Vilnius Lithuania With Kids

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Lithuania isn’t at the top of most travel bucket lists. Actually, no Baltic state finds its way to the top of travel lists, but they should.  We had previously visited Estonia and Latvia, so Lithuania was our last Baltic state to visit. We had lovely visits to all three and urge family travelers to check them out. You won’t want to miss Vilnius with kids.

Lithuania is a safe, family-friendly destination that’s just coming into its own with respect to tourism. There is enough tourist infrastructure but it’s still really easy to feel the vibe of true Lithuania. For our visit, we focused on the southern portion of the country, staying in both Vilnius and Kaunas with day-trips to the Hill Forts of Kernave and the island castle of Trakai.

Flying into the quaint airport of Vilnius is easy from major western European hubs but Vilnius also connects to a variety of places further East. The airport offers a range of rental car agencies so you can take advantage of getting to places off the beaten path. If you wish to stick with public transportation, you can get to the center of Vilnius via train or bus (frequent, 20 mins, cheap). For bus tickets, pay the driver 1 EUR. You can also take trains or buses to several other Lithuanian cities (Kaunas, for example). We were glad to have our Zinc Flyte scooter suitcase with us to keep the little ones moving!

In the spirit of extending every travel dollar (or Euro), we chose to stay at a low-cost accommodation in Vilnius. The two-star LITiNTERP Guest House (2 locations in Lithuania) boasts 16 guest rooms at their Vilnius location. For families, they offer triples and quads (en suite or not). You can’t beat the price and you certainly can’t beat the location. The staff at LITiNTERP are infectiously kind and were extremely patient with our crew of five. LITiNTERP is quite literally a stone’s throw from the shopping and eating hub of Vilnius, Pilies Street (Castle Street), but because it’s on a side street, the guest house was incredibly quiet.

LITiNTERP offers an in-room breakfast delivery each morning for 3 EUR making it an excellent deal.

Other options abound nearby, including our favorite which was around the corner: Beigelistai.

This cool joint serves up incredible bagels with a variety of toppings. There are two Beigelistai locations, one  is right around the corner from LITiNTERP. 

The other is in the Halle Market closer to the main railway station. This was a great jumping off point for our day. After bagels we walked around the market a bit and picked up some fresh fruit to have as a mid-morning snack. 

Another food spot you might want to check out is Can Can Pizza. It feels like a chain (it is) but each has a kids play area. On a long family trip, sometimes a big menu restaurant with something to occupy the kids is just what you need.

We got the Vilnius City Cards (72 hrs, plus public transportation). We do not think they will be a bargain for most family travelers because you’d need to visit many of the attractions to recoup the card cost. Most of the museums in Vilnius are small and only cost 3 EUR. You’d really have to try hard to maximize your value. Yet, some travelers love buying city cards just so they don’t have to worry about the costs of attractions. This particular city card has two elements. The first is a physical card that’s validated on the public transportation. The second is a brochure containing vouchers for the museums. You need to present these vouchers to attractions for free or discounted entry. I found it burdensome to carry around the cards and the large-format brochures.

The Vilnius City Card also gets you an audio guide.  These easy to use guides can be borrowed for 24 hours. You are required to leave a deposit in cash at the TI while you have the guide. We found that one guide between the two of us was enough. Jeff took it out one evening and I tried to enjoy it while we were out on a family walk. Photos of all the attractions around town make it easy to know what you are looking at.

Public transport is easy to use in the city. There are modern buses, but the city center still runs on electric buses dating from the Soviet era. The kids loved these and kept begging to ride them. They are convenient and easy to use. As they were included with our Vilnius Card we took full advantage.

 

Vilnius’s charm is the outdoors. Many of the main pedestrian streets are covered in greenery and will remind you of Paris.

With bustling cafes and fountains, you can take your time walking the streets of Vilnius and enjoying the atmosphere.

The city boasts green space east of the cathedral which has a carousel, restaurant, a musical fountain and two playground (big kids, little kids). We chose this park as the ideal place to celebrate our Middle Little’s birthday with a traditional Lithuanian cake.

We found many hiking trails to enjoy and walked up to see the three crosses towering above Vilnius. These crosses memorialize seven martyrs killed here. The monument was originally wooden, then later concrete. In 1950, the concrete crosses were torn down by the Soviets but they can still be viewed in their broken pieces. The current, white monument was erected in 1989. The view of Vilnius from the top is fantastic.

Another great view can be seen from Gedimino’s Tower – but the tower, hill and funicular were closed during our visit. According to the TI, the city government cut down the trees on the castle hill then erosion made the tower unstable.

The Vilnius Card will also get you into the fort. You can explore on the roof, which provides excellent views of the city and plenty of space for the little ones to run around.

