Have only one day in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital? This large, walkable old town offers plenty to see and do, but it’s possible to hit the high points even if you have to stick to a specific schedule.
The heart of Vilnius can be found in the former castle complex of Grand Duke Gediminas, who founded Vilnius in the 14th century, as legend goes, after dreaming of a howling iron wolf. The brick tower was built on a hill overlooking Cathedral Square and stands as a symbol of Lithuania—it’s a can’t-miss attraction that will reward you with panoramic views of Old Town Vilnius. You can either walk to the top of the hill without making the final ascent to the roof of the tower, or you can pay 5 litas to enter the museum and get a few stories higher above the surrounding area.
Once you descend to the level of the old town once again, be sure to enter Vilnius Cathedral, a Neo-Classical structure of grand importance. Inside are icons remarkable for their miraculous powers, a chapel to St. Casimir, Lithuania’s patron saint, and the catacombs (accessible only with a guide). To the front of the cathedral is the Miracle Tile (Stebuklas in Lithuanian). Turn around on this tile three times to have your wish come true.
Museums at the Castle Complex
If you choose, you can visit any one of the three museums in the former Lower Castle complex, including the Applied Arts Museum, the Archeological Museum, and the New Arsenal with its collection of ethnographic artifacts.
Pilies Gatve, or Castle Street, can be found south of the former castle complex and is a main tourist area. You can browse here for amber, ceramic, and linen souvenirs. Or rest your feet at a café, grab a snack at the bakery, or choose from hearty Lithuanian dishes at one of two Lithuanian restaurants.
Follow Pilies Gatve until it joins Didzoje Street, which is dominated by the Neo-Classical Town Hall. You’ll pass several churches, including St. Casimir’s Church with its crowned steeple, which frequently hosts free concerts. Take the left branch of the street to pass the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit and St. Theresa’s church and follow it until you reach the Gates of Dawn.
Gates of Dawn
The Gates of Dawn is the only surviving gate from Vilnius’ fortifications. Its icon of the Virgin Mary attracts pilgrims and penitents regularly, who used to ascend the stairs (accessible via a wooden door on the left) on their knees to reach the holy image. Today, the gate is decorated with votives in the shape of hearts or other body parts left by those whose prayers were answered.
Still have more time? Retrace your steps to the Town Hall and turn left down Vokieciu Gatve. Follow it as it becomes Vilniaus Gatve. In 20 minutes, you will have reached Gediminas Prospect, Vilnius’ main drag. Along any of these streets you will find shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars, so how you choose to spend your time is up to you. You may consider walking a ways along Gediminas Prospect to get a feel for this famous street, which, incidentally, will take you back to Cathedral Square if you wish. Grab an ice cream, browse a bookstore, stroll in the park, or relax with a coffee before you return to your hotel or to the airport, train station, or bus station in preparation for your next destination.