Updated 2006-12-27

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Vilnius City and City Districts

Flying low over Vilnius, the capitol of Lithuania

Vilnius emerged as a market place at the confluence of the Vilnele and Neris rivers. When Grand Duke Gediminas made it his capitol in 1323 several castles were built, among them the “inner” one on the hill in the middle of town, where Gediminas' Tower is still standing. The city wall traversed what is Cathedral Square today. The cathedral belfry is all that is left of the city wall.

I'd like to give a big hand to Vilnius City designers for the well-planned floodlighting (although it isn't working at all times). They almost entirely use white mercury vapour light and yellow-white high-pressure sodium. If the facade is yellow it will be lit in yellow, with white spots used for downlighters. Or the other way around. This makes the city look uniformly lit, which is nice. Vilnius is equal to many of the other cultural cities of Europe.

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På stan
Ausros Vartu
Gediminas prospekt
Kungliga slottet

Castle Street
Ths City Park
Stikliu gatve
Big Street
Other Places in the Old Town
Art and Views
Art in the City
Strange Stuff in the City
Night Shots
Vilnius’ charm
City Parts

On the Town

Let's begin with a walk around town. The Old Town is what you usually see first, but the newer parts of town also have lots to offer. Walk around the city park, shop on Gediminas Prospekt, sit at the cafés. Visit the many foreign restaurants if you must, but for heaven’s sake have some Lithuanian food.. Go to the Parliament on Independence Square and see where the battle for Lithuania was fought. Take the bus to the TV Tower and see Vilnius from the rotating restaurant, but don't forget to see the memorial over those who gave their lives in the fight below the tower in 1991.
The city centre is divided into
The Old Town, The New Town and all the outer parts. Our walkabout starts in the Old Town, from Cathedral Square, and towards the Gates of Dawn.

Castle Street - Pilies gatve
The tourist trap number one is in the Old Town, Senamiestis, where souvenir shops and bars are packed tighter than elementary particles in an atomic nucleus. It starts at Cathedral Square. Let's follow it towards City Hall Square, Rotuse aikste. Here are the University and the University Church.

Vilnius, Pilies gatve, the Old Town tourist trap

The Old Town tourist street in evening sun. Gediminas' Tower in the middle, of course!

Vilnius, Pilies gatve at sunset

After sunset. A postcard picture. Music comes from everywhere, as does the smell of Saslik, grilled skewer.

Vilnius, Pilies gatve in the night

A night shot. Note the flood-lit Gediminas' Tower on its hilltop. Without the tower it's not really Vilnius.

Vilnius, Old Town, Russian church

Russian-Orthodox St. Pokrovskaja in the Old Town, by the square where you’re supposed to buy, buy, buy.

Vilnius, facade in Old Town, the oldest wine-cellar

Scrafitti on Vilnius’ oldest wine-cellar, a common decoration technique in medieval Italy. They put on some layers of paint and the scraped through to the desired layer.

Vilnius, scrafitti, ancient scrape graphics on the city’s oldest wine cellar

Lithuania only has two-layer scrafitti, but in Italy three or more layers are common. The word scrafitti is probably resurrected into the modern “grafitti”.

City Hall Square - Rotuse aikste and Big Street - Didzioji gatve
Pilies gatve
comes into City Hall Square, and Didzioji gatve extends it. Close by is the St. Casimir’s Church.

 Vilnius, Old Town, St. Pokrovskaja

St. Pokrovskaja. Not much to see inside. The compulsory, sour old woman eliminates all the fun of going in.

 Vilnius, Old Town, ex City Hall

The facade of the previous City Hall is beautifully lit.

Vilnius, Old Town, wall decoration

A restaurant with coffee pots cemented into the walls. Behind it you see one of the famous Italian arches.

Ausros Vartu
After the end of Dizioji you continue on Ausros vartu and finish at the Gates of Dawn. Here are the churches St. Therese and Ausros Vartai.

