I like returning to Vilnius. It is probably one of the most underrated capital cities in Europe but at the same time I feel it’s one of the most alternative ones. But while places like Berlin or Athens literally scream they are different than anything else Vilnius is this calm and cozy place where people dress originally, quirkiness can be found around each corner and a strong artistic and bohemian vibe is very present. Each time I’m there I discover some new amazing spots that make me enjoy the place so very much I keep going back (for some reason it’s always in the autumn time!).
It’s not difficult to find alternative Vilnius spots. While the city and especially the Old Town are full of beautiful architecture and magnificent churches (there’re just so many of them!) you stumble across quirky things just about everywhere. You just need to have eyes open. Here are some of my finds in alternative Vilnius, places that made me enjoy the city so very much.
Alternative Vilnius: Uzupis
Nowhere else I’ve seen a place like this! An independent republic existing within Lithuania with its own currency, flag, anthemn, president or army (exactly 11 men!) is where the bohemian heart of Vilnius can be found. The place is full of small cafes, cosy restaurants and a big number of art all over the place. On the wall on Paupio street the constitution of Uzupis can be found, in 10 or so languages. It has 39 articles, such as „a dog has the right to be a dog” or „people have the right to be unhappy”. Uzupis is definitely my favourite place in Vilnius, I always try to spend some time there, just to feel as a part of the dirstrict, to soak in the atmosphere of the place. You can read more about Uzupis (and read the whole constitution) in my old post about the republic.
Alternative Vilnius: Downtown Forest Hostel & Camping
This place is among my top 5 hostels! It’s unique, it’s quirky, it’s artistic and original. Even if it’s located just 3 minutes walking from Uzupis, in the heart of the busy capital, it feels like a perfect nature getaway. All my Lithuanian friends are very much in love with the nature and this hostel was a quintessence of their personality and (in my opinion) the whole country. I just can’t think of a better place to show the Lithuanian soul and I can’t think of any other city that could have this hostel, it’s such a perfect fit in Vilnius!
The place was really cosy and felt like a home. When I got back after the busy day of sightseeing I was welcomed by the bonefire and mulled wine. The hostel also sells some local craft beers and other drinks so there is no need to look for the shop, everything you might need is right there. I stayed in the private room and it was so bright and spacious, much more like a hotel room. In the morning, before setting off to explore Vilnius I had a croissant to die for, a speciality of the place! And well, the hostel was so lovely it took me ages to leave, guess that deep down I wanted to stay there for so much longer than just the weekend!
Alternative Vilnius: street art
I’ve never really thought of Vilnius as a place for street art but as it turned out the place is full of some decent graffiti. I’ll write about it more soon but few places worth checking out are the graffiti pier at the bank of Neris river, across the Old Town (the municipality gave this place to the artists and it is legal to paint there), Uzupis or the are around Frank Zappa monument. I also found two really good murals, one close to the cathedral and another on the cinema Lietuva.
Here you can read more about Vilnius street art!
Alternative Vilnius: Frank Zappa Monument
Did you know that Vilnius has a Frank Zappa monument? But why, of all the artists, him? Apparently his music was banned in the Soviet times, as it was considered too iconoclastic. This made him even more popular among Lithuanian people. He was viewed as a symbol of freedom therefore he got his own monument, pretty nice one!
Alternative Vilnius: quirky sculptures
Monument of Frank Zappa isn’t the only quirky one in Vilnius. There are so many more weird sculptures! The lucky belly (rubbing it will bring you luck, of course!), the apple (as a gratitude to the people helping with charity), the angel of Uzupis (which symbolizes the freedom of Eastern European art) or the egg (which used to stand in Uzupis) – these are just few examples of crazy Lithuanian creativity!
Alternative Vilnius: smiling angels
Vilnius is known as the city of angels. The first one appeared in 2004 and since then over 70 little smiling figures were created. They are constantly changing the location, wherever is more needed at the certain time and they always bring smile and joy. You can read the whole story of Vilnius angels here.
Alternative Vilnius: Green Bridge
It’s hard to fine the remnants of the Soviet past in Vilnius. When you look at the city’s skyline it’s either baroque churches or modern skyscrapers. But there’s one place where the finest examples of Soviet sculptures can be found and that’s the Green Bridge over Neris. There’re four sculptures, each of them representing a different social class, and each of them is a pure masterpiece.