Nearby attractions include the classical-style Vilnius Cathedral (Catholic) and the adjacent belfry tower. The cathedral has the cheapest devotional candles (0.15 EUR) we’ve found in Europe. Or, for a few Euros, you can climb to the top of the belfry tower and do three things. First, you can control security cameras mounted on the tower. Our kids found this fascinating (so did Jeff). They could zoom in and follow people walking a kilometer away. Second, they have a series of bells for kids to hit with mallets. The boys loved trying different ways of making them ring and coming up with their own melodies. Third, you can watch and hear the bells ring every quarter hour. You don’t want to be at the top when these bells go off so watch your time. We were caught up there for the single ring on the 45 and that was enough for all of us.

There are so many beautiful churches in Vilnius. While under Soviet rule many of these churches had the Orthodox onion tops placed on top fo them.

You won’t want to miss the Gates of Dawn. The only surviving gates of the city wall are home to a golden painting of The Virgin Mary. You can enter the chapel on the left hand side but all photos must be taken from the ground beneath the gate.

An unexpected gem was the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Jeff went alone to this museum because we didn’t think it would be kid-friendly. However, there are puzzles, an observation tower and activities for kids throughout. Adults can see the archaeological excavations under the palace as well as stately rooms and the throne room.

Either skip the Old Arsenal and New Arsenal (Lithuanian National Museum) or plan on very quick walk-throughs. We didn’t find much here for our kids to learn or enjoy. Instead, book yourselves on the viking ship river cruise. This small boat holds 12 people and features viking food, song and dance (60 mins or 90 mins). If you’re not in a big group, call a few days out to attach yourselves to another group. Else, you’ll need to rent the entire boat for your family.

The Baltic states are known for the amber that washes ashore during winter storms. We found our very own piece of amber on a previous trip to the region. In Vilnius, you can visit a couple of small amber museums. They’re both free and feel more like shops but both have displays in the basement. Visit the Amber Gallery first.

Ask the staff to show you their demonstration on how to tell real from fake amber. Then ask to see the lizard encased in amber. This particular display will really help your kids understand how this conifer sap oozed out 50 million years ago to encase small creatures.

South of the Amber Gallery and just past the Gates of Dawn and the Halle Market, you’ll find the main train station and the Lithuanian Railway Museum.  This was an instant hit with our train loving boys.

The indoor exhibits are passable unless you have kids who love model railways. In a back room are three small model railways which must be turned on by staff. Note that the staff come to turn them off after ten minutes, so enjoy them while they’re on.

The outside exhibits is where you should spend your time. There are a lot of locomotives and rolling stock from Soviet times that are fascinating to see. The railroad cars here are all freshly painted in bright colors a real change from the drab rusted rolling stock we are use to seeing at many museums.

The staff has also done a great job of having stairs available at nearly every car to allow you to climb in or at least take a look. If there’s a staff member present, you can ride the push-card back and forth on a 25m track.

 

You won’t wan to miss the Toy Museum, either.  We’ve visited a few of these types of museums and while this one is small it was infinitely better – all toys are available for play. Cards explain each game or toy. There were examples of prehistoric games that used rocks or bones form animals.

There are examples of ancient Lithanian games and also just games that I remember having as a child. I was so tickled to see the boys play with an old Little People Castle. I was even able to show them the hidden trap door!

Our absolute favorites though were all in the room of Soviet games. This basketball game became a family favorite. We played it until the museum was closing. The field is made up of little numbered indents. Each team has to try to hit the number of the indent first to launch the ball toward the hoop.

The incredibly touristy Museum of Illusions was also an incredible hit with the whole family. The Vilnius card will get you a discount here. The museum features loads of illusions that are selfie worthy. It is set apart from the Illusion Rooms of other cities (including a location in Vilnius) because the staff’s goal is to help you understand how the illusions work.

The Big Little is very into magic and the Middle Little loves a good laugh so this museum was a hit from start to finish. The photos are great and everyone who worked there made sure we were taking the photos just right to create the right illusion.

This was a great place to have a bit of family fun. As we were leaving they told us there was an evening light show. Jeff and the big little went back in the evening and really enjoyed it.

Even with all the fun museums in Vilnius my favorite part about the city was just strolling around. We came across so many incredible buildings and pieces of street art. The kids were happy to walk around as well since there was so much to see.

Old buildings abound. The exteriors look charmingly rundown, but take a peek inside and you will see the interiors are tidy and well appointed.

 

Our last recommendation for fun with kids in Vilnius is the Republic of Užupis. While there’s not much to see here, this region is full of hip restaurants and neat walking trails near the river.

You won’t want to miss the “constitution” posted on the wall on the main drag. Enjoy the cobbled streets and quiet lanes Vilnius has to offer!

 

We were guests of the LITiNTERP Guest House and received complimentary City Cards but as always, our opinions are our own. If you purchase through one of our Amazon affiliate links we receive a small payment at no cost to you. Thanks for supporting Dutch, Dutch, Goose! 

 

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