WEEKEND VILNIUS “ALL IN”
4 DAYS / 3 NIGHTS
DAY 1 / VILNIUS (ARRIVAL)
Arrival to Vilnius.
First orientation tour of Vilnius, climb to the Hill of the Three Crosses to admire the panorama (depending on the arrival time, only if arrival is before 14h00). Vilnius. Vilnius is a true baroque jewel bursting with a treasure trove of architectural styles. The city’s Old Town features more than 1500 historical buildings, making it one of the largest in Europe, while its pastel facades, beautiful churches, and cobblestoned streets create a unique, romantic atmosphere.
At the same time, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is still a small city, perfect for walking along its cobblestoned streets, secret yards, and majestic squares. Founded in 1323 by the Grand Duke Gediminas on the banks of the Neris and Vilnia rivers, Vilnius has been a major trade centre in the Baltic region for centuries and was home to the Hansa merchants, not to mention the many invaders who have occupied the country at different points throughout its long history: Germans, Poles, Russians, and Swedes. Vilnius was also the general headquarters of Napoleon’s army when he attempted to occupy Russia. This multinational influence has affected the architecture of the city, with its facades that now feature gothic, renaissance, baroque, and neoclassical styles, as well as its cultural and religious life. Here you can see a variety of Catholic churches with their ornate facades and colonnades, austere Protestant churches with their high spires, and Orthodox cathedrals with their rich decoration and onion-shaped cupolas, all of which serves as just one more reason why the historical centre of Vilnius is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Vilnius was the European Cultural Capital in 2009 as, despite its stateliness, it is an active modern city: its ambiance is young, lively, and dynamic thanks to the fact that Vilnius is the main University City in Lithuania. Every year Vilnius hosts many colourful fairs, theatre performances, and festivals.
Transfer to the hotel.
Optional: Lunch in a local restaurant
Optional: Dinner at the hotel
DAY 2 / VILNIUS
Breakfast at the hotel.
Panoramic bus tour of Vilnius. Short bus tour that will feature a visit to St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, then climb to the Hill of the Three Crosses, and finally offer the opportunity to admire the many Art Nouveau buildings along Gediminas Avenue.
Visit to Antakalnis Cemetery. This cemetery is the final resting place of thousands of soldiers, including more than 3000 Frenchmen in Napoleon’s armies who died during the invasion of Russia in 1812, as well as German and Russian soldiers who died during both world wars and the Lithuanian patriots killed in 1991 by Soviet troops during the revolts for the independence of Lithuania.
Visit to a local market with a small sampling of local products. The ideal spot for those who want to discover what daily life is like for Lithuanians, the merchants here sell an incredible variety of items, including food products such as honey, gingerbread, raw meat, sausages, and dairy products, as well as clothes, traditional crafts, decorative objects for the home, various tools, and much more. This is the best place in town to pick up the main ingredients for Lithuanian dishes that are based mainly on potatoes, meat, milk, berries, and mushrooms. Among the specialties are pig ears (sold smoked or raw!), a local favourite.
Visit to St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church. This church is a baroque masterpiece that is often called a “Baroque pearl.” Construction on the church began in 1668 by order of Kazimierz Pac, the Grand Hetman of Lithuania, to commemorate the liberation of the city from its Russian invaders. He was buried in the church with the inscription “Here lies a Sinner” on his tombstone, though it was later destroyed by lightning. You will be impressed by the unique interior of the church: it is decorated with 2000 statues and reliefs of biblical characters and historical heroes, all by famous Italian masters, a magnificence that is without equal among other churches in Vilnius.
