Vilnius, the 10th-century city that is the capital of Lithuania, exudes a warm charm. Visitor should start their tour on Castle Hill, where Gediminas' Tower offers a spectacular view of the city. It was there that Lithuania's yellow, green and red flag was raised in 1988 for the first time in decades. To the northeast is the 14th-century Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, with a plain facade that belies its sumptuous interior. And just to the west, at the foot of the hill, is Gediminas Square, with a Roman Catholic cathedral (built on the site of a pagan temple) and bell tower.
The hill of the three crosses dominates the city. The crosses, which can be seen for many miles/kilometers around, were supposedly erected in the 1600s to commemorate Franciscan martyrs but were torn down by the Soviets. The crosses were triumphantly re-erected in 1989.
It's an enjoyable walk through the University of Vilnius (baroque architecture, lovely frescoes and picturesque courtyards—especially in St. John's Church) and past the domed Church of St. Casimir, built for the Jesuits in the early 17th century. Walkers can continue from St. Casimir's to the Gate of Dawn, the last remaining part of the city walls.
A day trip can be made to Paneriai, a World War II death camp, where more than 100,000 Lithuanians and Poles (mostly Jews) were murdered by the Nazis.
Vilnius was named as a European Capital of Culture in 2009 in part for its cultural events and exhibitions. This helped to grow the awareness and popularity of the destination.
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