Worth seeing and doing in Vilnius

leggi in italiano  

Vilnius is both traditional and underground, it sends political and artistic messages, and it also makes fun of us…that’s why it’s a wonderful place.

Here follows a short list of things you really can’t miss in Vilnius, a city wrapped up in classicism while hiding an anarchist soul. 

Vilnius is among the cities that can really amaze you.

Every city has its own features and peculiarities, but Vilnius seems to make fun of us all with the wide range of alternative views it offers and the beautiful paths of a typical (and lovely) “dollhouse” city.

Yes, exactly. It makes fun of European travellers, because it offers us what we are looking for and expect from a Baltic capital that was once a Soviet territory, with its museums on the persecutions of the Jews and the opponents of the URSS regime. It then shows us for free the reassuring pink colours reigning over the cathedral and the city walls, the patchwork paving and the shop windows swarming with small amber items.

After giving us the nice little things that we were looking for, what does this city do?


All of a sudden, an anarchist neighbourhood opens before us, with its own constitution drawn up in different languages and put up on a wall, close to some wall-paintings that advocate the legalization of marijuana, as well as cheeky postmodern art installations, celebrations of free sex, tea pots merged into walls, a swing hanging on the frozen river, alleys dedicated to writers, museums that celebrate optical illusions and, along with them, science and knowledge.

I’d say it’s enough for me to go mad, feel stunned and get drunk.

The social, artistic and political symbols follow each other from downtown to the outskirts of Vilnius and I have to admit it’s the first time I’ve seen a city that makes great use of its spaces to give them socio-political connotations.

Here’s my Vilnius in 30 seconds and a list of things you really can’t miss in this city.

Walk around the old town, a World Heritage site

UNESCO realized the beauty and peculiarity of this Baltic capital and included its small historic center among World Heritage sites in 1994.

The Baroque takes turns with the Neoclassical style, and the alternation of talent and harmonious calmness is revealed in the architectural biography of the city.

The churches and the cathedral 

Vilnius - murales - old town

The best way to visit the orthodox (particularly nice) and catholic churches in Vilnius is by following the tops of the steeples that you see in the old town. There are a lot of churches and they are not very far from each other.

You really can’t miss, among others, the church of St. Anne, next to the monastery dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi.

Then, the cathedral with its colonnade, the candid and solemn statues and neoclassical arches, that make you feel dizzy when you look up.

In front of the entrance colonnade of the cathedral there’s a belfry or bell-tower, that was once also a defensive watchtower.

It can be visited from the inside and it’s possible to get to the top but be aware that the top three floors are a risk to your safety.

The autonomous Republic-neighborhood of Uzupis 

Uzupis, quartier Vilnius

Uzupis, Vilsnius

The Užupis neighborhood (which means in Lithuanian “on the other side of the river”) is included among the anarchist-bohemian neighborhoods in Europe, just like Christiania in Copenhagen. In this neighborhood, that was self-declared a Republic in 1997, there are actually “road signs” to all other neighborhoods of this kind in the old continent, as if they were member states of a confederation.

Its history is yet more similar to the Ruin Pubs in Budapest or the artist neighborhood in Berlin: once it was out of the city center, shabby and poor, where houses were rent at a very low price or even occupied by artists and creative designers.

The latter subsequently organized themselves to start real artistic guerrilla actions, by creating both permanent and temporary installations and exhibitions, thus making this neighborhood look like a world of dreams where music, sex, the altered states of consciousness and freedom of thought are constantly celebrated.

Užupis also has its constitution put up on a wall for people to watch and read, carved in different languages on mirror panels. Among its 41 articles, my favourite are the right to happiness and unhappiness, the right of cats not to love their owners, the possibility to be free and responsible for one’s freedom, the right not to win and the recommendation not to give up.

One of the things I absolutely had to find here in Užupis was clearly the Siren, one of the symbols of the Republic, which looks a bit sad sitting in a niche along the Vilna river (you can have more info about my open question with Sirens in this post on the Warrior Sirens of Warsaw)

Literatų gatvé (men of letters road)

literatu gatve -literatu street vilnius

Once an unknown road (as far as a road in the old town of Vilnius can be), today it’s dedicated to the most important players of Lithuanian literature. Literatų gatvé follows your steps with a few hundred metres long wall where different plates and tiles have been put up, small works of art and craftsmanship that celebrate writers, translators, editors and journalists.

This was an independent initiative too, a project of artistic urban guerrilla.

The best panoramic views 

vista panoramica di vilnius

Vilnius is located on a slightly undulating area and this provides the scenic views and wonderful panoramas that can be seen from different angles.

Among the highest places that can be reached on foot by walking a few metres on a slope, there’s the Hill of Three Crosses and, not far away, the Gedimininas tower, where the flag of Lithuania has been flying since 1988.

Moreover, another breathtaking view can be seen by getting on top of the bell-tower.

The museum of illusions 

museum of illusions Vilnius

museum of illusions, Vilnius

Ideal to spend a couple of hours having fun with friends, children or on your own, this museum helps you go back to your childhood and fascinates its guests with optical science as well as modern and old technologies that make use of it.

As written on one of the attractions of the funniest museum in Europe “if you want to see magic, then study science”.

Stebuklas tile 

mattonella vilnius tile

I’ll get to the end of this first post about the things worth seeing in Vilnius (others will come and I will get into the details of each topic discussed in this post) with another must see part of the city that was born out of a collective action and a bit of magic, two things I really love.

Lithuania has always felt particularly shackled by the Soviet occupation; in 1989, the historical human chain that started in Tallin, passing through Riga and the Baltic republics, actually ended in Vilnius. It created a 370 miles long wall made up of people (the longest human chain in history) as protest against the Soviet regime.

Without using violence, Lithuania shortly became independent.

A commemorative tile has been put up exactly where the human chain ended, and the local folklore says it’s magic. It’s located in the cathedral square.

You are supposed to put your foot on it, spin around and make a wish.

I didn’t do it because I don’t like to step on supposedly holy things.

And also, because it’s not the tile that does magic.

No magic is stronger than collective action, as it turns out.


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