Vilnius, Trinity Church

The Basilian Gate to the Trinity Church in Old Town. This church is presently being restored after an interlude as a chemistry lab.

Vilnius, Old Town, Basilian Monastery

Going through this gate leads you to the Basilian Monastery, and if you continue you will find the poor, ruined Trinity Church.

Vilnius, Old Town

A rich man's house in the Old town, now, a hotel.

Stikliu gatve
A detour from the City Hall Square is the Glass Blowers' Street, Stiklliu gatve. It is dominated by one restaurant, later turned into a hotel, Stikliai hotel owned by a guy who quickly grasped the new ideas after the fall of Communism, and has the town's finest place, any way you look at it. He has wined and dined generals, kings and presidents from the East and the West. The restaurant walls are full of pictures of presidents.

Vilnius, Stikliu gatve

All the splendour is not visible in the daytime, but go inside and order, and you will have the best from the Lithuanian luxury kitchen.

Vilnius, Stikliu gatve

In the night its gets much better. The blocks around are nicely restored, indeed.

Vilnius, Stikliu gatve

Vilnius, Stikliu gatve

Other Places in the Old Town

Vilnius, Vokeciu gatve

Vokeciu gatve, German Street, the most beautiful in the whole city.

Vilnius, Old Town

Another alley I can't remember the name of.

Vilnius, small extra house on the roof

They are short of space in Vilnius, and all methods are used. I thought this little extra house on top of another house, looked very funny.

Vilnius, Old Town, Italian arch

An arch, one of the famous arches in the Old Town, a typical Italian influence.

Vilnius, Main Technical Library

The main Technical Library, one of the oldest houses, having number 300 or thereabouts.  

The City Park
If you leave Cathedral Square in the other direction you get to the City Park, Sereikiskiu Parkas. Continuing through this, along river Vilnele you will get to the Republic of Uzupis.

Vilnius, the city park and river Vilnele

Sereikiskiu Parkas, the City Park with river Vilnele which has given its name to the city.

Vilnius, the city park and river Vilnele

The City Park is a green oasis where you can hide from the burning sun, have a drink, have an ice-cream, play tennis and let the kids have a ride in the amusement park.

Vilnius, Gediminas’ Tower

The City Park lies around the hill where Gediminas' castle originally was. The tower, Gediminas' Tower is the city's symbol.

The Royal Palace
On the order of the Russian tsar the royal palace in Vilnius was demolished in the 19:th century. There should be only one royal palace in Russia. The palace stood between the cathedral and the hill with the old castle. Archaeological diggings started in the beginning of the 21:st century, and after they were finished all the finds were exhibited and the rebuilding work started. We should be very grateful for Vladas Drema's book “Vilnius Lost” (Dinges Vilnius) which has lots of pictures and drawings of a Vilnius not yet destroyed by Napoleon, Germans, Communists and others. It is a gold mine for restorers.

Vilnius, royal palace, drawing

This is perhaps what it looked like, once. Also note the old castle on the hilltop with Gediminas' tower, which at the time had all its four floors. But the hill isn’t that big, so the castle is too large. The dome to the left is on the cathedral, remaining undamaged to this day. From Vladas Drema's book “Dinges Vilnius”.

Vilnius, royal palace being rebuilt in 2004

In 2004 the building site looked like this.

Vilnius, royal palace being rebuilt in 2005

2005 the building site looked like this. Note that the palace will not be joined to the cathedral. One of the ”stairwells,” or whatever it might be, isn’t as high as the other, corresponding better to this picture. The cathedral has cracked in the middle, perhaps after the big dig?

Vilnius, wall templates for the reconstruction of the royal palace

Build like this! Templates are used to show window and wall designs.

Vilnius, royal palace being rebuilt in 2006

At my visit in 2006 half the facade towards Cathedral Square was plastered.

