Districts of Vilnius, Vilnius
I agree that the buildings from the TV Tower look grey, but leave the tower and walk between the building and see the people. I've been staying with a young family for several weeks now.They are both professionals working in Vilnius. Life is anything but grey. They have a 3 year old daughter who is full of life, with another one on the way. They have a dog that I take to an overlook by the river each morning. If you get the chance, walk some of the trails through the woods by the river. Park by the small Maxima, walk past the school and soccer field, take a right, then bear left through woods. You might be pleasantly surprised.
From the observation deck of Vilnius TV tower I could see never ending districts of grey, huge, Soviet-style apartment buildings. I must admit than they looked quite better from the far distance than at closer look.
The life in Soviet-style grey apartment buildings packed with small flats must be grey although there was green paradise around...
In my country, Poland, most of these apartment buldings were painted in various colours in recent years. But, did it make life less grey ?
I was walking around round observation deck of Vilnius TV tower and I was looking for interesting places to visit by my car after.
And... look at my picture, please. I found this "village" located along Neris River just in the geographical middle of the city of Vilnius (600,000 citizens). Who lived there? Was there idyllic life there? Hmm... very close to grey life among grey apartment buildings.
The Traku Voke palace place till middle of XIX century belonged to Trakai marshal Liudwik Dombrowski. Later, the palace territory was purshased by one of the most famous Lithuanians land owners and one of the rishest person that time - John Tiskevicius. In 1876-1880 the construction of palace started and the designer of that palace was Italian architect L. Marconi. It was a order to build a palace, looking like Lazienki palace in Warsaw (Poland), so now it is really looking like Lazienki, just smaller and not so well prepared for tourists.
In the time of Second World War, here were living German soldiers, after that (in USSR times) - agriculture institute, now - the Lithuanian noblemen union central building.
It is still not so well prepared for tourists, but it changes to good side.
A local citizen briefly showed me around the Uzupis District which lies east of the Vilna river. There were many old buildings, some in ruins or covered with graffiti. It was hilly with lots of trees and park land. I found this section of Vilnius enchanting. It's being renovated heavily--but I hope it never loses it's bohemian atmosphere. A lovely and fascinating neighborhood
Zverynas is a district located on a small hill surrounded by Neris River from the south and west. I walked Gedimano prospectas eastwards and entered the district when I crossed Neris River. I visited beautiful Znamienska Orthodox Church there.
There were many old both brick and wooden houses with green and quiet backyards in Zverynas. Some of them were renovated recently. And I noticed futher up quite many luxary (as for Lithuania) houses and small residences. It seems that Zverynas will become upclass district of Vilnius soon. Am I wrong?
The name Zwerynas (Zwierzyniec in Polish) derives from word Zveryna (zwierze) that is an animal. This area belonged to noble Radvila family since 16th century. They founded a reservation with European bisons (which survived exclusively in Poland), elks and other animals and they organised big-game huntings there.
There were quite many old, historic and beautiful houses in Vilnius of which more and more were renovated recently. They were located NOT only in the strict old town.
Just one example on my picture - a house with tower-shape corner part topped by a statue of woman with a lamp in her hand. It stood on the northern bank of Neris River at corner of Rinktines and Olimpieciu gatve (street).
Driving around Vilnius I first stopped to check my map in a business district on my picture. There were a few buildings just complited and a few almost complited there.
I would like to underline that Vilnius is a fast changing and growing city. So, I am sure you will find a little bit different city in a few years. Well, the old town should be the same, at least maybe there will be more renovated buildings there :-).
I loved this neighborhood--check it out now before it becomes "fixed up"! Actually many of its buildings are in need of serious repair so this would be a good thing, but the charm of this place is irresistable. It's worth taking a two or three hour walk. Time, or even paint, hasn't touched this place much at all in perhaps decades.
Zoning of Vilnius is quite different from that of other European capitals - not only that you'll see forests in middle of city, also there are some village-like districts nearby center. For instance, district of Šnipiškės, which is very near old town, has wooden houses in it, people living there are still taking water from wells and going to toilets outside. Some of them are even growing animals like chickens or pigs. And this is in the middle of city.
It is so mostly because of socialist past, when, under centrally planned economy, new districts were asigned not on the best land (like it happens under market economy), but where people in the communist party wanted them. It happened so that the area of Ðnipiðkës wasn't turned into modern district, and thus it remained as a suburban village territory, although now it isdeeply inside city. In current times, however, new houses are already being built there as land is very expensive and people could sell their shacks and move to better homes elsewhere. However, some are not doing this because they lived all the lifetime in Šnipiškės.
Šnipiškės hasn't changed much from XIX century, when it was only a suburb of Vilnius (photo).
Gypsies district is in south of Naujininkai district near Paneriai, south side of Vilnius (for better directions you can ask local people). It is called "Taboras" in Lithuania. The district is mostly made of wooden shacks. Most of Gypsies doesn't knows any foreign languages and many doesn't understands Lithuanian in fact.
NOTE: Gypsy district of Vilnius is definitely not safe and thus if you going there keep your wallet near you.
Take a tour of Jewish Vilnius, even if all you do is see the site of the former Jewish ghetto. The In Your Pocket Guide has info on tours, cemetaries, museums and other sites. Vilnius was home to a large Jewish population - one of the largest in Europe - before WWII. The Nazis almost entirely wiped them out.
Also worth seeing (if they are still there) are the remains of the barricades from the independence demonstrations of 1990-91. In 1995 they were behind the Parliament (Seimas) building - I don't know if they are still there now.