How would you react if someone asked you “What do you know about Vilnius?” Would you answer confidently “Oh yes, I’ve been there. It’s (add an adjective here) city”. Or would you pause a bit trying to remember where exactly it was on the map. Vilnius is definitely not as known as Prague or Krakow, but maybe it’s a good thing. Locals are not tired from tourists and they are honestly excited to meet travelers from around the world. But how would locals present Vilnius if someone would ask about it? Probably everyone would have a different opinion. And it’s also one of the good things about being unknown in the world - Vilnius can have many faces. So in this article we would like to present just a few of them.
Official slogan of the campaign was “No one knows where it is, but when you find it - it’s amazing.” Originally created by two students for an exam, this idea went viral back in 2018 and became the official campaign soon after. It immediately caught the attention of international media and has been featured on ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’ and other shows.
However, not everyone at home was happy about it. 2018 was also the year when Pope Francis visited the Baltics. So when he was landing in Vilnius two posters were greeting him: “Pope Francis, welcome to Lithuania” and “Vilnius - G-spot of Europe”. It definitely clashed with a tiresome work of Catholic Church to present Vilnius as...
Even though Lithuanians are proud to state that “we were the last pagans of Europe” (baptized only in 1387), being Catholic is a big part of our culture and identity. For us locals it’s perfectly normal to walk by a church every 100 meters. As early as the 17th century Vilnius was already known as a pilgrimage site as pilgrims have been traveling here to visit the miraculous image of the Holy Mother of Mercy placed in the chapel known as the Gates of Dawn. Few centuries later Vilnius became home to the painting of Merciful Jesus, popularly known as the Image of Divine Mercy. Now-famous image was created in 1934 according to the visions of Sister Faustina. And then we have quite a number of saints, blessed, servants of God and martyrs from both Catholics and Orthodox churches who lived, died or were worshiped in Vilnius.
However, Christians are not the only ones having warm sentiments to this city. Being in the crossroads between East and West, North and South, Vilnius was always home for people from different cultures and religions. From the 17th century until the Second World War, many famous Jewish scientists, artists and Rabbis lived and worked in Vilnius. They were known in the world as Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews) and were admired for their inclination for education. The most renowned Jewish scholar of the 18th century, Gaon Elijah, also lived here. Sadly, this great community was destroyed during the Second World War, when nazis forced Litvaks to the Old Town’s ghettos and later murdered them in the vicinity of Vilnius. Some Litvaks managed to survive Holocaust and later settled around the world, keeping the memory of Vilna alive. Actually, 2020 is celebrated in Lithuania as a year of Vilna Gaon and Litvak History.
After the Second World War Lithuania and Vilnius ended up in Soviet Union. 50 years of occupation left it’s lasting trace in a cityscape, culture and mentality. Even though locals are not particularly happy to be referred to as “Eastern European”, lately we realised that it can be a great advantage. We are talking about the movie industry, of course. Back in 2018 critically acclaimed miniseries Chernobyl were filmed in Vilnius and other locations in Lithuania. By far it’s Lithuania’s biggest production to date, but after its success locals hope to see other projects brought to Vilnius. And maybe we will not have to wait for long. For example parts of Stranger Things season 4 were shot in a former prison, just half an hour walk from the Oldtown.
But cinema is not the only art form locals are crazy about. Vilnius is a student town. We have an art academy and a design college, art factories and incubators and even an independent Republic of Užupis run by artists. It’s located in the middle of Vilnius just across the river from the old town. Having so many creative people in one place means that even during difficult times we find a way to be inspired. When the Government of Lithuania announced that protective face masks are mandatory during the quarantine, local designers and other creative people mobilised and started experimenting with different styles and forms. And that’s how Vilnius Mask Fashion Week was born with a slogan ‘Creativity Cannot be Masked’. Indeed it can’t.
As much as we love artsy initiatives, we are even prouder to be one of the greenest capitals in Europe. Sometimes we like to joke that Vilnius is just a big forest with a few houses and we call it the biggest city in the country. And it’s not very far from the truth - forests and parks do cover almost half of the territory of the city and we have two rivers here too. So there’s quite a lot of space for people to escape noisy streets and reconnect with Mother Nature. Outdoor activities are very popular among the locals, especially in summer. From hiking to kayaking trips, from adventure parks to grilling zones and outdoor cafes - everyone can find something for themselves.
So here are a few faces of Vilnius according to the locals. But don’t believe us. According to other Lithuanians, people from Vilnius are quite self-centered. So come to Vilnius and check it out for yourself. We, Vilnius with Locals free tour team, will be waiting!