True Lithuania

Suburbs of Vilnus

The environs of Vilnius are as diverse as is the city itself. Depending on which side you will leave Vilnius you may encounter luxurious manors built by once-powerful families, Muslim, and Polish villages, unique art projects, dull Soviet "proletarian" homes, and factories, "private castles" of the 1990s nouveau-riche, modern credit-funded suburbia, genocide memorials, protected nature and wooden huts where the time (seemingly) stands still.

Take note that in Lithuania (unlike many other countries) it is a common practice to expand the city limits once new suburbs are established or historical towns effectively become suburbs. Therefore most of the suburbs are legally part of the Vilnius city. Also, note that the 1960s-1980s Soviet micro districts are sometimes incorrectly referred as suburbs, but on this website they are described separately.

Northern suburbs (west of Neris river)

At the transition of Santariškės borough and forest stands the Neoclassical 18th century Verkiai manor, the most beautiful suburban manor of Vilnius. It includes 15 buildings and 36 ha park with viewpoints to the Neris valley and Valakupiai. The main palace was demolished in 1842 but two palatial servant residences remain and are popular for weddings. The Neris valley road that connects Verkiai to Žirmūnai passes the Trinapolis monastery.

Further north, the dull suburbs of Balsiai are notable for Europos parkas, a 55 ha open-air museum of local and international modern art (mainly sculptures). Most major works are at the paved path or central lawn.

Chair/Pool by Dennis Oppenheim at Europos parkas. Image ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The museum is named after Europe because the geographic center of the continent (according to one of several calculation methods) is not far away (marked by obelisk some 10 km outside the park limits).

Nearby Žalieji ("Green") lakes (Balsys and Gulbinas) help the inhabitants of Vilnius to survive the summer heat.

Northeastern suburbs (east of Neris river)

Among the more interesting suburbs of Vilnius is the forest-clad Valakupiai north of Antakalnis. Here you can see both old wooden villas and new private homes of the rich. There are two beaches where you can swim in Neris river in Valakupiai. Turniškės gated community where the leaders of Lithuania live (president, prime minister and others) is also located in Valakupiai woods. Turniškės was built in 1939 for the construction of a hydroelectric dam that was never completed due to World War 2.

Going eastwards from northern Antkalnis by Plytinės street you will encounter Kairėnai manor where the botanic park of Vilnius University is now established.

A view towards the Neris valley from Verkiai Manor viewpoint. Trinapolis monastery is visible to the right, Valakupiai beach is at the bottom. This area forms the Verkiai Regional Park, one of two protected natural zones within Vilnius city limits. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Like some other suburbs, Kairėnai is stuffed with large private homes of the 1990s dawn of the capitalism era. Many of them are built without competent architects and were planned to house entire generations of families.

Eastern suburbs

Pavilnis and Naujoji Vilnia to the east of city center have been separate towns included into Vilnius city limits after World War 2. The total population of these suburbs is 33 000, the plurality of inhabitants is ethnically Polish.

Naujoji Vilnia is the largest of the Vilnius suburbs and having been a pre-war town (population of some 8 000 in 1939) it has some historical homes, including two Roman Catholic churches, among which historicist Saint Casimir (1911) is the more impressive. A wooden Russian Orthodox church (1908) also exists. The railroad station at the borough center is holding dark memories as the Soviet regime deported some 300 000 Lithuanian people (more than 10% of total population) to Siberia through here, including small children. Many died en-route or after reaching their cold destinations. A collapsed cross, a steam engine, and two cattle cars (similar to those used for deportations) remind of the events.

An old train perpetually bound eastwards serves as a reminder of the Soviet genocide. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Aukštasis Pavilnis was built in the 1930s for railroad workers, connected to a railroad station in Žemasis Pavilnis by a winding road still having its original cobbled surface.

Pavilnis and Naujoji Vilnia are separated from Vilnius-proper by pristine Pavilniai Regional Park. Protected nature here includes the 65 m height Pūčkoriai rock exposure at the Vilnia river valley. 20 thousand years old formations are visible from the lower side after 1 km easy hike from a restaurant located in a former mill.

Pūčkoriai rock exposure (left) and the renovated Belmontas mill (right). The dam that used to power the mill is still available forming so-called Belmontas falls. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

On the upper terrace of the exposure, you may find some abandoned Polish military installations of the 1930s that failed to defend that country in World War 2. Larger military warehouses exist at Šilo street to the north, now inhabited by bats.

Southern suburbs

When arriving at Vilnius by air, Kirtimai industrial district is the first sights on the ground. Airport itself is the most shining building among countless factories. The district also has a dubious fame of housing the Baltic States's largest Gypsy community (up to 500 individuals) in illegal huts some 1 km south of the airport entrance (the Taboras). This is the main sale point of illegal drugs in Lithuania.

Westwards of Kirtimai stands another industrial district of Paneriai. Cut in half by the railroad this district has a grim past as in a certain place beside the railroad Nazi Germany murdered Jews, Poles, and some Lithuanians. A museum and an unofficial memorial now stand there (the number of victims listed on it is disputed by historians as too large, however).

Keturiasdešimt Totorių (southwest) and Nemėžis (south) suburbs are known for their small wooden mosques and Muslim cemeteries that belong to the local Tatar community.

Nemėžis mosque (1909). Open in some Fridays; rooftop minaret not used for prayer calls. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Bleak Salininkai (south of Kirtimai) is a good example of a Soviet suburb with little of interest except for an atmosphere of 1980s Lithuania.

Western suburbs

Two large suburbs in the west are Lentvaris and Grigiškės. Grigiškės (on Vilnius-Kaunas highway) is a 20th-century town built for workers of a nearby paper factory, while Lentvaris is an older locality known for its Tudor style Tiškevičius family manor. Its palace has an imposing tower but is sadly partly abandoned and overgrown. Acquired by a real estate businessman Laimutis Pinkevičius in 2008 who hoped to restore the complex it shared the fate of Pinkevičius's business empire that went bust with the global economic downturn.

Trakų Vokė has another manor with a nice historicist palace although its massive garden has been partly built-up under the Soviet occupation.

Between Vilnius and Grigiškės there is Gariūnai marketplace. In the early 1990s, this outdoor frontier-like bazaar was where tens of thousands of Lithuanians tried out their entrepreneurship. The place used to attract both merchants and buyers from many foreign lands as it was the prime trading spot in the entire region. With some 10 000 traders offering their goods every morning the marketplace never lost popularity but now tries to reinvent itself as a tamed "business park". Trade area is 122 000 m2 (ranging from the original marketplace to a modern small-business mall) and 210 000 m2 used car market.

Map of Vilnius suburbs and Soviet districts. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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