Weaving through narrow streets of Vilnius old town, the Lithuanian capital takes a spot aboard UNESCO's World Heritage Journeys of Romantic Europe. Guiding you through a romantic city break, a getaway or a long weekend, here are the top things to see and do.
1. The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
Katedros a. 4
The palace tells the story of the country’s growth and emergence, and offers a special treat for all romantics – a charming place for walks and relaxation in a restored Renaissance garden founded in the 16th century by Bona Sforza, the Queen of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania. A few hundred years ago, the garden probably served as a backdrop to Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund II Augustus' confessions of love to his wife Barbara Radziwiłł. Today, the garden still serves as a refuge for lovers in the heart of the city. Myrtles, oranges, and paradise apples bloom here, creating a Mediterranean atmosphere.
2. Gediminas’ Tower
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One of the city’s most recognisable symbols visible from afar serves as a reminder of the romantic legend of Vilnius. This was the hill where the Iron Wolf appeared to Gediminas, the first Grand Duke of Lithuania, in a dream. Thus began the story of Vilnius in the 14th century. Although only fragments of the Upper Castle still exist, the restored tower is an integral part of the city. The Lithuanian flag was first flown at the top of the tower a century ago. Gediminas’ Hill and Tower offer impressive panoramas of the Old Town – the red roofs of Vilnius, the church towers and the narrow streets look stunning.
3. Bernardine Garden
Built in 1469, the garden is still open in the heart of the Old Town and remains a favourite place for a romantic stroll. The Vilnia River flowing by is soothing and it’s lovely to simply sit down on a nearby bench and listen to it over a game of checkers. The musical fountain in the centre of the park spreads its songs throughout the green space. The Vilnia River Valley was once a sacred grove, and the Old Town’s oldest oak tree is still growing in the park.
The most famous Lithuanian love story between Sigismund II Augustus, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, and his wife Barbara Radziwiłł has been alive for 500 years. Sigismund II Augustus used to visit Barbara Radziwiłł via a secret tunnel before they were married. Sigismund II Augustus was ready to sacrifice the future of his kingdom to marry the woman whose beauty is still talked about today. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t last long, but despite the early death of Barbara Radziwiłł, their love is still alive to this day.
“Everyone has the right to love,” reads the constitution of the self-proclaimed independent republic of Užupis, which is translated into more than 25 languages. Surprises await at every turn in this bohemian district: art installations, murals, and spectacular panoramic views of the Old Town. Lovers often leave a love lock on the Užupis Bridge, while the mermaid right by the bridge tempts all travellers to fall in love with the area and stay there forever.
5. Literatų Street (Literary Street)
Adam Mickiewicz, the famous Lithuanian and Polish poet, lived on this street at the beginning of the 19th century, when it was populated with printing houses and bookstores. Today, the walls along the street are famous for over 200 pieces of art dedicated to Lithuanian and foreign authors. It’s a truly unconventional open-air gallery where the love of literature is manifested in the form of creative tiles.
6. St. Johns’ Church Bell Tower
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This church tower is one of the most beautiful places to get a bird’s-eye view of the roofs of Vilnius Old Town. Built in the 17th century, the Bell Tower of St. Johns’ Church has 193 authentic wooden steps (or a modern lift) that take you up to the 45-metre high observation platform. The tallest building in the Old Town offers spectacular views of the stunning St. Anne’s Church, Gediminas Tower, and the oldest street in the city – Pilies Street.
It is believed that the first Lithuanian novelist, Sophie de Choiseul-Gouffier, a member of the Lithuanian nobility from the Tyzenhaus family, had given her heart to Russian Emperor Alexander I. The emperor was so fascinated by the woman that their special friendship lasted for as long as 13 years, until the death of the Tsar. They met at a party at the Radziwiłł residence, which now houses Hotel PACAI. This love story is described in Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
7. Musical Oginski Bench
Watching the fountains at Sirvydas Square while sitting on a special bench and listening to the polonaises of the composer Michal Kleofas Oginski make for a very special atmosphere. Just one press of a button and romantic music flows out of the bench. The multimedia sculpture-bench, created in honour of the 250th anniversary of Oginski’s birth, allows passers-by to admire the composer’s work and learn more about the life of this dynamic personality.
8. Stiklo Quarter
Stiklių g. / M. Antokolskio g. / Žydų g. / Gaono g.
The cosy little Old Town street is the city’s oldest shopping area and home to unique boutiques selling Lithuanian designs, crafts galleries and the renowned Stikliai Hotel. Cafe Augustas and Barbora is a special place to get some coffee while remembering the famous love story between the Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund II Augustus and Barbara Radziwiłł.
9. The Love Arch
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When walking along Vokiečių Street, turn into the small alley next to La Provence restaurant and you’ll soon find yourself in a small courtyard that leads to an arched tunnel between two buildings known as the Love Arch. Take the person you love by the hand and walk together. The arch is really small, so you might need to bend over a bit to avoid hitting your head. Look for approval from the little wooden angel hidden in a niche in the wall. That’s it – the love spell has been cast.
