Apart from the gradual slope from the Old Town area to Cathedral Square and the cone-shaped Castle Hill, Central Vilnius is rather flat, so it’s not hard to find places to get a panoramic view of the whole city. There are plenty of vantage points to choose from.
If you’re close to Cathedral Square, you won’t miss the hill. The basic view is yours for the price of a climb up the rocky and rather uneven path, or if you prefer, a ride on the funicular. The funicular runs every day except Monday, from 10am to 6pm. A one-way ticket is €1. A €5 entrance fee gets you into Gediminas’ Tower, the last intact part of the castle that once stood here. You’ll have views across to the Hill of Three Crosses and all around to the newer part of the city on the other side of the River Neris, as well as a decent vista of Old Town and a view straight up Pilies (palace/castle) Street. The tower’s more welcoming during its opening hours, 10am to 9pm from April to September.
The Hill of Three Crosses
Just across the narrow Vilnia River from the old town, you’ll find a hill with three white crosses atop it. Legend has it the crosses were erected in the middle of the 17th century to commemorate three Franciscan monks who were buried there. Stalin had the crosses removed and they were only reinstated in 1989, following the original plans. As such, this monument is a symbol of hope and the renewal of Lithuanian independence. From here the whole of Vilnius is visible and you’ll get a great view of Old Town. The light is much better from here in the morning, if you’re planning to take photos. To reach the hill, the easiest way is via Bernardinu Park, a pleasant city park at the foot of Castle Hill, then crossing the stream to Kalna Park to take the gentle path to the top. It’s an outdoor monument, so you don’t have to worry about opening hours here.
The Bell Tower of St John’s Church
If you walk up Pilies Street from Cathedral Square you will notice a small road to the right and on it a church with a square white tower, opposite Narutis Hotel. Climb the tower (or take the elevator part of the way) and you will be rewarded with what we think is the best view in Vilnius. Instead of looking at Old Town from a distance, you are instead looking at it from a prime location right in its center, seeing it in 360 degrees, gazing down at the roofs and spires of churches, the university, and the Presidential Palace. The tower is only open from May to September, 10am to 7pm. Entry is €2.50.
The Cathedral Belfry
We have mentioned Cathedral Square a lot already but not so much about the white tower that can be found there, standing on its own, 100 yards or so from the cathedral: the belfry. The tower wasn’t always related to the cathedral though. The first floor of today’s tower is almost entirely composed of a 13th century tower that was part of the city’s defensive wall, only becoming the cathedral bell tower in the 16th century. Its present day appearance dates from the 19th century. The tower underwent reconstruction recently and has only been open to the public since 2014. It’s best for taking elevated photos of the cathedral itself or watching people amble, stroll or hurry across the square. It’s not really tall enough for a good panorama of the city. Look almost due east though and in the middle distance you will spy another of Vilnius’ towers and the one with the tallest viewpoint, the TV Tower. The tower is open from 10am to 7pm (6pm October-April), Monday to Saturday. Entrance costs €4.50.
Vilnius TV Tower
This is a must-see for lovers of Soviet-era architecture. Standing at 1,070 feet, the Vilnius TV Tower is the tallest building in Lithuania. Information is power and the TV Tower was the focal point of much of the fighting during the 1991 retaliation by the Soviet Army for the previous year’s declaration of independence. Fourteen unarmed Lithuanian civilians were killed and another 700 were injured as Soviet military units seized the tower in a bid to take control of the airwaves. There is a small museum dedicated to their valor at the base of the tower. In our opinion, the view itself isn’t all that spectacular, at least of the Old Town of Vilnius, as it’s too far away to make out much, but the revolving restaurant may hold some appeal and the story of the citizenry’s brave fight to protect their fledgling democracy is a timely reminder of the danger of a bullying neighbor flexing its muscles.
Sky Bar at the Radisson
Situated in the new part of the city is Vilnius’s high-rise Radisson Hotel, topped with the Sky Bar. Here you can sip cocktails and admire the lights of Vilnius from the 22nd floor. Open from 5pm, it’s a good spot to watch night fall on the city. The only price of admission is a tasty beverage.
The Ultimate Bird’s-Eye View
What’s better than seeing Vilnius from just one or two elevated positions? Seeing it from a real bird’s-eye perspective that’s always changing! Vilnius is one of the only city centers in Europe you’re allowed to float over in a hot air balloon. Weather (and vertigo) permitting, this is the ultimate way to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. There are some caveats here though. Because the wind direction is variable, you might not get to float over as much of the old city as you like and you may have to be flexible and give it a few tries before the flight happens. If for some reason you’re nervous about ballooning over a city, you can instead take a hot air balloon flight over Trakai castle, still the standout memory from our JayWayBaltics blogger trip of 2015.
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