If you’re touring Europe during the Christmas season or spending Christmas in Lithuania, be sure to put Vilnius on your list! As a Baltic capital city, it pulls out all the stops for the holiday season.
Vilnius at Christmas is incredible. The capital city of Lithuania has embraced the tradition of Christmas markets and added an entire roster of events to round out the month of December and beyond. You’ll never be bored when you visit Vilnius in December, and you’ll be able to experience Lithuanian culture to boot.
Most of the events take place on Cathedral Square, the historic area that the city grew up around. Here’s what you can look forward to if you’re in Vilnius during Christmastime: Christmas in Vilnius is certainly something special!
The Lighting of the Vilnius Christmas Tree
The lighting of the Christmas tree on Cathedral Square is a major act in the opening ceremony for the beginning of the Christmas season. Erected days before, the giant Christmas tree glows for the first time every year at the beginning of December surrounded by a crowd of excited viewers.
Each year, locals anticipate what theme will be revealed. In the past, the Christmas tree has dripped in oversized ornaments, given home to charming birdhouses, or formed part of a clock when seen by drone from above. Typically tasteful, the main Christmas tree is central to the embodiment of the holiday spirit in Vilnius.
The Vilnius Christmas tree is often voted as one of Europe’s most beautiful Christmas trees every year – that’s how serious the local residents take their tree decoration.
Christmas Markets in Vilnius
Various Vilnius Christmas markets sprout up during the month of December. The main one surrounds the Christmas tree on Cathedral Square in Old Town Vilnius, but a Designer Market appears on Kudirkos Square in the middle of December, Panorama shopping center hosts an indoor market, and some booths are set up at Town Hall Square as well.
Marking the start of the season for Christmas in Vilnius is the International Charity Christmas Bazaar at Town Hall, a major charity fundraising event hosted by the International Women’s Association of Vilnius involving the Vilnius diplomatic community. In the past, a market has also popped up at the train station!
Vilnius Christmas Train
For as little as two euros, the Vilnius Christmas Train will take you on a holiday ride around town. Hop on at the stop near Cathedral Square and ride around to view Vilnius at Christmas and the evening light display.
Those who love to skate are in luck—Lithuania’s cold northern weather means that the skating rink stays up into early spring and sees regular use from locals and visitors alike for these few cold months.
What could be more special than a spin around the skating rink for Christmas in Vilnius?
In the past, the skating rink has been set up on Lukiskis Square as well as across the river near the White Bridge. It’s a new tradition for Christmas in Vilnius, but it’s already well-loved.
Whether you visit the Bernadine Church in Old Town Vilnius or the Vilnius Cathedral on Cathedral Square for Christmas Eve mass, the experience is sure to be memorable, even if you don’t understand Lithuanian language.
These historic places of worship are packed to the brim this evening for the holiday special service. Interestingly, the Bernadine Church often has its own nativity scene complete with live animals, which you can visit in the run-up to Christmas in Vilnius.
Vilnius, like other cities throughout Europe, have gotten into the 3D video projection game with a special program for Christmas. The side of Vilnius Cathedral just happens to be the perfect spot to screen Christmas stories, and so from the 25th to the 29th of December, from 5:00 pm till 9:00 pm, the Christmas animation will play in a loop.
New Year’s Eve
Cathedral Square is, unsurprisingly, the focus of New Year’s Eve celebrations in Vilnius, where crowds gather to countdown the seconds to midnight before the fireworks display.
Procession of the Three Kings
Christmas in Vilnius doesn’t end on December 25. The procession of the Three Kings, a parade through Old Town that starts at the Gates of Dawn, is a good event for families who want to brave the chilly weather.
Held on January 6 every year—Epiphany—this traditional procession begins at 4:30 pm and ends at Cathedral Square. Watch the procession pass by at a certain point on its route or follow it as it makes its way to the heart of town. It’s an interesting Lithuanian holiday that helps wrap up the festive season.
Lithuania’s Russian population celebrates Orthodox Christmas on January 7. Cathedral Square once again hosts a program of events for those whose Christmas holiday is celebrated on this day. The program begins at 5:00 pm and includes a visit from Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa Claus, and Snegurochka, his snow-maiden sidekick.
How to Enjoy Vilnius at Christmas
Though climate change is apparent in Lithuania, just as it is elsewhere in the world, temperatures during December and January are often below zero, particularly at night.
If you plan to be outside for an extended period of time, for example, to watch the lighting of the Christmas tree or for New Year’s Eve, be sure to dress accordingly: cover as much skin as possible, dress in layers, and wear warm socks and boots.
Also remember that days are short here during winter, with the sun setting as early as 4:00 pm. Though the Christmas lights give off a merry glow to dispel the seasonal darkness, they don’t give off much heat.
The area around the cathedral, however—both Gedimino Avenue and Pilies Street—are full of cafes and restaurants if you need a hot drink or to unfreeze your fingers and toes before enjoying more of the festivities.