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The capital of Lithuania has always been controlled by many different countries and influenced by Central European powers, giving it an international feel. Vilnius has been mentioned in written sources for the first time in 1323, when the Grand Duke Gediminas dispatched letters from the capital to various rulers of European countries. In 1387 Vilnius was granted the privilege of self-government. The city was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the formation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569 until 1795, during the 'golden age' of Poland. In the 16th century the city was one of the largest in Eastern Europe. In the 19th century many Jews settled in Vilnius, providing large quantities of money to expand and restore the city. In the 20th century the area was part of Germany until 1918, the end of WW I. Vilnius was declared capital of Lithuania, but in 1920 the city and its environs were occupied by the Poles. In 1939 the land was returned, but soon after the Germans started WW II and occupied Lithuania. After 1945 Lithuania has been part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. In the last half of the 20th century Vilnius became the chief focus of Lithuania's push for independence. In 1991 Soviet troops trying to hold on to the Soviet occupation of the Lithuania stormed the city's TV installations. It resulted in the death of 13 people and injured many others.

Vilnius lies on the banks of the Neris river, about 250 km (155mi) inland from the Baltic Sea, in the south-eastern corner of Lithuania, not far from the Belarus border. The city-center lies on the southern side of the river. The Old Town is quite large and there are many winding streets, courtyards and churches. Important sights include Vilnius University, the President's palace, an observatory and the old Jewish quarter and ghetto. The Cathedral Square, with the cathedral to the north is the city's heart. Behind this square rises the Gediminas Hill (or Gedimio Bokstas). From the fortress at the top of this hill, there are extraordinary views over the city. Another good place to overlook Vilnius is Three Crosses Hill. It is said that crosses have been standing on the hill ever since three monks were crucified there ion the 17th century. At the northern tip of the old town there is the Ausros Vartu Chapel where the sun shines spectacularly through the colored windows in the early mornings. There are numerous restaurants, pubs, nightclubs and cafés in the Old Town.

The New Town was mostly built in the 19th century and lies about 2 km (1 mile) west of the Old Town. City hall is located in the New Town and there is the Museum of the Genocide of the Lithuanian People. This museum is housed in the former Gestapo and KGB building. The guides showing you around have all been imprisoned here once and will show you the places where they were tormented. Most of the city's Soviet-era gray concrete suburbs are north of the river.

In 2001 a theme park on Stalinism was opened in a forest just outside the capital. 'Stalinworld' as locals call the Information Center and Museum of Grutas Park consists of a collection of Soviet time statues, as well as examples of prison camps and photographs, all from the period Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union.

Accommodation is easily found in and around the Old Town and so are most restaurants.


Miscellaneous Information

Latitude:    54 40 N
Longitude: 25 19 E
Elevation:  n/a

Population: 600,000
Cost-of-living compared to Washington D.C.: n/a

Hours from UTC: 3
Daylight savings time: Late March through late October

City phone code: 122
Country phone code: 7

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