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Vilnius in December – It’s Not Just Twinkly Lights!

Last updated on June 11th, 2024 at 11:49 am

Vilnius in December? It can’t be Christmas market time already, surely?! This year seems to be flying by and with Christmas just around the corner it’s time to think about European Christmas markets and which one to visit.

I love Europe in December and Christmas markets in particular. There’s something about the cold, frosty, sometimes snowy weather punctuated by decorated trees, twinkly lights and burning candles that makes me joyful (if not triumphant!) and is in stark contrast to the glorious Christmas summers spent at home in New Zealand.

In December 2019 I made a visit to Vilnius. It turned out to be my last visit to a Christmas market before the Covid pandemic put a stop to most of the fun and I, for one, had to cancel a planned trip! With travel now back to normal however, it’s time to consider Christmas market destinations and Vilnius is one to have on your radar.

Choosing Vilnius in December

When I’m considering which markets to visit, I want to choose somewhere that not only has an enjoyable market vibe but is a place that has an interesting history and culture and with a variety of sights to keep a visitor happy. I had already visited Estonia and Latvia (although not at Christmas time), so Lithuania seemed an obvious choice. I was not disappointed!

The 2024 Vilnius Christmas markets will likely run from early December until early January, however the exact dates have not yet been confirmed.

Getting There

Direct flights are available from London to Vilnius and take around 2.5 hours. I flew from London City airport with LOT Airlines. Direct flights are also available from other UK and European cities. Check available flights and book here:

Vilnius international airport is about 6km from the city centre and easily accessible by train, bus or car. Check the Vilnius Airport website for up to date transport options and travel information. I took a taxi although public transport will always be cheaper.

Train and bus travel from European cities is also a possibility – you can research available options and book here:

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Where To Stay

As with all European cities, there is a wide range of accommodation choices in Vilnius. I stayed at the Novotel Vilnius Centre which is located in the city center, a short walk from Cathedral Square. You can research all available options and book here:

Currency

Lithuania is a member of the European Union and as such has adopted and uses the Euro (€).

A Bit About Vilnius

Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and was founded by Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas. The City was first mentioned in a letter dated 25 January 1323 written by the Grand Duke to various German and other cities inviting people to come and live in the Grand Duchy where they could practice their faith and trade without any restrictions. Because this letter contains the first reference to Vilnius, 1323 is considered to be the founding year of the City. Vilnius therefore spent 2023 celebrate its 700th anniversary!

Vilnius, and Lithuania generally, has had an eventful history. Invasions, wars, civil war, the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, annexations by Russia, occupation and finally independence in 1991 all mean that there is a lot to see and learn.

The medieval Vilnius Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What to See and Do

To help you get the most out of your visit, here’s my list of some of the things to see and do in Vilnius in December:

Walking Tour 

I’m a big fan of walking tours. I believe they are a great way to get to know a city and a local! Check out Freetour and Guruwalk for free (tips based) walking tour options. 

Alternatively, you may want to consider these walking tour options:

Cathedral Square and Christmas Market

Cathedral Square is the main square in the Old Town. It’s a large, paved, open area which plays a prominent role in City life, not just as an easily recognisable meeting place but as a location for fairs, military parades, public gatherings, New Year celebrations and the like.

It is also the location for one of the City’s Christmas markets, at the centre of which is the very large, modern looking Vilnius Christmas tree. The 2019 tree took on a chess theme, with the tree surrounded by various chess pieces. The Vilnius Christmas tree 2023 was a natural tree and who knows what the Vilnius Christmas tree 2024 will be! Vilnius is understandably proud of its Christmas trees – check out these images of their past trees and you’ll see why!

Wooden chalets/stalls surround the tree, each selling different products, from traditional Lithuanian food and drink through to the usual handmade items. Although not large in terms of the numbers of stalls, the atmosphere is typically Christmassy. In 2019 there was also a nativity scene on Cathedral Square.

Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Ladislau of Vilnius

Located to the side of Cathedral Square is the Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Ladislau of Vilnius. This is the main Roman Catholic Church of Lithuania. It is thought the site was used for worship in pre-Christian times, although construction of the current Cathedral began in 1779 and was completed in 1783.

The Bell Tower

A few metres in front of the Cathedral stands the Bell Tower. At 57 metres tall (including the cross) it began life as part of the City’s defences in the 13th century. Although the lower parts of the Bell Tower are medieval, the upper most parts date from the 19th century. The clock at the top is the oldest in the City. You can climb up the tower for wonderful views over the City – the admission charge is currently €6 (concessions available). Check the official site for up to date visitor information.

Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

Behind the Cathedral you will find the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. The original Palace dated from the 15th century but it was demolished in 1801. Construction began on this Palace in 2002 and was completed in 2018. It is in the Renaissance style to match the Cathedral. The site is of course much older, with stone structures having been located within the Palace area in the 13th and 14th centuries. There have also been suggestions that there was a wooden palace on the site at some point too.

The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania houses a museum. There are 4 routes that visitors can choose from (or do all 4!) – they cover the Palace history, archeology and architecture (route 1), restored interior (route 2), daily life and weaponry (route 3) and the exhibition centre (route 4). Prices differ depending on which route you choose but it will cost €9.50 for routes 1-3, with route 4 currently unavailable (concessions are available).

