Vilnius Travel Guide
Once the least known and visited of the three Baltic State capitals, Vilnius has now established as a city-break destination of considerable repute and most tourists start from its Old Town, one of the largest surviving medieval old towns in Europe and a UNESCO-listed site.
Though occupied for much of the 20th century by Russians and Nazis, it is the period of Soviet rule that is most tellingly portrayed in the Museum of Genocide Victims, housed in the former KGB headquarters, complete with still-intact cell block and specialised torture rooms.
Elsewhere, the National Museum of Lithuania tells the story of prouder moments in the country’s history, and has the largest collection of Lithuanian cultural artefacts seen anywhere.
However, the city's history began long before occupation and its historic core is still stunning, centred on 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 by taking the funicular railway to the top). There are more panoramic views to be had by visiting one of the several undulating parks that dot this green metropolis. The best vantage point of all is from the summit of the Hill of Three Crosses, in Kalnai Park.
In sharp contrast to all this, the north bank of the Neris is where the Vilnius of the future is taking shape: a 21st-century collage of glass and steel skyscrapers geared towards the burgeoning business community.
If it’s art you’re after, the city is awash with creatives too. The huge Contemporary Art Centre is one of the biggest art spaces in the Baltic region and is the place to go for exhibitions, retrospectives, one-off events and hand-picked cinema pieces. Else, hunt out the sculpture of Frank Zappa in a small everyday car park or time your visit during September’s Street Art Festival.
Add in the buzz that the large local student population injects into the old streets, and it all makes Vilnius a thrilling, energetic and rewarding place to visit.