From a distant Scandinavian-influenced past, through Imperial Russian domination and Napoleonic incursion, to inter-war independence, then German/Nazi occupation; then back to the Russians as Soviets and onto independence again - plus membership of the EU, UN and NATO! OutUK’s Adrian Gillan hits Vilnius, Lithuania’s lush capital!
As the capital of the 4-million strong Republic of Lithuania, 600,000-strong Vilnius is also the largest Baroque city north of the Alps. Its Old Town is situated in a picturesque valley of two rivers – the Vilnia and the Neris – and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.

Locals tend to be reserved and humble; so it’s best (nay safest) for visitors to eschew ostentation, however tempted to splash out with one’s stretchy pounds.

Food tends to be relatively basic but good quality (ie fresh and tasty) and good value – lots of stews, sausage, dumplings and potato salads. Check out the fine local beers, not just vodkas. Past Soviet influence is evident in many aspects of culture, not just cuisine - from opera, ballet and theatre to basketball and banyas (communal saunas).

Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal in Lithuania, but neither civil same-sex partnership nor same-sex marriage are available. Although homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, the historic legacy has resulted in limited rights for LGBT people. Protection against discrimination was legislated for as part of the criteria for European Union accession and in 2010 the first gay pride parade took place in Vilnius.

Negative attitudes against gay and lesbian men and women remain entrenched, but encouragingly the EU's eye is very firmly set on this relatively recent member; and the vast majority of people couldn’t care less about your sexuality; especially the young, of whom there are breathlessly many in this student city.

LGL has run an LGBT Centre in Vilnius since 2004. The LGBT Centre is a gathering place for the LGBT community, where volunteers organise film screenings, discussions, art workshops and many more events and activities from queer knitting to lectures on different perspectives on LGBT rights. The LGBT Centre operates in connection with LGL's offices in central Vilnius.

TO SEE

Most of Vilnius’ attractions are clustered neatly south of the River Neris, in the Old Town; around and below the neo-classical Cathedral in Katedros Square with its famous, separate Bell Tower– which makes a perfect, constant reference point if you get lost.

The Higher Castle on the hill above, easily reached by funicular, offers an excellent vantage point of the whole city from which to gain one's bearings; as does the Hill of the Three Crosses, which can be found just across the tiny-yet-attractive Vilnia River.

North West of the Cathedral is the National Drama Theatre and, further up, nearer the River Neris, the Opera & Ballet Theatre – plus a needy reminder of a dark period: the KGB Museum, site of a former interrogation and execution centre, complete with padded cell, water torture chambers and bullet holes.

South West of the Cathedral, admire the ensemble of the Church of St Anne (pretty without, bare within) and the Bernardine Church (bare without, pretty within). Due South, take in the Museum of Art, Folk Art Museum plus the last-surviving original 16th Century city entrance, The Gates of Dawn.

North of the river, enjoy two more spectacular vantage points - the 31st floor Observation Deck of the Europa Centre on Konstitucijos Ave; and the 326m-high Television Tower.

WHERE TO STAY, EAT, DANCE, BOOZE ‘N CRUISE

For the perfect place to stay, try the swish modern, great-value E-Loft Hotel with internet-connection in every room, plus sauna-for-hire. Same building/block as Men’s Factory gay club (see below), just next to Sauna Glamour and it's in easy walk of the Old Town sights!

For great-value fodder, grab a fab 3-course meal with wine and coffee for just £6-£7 at Gusto Blynine, the wonderful Old Town pancake-house - try a scrummy pancake with red caviar and sour cream! When it comes to clubbing you might like to try Relax, a busy bar-club, tucked away near the river, which have a range of specialist nights some of which attract a gay crowd.

The most popular gay venue in Lithuania is SOHO Club, which has a faithful crowd and some great party nights with local and international stars performances. The rotating DJs play their pop/dance/house music till dawn on two dance floors. Entrance until 23:00 is for free, from 23:00 to 01:00 - 10 Litas, later - 20 Litas and after 04:00 it's back to free.

Occasionally there are parties organized by Gender Wrongs in different venues in Vilnius or Kaunas. If there can be Human Rights, there can also be Gender Wrongs - an Equivalent, Modern and Wise Approach to Gender Stereotypes. They never say what is right and what is wrong and enjoy the kitsch, crossdressing, drag queens and kings!

In terms of LGBT friendly places, you will find some pubs and clubs in Vilnius with a LGBT Friendly sticker on the door. Cafe de Paris is one of these - it's popular with arty young people because of its original style and relaxed bohemian atmosphere. During the day it is a cozy restaurant, and at night turns into a popular club. Cozy is a trendy spot that doubles as both a bar and restaurant, and things get underway bright and early with their excellent breakfasts. We recommend also jazz bar Paviljonas, hidden in the park near the LGL`s office. For more friendly places you can check Friendly Vilnius.

Vilnius’ main gay club, Men’s Factory on Sevcenkos Street near the E-Guest House, boasts an all-round penis design theme, sailor-dressed staff, plus lots of dark spaces. Weds-Sat, 10pm ‘til late! Dodge the fag-hags, though; plus quite a few straight boys in tow, especially Saturdays!

Right nearby, Glamour is the hottest gay sauna in Vilnius, which has been open from 2008. Here you will find a striking interior and sexy atmosphere. They have themed gay parties on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, including some Naked and Underwear nights. There's modern facilities like Finnish sauna, Steam room, Solarium and relaxing whirlpool, as well as a DarkRoom, Gloryhole, Sling, BDSM and Gangbang area.

To “take airs” stop off at Lukiskiu Square (near the KGB Museum), en route; Kalnu Park (around the Hill of the Three Crosses); or Vingio Park (just west of centre). As ever, be safe.

GETTING THERE

Air Baltic offers daily direct flights between London Gatwick and Vilnius from as little as £67 return, including all taxes. For a wide choice of hotels, guest reviews and special prices check out our partners Booking.com.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Cafe de Paris (Didzioji g. 1; T: +370 5 261 1021; Website)
Cozy (Dominikonu g. 10; T: +370 5 261 1137; Website)
E-Loft Hotel (Sevcenkos Street 16; T: +370 5 266 0730; Website)
Gender Wrongs (Various Venues; facebook)
Gusto Blynine (Ausros Vartu 6; T: +370 5 262 0056)
LGBT Friend (Online Only; Website; facebook)
LGL Centre (Pylimo street 21; T: +370 5 261 03 14; Website)
Men's Factory (Sevcenkos Street 16 (building 10); T: +370 6 998 5009; Website)
Paviljonas (Pylimo g. 21B; T: +370 621 77016; facebook)
Relax (Jaksto 12; T: +370 6 063 3463; facebook)
Sauna GLAMOUR (Sevcenkos Street 16i; Website)
Soho Club (Svitrigailos 7; T: +370 699 39567; Website)

Revised March 2018.

 

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