I don’t understand why it took me so long to visit Vilnius. I feel embarrassed to say this, but Lithuania was never on my radar. I’ve always been a fan of Central and Eastern Europe, but the Baltic States never caught my eye. A stupid mistake, because the Baltic States are fantastic and Lithuania is a perfect example. It may be the least known destination of the Baltic States, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes quickly. The Lithuanian capital Vilnius offers a perfect mix of everything. Not only is the city center with its numerous churches a feast for the eyes, but the city also has an alternative side. Let me take you on an alternative walk through Vilnius.
Užupis: digital street art
Užupis is the quirky district of Vilnius. Not only is this the district of artists, but Užupis also has a unique status. It is a self-proclaimed republic within Vilnius with its own city rules. How odd is that?! Most street art can be found around the Užupis Art Incubator. This is a gallery, established with the aim of providing a creative space to artists. Hence the name: Incubator, or a breeding ground for emerging talent. On the path to the entrance, we already saw some colorful murals. Inside the walls, there are a couple of interesting art installations, like a Jesus statue with a backpack. My favorite part was the paintings of (R)estart Reality. At first glance, these black and white paintings do not look very special, but with the Restart Reality app, these works come to life on your phone. How cool is that!
- Want to learn more about Užupis? Click here for an awesome Užupis tour with a local.
Address: Užupio g. 2.
Graffiti alley of vilnius
The center of Užupis is located around the square with the Angel statue, a high pillar with a trumpeting angel on top of it. Užupis is known as the city of angels and the trumpet is a symbol for the start of a free-thinking era. Not far from the pillar, you can find another trumpeting angel, signaling the entrance of an alley full of graffiti and street art. I think that this alley used to have some awesome works, but sadly it did not impress us. I saw a few good street artworks, but for the most part it was graffiti and odd objects attached to the wall.
Address: I couldn’t find the location, but when you’re at Angel Square walk uphill. It is on the left side.
Historic center vilnius: think
From Užupis, it’s an easy short walk across the bridge Bernardinų Tiltas and past the beautiful Saint Anne’s church into the historic center. The historic center of Vilnius is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you may not find as many street artworks here as in other places in the city. But during a city trip you will end up in the historic center anyway, so it’s worth checking out a few works. Walk to the Odminių g. for one of the oldest wall paintings in the city (see photo below). With this mural, local artist Jurgis Tarabilda wanted to show that street art is not always vandalism, but it is also an art form that can inspire thought and conversation. Hence the text: think. Located in the same street: two brightly painted electrical boxes. I think it’s super cool when everyday boring objects are turned into art.
Address ‘Think’: Odminių g. 7.
The message to get people thinking through street art and start a conversation is precisely the goal of the local art project #wallsthatremember. This project shows wall paintings of the pre-war Jewish community in Vilnius. Before World War II, the city had one of the largest and most vibrant Jewish quarters in the region. To pay tribute to this important part of Vilnius’ history, the project staff dived into the archives in search of photos of the pre-war Jewish community. The selected photos were ‘painted’ on the walls of Vilnius with a black and white stencil. Often in the same place where the photo was taken. All stencils have a QR code. If you scan the code, you will see the original photo. An important and beautiful project that is worth paying attention to when walking around.
- Want to learn more about the Jewish history of Vilnius? Click here to join a walking tour in the Jewish Quarter.
Address: Gaono g. 4. There are also other stencils in the area.
Railway area: enormous Tony Soprano
I love huge murals! Near Halės Turgus you will find a beautiful mural by the Italian artist Millo. The painting reminded me of one of those posters that you see at the dentist when you lie on the chair and stare at the ceiling. So many details to see. I probably stared for a solid 15 minutes at the building to observe the whole thing. By the way, the market Halės Turgus itself is also a great place to visit if you like local vegetable, cheese, and fruit markets. It is the oldest market in Vilnius.
On to the railway station! Because at the station, every commuter is greeted in a very special way: by a 5-meter high statue of TV character Tony Soprano from the crime series The Sopranos. Why is this man dressed in his underwear and bathrobe, you say? Well, I do not know the series, but that was one of his looks in the TV series. Now Tony Soprano is part of the styling of railway bar Petronas.
