As EU capitals fight with overtourism, Finnish Couple wins a day with the locals that take them off the beaten path and into local communities in Vilnius
On World Tourism Day, Vilnius surprised a tourist couple from Helsinki with a day full of free tours, with locals showcasing the sustainable and alternative side of the city. The city where even the city mayor tends to give city tours via “Meet a Local” campaign, showcased its hospitality celebrating local food, community, and sustainable modes of transportation with several free tours around Vilnius that promoted the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of the city.
Last year Vilnius saw tourism industry grow by 12 percent to reach 1.2 million. Wishing to prepare for a more sustainable tourist influx into the largest UNESCO-protected Old Town in North Eastern Europe, programs like ‘Meet a Local’ are implemented so overtourism is avoided. The campaign empowers local volunteers to showcase their city and is gaining popularity by both tourists and local volunteers, who reveal their secret places in Vilnius.
“Popularity among tourists that “Meet a Local” programme has attracted this summer, proves that majority of tourists are keen to see how local people live, where they spend their free time, drink coffee, meet with friends or take a walk. Therefore, commemorating World Tourism Day, we decided to offer tourists not a short meeting with a local, but a whole day full of Vilnius-like experiences and entertainment,“ – says director of „Go Vilnius“, Inga Romanovskienė.
The lucky couple from Helsinki Antti and Annina arrived in Vilnius to spend four nights without much planning and were surprised by Meet a Local team, as they won a draw unbeknownst to them to be hosted and treated to several tours and a dining experience. Anti later shared: “I liked the tour, because we got to see what we wouldn’t be able to see on our own, places that usually stay hidden for the tourists. Places you wouldn’t find on a basic tourist map.”
Antii and Annina visited several markets, street art galleries, industrial parts of town, and tasted treats at local cafes and restaurants where food was sourced from local ingredients. While the majority of the tour was on foot – the trip was also supported by a local rideshare company CityBee, who offer several sharable transport options, including convenient electric cars, scooters and bicycles.
The couple advised their local guide they enjoyed an easy walkable city, where everything is conveniently nearby.
The main idea of the tour the winning couple partook in was to showcase the under-the-radar and alternative Vilnius places, often frequented by the locals.
For example, Vilnius’ urban gallery scene might be hidden from the eyes of regular tourists, but it’s flourishing and enjoyed by the locals. Located in the more industrial part of town, in the uptown neighborhood, “Open Gallery” hosts several cultural events and supports local and visiting artists to showcase large format street art. Among recent additions, there are mural paintings by a rising Lithuanian-born artist and illustrator Eglė Žvirblytė and Dutch muralist and imagemaker duet TELMO MIEL.
Exploring art in the Open Gallery, an open-air gallery in post-industrial environment
Užupis is a small bohemian self-proclaimed “republic” located in the center of Vilnius, which is home to many galleries and boutiques, which offer handmade jewelry and souvenirs made by local artists.
City markets is also a new trend in Vilnius, but they are often located off the beaten tourist track. Halės Market – while the oldest market in Vilnius hosting farmers with their own produce – has recently become a spot for cafes, a couple of bars and local delicacy shops. Uptown Bazaar is a modern food hall, where visitors can buy organic products directly from producers and local farmers and enjoy food prepared at small eateries – everything from fresh fish, local cheese and dairy products, beer, vegan ice cream, and bakeries offering authentic pie called “šimtalapis.“
To try unusual spots for food, Antti and Annina were invited to Keulė Rūkė – half barbeque place – half street art gallery. Once home to the famous Putin and Trump kissing mural, now it has transformed itself into a gallery with ever-changing graffiti murals. Dinner at the Lithuanian „Queensberry“ restaurant was special due to its unusually long list of Lithuanian ciders and wines made by local producers.
“Meet a Local” is an ongoing city initiative that every tourist can enjoy to source local advice on a path to unique experiences that foster sustainable travel. As Finnish guests summarized, “You get locals’ opinions about places, and it helps you to step outside from those principal local places that everyone visits, and it’s great sightseeing.”