Vilnius, royal palace being rebuilt in 2006, close-up

When it’s finished it will house some government functions and be used for representation. It will probably be ready in time for Lithuania’s 1000:th anniversary in 2009.

Vilnius, royal palace being rebuilt in 2006, towards cathedral

Here is the wall towards the cathedral. They will not be joined.

Vilnius, royal palace being rebuilt in 2006, rear

The palace rear. Interestingly, there is another house still standing behind the castle. It’s not an original, but was built on the palace grounds by a Jewish merchant in the 19:th century, partly with details taken from the demolished castle. There is now a debate about whether to knock down the merchant’s house and rebuild the castle on its original ground, or let the house be, and restore it.

Gediminas Prospekt - High Street
We're now in the New city, Naujamiestis, that is, the modern city centre, on the most fashionable street. It is a pedestrian precinct in daytime and transport street in the mornings. If you have lots of money to spend and like flashy fashion shops, this is the place for you. The street starts at the Cathedral and ends at the Parliament.

Vilnius, Gediminas prospekt, towards the cathedral

Gediminas pedestrian precinct is the main walking and shopping street. The cathedral’s belfry is at the rear.

Vilnius, Gediminas prospekt, towards the cathedral

Same place, but in the evening.

Vilnius, STEBUKLAS, The Miracle Stone

The Cathedral Square has a stone with a built-in miracle, Stebuklas. You stand on it and turn three turns.

Vilnius, Gediminas prospekt, facade

A facade.

Vilnius, Gediminas prospekt, facade

Another facade.

Vilnius, Gediminas prospekt, being spiced up

To the Song festival of 2003 the street was being spiced up like never before. A new subterranean parking house was built, too.

Vilnius, Gediminas prospekt, evening picture

At the Prospekt floodlighting is real fine. It is nice to go there in the evenings, too.

Vilnius, Gediminas prospekt, evening picture

When the night falls, well, it has nothing to do with the street, but the night sky sometimes is fine.

Vilnius, Gediminas prospekt, The Drama Theatre

The Drama Theatre is right on the high street, Gediminas prospekt.

More on the Town - Various Niceities

Vilnius, image mirrored in window

The first in a line of unsorted images, the bookshop on Gediminas prospekt mirroring in a window.

Vilnius, Italian arches

A line of jagged arches in a backyard shows the influence of the Italian masters on the town architecture.

Vilnius, polished handrail

Outside the concert hall. A very polished handrail in the evening sun.

Basteja - outer line of defence

Vilnius, Basteja, the outer line of defence from below

What is left of the outer defence wall Basteja can be found at the eastern end of the Old Town.

Vilnius, Basteja, gate of the outer line of defence

Its location is very high. You get a good view of Vilnius from there. The moat the outer wall are still there...

Vilnius, Basteja, the outer line of defence from outside

and inside, towards the city, is a few hundred metres of restored inner city wall. Well, it’s just a lot of bricks...

Vilnius Charm - Unrestored Backyards
Sights like these will soon be hard to find, so you’d better look closely now. Then, in one corner of the yard, a posh architect’s office - so this is high status anyway.

Vilnius, unrestored backyard

This is what’s called "Vilnius Charm."

Vilnius, unrestored backyard

Unrestored backyards with houses looking like they haven’t been maintained for a hundred years. Note the ceiling decorations.

Vilnius, unrestored backyard

People like living like this. It’s in the middle of town, it’s quiet and green (well, in some places).

Vilnius, doomed balcony

Some things may never be restored. This balcony has a natural garden.

Vilnius, unrestored street in Old Town

This street, far away from all the tourists, has a long way to go before it’s presentable.

Vilnius, the restoration wave stopped here

But look what some new plaster can do.


Vilnius, view towards The Arsenal

From the top floor glass pub of Hotel Lietuva one has an amazing view of the city. Here, looking towards The Arsenal (Arsenalas), Mindaugas Bridge and Gediminas’ Tower.