Visit to the Hill of Three Crosses. In the 14th century, at the time of Duke Gediminas, seven Franciscan monks who arrived to convert Lithuanians to Christianity were hacked to pieces by the pagans who inhabited what is now Vilnius. The monks were buried on this hill and a chapel was built on the site, to be later replaced by crosses that were to stand at the top of the hill until 1869. The Tsarist Russians who at that point ruled Lithuania forbid the reconstruction of the crosses, though they were rebuilt clandestinely in 1916 and again destroyed in 1950, dynamited by order of the Soviet authorities. In 1989 they were rebuilt again, this time with concrete, and are now considered a national symbol. From the Hill of Three Crosses you will also enjoy a beautiful view over the historical centre of Vilnius.
Visit to Vilnius Cathedral. The first Christian church was built here in 1251 to replace a pagan temple and commemorate the baptism of Mindaugas, the king of Lithuania. The church was damaged and had to be rebuilt several times throughout the centuries, each rebuild featuring different styles, including gothic, renaissance, and baroque, some of the remains of which still survive and are available for our viewing pleasure. The building’s present neoclassical facade was designed by Lithuanian architect Laurynas Gucevičius at the end of the 18th century, while the cathedral’s interior contains many valuable frescos, pictures, sculptures, and tombstones. The crypt is home to a valuable fresco dating back to the end of the 14th century: The Crucifixion, the oldest wall painting in Lithuania. St Casimir’s Church is a treasure trove of frescos, decorative stucco works, and sculptures, being one of the most valuable examples of mature baroque architecture in Lithuania. A silver coffin made in the 18th century holds the remains of St. Casimir, Grand Duke and patron saint of Lithuania. The cathedral’s external bell tower, a city landmark, was erected in the 15th century on the location of a defensive tower that was part of Vilnius’ Lower Castle.
Panoramic walking tour in the historical centre of Vilnius. Our walking tour starts at the Gediminas Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Vilnius. Here stands Vilnius Cathedral, with its imposing neoclassical façade, a part of the vast Vilnius Castle Complex that also includes the Upper Castle, Lower Castle, Royal Palace, and Arsenals. The whole complex is dominated by Gediminas Tower, rising from prominent Castle Hill above the Old Town. We will proceed to the Presidential Palace, the official residence of the President of Lithuania, and Vilnius University, the oldest in the Baltic States and home to the Catholic Church of St. John. We will then admire renaissance-styled St. Michael’s Church; St. Anne’s Church, which has the most beautiful exterior of all of Vilnius’ churches; the Church of St. Francis of Assisi (Bernardine); and the Orthodox Cathedral of the Theotokos. The other side of the Vilnia River is home to the Uzupis artists’ quartier, where we will enjoy a panoramic view of Vilnius from near the Artillery Bastion before re-entering through the city walls at the Gate of Dawn. We will walk in front of the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit and St. Casimir’s Church before arriving at Town Hall Square, a beautiful example of 18th century Neoclassicism. Nearby are the Old Jewish Quartier, the Choral Synagogue, Orthodox St. Nicolas Church, and Catholic St. Nicolas Church, the most ancient in Lithuania.
Visit to Vilnius University. Founded in 1568 by Polish Jesuits at the initiative of King Stephen Báthory, it was from its inception an important cultural centre in the Baltic region. Built mostly in the baroque style, we will admire its historical halls and the beautiful frescoes that decorate its arches and vaults. The university complex occupies an entire district inside Old Town and is divided into 12 inner courts built during the last four centuries. The main court features the Church of St. John (Sv. Jono), initially built in 1387 in the gothic style and then rebuilt in the 18th century in Lithuanian baroque. Its bell tower, at 69 meters, is the tallest building in Vilnius’ Old Town.
Visit to the Catholic Church of St. John. This location inside the university was once home to a gothic church built at the end of the 14th century that replaced an older wooden one. In the 16th century the church was transferred to the Jesuits, who rebuilt it in the renaissance style and gave it its current structure. The facade was once again modified in the 18th century after a fire, this time in the baroque style. The elegant bell tower is one of the tallest buildings in Old Town, at 69 meters. During the Soviet period, it became the typography department of the University, while nowadays it has returned to its religious functions and serves as the university’s church. It is dedicated to both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.
