I love discovering cities on my own, wandering without much of a plan and little knowledge of what I might stumble upon. After all, if you don’t know what is supposed to be “important,” you have to take a close look at everything . . . and that can lead to great discoveries.
But it’s also nice to have someone explain what you are seeing and why it is important while you are actually viewing it (instead of figuring it out on your own later), and that is where a good guide is essential.
With a pair of Vilnius City Cards that entitle us to a free Discover Vilnius Old Town walking tour, we decided that was just the ticket for a more formal introduction to the architectural and cultural history of the city.
A walking tour of Vilnius
Our guided walking tour of Vilnius begins at the Cathedral Belfry, a dramatic tower that stands near the Cathedral, but is far older. (It’s one of the few remaining pieces of the city’s early fortifications.)
We begin right in Cathedral Square, where paving stones outline the old city wall, a statue of Grand Duke Gediminas portrays the great 14th century leader’s preference for diplomacy over battle, and a tile marks the spot where the Baltic Way (the human chain formed in 1989 linking Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn) is said to have begun. You don’t need to walk very far in Vilnius to discover a lot of history!
And then we were off exploring the city on our walking tour.
Architectural variety in the heart of Vilnius
The old town center of Vilnius developed over centuries and was never completely destroyed at any one time, so today this UNESCO World Heritage site holds a fascinating mix of architectural styles. While plenty of buildings have been lost or horribly disfigured as a result of war, intentional destruction, and general neglect, it’s still possible to see a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical architecture arrayed along what is largely a medieval street network. (This is what infill looks like when it occurs organically over hundreds of years, one building at a time.)
Flag ceremony at the Presidential Palace
Along the way we take a break to see the Presidential Palace and watch the weekly flag ceremony take place. Here too there is quite a mix of old and new!
Abundant architectural detail
As we continue our walk, I marvel at the architectural mix and the abundance of architectural details.
We are also peek into some the courtyards along the way, as we are assured there is no telling what we might find hiding within.
Over the course of the tour we work our way around the university, along shopping streets, and past City Hall, to end at the Gates of Dawn – part of the only surviving gate from the 16th century city wall that once enclosed the lower castle.
It’s the perfect spot to continue our exploration or move inside and begin our own exploration of the interiors of these wonderful buildings.
Our guide for the Discover Vilnius Old Town walking tour was Lola, and she was fabulous. Charming and knowledgeable, there were few questions she couldn’t answer – and she had lots of stories to bring the city’s history alive.
We had good timing for our tour, as we had limited time in the city and the English language version of the Discover Vilnius Old Town walking tour is only offered four times a week during the summer season. If your schedule doesn’t allow time for this tour, the Vilnius City Card gives you a discount on several other tours. Tours are also offered by various other groups, but I was very impressed with our tour and there were no hidden costs – Lola pretty much vanished at the end of the tour, leaving us no opportunity to tip her!
For information on this walking tour and so much more, check the wonderfully useful and easy-to-navigate Vilnius Tourism website.
We received a pair of complimentary single-day Vilnius City Cards to use during our visit, which included the waking tour. However, with a stand-alone ticket price of 10 Euros per person, the walking tour would have been more than worth the price on its own.