Alternative Vilnius: cemeteries
Vilnius has some of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve ever seen! Most of the people, especially from Poland, visit Rasos Cemetery with old graves rolling down the hillside (you can read more about it in my old post). If you are a thanatotourist (I most certainly am!) you’d love this place! But there is one more, equally beautiful yet much calmer cemetery – Bernardine. Located in the backstreet of Uzupis, on the gentle hillside, is such a beautiful and serene side! The place is a great history lesson of uneasy Polish-Lithuanian relations as the majority of the graves have Polish names on. The cemetery was founded over 200 years ago and some graves still remember that time. When I was wandering around with the camera in my hand a middle aged guy stopped me next to the main chapel – we had minor communication issues, tried to talk in 3 languages at the same time, but eventually it turned out he was working on renovations of the place. The inside of the chapel was exposed (it doesn’t happen very often) and after scrambling through piles of rubble I could peek in. The air was thick and smelled of old crypt, it took me a while to get used to the darkness but eventually I saw something. There were two coffins in almost untouched condition, burried in that place in 1813… I could step down the ledder to enter the place but it was too much for me, I was already pretty terrified!
Alternative Vilnius: Literatu street
I was around so many times, I heard about it even more yet only now I found this place! A small alley in the Old Town is where in the 19th century most of the bookstores could be found – hence the name, Literature Street. That’s also where the wall commemorating national writers and those connected to Lithuania is located. There are over 200 wooden, ceramic, glass or metal tiles showing all the famous names, some of them are really creative! It is a great testimony of the Lithuanian art!
Alternative Vilnius: Miracle tile
Speaking of tiles – there’s a special one in front of the cathedral. It’s easy to find – it’s different than others, has „Stebuklas” written on it and usually there are people gathering around who want to experience some magic too. It is said that once you turn around clockwise three times your wish will come true. The tile is a special place not only for bringing luck. At the end of Soviet regime, in 1989 around 2 millions people made a human chain, from Vilnius to Tallinn via Riga, some 650 kms all the way across what now is Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It was a way to protest against the current political situation in USSR. Apparently the „Stebuklas” tile was a starting (or ending) point of the chain.
Alternative Vilnius: Guerilla knitting
Knitting has become a new creative way of street art, the one I really like and support as it is so different and so girly. I found two spots in Vilnius where trees got nice, woollen sweaters – in front of St. Anne’s church (probably the most beautiful church in the city!) and on Vincas Kudirka square. Aren’t they the cutest?
Alternative Vilnius: Weekend flea market
Whenever I see a flea market in the visited city I stop by to take a look as it is always a great introduction to the recent reality of the place. When I found out there’s a weekend flea market in Vilnius’ Old Town I knew I have to visit it! Sadly I was there pretty late, the weather was really chilly but I still could browse through some weird things that local sellers offered. Unfortunately this time I didn’t find any treasures but it was still a great place to stop by!
Alternative Vilnius: Mint Vinetu
If I lived in Vilnius I’d spend hours in this place! A small and cozy bookshop / cafe was a blissful place! The aroma of fresh coffee and old books mixed there giving somehow an intellectual vibe. I spent quite some time in this place, reading and writing, while two dogs cheerfully played besides me. I visited a few cafes in Vilnius (I blame October for that) but this was definitely my favourite one! When I go to Lithuanian capital next time I’m sure I will spend the majority of my time there! Oh, and a little bonus – they sell some quirky, vintage souvenirs there!
Alternative Vilnius: Market Hall
Between the train station and the Gates of Dawn the oldest market hall of Vilnius is located – Hales market. That’s where most of locals do their grocery shopping and I can see why – the selection is wide, the prices are very affordable and it’s a great way to socialize with other locals. The building itself is pretty interesting too, it’s over century old and looks like a lovely train station. Hales market is probably the best place to get some Lithuanian goodies, I can especially recommend their bread and cheese, so yummy!
Have you been to Vilnius? Is this city on your radar? Do you like alternative spots too?
I’ve used Spotted by Locals Vilnius to find most of these places recommended by locals in Vilnius. They publish (100% offline) apps & blogs with up-to-date tips by city loving locals in 57 cities. Here’s a map with all the places I wrote about
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If you think of visiting Lithuania or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
- Vilnius street art
- A mini guide to things to do in Vilnius, Lithuania
- Bohemian Vilnius – The Republic of Uzupis
- and more!
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