Vilnius, view towards the Old Town

Looking towards the Old Town, a concert house in the foreground and the University Church in the middle. The Cathedral is to the left.

Vilnius, view towards Forum

If you turn around you see the ex-Palace of Progress and far away the oval Forum, a sports palace built by a returning basketball star.

Vilnius view from the White Bridge

View over river Neris from Baltasis tiltas, the White Bridge

There will be more views here in due time. Until then, have a look at the panoramas.

Night Shots
Getting out at night in Vilnius is very enjoyable these days. It’s even nicer with a tripod, but the lack of such a device may be compensated by the lots of sticks and and poles available for you to support your camera. Vilnius is a modern floodlit city. This is especially true of the new district Europa centras. The previously old theatre at Pylimo Street, in which you could buy pirated CDs in the beginning of the 1990’s, is nowadays a luxury casino, with exuberant floodlighting. It is well suited for studying night photography.

Vilnius, Europe Centre at night

You start by sitting down in a chair in a café at the end of the White Bridge and wait for the darkness.

Vilnius, Europe Centre at night

When darkness falls all the floodlights and lampposts go on, and you just put down your beer and pull out the camera.

Vilnius, Europe Centre at night

Now you can start walking slowly over the White Bridge towards the city centre. Europa Centras is magnificently lit up.

Vilnius, Forum Palace at night

The Forum Palace sports palace and the glass hotel close by with that funny truss thing on the roof.

Vilnius, night shot towards Gediminas’ Tower

Walking towards the centre you see Gediminas’ Tower in the distance, and the nicest lit house in town: The Congress Hotel. Vilnius, night shot, Gediminas’ Tower and the Mindaugas Bridge Walking back over Neris on the Green Bridge you see this view of Gediminas’ Tower, the Upper castle and the Mindaugas Bridge.

Art in the City

Vilnius, stained glass window at the Theatre Café

Windows with stained glass can be found everywhere. It is a common form of handicraft in Lithuania. This window is in the Theatre Café close to the Opera house.

Vilnius, stained glass window in a staircase

Various professions are shown in this window, that I found in a staircase in an ordinary apartment building.

Vilnius, stained glass window in a book shop

A round piece of art in a bookshop. This piece was hanging in a frame, but I have removed what was around to make the beautiful glass stand out better.

Vilnius, stained glass window in the Young People's Palace of Technology

This one suits my taste, with a cathode ray tube, other electron tubes, chemical apparatus and an aeroplane. It was in the Young People's Palace of Technology.

Vilnius, stained glass window in The House of Teachers

I found this window in the Teachers’ house in Vilnius. It was a dark staircase hiding this eminent piece of art.

Vilnius, Gediminas’ Statue

The statue of grand duke Gediminas is on Cathedral Square. To the right sits his dream, the Iron Wolf, the symbol of Vilnius, strangely enough cut in stone.

Vilnius, statue of Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevicius

Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevicius, a famous Lithuanian architect, who, among other things, rebuilt the Cathedral in 1783, is a statue on Liejyklos Street.

Vilnius, Elektra, the goddess of electricity

The Soviets didn’t allow Elektra, the goddess of electricity to stay on the roof of the power station, but nowadays her lamp spreads its mild light over the town. Competing sharply with the not so mild, giant telly on top of the opera house.

Strange Stuff in the City

Vilnius, strange vents

Like Jurassic monsters they stick out of the ground, these ventilation pipes in the grass in a sterile Soviet-built Vilnius suburb. No one knows exactly what they are for, but some guess that...

Vilnius, strange vents

...the Communists built a shelter for the upper classes, that was never finished. I was fascinated by the bad manufacturing, the rough metal edges, the bad painting and the torn posters.

Vilnius, blue metallic Volga car

Glistening memoirs of the past. An old Volga turned blue metallic, an old-time keepsake. Volga is nice because they are so sturdy they’ll never break, runs on bad petrol and you can make the spare parts yourself.