Check the official site for up to date visitor information.

Gediminas’ Tower

Standing in Cathedral Square you can look up to Gediminas Hill and see Gediminas’ Tower on the top. Wooden fortifications were first built here by Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania. The first brick construction dated from the early 15th century. The Tower (often referred to as Gediminas Castle) was rebuilt in the 1930s.

To access the Tower you can either walk up or take the funicular. The funicular is very cheap (€2 for a return trip) and worth the short trip. A visit inside the Tower will cost €8 (concessions are available as is seasonal pricing). On display are exhibits where you can learn about the history of the Tower and Vilnius generally. Panoramic views of Vilnius from Gediminas Hill are worth the visit alone, but be warned, when I was there it was really cold and windy and at one point it was -6 degrees Celsius!

Check the official site for up to date visitor information.

Medieval Old Town

A medieval old town anywhere in Europe is a delight to wander around and Vilnius in December is no exception. Regarded as one of the largest surviving medieval old towns in Northern and Central Europe, its narrow, winding streets and beautiful architecture make it an easy place to spend a lot of time.

Pilies Street is the main street and its main squares are Cathedral Square and Town Hall Square. The latter is the site of Vilnius Town Hall and, in front of it, another Christmas market and Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree at Town Hall Square is smaller than that in Cathedral Square but just as much a focal point for the holiday season. The market here was a more modern affair with glass igloo structures housing the different stalls rather than traditional wooden chalets. In previous years, a little Christmas train ran between Cathedral Square and Town Hall Square at a cost of €3 (although it was free for children under 90cm tall). It is not clear if this will be operational this year.

City walls and gates were built around Vilnius between 1503 and 1522. Today, only the Gates of Dawn survive. From outside the gate you can see holes for shooting and a renaissance attic storey with two griffins holding the Lithuanian coat of arms. The Gates of Dawn are one of Vilnius’ most significant religious, historical and cultural monuments.

Walking from Town Hall Square to the Gates of Dawn takes you pass a number of architecturally beautiful buildings including the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit (a Russian Orthodox church), Church of St Theresa (Catholic Church built in 1650) and the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society.

The Jewish Quarter

The Old Town in Vilnius was once home to a large Jewish community but when Vilnius fell to the Nazis in 1941 about half the population were murdered in the Paneriai Forest with those remaining held in two ghettos.

The smaller of these two ghettos is home to an interesting project called “Walls that Remember”. Images based on photos of real people are displayed on the walls in an effort to bring back the former inhabitants of the streets. QR codes next to the images allow you to learn more.

For those wanting to explore this are with a guide, then you may want to consider this tour:

Republic of Užupis

Užupis is a neighbourhood in Vilnius which declared itself an independent republic on 1 April 1997. Located within the Old Town, although across the Vilnia River, the Republic has its own flag and constitution – the latter is affixed to the wall running along Paupio Street and is an enjoyable read! My favourite part is Article 3: “Everyone has a right to die, but this is not an obligation”.

The Republic has long been a home to artists and has been compared to places such as Monmartre in Paris and Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen. Artwork, including sculptures, are located around the area.

Literatai Street

Another artistic part of Vilnius can be found in Literatai Street in the Old Town which, since 2008, has been adorned with artistic tributes to writers of different time periods who have lived and worked in Vilnius or who have a shared connection with the City or with Lithuania more generally. The name Literatai stems from the printers and bookshops that operated here at the start of the 20th century.

Museums

Vilnius has a number of museums to visit in addition to those I have mentioned above. The Toy Museum, Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights and MO Museum are all highly regarded. 

The Temperature in Vilnius in December

Vilnius in December is cold…well it is winter after all! The average temperature is -2.2C (28F) while the wind chill in exposed areas makes it feel much colder.

What to Wear in Vilnius in December

Given the cold temperatures and the fact that some sights in Vilnius are exposed, you will need to pack the following:

  • a warm jacket
  • hat
  • scarf
  • gloves 
  • layers (including thermals, top and bottom!)
  • waterproof, comfortable shoes
  • an umbrella

Whilst snow isn’t guaranteed, it may snow when you’re in Vilnius in December. The snow certainly adds a touch of magic to the atmosphere generally and especially to the Christmas markets, but it can create some challenging underfoot conditions so make sure your shoes have traction! 

Extra Time?

If you have extra time to spend in Vilnius or the surrounding area or you’re looking for other things to so, such as day trips or balloon rides, then check possible options here:

Final Thoughts

Although its Christmas markets are smaller and less crowded than markets elsewhere in Europe, Vilnius in December is so much more than twinkly lights and mulled wine (although those get my vote regardless!). It’s a 700 year old city with a rich past and an exciting future. Impressive architecture, interesting museums, quirky streets and its own independent Republic await those who visit this lovely Baltic city.

Have I convinced you to visit Vilnius in December? If so, do check my Resources page for help in planning your trip.

Disclaimer: Information correct at the time of writing but do check before you visit.

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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2 COMMENTS

  • Robyn

    An excellent review! Interesting, engaging and covers all the key points travellers need to know. Sounds like a great place to visit.

    • Sarah
      AUTHOR

      Thanks Robyn! The Christmas markets are small in Vilnius but there is a great deal more to see and definitely worth a visit.

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