Driving a car, Vilnius
I checked both. Thank both of you for your advises! I got a good deal in TRUERENT.LT in Vilnius - the car was really clean and worked without any problems. I really enjoyed my trip! Even the weather was pretty nice, yeah! :)
We drove to Vilnius from a tiny Polish village near the Lithuanian border. The way seemed simple enough but my husband wanted to take a short cut, which wasn't a good idea. After some time we came across a closed bridge and had to make a long detour on bumpy roads. There were hardly any signposts all the way, and one that pointed to Trakai was completely misleading - it led to a dirt road, with no sign of Trakai nearby. So it's better not to experiment but just take the main roads.
In Vilnius there were no signposts to the Old Town and, as it lies in a valley, you cannot see the church spires from afar. For such a relatively small city Vilnius spreads over a large area so we did a lot of driving by the time we found our way. There were many signposts to the 'Centras' with skyscrapers etc. but that's not what most tourists come there for.
Finding a parking space was hard but not impossible but it was a Saturday, I cannot speak for weekdays. Of course we had to pay. Parking is free only on Sundays. We parked the car near the Franciscan Church and had only got to the Gates of Dawn when my husband realised that our parking time was up (there is an hour's time difference between Poland and Lithuania) and he had to go to get the car while I waited taking pictures. The second time he managed to park just outside the Gates of Dawn. From there we wanted to drive to the Castle, but it wasn't easy. We got into a maze of narrow one-way streets and couldn't find our way out. At one point we followed a police car, hoping it would show us the way, but it led us to a wider street that had been blocked for some special event by, who else, the police of course. We had to turn back. We must have left our bad luck there though as we soon found a free parking space not far from the Presidential Palace and the cathedral. The rest was easy because done on foot.
Conclusion: If you do not have to come to Vilnius by car, leave it at home, but don't try to do all the sightseeing in one day, you will be tired out with all the walking.
Enlarge my picture to see the parking info sign. Well parking there was paid as usual in Vilnius from Monday (I) to Saturday (VI) from 8.00 am - 8.00 pm - notice the mode of writing days of a week with Roman numbers (I - VII) and hours with 24-hour's clock. (0.00 - 24.00).
Well, the sign 10, 20, 50 meant that the parking was paid - look for parking guard, they were always ready to take my money. I paid 2 Lt for two hours of parking close to Gedimini prospektas and the guard (lady) told that we will pay more when we came back if needed - for the half hour more we paid additional 0.5 Lt. I was asked to pay 10 Lt for unlimited parking in another place.
Looking for a parking lot when I was in Vilnius for the first time I thought about parking a car in one of the backyards of the old town. There were no signs in front of its entrances, so I thought it was allowed but... it was not a wise idea to leave a car hidden there. During the second visit surprisingly I easy found paid (and cheap!) parking lot at Gedimino prospektas close to KGB museum.
Driving around Vilnius was quite easy but surely I can't recommend you to drive a car from place to place esp. in the old town. Walking on foot was the best way to visit Vilnius attractions.
Traffic was not as heavy as in most European capitals, there were no traffic jams but the area of the old town was easy to get lost as mostly one-way (but not as narrow as say in Italy) streets were winding, no right angles there. And first of all driving in this area was easier than parking a car. Except numerous one-way streets, a few main streets like Gediminas prospektas, Pilies and Didzioji were closed for traffic at some (or most) hours, read the hours on road signs. Gedimimo prospektas was closed from 6.00 pm to 3.00 am on business days and 10.00 am to 3.00 pm on weekends and holidays. The only close 24 h street was the southern part of Ausros Vartu gatve, close to the Gates of Dawn (look at the sign on my picture).
These road signs on my picture were put along Gedimino prospektas. Well, no parking any time (on right) and no entry (no traffic) signs were the same as over Europe.
But this additional signs below were somewhat strange. As I understood there was no entry at the mext 35 m of a street and only between 6.00 pm and 3.00 am on business days and from 10.00 am to 3.00 am on holidays and in weekends or... hmm... when the street was covered by snow, right ? Am I wise or... not at all ? :-)))
When I finally reached Vilnius center/downtown I wanted to park my car just by the Cathedral Square (on my picture) or close but there was no place there.
Parking was not allowed along some streets and there were exclusively paid but not always guarded parking lots there. Just in case... hmm... parking guards could speak neither English nor German but Russian and (one) Polish. At one place they wanted 10 Lt (3 € or $3.6) for umlimited parking as I remember well.
When I arrived to Vilnius by my car surely I wanted to park my car close to the centre/doentown, surely on a place with no time limits for parking and possibly free of charge at all.
I drove around the old town maybe 20 min. and all parking lots were either paid (or short time) or fully booked. Finally, I was lucky to find one free place on a small, free of charge parking lot located by the Museum of Applied Art (Taikomosios Dailes Muziejus, Arsenalo gatve = street 3A).
How to get there?
From say Cathedral Square (Artikatedros aikste = square) drive northwards T. Vrublevskio gatve (street), turn first street right (before the bridge over Neris River) to Arsenalo gatve. Parking lot was located on right, at about 200 m distance at the end of white loong building (the Old Arsenal).
The highway A-1 ended in the suburbs of Vilnius. The traffic started to be more heavy (but still moderate), a little bit chaotic (no lanes marked at some parts) with numerous traffic lights and I had to look for direction signs to the centre/downtown. Luckily I easy found my route to the downtown/centre.
Driving towards the centre/downtown I could see huge (and ungly), typical Soviet-style housing districts full of large apartment buildings, each with many small flats/apartments. And I could see newly built, modern business areas along the highway: supermarkets, car stores etc. It was strange mix of two quite different worlds.
I drove to Vilnius from direction Kaunas by my car which took me one and a half hour. There was a highway A-1 (E85) marked on road signs (look at my picture) and on my map as a motorway/freeway. Although I was surpriced to see... bus stops, few casual crossroads and many U-turns on this (?) motorway/freeway. There was speed limit 100 km/h on A-1. Never mind the above, it was comfortable highway till the suburbs of Vilnius where it ended.
Kaunas - 100 km
Panavezys - 140 km
Marijampole - 140 km
Kedainiai - 150 km
Siauliai - 220 km
Klaipeda - 320 km
Poland border (direction Suwalki, Warsaw) - 170 km,
Latvia border (direction Riga) - 210 km,
Belarus border (direction Minsk) - 35 km,
Russia border (Kaliningrad district - enclave) - 190 km.
Warsaw, Poland - 490 km,
Riga, Latvia - 260 km,
Tallin, Estonia - 570 km,
Kaliningrad, Russia - 340 km,
Minsk, Belarus - 190 km.
Arriving in Lithuania by car is a very simple matter when coming from Latvia. The Polish-Lithuanian border crossings have longer lines and customs officials who take their work very seriously. As for Belarus and Russia, these crossings aren't much fun to start with. It can take you a long time to wait.
It's not really matter if you're a tourist or if you're local. The best way to explore whole Vilnius is to ride in a car. Don't take me wrong, I'm really not for using car in the old town or the city center. But if you also want to get to some further places (e.g. TV tower) it's best to do it with a car. Why car? Because you can choose: walk on foot, use public transport, use bicycle, use your own (or rented car). From all these options I recommend to take a car. Urban street network is not superb but still it's better to drive a car. It's possible to have problems with parking but it's more common only in the city center ( for a short time only). One thing you should avoid is traffic jams. They usually form at around 7 to 8a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays.
We drove all the way from Helsinki to Vilnius with one night stop over. You do not really need the car to see Vilnius, if I only wanted to come here I would have fly.