10. Apple Tile
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This is the ideal place to meet for a date. Gitenis Umbrasas, the sculptor behind the Apple Tile placed in Moniuška Square, depicted the apple and the heart – symbols that recount the biblical story of Adam and Eve. The tile serves as an invitation to remember love and take note of the little wonders in everyday life.
11. A Boy with a Shoe Statue
Basanavičiaus g. / Mindaugo g.
What deeds are done for love? Perhaps eating a shoe, as Romain Gary, the famous author of the autobiographical novel Promise at Dawn, suggests. The writer was born in Vilnius and spent his childhood here, but this statue is more than just a memory of the writer. It tells the story of a pure feeling – first love – and all the impossible things that it makes possible.
The love between singer Kristina Gerhardi Frank and Vilnius University professor Joseph Frank began in Vienna, but blossomed in Vilnius. Together with his wife, a good friend of Beethoven and Joseph Haydn, Frank organised cultural events to raise money for the poor. Frank started an initiative to establish a theatre in Vilnius while his wife became an entrepreneur. Portraits of the couple can be seen at the Vilnius Picture Gallery.
12. Subačiaus Viewpoint
This is definitely one of the most romantic and cinematographic places in Vilnius, with a marvellous panoramic view of the Old Town. Church towers, red roofs, Gediminas’ Tower, the flowing Vilnelė River – it’s a perfect place to sit on a bench with a cup of coffee and admire a different view of the city. Walking trails and streets lead to Užupis, the Old Town and the Vilnius Defence Wall.
13. Pučkoriai Exposure and Belmontas
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The highest and most impressive exposure in Lithuania offers unforgettable views of Pavilniai Regional Park. Protected as a natural monument, the exposure can be a great start to a hike along the cognitive trail with the sundial, the ruins of a cannon foundry and Belmontas Park along the way. For a 19th century romantic atmosphere, walking down to the Belmontas Waterfalls, old mill building and ponds are a must.
14. Botanical Garden in Kairėnai
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Located a little further away from the city centre, the Vilnius University Botanical Garden attracts visitors with impressive blossoms. Rhododendrons, lilies, peonies, and roses – the aromas and colours are so dizzying you might need to sit on one of the 132 benches. It’s an oasis of fresh air and tranquillity, and a great place to escape the world and enjoy the ever-changing natural surrounding while walking the well-groomed garden paths or listening to open-air concerts in the summer.
And here are some additional activities to indulge in:
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Vilnius provides its guests with an exclusive opportunity to enjoy spectacular views of the city from a hot air balloon. A romantic ride offers new perspectives of the city, including the splendid Old Town and a lot of nature that changes with every season. Time tends to stand still during the ride, making room for unforgettable impressions of Vilnius. Expect a special flight ceremony and a glass of sparkling wine once you land.
Cycling on the banks of Neris River
The riverside and its picturesque path are great for exploring the city on a bike. An open-air gallery by renowned street artists is a perfect starting point for the journey, with the towers of Vilnius and the Old Town on the left. The path leads to Vingis Park (M. K. Čiurlionio g. 100), where nature and fresh forest air make for an ideal spot to stop and relax with a coffee in hand.
Music and contemporary art
The high arches of the Church of St. Catherine (Vilniaus g. 30) are very fitting for both contemporary music and traditional classical performances. Concerts fill the air with unique sounds and a special mood. Meanwhile, the modern art exhibitions and abundance of events await at the MO Museum (Pylimo g. 17), where a private collection of over 4,000 works is stored.
Lithuania’s most famous composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis and Sofija Čiurlionienė – Kymantaitė met at an event in Vilnius and immediately realised that they would be together forever. The couple’s life was intense: lessons, walks before dawn, exhibitions and writing an opera that was never completed. Their common approach to creativity is what made their love so special. While away from each other, they spent a lot of time writing letters, but only M. K. Čiurlionis’ letters have survived – Sofija burned hers.
Modern music and film evenings
Walking in the urban landscape of abandoned factories and exploring street art at the Open Gallery (Švitrigailos g. 29) can be the start of a romantic date. Electronic or contemporary music in the nearby Loftas art factory serve as an excellent backdrop. At the end of the evening, it’s worth sharing food and conversations with friends at Downtown Food Hall (A. Smetonos g. 5) and maybe catching a movie at the friendly Kino Deli.
Amber, the Baltic gold and solid drops of solar heat, relaxes and soothes the body. The Nidos Kopos (Odminių g. 8) massage parlour fills the body up with the thousands of years of stored energy and lets it heat up from the inside. It’s easy to feel the Baltic spirit while sipping on amber tea and smelling the sweet aroma of pine.
The guide was prepared by Go Vilnius, the tourism promotion agency of the Lithuanian capital