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Europe » Lithuania » Vilnius

For outsiders anyway, Vilnius is a hard city to pin down. It's not quite Eastern European, not quite Scandinavian, not Russian, and not German. It's not even quite Lithuanian. This ambiguity, the diversity of influences, actually gives the city its unique character and charm. As many travel writers are prone to pointing out, Lithuania's capital has a certain earthiness that both Riga and Tallinn lack. For this and other reasons, many visitors to the region tend to fall madly in love with Vilnius, pegging it as their favorite Baltic city of them all.

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Vilnius, the least known and visited of the three Baltic State capitals, had for decades reclined in the shadows, but all that has changed with Lithuania joining the European Union and in 2009 being European Capital of Culture, which has really opened up the capital's charms. The city's historic core is stunning, centerd around a well-preserved and expansive baroque old town that is fringed by the Vilnia and Neris Rivers. A riot of church spires reach for the heavens; just how many churches Vilnius has can be appreciated by climbing up to the city's castle or visiting one of the parks that dot this green metropolis. On the north bank of the Neris, a new Vilnius is taking shape, a 21st-century collage of glass and steel skyscrapers geared towards the burgeoning business community, a world that offers a complete contrast to Vilnius and Lithuania before the break from the Soviet Union and the ditching of communism in 1991. Add in the buzz that the large local student population injects into the old streets, and Vilnius today is a thrilling, energetic and rewarding place to visit.

 

Things to see & do:

 

Old Town

The Old Town is the historical centre of Vilnius, which was defended by a city wall in the beginning of the 16th century. The large complex of castles contained the Upper Castle (Gediminas Hill), the Lower Castle (at the foot of the hill), the Crooked Castle (on the hill nearby), the Grand Ducal Castle, the Cathedral, the House of Bishops etc. To explore the places of interest in the Old Town you can ask for a map in Tourist Information Offices.

 

Vilnius Castle

The castle of Vilnius is located on a small mound which you can reach even by the funicular. The fortifications date back to the 13th century. Today the castle houses a museum.

 

Cathedral

The first church was established in 1251. Many Grand Dukes of Lithuania were crowned and buried there. The church was rebuilt several times due to fires, and therefore changed it's styles. The church has it's classical style since the 18th century. The Cathedral contains over 10 chapels in their original state. The Cathedral was used as an art gallery under the Soviet regime, but it's recently refurbished. The freestanding bell tower is located between the main structure and Gedimino. It stands on the remains of the fortifications of the Lower Castle.

 

Gediminas Tower of the Upper Castle

The Tower stands on a 48-metre high hill. At the end of the 14th century a castle stood there consisting of a keep surrounded by a wall with a gate and 3 towers. Only the western (Gediminas') tower and some ruins of defensive wall survived. The tower is a symbol of Vilnius. There is a nice panorama of the entire city centre from the roof of the tower.

 

The Gates of Dawn

This Renaissance building is the only surviving gate of the original ten gates in the city wall built in the beginning of 16th century.  A chapel is located adjacent to the gate containing a significant Renaissance painting of Holy Mother of God, which is thought to have miracle-working powers.

 

TV Tower

The TV Tower offers impressive panorama of the city from it's small café. It also houses exhibition about 14 civilians murdered by Soviet tanks in 1991 during the independence struggle.

 

The Church of St Michael the Archangel

The church was built in the 16th century for a convent of Bernardine nuns. With passing of time the church had to be rebuilt and restored several times.

From 1956 the Church houses the Museum of Architecture.

 

The Church of St Nicholas

The Church of St Nicholas is one of the oldest churches in Lithuania. It was built in the 14th century and also today shows almost unchanged features of Gothic style. At the beginning of the 20th century it was the only church in Vilnius where services were held in Lithuanian.

 

The Church of St Peter and St Paul

This church was built in the 17th century and shows impressive features of Baroque style. Later it was embellished with stucco figures and frescoes. The Rococo pulpit was made at the beginning of the 19th century.

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