The historic center of Vilnius, Lithuania, is a UNESCO World Heritage site where visitors can experience five centuries of change. And what better way to that than on a guided walking tour?
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 show you a city’s highlights and bring the history of each site to life. And that is where a good guide comes in.
Our Vilnius City Cards entitled us to a free Discover Vilnius Old Town walking tour. And a guided walk seemed like a great introduction to the historic core of this complex city.
A walking tour of historic Vilnius
We begin right in Cathedral Square. Here the 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 see how history has shaped the city!
History written in architecture
The old town center of Vilnius developed over 500 years and was never completely destroyed. That means this UNESCO World Heritage site holds a fascinating mix of architecture and architectural styles. Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical architecture jostle each other along a largely a medieval street network. This is what infill looks like when it occurs organically over centuries, 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!
That Lithuania flies the EU flag alongside its own is a reflection of the country’s more recent history. As the first Soviet state to declare its independence, Lithuania quickly reconnected with its Western neighbors.
Abundant architectural detail
As we continue our walk, I marvel at the architectural mix and the abundance of architectural details.
Beautiful hidden courtyards
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.
And back to the 16th century
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 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. As of 2022, old town city tours are included in the new Vilnius Pass, but it doesn’t seem to be the same tour I did in 2016.
Tours (including free tours) are also offered by various other groups, but I was very impressed with our tour and there were no hidden costs – Lola pretty simply 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 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.