To celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary, we spent a long weekend in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

Lithuania has been an independent country for less than 25 years.

Walking around enjoying the city, whose old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was hard to imagine that until fairly recently it was part of the Soviet Union.

We had a nonstop flight from Frankfurt airport and arrived in Vilnius at about midnight.


Vilnius’ time zone is an hour later than Frankfurt’s.

The airport is only 6 kilomters – just under 4 miles – from the city center.

It’s teeny tiny and looks more like a train station from the front of it.

Coming from Germany, we did not have to go through customs/border control at the airport.

We stayed at the Novotel Vilnius Centre hotel, which was lovely. 

And, more importantly, air conditioned. 

The weather was very hot when we were there. 

The next morning we got up, but not bright and early.

By the time we’d settled into the hotel and gotten to sleep it was about 2:00 a.m. Vilnius time so we were in no hurry to get up in the morning.

We had breakfast at the hotel and then went to the tourist information office for some walking tour material.

One of the first stops on the tour was just down the street from our hotel.


That’s the National Drama Theatre with the Three Muses sculpture at the top.

They were a little scary-looking up close but everyone seemed to want their photo taken with the muses – Calliope, Thalia and Melpomene.

They are the muses of, respectively, drama, comedy and tragedy.

There are approximately a bazillion churches in Vilnius and this basilica is the first one we visited.


It’s called the Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladislav and is the main Catholic church in the country.

It’s also referred to simply as the Vilnius Cathedral.

The bottom part of this bell tower in front of the church was once part of the Lower Castle, one of three that were originally in the Vilnius Castle Complex.


The belfry was added on top of it later.

You can see that the bottom, middle and top sections of the tower are all built in different styles from different time periods.

This section of pavement is near the bell tower in what’s called Cathedral Square.


Supposedly if you stand on it and turn around three times while making a wish, your wish will come true. 

It spells out STEBUKLAS, which is Lithuanian for “miracle.”

I would love to go to Vilnius at Christmas time, because last year (2013), the Christmas tree in Cathedral Square was named best in the world by CNN.

The white building seen here is the Royal Palace, part of the Vilnius Castle Complex you just read about.


The palace was previously destroyed and sat empty for 150 years.

It was finally rebuilt in the 21st century.

The monument in the square commemorates the Grand Duke Gediminas, former ruler of Lithuania and founder of Vilnius. 

The street leading to the cathedral is named Gediminas Avenue after the Grand Duke.

You already read about the Lower Castle, and of course you can’t have one of those without having an Upper Castle, right?


That tower is one of the few remaining sections of the Upper Castle.

Most of it was destroyed by both neglect and war.

To get to our next stop we walked along the Vilnia, the river from which Vilnius gets its name.


The buildings seen here are two separate churches.


St. Anne’s is the Brick Gothic church in the foreground with spires that look like sand castles.

The Bernardine Church (Church of St. Francis of Assisi) is the one towards the back with the crucifix set into the façade towards the top of the church. It was once part of the city’s defensive walls.

Next we made our way over to the Užupis district.


It’s a funky, artsy, district that named itself an independent republic on April Fool’s Day in 1997.

The sculpture seen there of an angel blowing a trumpet is supposed to represent artistic freedom. 

We stopped at a café across from the sculpture for some refreshments.

We didn’t go into this church, but I thought it looked beautiful from the outside.


It’s called the Orthodox Church of the Holy Mother of God.

If you’ve read any of our other blogs then you know we enjoy visiting churches, but we really had to pick and choose in Vilnius.

There were just too many to see in our short time there, so we had to enjoy  a lot of them from the outside only.

The house you see here with the flowers on the balconies is called the House of Signatories.


It’s where the Act of Independence of Lithuania was signed in 1918.

Unfortunately it didn’t last and Lithuania was under the control of various countries until the Soviet Union finally recognized their independence in 1991.

Pilies Street, seen here, is a cute little street that connects Cathedral Square to Town Hall Square.


It’s lined with shops and restaurants and in fact we ended up having our anniversary dinner at one of those restaurants the following day.

The House of Signatories that you just saw is also on this street.

Although we never made it up to the Three Crosses monument, we saw it several times during our exploration of the old town.


The crosses were placed there to memorialize some monks from a nearby monastery who became martyrs in the 1300s.

The crosses have been replaced several times, most recently in 1989.

The hill they’re on is where the Crooked Castle used to stand, the last of the three castles in the Vilnius Castle Complex.

This sculpture is a monument to Laurynas Gucevičius.


On the off chance that you’ve never heard of him, he was the architect who designed the Vilnius Cathedral.

He also designed the Town Hall, which you’ll see later.

There was a wedding going on at the church behind the sculpture, which is why you see all those people there.

We saw several weddings over the two full days that we were there.

There’s Sean rubbing the “lucky belly”.


