It’s not uncommon for a city to have a neighborhood dedicated to the arts. But it would be a disservice to compare the typical arts district to Vilnius’ unique Užupis district. Nestled on the banks of the Vilnia River, it makes sense that the word “Užupis” actually means “place beyond the river.”
This quirky neighborhood is unlike anywhere we’ve ever been before, and it was easily our favorite part of visiting Vilnius. At less than 1 square kilometer, it’s one of the smallest republics in the world. But don’t underestimate it just because of its small size! Exploring this area is a must for anyone planning a trip to Vilnius.
History of Užupis
On April 1, 1997, a group of artists declared the neighborhood of Užupis as independent from the rest of Lithuania. Given the atmosphere and attitude of the neighborhood, it seems fitting that April 1, or April Fools Day, is their Independence Day. Their rallying symbol of freedom and democracy was a statue of US rock star Frank Zappa, constructed a few years earlier.
While no foreign governments actually recognize Užupis as an official country, it has become a source of pride among Vilnius citizens. In addition to a local government complete with a President, Cabinet of Ministers, and constitution, there is even a border crossing office that you can visit to commemorate your trip to Užupis.
Once a year on April 1st, the locals setup “border control” stations on the bridges entering the neighborhood where you must present a passport to enter the republic. During the April 1st celebrations, local shops and bars will make sure your Euros are swapped out for the “local currency”, Uzis.
Also nicknamed the “Artist’s Republic,” Užupis has tons of unusual art within its limits. Street art, statues, abandoned pianos, books stapled to trees, hanging benches and all art that you pass seems to symbolize the ideals of this quirky district and is held in the highest esteem. It’s estimated that of the there are 1,000 artists living in this neighborhood (republic?) of about 7,000 people. The majority of Užupis residents are artists, students, and young professionals who are intent on keeping the local culture alive and well.
Today, Užupis boasts a constitution of rights for citizens with 41 clauses. The constitution is posted in numerous different languages (including English), so make sure to visit it so you can read it for yourself. It’s comical to read, but it also speaks to the all-inclusive climate that is paramount in Užupis.
What to Do & See in Užupis
Constitution of the Republic of Užupis
The Constitution is a great way to start your time in Užupis. It is displayed on a wall on Paupio Street in multiple languages so that everyone can read it. It was written back in 1998, and has a bunch of rules that will probably make you laugh out loud when you read them. Some of the articles are written in pairs, such as:
#23 – Everyone has the right to understand.
#24 – Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
Supposedly the President really loves dogs, and the Foreign Minister loves cats, so that explains a few of the rights listed on the wall:
#12 – A dog has the right to be a dog.
#13 – A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.
While there is no doubt the Užupis constitution is largely written from a humorous aspect, it’s also clear there are several aspects of inclusiveness and personal liberties which are the hallmarks of a free-thinking artists republic.
The Užupis mermaid sculpture is said to bring in people all over the world to visit Užupis. Located in a brick enclave beneath a bridge entrance to Užupis, make sure you don’t make eye contact with her or legend says you will stay in Užupis forever! 🙂
The mermaid was created by a sculptor by the name of Romas Vilčiauskas. Today, it has become one of the main symbols in Užupis. Perhaps the Užupis mermaid really does have a siren song to lure people in, or perhaps the charm of the neighborhood is too much to resist. Either way, staying is Užupis forever doesn’t sound so bad!
Angel of Užupis
The Angel of Užupis is probably one of the most photographed parts of Užupis. For many locals, the angel is the heart of Užupis and the symbol of the Republic. It’s located in a square with tons of pretty buildings and restaurants, so this can be a great way to start your time in Užupis.
Tyma Turga Street Market
To visit this market, you have to plan your schedule accordingly. It’s only open once per week, from 10 AM to 3 PM on Thursdays. It’s absolutely worth a visit, since this incredible farmers’ market offers some of the freshest goods in town. All the vendors are local artisans that specialize in honey, meats, soups, vegetables, cheeses, and plenty of Lithuanian specialties. The market’s website also has profiles on the different vendors so you can see exactly who your local goods are coming from!
