Two novel complexes, [La(HL)(H2O)2NO3] · NO3 · H2O and [Gd(HL)(H2O)2NO3] · NO3 · H2O, where HL is a Schiff base derived from o-vanillin and lysine, have been synthesized and characterized by elemental analysis, conductivity measurements, IR, 1H NMR and thermogravimetric analyses (TGA). The Schiff base ligand behaves as a tetradentate, coordinating through azomethine nitrogen, phenolic oxygen and two carboxylic oxygen atoms. The interaction of these complexes with calf thymus DNA (CT-DNA) was also investigated by spectrometric titration and viscometric measurements. The faint hypochromism of the complexes in the absorption spectra, the remarkable reduction of fluorescence intensity of ethidium bromide (EB) bound DNA, together with a small decrease in the viscosity of the DNA suggest that a partial intercalation may be the preferred binding mode between these two complexes and DNA. The antibacterial activity testing revealed that the complexes and their precursor Schiff base show a weak to moderate activity against Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.