Here’s a shot of it without Sean.


You can see that the plaque underneath it says “LUCKY BELLY – RUB IT!”

I have no idea why it’s lucky, but it was on a wall across from the restaurant where we sat outside to have dinner.

It was great entertainment to see people walk by, read the plaque, get a confused look on their face, look around, rub it and then laugh while taking photos of it.

Our last stop of the day was this Frank Zappa monument.


It was installed in 1995 with the permission of the Soviet government.

Apparently Frank, an American musician, was extremely popular in Eastern Europe.

After that we made our way back to the hotel, which had outdoor tables and bar service.


We sat outside and had a couple of (okay, several) beers called Švyturys, which means “lighthouse”.

It’s the second-oldest brewery in Lithuania and is now owned by the Carlsberg Group.

It’s the most popular local beer and we both liked it.

After breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we resumed our walk.

Our first stop was the Church of St. Catherine.


The church is now used for concerts and cultural events.

I loved this stained glass panel in the church.


In a lot of European countries, there is a dedicated lane for bicyclists on the sidewalk.


Sometimes it’s not really clear that you’re walking in a cycling lane until you get yelled at or a cyclist rings a bell at you to get out of the way.

Not so in Vilnius.

I don’t think there’s any doubt about where the bike lanes are. 

They even x-ed out the pedestrians.

This is something I thought was cool because I’ve never seen it before.


Yup, it’s a car with Russian license plates.

We saw several of them around town.

This building is the Town Hall.


Originally built in the 14th century, it’s been reconstructed a few times.

The last time was in the late 1700s.

The building is now used for concerts and exhibitions.

Walking tours of the city also depart from there.

And here’s yet another church.


It’s the St. Casimir church. 

Casimir is the patron saint of Lithuania.

The Baroque interior of the church was magnificent.


This beautiful historic building now houses the headquarters of the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society.


Remember the stained glass Eye of Providence from the Church of St. Catherine?

Here’s another eye at another church.


That one was on the exterior of the Church of the Holy Trinity.

The Eye of Providence is a popular theme in Lithuania, and a couple of cities in the country even have the eye on their flag and coat of arms.

This chapel is a big attraction for both tourists and worshippers.


It’s called the Gate of Dawn and it is actually a surviving gate – the only one of the original five – from the defensive city walls that were built in the early 1500s.

The chapel is above the arch.

You have to climb up some stairs to get to the chapel and there is a nice view of the street below.


The main attraction in the chapel is this shrine, an icon of the Virgin Mary referred to as the Vilnius Madonna.


It was painted in the 17th century and is supposed to have miraculous powers.

People make pilgrimages from all over the world to see it.

There were several people kneeling in front of it and fervently praying when we were there, despite all the tourists.

After a stop at a beautiful Orthodox church where you weren’t allowed to take photos and where we got stuck in a throng of priests, nuns and worshippers pouring in, we made our way to The Bastion.


The Bastion was part of a defensive wall built in the early 1600s.

There were absolutely no other tourists around which is kind of a shame for them, because The Bastion sits on a hill with great views of the city.


On that hill in the distance, you can see the Upper Castle again.

From there we headed back to the Independent Republic of Užupis to look for something we’d missed the previous day.


That little mermaid, naturally called the Užupis Mermaid, sits in a wall above the Vilnia river.

The name Užupis actually means “place beyond the river”.

The mermaid is a symbol of Užupis and supposedly if you surrender to her charms you will remain in Užupis forever.

Being that we are back in Germany as of this writing, I guess we were immune to her charms.

Believe it or not this is the Presidential Palace.


I took that photo from across the square, but I could have taken a photo of Sean touching those flagpoles.

I’ve seen this in other countries too where you can just walk right on up to the presidential palace and nobody stops you. Amazing.

Also, Napoleon slept there.  

By the way, Lithuania currently has their first female president who was elected in 2009 and reelected in 2014. She is the only president to have been reelected since Lithuania gained their independence from the Soviet Union.

And right near the palace is the Ministry of Defense building.


The statue in front of it is of Jonas Žemaitis who was one of the resistance leaders against the Soviet occupation of the country.

He was posthumously named the fourth President of Lithuania.

The last photo of the trip is another one of the Vilnius Cathedral and the bell tower, taken during our walk down Gediminas Avenue at dusk to go back to the hotel.


We had a very early flight back to Frankfurt the next day so we didn’t stay up too late that evening.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every place I’ve visited in Eastern Europe and have never once felt unsafe.

The countries I’ve visited have all been tourist-friendly and I have yet to experience language barrier issues as everyone in the tourism/hospitality industry speaks English.

A lot of the residents do as well, especially the younger people, but it’s always helpful to learn a phrase or two in the native language, especially if it’s how to say “thank you.”

Which place in Eastern Europe is your favorite?



About the author: Trish