Visit to the Art Centre of Baltic Amber (small exhibit and store). Situated in Old Town, the small Art Centre of Baltic Amber is home to an amazing collection that was unearthed in the archaeological excavations of ancient Vilnius. The exhibits are mainly flora and fauna species preserved in amber 50 million years ago, while you will also learn about amber’s role in ancient pagan rites. In addition, you will find out how amber is processed, one of the oldest existing trades. The museum boasts a wide variety of amber colours and shapes, including an amber jewellery collection that will leave you amazed, and you will be able buy a piece of Baltic amber as a keepsake.
Tour of the Republic of Uzupis. Situated not far from the city centre and separated from it by the Vilnia River, its name means “beyond the river.” This area was declared an independent republic by its inhabitants, mostly artists and their families, who created a flag that changes colours every season, an anthem, passports, a constitution, and even an Independence Day: April 1st! Complete with a president and council of ministers, the district was inhabited mostly by Jews until World War II, after which their deserted houses were neglected, and during the Soviet times only strays, criminals, and social outcasts inhabited the place. After Lithuania regained its independence, many artists moved into the houses, restored the buildings, and returned a fresh and creative shine to the district, now sworn brother to Montmartre. These days it is full of cafes, art galleries, and boutiques, while the main clause in the Constitution of Uzupis is the “right to be happy,” and its motto is “don’t fight, don’t win, and don’t surrender.”
Exterior visit of Vilnius Bastion.
Visit to the Gate of Dawn. This gate was built during the 16th century and is the only survivor of the original nine that once pierced the city walls. At the time of its construction, it was common to put some relics and religious objects inside the city gates in order to protect them from attacks and bless travellers, so the top of the Gate of Dawn boasts a small chapel with an image of St. Mary that the donations of the inhabitants of Vilnius enriched with silver and gold. Its popularity grew throughout the years as magical and healing powers were attributed to the gate, and its cult became so popular among both Catholics and Orthodox that it was permitted to remain during even the harshest times of the Soviet period. It is still possible to see silent worshippers climbing down the gate and praying, while open-air masses are also held in front of the image of St. Mary.
Visit of the Jewish quarter of Vilnius. Jews were present in Lithuania since the 14th century, when they came to the region attracted by the tolerance of the Dukes of Lithuania. There are registers of the presence of Jewish in the city of Vilnius from 1567. They weren’t allowed to buy houses in Vilnius, only to rent. After 1593, when the king Sigismund III finally allowed them to purchase houses, they began to settle in the area around the streets Vokietchiu (German), Zhidu (Jewish), Mesiniu (Butchers) and Sv. Mykolo (St. Michael’s), in the Old Town. Vilnius’ Jewish population rapidly grew, and the city was known as “The Jerusalem of the North”, as it was a leading centre of Talmudic studies. The Jewish community in Vilnius continued developing during the centuries: at the beginning of the 20th century they made up to 40% of the population of Vilnius, with 110 synagogues in the city and the Strashun Library, the world’s most important library of Yiddish-language books. The Nazi occupants established a Jewish Council (Judenrat) and set 2 ghettos located in the Jewish quarter of Vilnius. Their population suffered forced labour, killings, and deportations. Before WWII Vilnius had an estimated Jewish community of 70.000 people, of whom only 5% remained after the war. We will discover the former Jewish quarter, its cobblestoned streets and courtyards, where the Nazis forced more than 40.000 people into the Small Ghetto and the Large Ghetto. We will know about the figure of the Gaon of Vilna, and we will see where the Great Synagogue of Vilnius and the Strashun Library, were located and we will be told about their sad fate. We will see the building of the Brothers Romm Jewish printing house and the building of the Judenrat. We will finish our tour in front of the Choral Synagogue.
