Vilnius Focuses on Sustainable Tourism During World Tourism Day ” Meet a Local” initiative

Vilnius Focuses on Sustainable Tourism During World Tourism Day " Meet a Local" initiative

On World Tourism Day, locals showcased the sustainable and alternative side of the city. The city, where even the city mayor tends to give city tours via the “Meet a Local” campaign, celebrated its hospitality by highlighting 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.

Meet a Local

Vilnius saw its 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 to avoid overtourism. The campaign empowers local volunteers to showcase their city and is gaining popularity among both tourists and local volunteers, who reveal their secret places in Vilnius.

“Popularity among tourists that the ‘Meet a Local’ programme has attracted proves that the 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.

A lucky couple from Helsinki, Antti and Annina, arrived in Vilnius to spend four nights without much planning and were surprised by the Meet a Local team, as they won a draw unbeknownst to them to be hosted and treated to several tours and a dining experience. Antti 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.”

Antti 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, which offers several sharable transport options, including convenient electric cars, scooters, and bicycles.

Locals Guide to “Sustainable” and “Alternative” Places

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.

Užupis is a small bohemian self-proclaimed “republic” located in the center of Vilnius, which is home to many galleries and boutiques offering handmade jewelry and souvenirs made by local artists.

City markets are 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 an authentic pie called “šimtalapis.”

To try unusual spots for food, Antti and Annina were invited to Keulė Rūkė – half barbecue place, half street art gallery. Once home to the famous Putin and Trump kissing mural, it has now transformed 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 the 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.”