Swinging River Bench
As we strolled along the banks of the River Vilnelė, we came across this charming bench hanging over the river. It’s right underneath the Bridge of Užupis so it’s very easy to find. While it’s incredibly photogenic and a wonderful place to take pictures, it’s also a great place to relax and enjoy the soothing sounds of the river flowing.
The river isn’t very deep here, less than a foot, so it’s easy to walk out to the bench. We recommend having sandals or flip-flops handy though, because it is rocky and we did see a few pieces of glass along the shoreline.
Lock In Your Love on the Paupio Street Bridge
The Paupio Street Bridge over the Vilnia River marks the southern border of Užupis. The bridge has hundred of locks on it that have been left behind by hundreds of couples that have “locked in” their love to each other forever. While this tradition is becoming more and more common in other cities around the world, the locks on this bridge seem to unique since many of them are etched with names.
Stroll along the Vilnia River
Walking along the Užupis side of the Vilnia River is one of the best ways to get a feeling for the true quirkiness and artistry of the neighborhood. Some tokens are simple, like the balanced rocks in the river or the metal sculptures dotting the shoreline. Others are much more obvious, like abandoned pianos and harpsichords left to rot in place (though the stools in front of them are new).
The scene is truly eclectic, and you’ll have to decide for yourself if what you see is art, an eyesore, or countless expressions of the neighborhood’s artistic charisma. There is everything from a massive rocking zebra, to records and books stapled to trees, and even something quiet and peaceful like Tibetan prayer flags.
Best Restaurants in Užupis
In addition to being a really hip and artsy neighborhood, Užupis also has some of the best restaurants and food in all of Vilnius. Here are a few of the best restaurants that we recommend trying while you’re there.
- Maghrib: If you like Moroccan food, then head over to Maghrib for an ambient atmosphere and the best lamb tagine ever.
- Prie Angelo: We love the rustic style in Prie Angelo. It’s almost as awesome as their fresh, tasty food.
- Užupio Picerija: Craving pizza? Then head on over to Užupio Picerija for arguably the best pizza in town.
Best Bars in Užupis
It’s no surprise that Užupis is home to countless cool watering holes. Lithuanians definitely like their beer, and they aren’t afraid to flaunt it!
- Šnekutis: Beloved by locals, Šnekutis is a total gem in Užupis. They have a cool, laid back atmosphere and a bunch of great beer options. They also have a pretty extensive food menu if you’re looking to try Lithuanian food.
- Spunka: This bar might be tiny, but what it lacks in space it makes up for in charm. Spunka has a great beer selection and offers an awesome drinking experience.
- Devinkė baras: Tons of beer, fair prices, and a friendly bartender. What more could you ask for?
In order to fully understand the history of Užupis and to find all the best things to see, doing a guided tour is a good idea. Here are a few of the options that you have.
- Free Old Town & Užupis Tour: Vilnius With Locals offers a free walking tour everything at 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM. The tour meets at the Vilnius Town Hall and explores both Old Town and Užupis, two great neighborhoods in Vilnius.
- Vilnius Panoramas & Bohemian Užupis Tour: Like A Local Guide offers a tour that showcases both panoramas of the Old Town and the Užupis District on a two hour guided tour. Prices start at 15 euros per person.
There aren’t many places in the world like Užupis, and the locals seem proud of that fact and intent on keeping it that way. It truly is a quirky neighborhood (republic?) that is predominantly home to artists, students, and young professionals. Part of the local feeling comes from there not being any big-box stores, government facilities, or shopping centers. Everything is done by the locals, for the locals. It really is a world of its own.
When visiting Užupis, plan on spending lots of time just taking in the sights. With all the artistry, cafes, and quirky things to see, the neighborhood almost demands its visitors to be present and observant. It’s a part of Vilnius that takes its identity seriously, while simultaneously not taking many things seriously at all.