Vilnius, milk bar

Finish your day like the Lithuanians, with Lithuanian food: go on a milk bar, have beer (not on the milk bar) with fried, black bread (if it’s made crunchy it’s pure heaven, especially along with a cold Svyturys) and finish off with Lithuanian plain food. The zeppelin must be the most fascinating potato dumpling available. The next day all the churches and the University awaits.

Pilies gatve, dick art

Innovative graffiti. Who can pass this one without looking twice? Unfortunately it exists no more.

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City Parts

Above, we studied the most viewed part, the Old Town. But there are other parts too, all with their distinctive features. In the 18:th and 19:th centuries the various suburbs were little villages growing outside what was then Vilnius proper, inside the walls, i.e. today’s Old Town. The have later merged, but, believe it or not, kept some of their hallmarks.


Uzupis is the new place to live. Having been a bad and worn-down part of town before, now each square metre is an object of investment, after the city’s mayor bought some property there. Ruined apartments are being restored in luxury, and little old men walk along the streets, filling in the mortar like artists. Now, there are loads of money.
Uzupis lies high above the city centre, and the view from the many cafés and restaurants is ravishing. There are lots of cosy little eating places. Everything seems to have taken off after the statue "Uzupis’ Angel" was erected in the middle of the square in 1996. Uzupis has declared itself a free republic, and they are serious about it. Perhaps Uzupis has been pushed aside for so long that unity and togetherness finally grew strong.

Vilnius, Uzupis entry sign

Happy, 40 km/h and art is what you will see when you traverse the bridge over River Vilna and into Uzupis.

Vilnius, Uzupis, Uzupis’ Angel

Uzupis’ Angel and drinkwater tap on the main square, the assembly place during the uprising.

Vilnius, Uzupis, Uzupis’ Angel up close

Uzupis’ Angel up close. You could say it characterises the new hope in Uzupis.

Vilnius, Uzupis, on the other side of the square

The restoration wave roars by. This house by the square won’t be recognisable in a couple of years.

Vilnius, Uzupis, restaurant with a fantastic view

Have a cuppa and adore the view. The Bernadines’ Monastery and St. Anne’s sticking up in the middle of the picture. All restaurants along Uzupis’ man street facing Vilnius centre have a magnificent view.

Vilnius, Uzupis, Church of St. Bartholomew, exterior

This part of town is just as old as everything else in Vilnius. The Church of St. Bartholomew is medieval.

Vilnius, Uzupis, Church of St. Bartholomew, interior

The only remains of the wall paintings are around the altar.

Vilnius, Uzupis, border sign

And so we are out on the other side, and here is the border of the Republic of Uzupis. No we go over the quay-edge.


Vilnius, Snipiskes, historic image

Snipiskes in 1840, a rural idyll on conmvenient riding distance from the big city. The St. Raphael’s Church is still there, but the small chapel and saint are no more.
Snipiskes (pig snout village?) has been in the same place since the 17:th century, but won’t be there for very much longer. Most of the houses look like 19:th century. The cobblestones are definitely not 21:st century. You might think that you are in a small village in the country. In the middle of central Vilnius! The word “idyllic” is not far away, if it wasn’t for some factors affecting your nose quite badly... But Snipiskes has other problems. The food prices are skyrocketing. The idyll is threatened by the high-risers at Europa Centras close by. Look closely at these images from 2005. In a few years the buildings won’t be there anymore.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, downtown

Downtown Snipiskes. Suddenly you think you are in a country village.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, daycare centre

The kids didn’t have very much to play with, but seemed happy anyway.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, solicitor’s office in the yard

Advokatas, solicitor’s office, something the Snipiskes residents will probably need.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, rusty mailboxes

The hanging letterboxes of Babylon.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, water pump in the street

The pump in the street tells that there is no running water indoors.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, construction work