Address Millo: Pylimo g. 56
Address Tony Soprano: Geležinkelio g. 6
Gedimino Prospektas: find unibrow Frida
I recommend everyone to take a walk up and down the Gedimino Prospektas. It feels like a small piece of Paris in Vilnius. The buildings on both sides are elegantly designed, so make sure to look up every now and then. But the side streets hide the real gems: street art. Take Frida for example, the painting of a woman – with a large unibrow – depicted in a jungle with a monkey and parrot on her shoulders. Quite an interesting scene in the city of Vilnius, far away from the tropical jungle. Not much further you will find a painting of a woman and eagle on the wall of a prison. The painting repeats and at the same time fades as if the woman and bird slowly fly away.
Address Frida: Žemaitės skveras
Address wall painting prison: Kražių g. 7
The lost snake palace
Head over to the KGB Museum (also interesting to visit!) and walk up the Tauras hill for a look at the Stalinist Palace of Trade Union. The Polish artist M-City has painted the pillars with – what seemed to me – crawling black and white snakes. Unfortunately, the building was demolished at the end of 2019 and the plan is to build a concert hall here. If you ask me: a waste of an important piece of history.
- Want to learn more about the Soviet history of Vilnius? Here’s a Soviet history walking tour, recommended by Lonely Planet.
Address: V. Mykolaičio-Putino g. 5 (unfortunately demolished)
Tip: use the Vilnius street art map of Street Art Cities. I used this map during my hunt and I loved it. The map shows you where the works are located and how they look. Super useful!
Quirky art along Pylimo: gorilla hands & Easter Egg square
Did you think it couldn’t get any crazier after over-sized Tony Soprano? Oh, it can always get crazier in Vilnius. Walk along the Pylimo towards the MO Modern Art Museum and you will see two giant furry gorilla hands on a fence. It is probably a temporary installation linked to the exhibition, but it looked super cool. A little bit further you will find the Easter Egg Square. Yup, that is right. Vilnius has a square with a giant statue of an Easter Egg on it. The idea was that an angel should come out of the egg, as a symbol of the revival of the Užupis district. Sadly, there was not enough budget, so now there is only an egg.
Address MO Museum: Pylimo g. 17
Address Easter Square: Pylimo g. 43
Meet Frank Zappa: hero of vilnius
Another interesting square at Pylimo: the Frank Zappa square. There used to be a statue of communist leader Lenin here, but in 2000 it was replaced with the head of the American artist Frank Zappa. Why Zappa? The American has never been to Lithuania and has no Lithuanian blood. But as it turns out, his music was popular when Lithuania was fighting for independence. On the walls behind Zappa ‘s head there are also some cool works on the wall.
Address: K. Kalinausko g. 3
kiss of putin and trump
If you walk all the way down Pylimo, you will come across the quirky yellow paintings of the Brazilian brothers Os Gemeos. I also saw their works in Heerlen (NL) and Berlin. Truly a unique special style! The brothers appear to have a Lithuanian grandfather, depicted in the right hand of the yellow figure. On the wall below you will find the most talked-about painting of Vilnius: the kiss of President Putin and Trump. Originally it was an actual kiss, but that work was smeared over with white paint. In the revised version, the men no longer kiss, but share a joint.
Address: Pylimo g. 60
Extra: cross the river for more street art
The Neris River divides the city in two. On one side you will find the historic center, the other side of the river is more modern. It has barely any sights, but for street art lovers this area is still interesting. If you cross the bridge at Gelezinio Vilko Tiltas, you will come across a black and white portrait of a gigantic person. Fun fact: it is not made by hand, but with a computer. If you cross the Karaliaus Mindaugo Tiltas, you cannot miss the Palace of Concert and Sport. It is a fine example of brutalist Soviet architecture, built with the intention of bringing the Lithuanian people together and entertaining them. The walls around the ‘palace’ are painted with street art and graffiti. If you have time, pay it a visit, but don’t go out of your way for it.
Address: Konstitucijos pr. 23
Where to stay in Vilnius?
I stayed at the Downtown Forest Camping & Hostel and I loved it! It is rated with an 8,8 on Booking.com. This place is a unique combination of cozy dorms and garden chalets. Moreover, they offer free coffee and tea every morning and are located near Uzupis. Click here for more accommodation options in Vilnius.
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