Visit to the Museum of Genocide Victims (KGB Museum). The museum is located in the very heart of the city in a building that housed both the main KGB administration and, during World War II, the Nazi Gestapo. It served as a location for detention and interrogation, with many of the thousands of people who were deported to Siberia or executed first spending time within these walls. Today the museum collects, stores, explores, and promotes historical and documentary materials reflecting the forms and methods of physical and spiritual genocide inflicted on the Lithuanians under the Soviet rule.
Dinner at the hotel.
DAY 3 / VILNIUS – KAUNAS – PAZAISLIS – TRAKAI – VILNIUS
Breakfast at the hotel.
Departure to Kaunas.
Panoramic tour of Kaunas. During this panoramic visit we will admire Government Square and some of Kaunas’ magnificent churches, among which are the Neo-Byzantine Church of St. Miguel Archangel and Resurrection Church, with its wonderful views of the city. After a stop at busy Laisves Aleja (Liberty Avenue), the city’s main street, near gothic St. Gertrude Church and the neo-baroque building of the Choral Synagogue, we will make our way to the old city. Here we will discover the city’s main treasures, such as Vytautas Church, one of the oldest in the city; the gothic House of Perkunas; baroque Kaunas City Hall; St. George’s Convent; St Francis Xavier Church; and the Kaunas Cathedral Basilica, the biggest gothic edifice in Lithuania, and neighbour to majestic and recently restored Kaunas Castle, dating back to the 14th century.
Visit to the Rumsiskes Open-Air Folk Museum. Situated inside the Kaunas Reservoir Regional Park, next to the water and among landscapes of stunning beauty, this museum is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe. It hosts 140 authentic farms and houses built mostly during the 18th and 19th centuries that were brought from each of Lithuania’s regions and reassembled here. Many of them have retained their interiors intact, complete with all their working tools, furniture, and decorations. The buildings are grouped into complexes—isolated farms, small villages, and towns—thus permitting visitors to discover what life was like in different kinds of settlements. Many traditional activities are performed both inside and outside the houses, while the museum also organizes different folk events throughout the year.
Visit to Pazaislis Monastery. The biggest monastic complex in Lithuania and the best example of baroque art in the country, it was constructed in the 17th century by the Camaldolese Order, being designed and built by Italian architects. In the 19th century, the Russian authorities closed the temple, later turning it into an Orthodox church. When Lithuania gained its independence in 1920, the church, almost ruined, was given back to the Catholics. After World War II, the Soviet used it for different purposes, including as a mental hospital and a museum, though, after the independence of Lithuania in 1991, the monastery was returned yet again to the Roman Catholics and entirely restored. During the summer it hosts a famous musical festival.
Departure to Trakai.
Panoramic tour. Situated 15 kilometres from Vilnius, Trakai was declared a national park not only because of the natural beauty of its 200 lakes and dense fir and birch forests, but also because of the historical importance of the place: it was the seat of the Grand Dukedom of Lithuania and the second capital of the country during the Middle Ages. The town has been built in a narrow peninsula and it’s surrounded by marvellous lakes. The area has historically been a crossroad of different ethnicities and nationalities: Karaims, Tatars, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews, and Poles. Its imposing Island Castle is a splendid 14th century building on a small island in the middle of an idyllic lake. The majestic silhouette of its high, red brick walls and slender towers are reflected in the lake’s waters.
In the small town, besides the charming traditional wooden houses scattered in this marvellous landscape, we will appreciate several buildings of historical importance: The Karaites, Jewish from Crimea that reject the Talmud and speak a Turkic language, settled in Trakai in the 14th century. We will see karaite houses and the Knessa (Knesset), the Karaite Prayer House, whose construction started in the 14th century. The Orthodox Church of the Nativity and the former Russian Imperial Post House were built in the 19th century when Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire. The Usutrakis Manor Estate was built at the end of the 19th century by the count Tyszkiewicz. We have of course roman catholic temples, Lithuanians’ majoritarian religion: The Chapel-Column of St. John Nepomuk (17th century), the former Dominican Monastery (18th century) and the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15th century). Finally, we will admire the two castles of Trakai: the Trakai Peninsula Castle (14th century), mostly in ruins, and the majestic Trakai Island Castle, built in the 14th century in an island, an iconic image of Lithuania.
