The Gediminas castle, or whatever is left of it, rises from the horizon when I open the curtains of our hotel room window for the very first time. This brick tower with a Lithuanian flag blowing in the wind is standing on the top of the hill and is the sole thing drawing my attention. I can’t stop staring at it.
Hello Vilnius, we have arrived!
I love to arrive to a new city without having a tight schedule or any detailed plans. I prefer following my intuition and let the eye-catchers determinate how to spend my holiday, which is always too short anyway. During my very first glance out of the hotel room window I already decided that conquering that hill would be the thing to do the following morning.
While standing next to the window I kept measuring the distance with my eyes. It didn’t seem to be too far to walk, maybe from 10 to 15 minutes from our hotel to the hill. How long it would take to climb to the top was a bit more challenging to estimate. From distance it didn’t seem too difficult, so I decided to trust my instincts. We can do it. It’s easy.
Whether I am visiting a city I know well, or in a destination I have never heard of, I love everything with a good story. Practically every single town, attraction and even a person or a dog should have a story of some kind. The story doesn’t need to be full of twists and turns if it’s told well, am I right?
The Gediminas Castle is widely known as a symbol of Vilnius, and to some extent also as a symbol of the whole of Lithuania. According to some sources it’s the first building ever built in Vilnius; some stories tell the whole city was built around the castle. Let me tell you one story, which is very well known among the Lithuanians.
As all the best stories, also this one contains an iron wolf and a soothsayer. Interested already? Read along.
It’s the early 14th century. The legend tells the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas was hunting in the forests around the Vilnius valley, at the time known as Šventaragis valley, named after a cremation of a mythical Grand Duke Šventaragis.
Being exhausted from hunting all day, Gediminas decided to stay over night in the valley. During the night he had a dream about an iron wolf that was howling louder than a large pack of wolves. The iron wolf was standing on top of the very same hill where Gediminas had earlier hauled a big taurus. Do you want to have a guess what was the hill in question?
Being confused about his bizarre dream Gediminas decided to talk to a soothsayer. The mage Lizdeika interpreted the dream being an omen about a castle and a city that Gediminas was expected to build on the spot.
The city would later be well known all over the world, and it would become a magnificant capital for Lithuania.
Faithfully Gediminas followed the soothsayer’s guidance. A castle was built on top of the hill, and around the hill rose the city of Vilnius, which was named after the river Vilnia.
Today the Gediminas Castle ruins is one of the most famous attractions in Vilnius. There might be disagreements about the story how the castle was born, but one thing is guaranteed; thanks to the panoramic views over the city, the castle hill will always be popular among tourists, and you should not miss it when visiting Vilnius.
You can reach the castle ruins by walking or using the funicular on the North side of the hill. It’s not rough to climb up, so anyone can do it, but due to a path made of cobblestones comfortable and flat shoes are highly recommended.
The view is definitely worth a little walk uphill. Really. Try to aim your visit on the hill for a sunny day if possible. Although you can get quite dramatic shots on a cloudy day.
A few proven facts:
* The tower houses exhibitions telling about the history of the city and the Gediminas Castle. The exhibition is spread for several floors and it’s part of the collection of the National Museum.
* On top of the hill you can admire the views free of charge, but the tower has an entrance of 2 euros. If you don’t fancy walking and rather use the funicular, the fee is around 1–1,5 euros.
* The Gediminas Hill is located right next to the Cathedral of Vilnius. After coming down from the hill you should definitely have a walk along the park that starts next to the Cathedral and follow it all the way to the independent city district, The Republic of Užupis.