Walking Tour of Vilnius, Lithuania
Vilnius is the capital and largest city of Lithuania, one of the Baltic States which finally became independent when the Soviet Union split up. Its Old Town, Senamiestis, the largest in Europe, a medieval maze of cobblestone streets, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cathedral Square is a major gathering place. The Cathedral contains the lovely Chapel of St Casimir. Walk up Castle Hill to the Gediminas Tower for a great view. The presence of Vilnius University keeps this city forever young.
My walk begins at Cathedral Square, in the northern part of the largest Old Town in Eastern Europe. At some point in your exploration of the square, look for a very special tile, between the Bell Tower and the Cathedral. This tile contains the word, “stebuklas,” which means “miracle” and recalls the day in 1989 when over two million Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians made a human chain from here to Tallinn, in protest of Soviet rule. The present Cathedral dates to the 15th century, with numerous restorations since that time. The neo-Classical structure has prominent, white-brass statues of Sts Helene, Stanislav, and Casimir, on its roof. Be sure to examine the lovely Chapel of St Casimir, which contains his silver coffin. Also on the square is a Statue of Grand Duke Gediminas, the city’s founder.
Exit the square from behind the Cathedral and take the small path to the top of Gediminas Hill, for great views of the city below (Gediminas Tower provides even more spectacular views). Then return to the Cathedral and walk north on Vrubieskio, and then right on Arsenalo gatve to find the Castle Museum and the Applied Arts Museum.
Now head back to Cathedral and then leave the square from its southeastern corner (near the Grand Duke’s Statue), taking Pilies gatve south into Old Town. Vilnius University occupies an entire block, on your right. Walk in and explore the many courtyards, interconnected via passageways. Be sure to find St John’s Church, a beautiful church with a tall bell tower, in one of the courtyards.
Exit the west and turn right onto Universiteto, which leads to Daukauto Square. Look for the President’s Palace, facing the square from the south. It was used by Napoleon when he was on his way to Moscow. Now, reverse direction on Universiteto, then turn right on Dominikonu gatve to reach the Church of the Holy Spirit, with its interior of gold and white.
Next, turn left onto Vokieciu gatve, which leads to Town Hall Square (Rotuses aikste). The former Town Hall is now the Artist’s Palace, and sits in the middle of the square. To the north is the Church of St Nicholas, the city’s oldest (1320 AD), and to the east is St Casimir’s church, the oldest Baroque church in the city. It dates to 1604 AD.
Now, walk south on Ausros Vartu gatve, one of Vilnius’ most charming streets. On the right is an archway, known as the Basilian Gates, denoting the entrance to a decaying monastery. On the left are the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit, which displays the bodies of three 14th century martyrs, and St Teresa’s Church, with its ornate Baroque interior.
Continuing south on Ausros Vartu, you will reach the Gates of Dawn, the only original city gate still standing. Climb the staircase to a small chapel which contains the Icon of the Virgin, a relic with supposed miraculous powers and a major pilgrimage site for Eastern European Catholics.
Pass through the gate and turn left onto Bazilijonu gatve, and then left along the city walls, on Sv. Dvasios gatve, then turn left and a quick right onto Boksto gatve, as you continue northward.
Next, turn right on Sv. Kasimiero gatve and then left on Maironio gatve, which will take you to St Michael’s Church, on the left, and St Anne’s Church, on the right, a 16th century architectural gem.
When you finish here, continue north on Maironio and then turn left on B. Radvilaites gatve, which brings you just south of Cathedral Square, where your walk began.