Visit to Trakai Island Castle. After a short journey from Vilnius, we will discover this area with its stunning natural beauty, reaching the magnificent medieval castle of Trakai by crossing a wooden walking bridge over the lake. The castle’s construction began at the end of the 14th century as an enlargement of the neighbouring Peninsula Castle, complete with its imposing Donjon, Ducal Hall, walls, and defensive towers.
Visit of the small exhibit about the Karaim people at Trakai Castle. The Karaims or Karaites are an ethnic group of Turkic-speaking Jewish, that settled in Crimea peninsula, and which reject the Talmud and accept only the Bible as a Holy book. In 1397 many of them were brought to Lithuania after a successful military campaign of the Grand Duke Vytautas against the Golden Horde. They established in many areas of the Duchy of Lithuania, including territories in present-day Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus. One of the most important settlements was in Trakai. Nowadays there are still more than 250 Karaites in the town. We will see a small exhibit about this community, including typical dresses, furniture, domestic tools, documents, weapons, etc.
Visit of the ruins of the Trakai Peninsula Castle (Great Castle). The Trakai Peninsula Castle was built in the 14th century as a defensive fortress of the Dukes of Lithuania against the Teutonic Knights. During the 15th century it was used as a residence of the dukes, and then, in the 16th century, as a prison. It was destroyed during the Russo-Polish War in the 17th century and wasn’t rebuilt. We can still admire some of its massive towers.
Dinner at the hotel.
DAY 4 / VILNIUS (DEPARTURE)
Breakfast. Transfer to the airport.
Optional, depending on the departure time:
Panoramic tour of Kernave, Visit of the Geographical Center of Europe, Visit of the Park of Europe with lunch.
Panoramic tour of Kernave. Featured on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Kernave is one of the oldest human settlements in the Baltic area, as it has been continuously inhabited for more than 10,000 years. This beautiful place is located on the banks of the Neris River, and around these mysterious, sugarloaf-shaped hills the Lithuanians founded their first capital, one that was destroyed by invading Teutonic knights in 1390. Recent archaeological excavations are trying to uncover some of the location’s past splendour. Strolling along these amazing mounds, we will be able to admire the remains of old chapels, fortifications, and burial grounds, as well as a church built in the 19th century that commemorates the 600th anniversary of Lithuania’s conversion to Christianity as the last pagan state in Europe.
Visit of the Geographical Centre of Europe. In 1989, the French IGN (National Geographic Institute) committed a group of geographers to define the precise location of the centre of the European continent, considering all European lands, including its islands. The boundaries of Europe were determined as follows: The northernmost in the Spitzbergen Islands, the southernmost in the Canary Islands, the easternmost at the top of the Urals and the westernmost in the Azores Islands. The centre of Europe was set 26 km North from Vilnius, between the villages of Radziuliai, Bernotai and Purnuskes, with the coordinates 54°54′N 25°19′E. The Guinness Book of records also accepted and validated the location given by the French scientists as the real and most accurate one. We will visit the Monument to the Geographical Centre of Europe, a massive granite column crowned by a golden star, that has been declared a national monument by the Lithuanian government.
Visit of Europos Parkas. Near the Geographical Centre of Europe is situated this original open-air sculpture museum, occupying 55 hectares, and featuring more than 100 works of modern and contemporary sculpture, from famous artists of many different countries. The sculptures are of different sizes and materials, some of them massive, and are scattered along a marvellous landscape of lakes, rivers, grasslands, and forests.
The order of visits is subject to change at any time due to operational reasons and museums schedules.
3* Sup. : Panorama, Art City Inn, or similar
4* Sup. : Crowne Plaza, Best Western, or similar