian capital certainly isn’t limited to what can be found in Vilnius Old Town, but it’s a good start.
GO9 shopping center, on Gedimino Avenue, has a mix of shops, including Cos, H&M, and Locals.lt, the local design shop, the latter which is great for purchasing, among other locally made design products, Lithuanian candle brands.
Pilies Street, running from Cathedral Square in the direction of Town Hall Square, is a good area for buying gifts and souvenirs, including amber jewelry, linen clothing, and other Lithuanian-made items.
Wander up Stikliu Street if you’re in search of fine or artisan jewelry, stained glass pieces, or original handmade accessories and items for the home.
Better yet, check to see if during your stay any of Old Town Vilnius’s outdoor markets will be held, where you can shop for anything your heart desires, including pottery, leather goods, wood crafts, herbal teas, soaps and oils, and honey, cheese, bread, and meat.
Culture and Events in Senamiestis
Many, many cultural events happen throughout the year in Old Town Vilnius—both seasonal events and performances at regular cultural venues. For example, the National Opera and Ballet Theatre holds regular performances of classic favorites, and you can also catch orchestras or other types of concerts at Congress Hall.
Seasonal events include markets, festivals, and celebration of annual holidays. Look for some of these Vilnius events on events calendars. Vilnius’ historic center is a great place for becoming familiar with Lithuanian culture.
Museum Night is an evening where all museums and galleries are open late and for free, often with special exhibitions or shows that take place especially for this event.
Culture Night, held in summer, is an evening of cultural activities, including outdoor theater, modern dance, demonstrations of folk crafts, and plenty of music. It takes advantage of the long, warm summer nights and uses Old Town Vilnius as a backdrop!
Street Music Festival
The Street Music Festival annually fills the streets of Vilnius’s old town with music ranging from accordion music, to folk music, to local pop.
Kaziukas Fair is Old Town Vilnius’s biggest seasonal market and occurs in the early spring. Here, the craftspeople and designers of neighboring countries join those from Lithuania to offer all types of wares, from wicker baskets to windchimes, from fur coats to fine art. Lithuanian folk art is also heavily on display.
Christmas in the Capital
Vilnius’s Christmas activities fill Senamiestis with sparkle—think Christmas tree lightings, light shows, Christmas markets, and concerts.
Things to do in Vilnius abound, whether you want to take a hot-air balloon ride, explore history, go on a tasting adventure, or something else.
Tours of Old Town Vilnius
Visitors have a range of tours they can take to explore Vilnius’s historic center. They range from those that will show the main highlights of the city to those that uncover the Jewish history of Vilnius, “alternative” tours of Old Town Vilnius that explore some of its lesser-known features, tours of Soviet-era Vilnius, bike tours, and even ghost tours.
Of course, with a paper map or a map app, you can explore the Vilnius center on foot—it’s the largest preserved medieval center in Northern Europe, but it’s still easy to get around. If you’re skeptical, you can check out the guide to getting around Vilnius to discover all of your options.
It’s still relatively cheap to stay in the city center, with hotel prices below those of other European capital cities. Centrally located hotels include the Radisson Astoria, Novotel, Amberton, and the upper-scale Kempinksi or Pacai. Of course, Vilnius’s range of accommodations includes apartments for short- or long-term stays and Airbnb options. However, it does pay to stay in the center so you can get a feel for the Vilnius Old Town vibe.
Supermarkets and Services
While supermarkets in Old Town Vilnius may be on the smaller side, it’s easy to find what you need, whether at the Rimi on Town Hall Square, the Lidl in the GO9 shopping center on Gedimino Avenue, or the Iki on Vokieciu. You’ll also find specialty shops, such as the Italian deli on Pilies or Biosala, the shop selling organic produce and ecological products.
Plenty of services exist right in the old town, as well, whether you need a dentist, an optometrist or eyeglasses store, a seamstress, or a doctor. Usually, a Google Maps search will point you to the nearest one, and those serving the Old Town residents typically have staff that speak at least a bit of English.
Spas also abound, from those at hotels to Vilnius Spa, with its location near the Parliament building, or Azia Spa, which offers Thai and Ayurvedic massages and treatments. These are typically day spas and offer a typical menu of services, such as massages, facials, scrubs, and wraps.
A Great Place to Be When You Visit Vilnius
In short, you can find everything you need right in the Vilnius city center, whether your stay is a quick breeze-through or a longer stay. It’s beautiful in every season, and both the blue skies of summer and the snow and ice of winter complement its features. It’s a city that reveals its charms one street at a time, and every corner you turn offers a new view, some of which are like looking into centuries past.
Furthermore, if you’re combining your trip to Vilnius into a tour of the Baltic countries, you will notice that Vilnius has its own look and feel, different from that of Riga or Tallinn. Many people, even those from larger cultural centers, find so many reasons to visit Vilnius due to its manageable size, prettiness, safety, speed of life, and energy. It’s likely you will, too!