The Snipiskes residents haven’t given up the fight. Some are building.
And how about the residents, dogs, cats and people? Other townspeople look down at Snipskes and despise the residents. And many that we meet look ragged, haven’t got modern clothes, are a bit bloody around one eye, or can’t walk straight in general. This is not the new, rich Lithuania. These people haven’t got the money to hang on to the development rushing by only 500 metres away. There were lots of dogs. They growl and bark from every yard. Big dogs. Small angry dogs. Sausage-shaped dogs. The one on the last image was bound with a too short chain, so when it jumped up to chew into our throats, the cartoon effect followed: It bounced up in the air with a surprised “Gluck” and fell to the ground again.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, nasty dog Vilnius, Snipiskes, lady on cobblestone street Vilnius, Snipiskes, cat on a hot tin roof Vilnius, Snipiskes, sausage-shaped dog Vilnius, Snipiskes, reading a newspaper in the evening sun Vilnius, Snipiskes, cat and loo Vilnius, Snipiskes, citizen Vilnius, Snipiskes, dog about to strangle itself

The buildings were rural, leaning over and painted in various hues of the typically Lithuanian brown, green and dark yellow. Some houses seems to have seen better times, whereas others are like cottages from some fairytale. Some houses can have additions in three various junk-styles. And then, out of nowhere, jump some modern houses!

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A study of windows. No, it isn’t me leaning the camera. The houses lean this way.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, window Vilnius, Snipiskes, window Vilnius, Snipiskes, window Vilnius, Snipiskes, window Vilnius, Snipiskes, window

Other funny details, such as interesting additions, custom water tower and many outside lavatories.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, strange balcony Vilnius, Snipiskes, custom water tower from oil drum Vilnius, Snipiskes, flowers Vilnius, Snipiskes, outside lavatory Vilnius, Snipiskes, satellite antenna Vilnius, Snipiskes, rose bush

If you want to be rude or make fun of others’ misfortune you could say that Snipiskes is so rickety that it may fall over in a heavy wind, and that that might be the best. Life hasn’t been kind to the Snipiskes people, but many of them seem industrious and paint their houses, and many have nice kitchen gardens. On one ramshackle house we find a satellite antenna. On another that’s also about to fall apart we see a data link antenna on the roof. New is mixed with old. It’s the smell from all the outside lavatories that have given the place the name “Toilet City” and a walkabout is not recommended for those with a sensitive nose.
But the kitchen gardens smell of lovely dill from far away. Pickled cucumber with dill and horse radish is a Lithuanian speciality. And of course people grow it themselves. It’s cheaper than buying it. Some places look like veritable market gardens.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, market garden Vilnius, Snipiskes, market garden Vilnius, Snipiskes, market garden Vilnius, Snipiskes, market garden Vilnius, Snipiskes, giant market garden Vilnius, Snipiskes, market garden Vilnius, Snipiskes, market garden

Vilnius, Snipiskes, high risers close by

The new Europa district is pressing in at the border between idyll and big city and will eat Snipiskes within a not too distant future.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, torn down

Going, going, gone! Someone has given up and sold his plot, and the excavators get there straight away to finish off the remains.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, torn down

The kids play happily in what’s left of a unique part of town, but profit leaves no history untouched. Smash it up, and it will soon be all over.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, burnt down

Despite the fire-station being very close at hand there are fires all over, more than in previous years.

Vilnius, Snipiskes, burnt down

Black, burnt-out skeletons are everywhere. It may be the tempting insurance money?

Vilnius, Snipiskes, idyllic limit

And the idyll ends abruptly. Snipiskes ends brutally at a big street, with traffic rumbling by.
One might ask how one square kilometre of Snipiskes has been able to remain more or less unchanged since the 19:th century, when the rest of the town has been so severely modernised? One explanation might be the closeness of the fire-station. But that won’t help now. The house burn too often for it to be credible. If you want to see Vilnius as it looked a 100 years ago, hurry there now. Soon everything will be gone. The Kalvariju turgus market is very near, and it isn’t hard to understand its popularity.

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