Žvėrynas: The Coolest Neighbourhood in Vilnius

Like A Local Guide • 3 Aug, 2015

There’s a lot more to Vilnius than the Old Town and Gediminas Castle, which are endlessly peddled in the tourist brochures. Some wonderful districts remain undiscovered by visitors, even though they’re well worth exploring. One such neighbourhood is Žvėrynas – one of the most prestigious parts of the city. Peter Walsh, an Englishman who has lived in Žvėrynas for seven years and is totally in love with the area, tells you all about it in the current edition of Good Mood Travel Magazine.

DSC_1978Photo credit: Emilija Veprinceva, Good Mood Travel Magazine

A stone’s throw from the Parliament, bordered on three sides by the river Neris, rich in wooden architecture and with the most beautiful park in Vilnius serving as its backyard, it’s little wonder that Žvėrynas is one of the most prestigious neighbourhoods in the city. It’s a self-contained little oasis full of laidback restaurants and beautiful houses (it even has a few communal water pumps). It’s where rustic charm and urban elegance meet, Lithuanian-style.

DSC_4146Photo credit: Emilija Veprinceva, Good Mood Travel Magazine

On the grid

Žvėrynas means “land of beasts” because the area was once used by a wealthy noble family to keep wild animals for hunting. In the 19th century, the area transformed into a fashionable residential district built according to a grid plan of parallel streets (the only neighbourhood in the city to take this form). Ornate wooden villas and tree-lined pavements gave Žvėrynas a distinctly rural ambiance; something it retains to this day despite the ongoing building boom of expensive new houses, many of which look as if they’ve been taken straight out of the pages of an architecture magazine.

DSC_1907Photo credit: Emilija Veprinceva, Good Mood Travel Magazine

In Soviet times, the area was carved up house by house and flat by flat to accommodate as many people as possible. Some of these people (or their descendants) remain in the neighbourhood, meaning that the area has not yet become completely gentrified. Žvėrynas boasts some of the most expensive real estate prices in the city, but you can still see a lot of authentic wooden houses (i.e. they haven’t been renovated), complete with wonky external staircases and flaky façades, many of which resemble fairy-tale structures from pop-up books.

DSC_1986Photo credit: Emilija Veprinceva, Good Mood Travel Magazine

A place unto itself

Žvėrynas feels wonderfully local despite its proximity to the city centre. The best way to get here is over the elegant arched bridge next to the Parliament. From there, you’ll see the imposing domes of a large Russian Orthodox Church (built in Tsarist times as a symbolic counterweight to Vilnius Cathedral, visible at the far end of Gedimino Avenue). The area is small enough to walk around on foot, although renting a bicycle will give you more scope (especially if you plan on visiting Vingis Park).

DSC_1704Photo credit: Emilija Veprinceva, Good Mood Travel Magazine

The Karaite Kenesa, a synagogue for an offshoot of mainstream Judaism, is worth a look (it’s on Liubarto Street and is one of only two in the country). The real secret to Žvėrynas, however, is to stroll around and soak up the atmosphere. The neighbourhood abounds with beautiful houses, embassies, and sleek new buildings. The people who live here love it, and it shows. Look up and see flower-strewn balconies; look down and see lovingly tended gardens. It’s smack bang in the centre of the city, yet it inspires a provincial pace of life (it must be all those trees).

DSC_1906Photo credit: Emilija Veprinceva, Good Mood Travel Magazine

For such a tiny neighbourhood, Žvėrynas boasts a tremendous variety of eating options. Veranda is the most popular of these. Both chic and cosy, it’s packed out most of the time thanks to its delightful garden terrace, welcoming interior, friendly staff and easy-going atmosphere. Panama Food Garden is a bar and grill in a beautiful old wooden house, and is arguably the best place to eat outdoors in the entire city. Its garden is a work of art complete with converted greenhouses and fairy lights festooning the trees that loom over the veranda. You’ll quickly forget you’re in a capital city.

panama3Photo credit: Panama Food Garden

There’s also a pizzeria, a Chinese restaurant, a health food café and a sushi bar all within close proximity of each other. But for the best potato pancakes in Vilnius, go to Žvėryno Smuklė (Vytauto Street 31). It’s an authentic local tavern with reasonably priced food, located close to the bridge that leads into Žvėrynas.

You can read the whole article in the current edition of Good Mood Travel Magazine.

DSC_1843Photo credit: Emilija Veprinceva, Good Mood Travel Magazine

For more local recommendations read:
What locals like to do in Vilnius
Where locals like to eat in Vilnius
Where locals like to party in Vilnius

Special tip:
For a more authentic Vilnius experience, get the Like A Local mobile app

Opening photo credit: Emilija Veprinceva, Good Mood Travel Magazine

Like A Local Guide
Like A Local Guide is about stepping off the tourist trail and finding cool and cosy spots where locals like to spend their time. We built a website and mobile app to bring insider recommendations from around the world to your fingertips.

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