Have you ever heard of Vilnius, Lithuania? Personally I had no idea where Vilnius was, until, one day earlier this year, Robbie Williams decided to give a concert in nearby city Kaunas during my holidays. I picked up the phone, called my friend Isa and asked her if she was up for going to Lithuania and luckily she was (Robbie was involved, and when he is she rarely says no ;) ).
So I started looking into this, for me, mysterious country and I liked what I read. Vilnius has one of the largest medieval quarters in Europe and the Old Town is included in the Unesco World Heritage List, what’s not to like? And so it came that in April we boarded our plane to Vilnius. Seriously, why did it take me so long to discover all those beautiful countries and cities in eastern Europe?
Going a bit off topic… A few days ago I was thinking about the blog and reading tips on how to improve travel blogs, and one site suggested offering the readers downloadable walks. Me, I love walking tours, whenever I want to discover a new city I study all the maps I can get my hands on and start drawing different routes on it. As soon as I’m in town I start walking, usually with the map in my hand (not the phone with GPS as I don’t want my battery dying). I sometimes stick to the drawn route, but also take detours when a beautiful building catches my eye or I see something worth exploring. Unfortunately finding maps with self-guided walking tours online isn’t easy, and that’s what I will try to do. I’ll keep it simple, because that’s how I like it, but I hope it provides a good starting point for those people who want to explore a city on foot.
Okay, back to Vilnius. We spent two days in the city which was enough to see at least the main sights in the Old Town. We walked all the streets in the tour I’m writing about, but in a slightly different order. However, that’s how I would do it if I could go back…
Start the walk at the Cathedral (green paddle), if you want you can go inside, when we were there it was closed so we only admired the beautiful white building and the even prettier Bell Tower from the outside. From the cathedral square it’s only a short but steep walk up the hill to reach Gediminas Tower (1), a remaining part of Vilnius’ Upper Castle. If you prefer you can take the funicular up to the tower, it starts in the arsenal area but somehow we had troubles finding it and ended walking up, which wasn’t too bad. You can enter the tower for a small fee and see an exhibition on Lithuanias’ history, before climbing to the top of the tower and enjoying the beautiful view over the city.
Then it’s time to walk down into the Old Town, to St. Anne’s Church (2), a pretty Gothic building. Just next to it you can find the Bernardine church, which is also worth a visit. Take a stroll in the park until you reach the Orthodox Cathedral (3) and then get into the Old Town. Visit the University‘s patio and if you want climb the campanile of St. Johns’ Church (4) before strolling down and then up again Pilies Street (5), the oldest street in Vilnius with the cute cafés and pretty shops.
Head towards the Town Hall (6) and the Gates of Dawn (7) and pass some more colourful churches. I was quite impressed to see all the spiritual people passing under the Gates of Dawn and bowing, some stopping to say a prayer and have a look at the Vilnius Madonna displayed in the shrine.
The street leading to the Gates of Dawn is full of souvenir shops, so if you want to take a little something home, that may be the place to buy it. Then go back to the town hall and turn left for another street of shops (dashed route) or even better go right back into the medieval part of town and marvel at the pretty little houses lining the narrow cobbled lanes. Have a coffee or something to eat in one of the many pretty cafés and stroll through the university area before going shopping in Vilniaus and Gedimino street.
The tour ends on the same square where it started where you can visit the national museum at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania (10) and learn more about the history of the place.
Here is the walk on a map, zoom in and out to see exactly where you have to go.
I hope you’ll enjoy the tour!
Going a bit off topic again… as I wrote earlier, the main reason why we went to Lithuania was to see a concert of Mr. Rock DJ Robbie Williams in Kaunas. I had planned to visit Kaunas as well but unfortunately it started raining heavily and at some point even snowing when we were there, so we didn’t see much. We only walked around town for about an hour, but I really liked what I saw there too so I want to show you at least one picture of Kaunas as well. I hope I may have the chance to visit that town again one day… hopefully on a warm sunny day!