Europe, Lithuania

The Republic of Užupis: Vilnius’ Quirky Bohemian Neighbourhood | Gallop Around The Globe

May 29, 2018

If you’ve read last week’s post about my fantastic weekend in Vilnius, you’ll know that one of my favourite parts of Lithuania’s capital city was the quirky bohemian neighbourhood of Užupis.  But unlike, say, Psirri in Athens, Montmatre in Paris, or San Blas in Cusco (all well-known districts of famous cities that are favoured by the alternative crowd), Užupis has actually declared itself an independent republic.

It did so on April Fool’s Day 1997.

It has its own flag (or rather, four – one for each season), currency, president, cabinet of ministers, a constitution (translated into 23 different languages and engraved on to plaques), an anthem, and an 11-man-strong army.

Where is the Republic of Užupis located?

Užupis means “the other side of the river” in Lithuanian, due to its location on the opposite side of the Vilnia River to Vilnius’ Old Town.  It takes approximately 10 minutes to walk to the centre of Užupis from either Stikliu Street (the heart of the old Jewish Quarter) or Cathedral Square.

Užupis can be accessed via one of seven bridges across the river.

How did the Republic of Užupis come to be?

As far back as the 16th century, when the first bridges across the river were built, the district’s inhabitants were mostly Jewish.  Considering that 95% of Vilnius’ Jews were killed during the Holocaust (1941-1945), the area became neglected and houses were left abandoned.  I guess people were more concerned with the city’s Old Town than they were with that little patch of land (approx 148 acres) on the other side of the river.

Abandoned, derelict buildings (many without utilities) were later occupied by homeless individuals and by prostitutes.  Until Lithuania’s declaration of independence in 1990, Užupis was one of the most run-down parts of the city.

But as is often the way (take a look at the ruin bars of Budapest), artists are attracted to the beauty of decay.

Over the next seven years the area grew into a popular haunt for Vilnius’ creative crowd.  Artists began to gather here and to set up shops and galleries in which to exhibit their work.  As house prices were much cheaper in this part of the city,  they also began to take up residency in the neighbourhood’s neglected old buildings.  Since declaring its independence in 1997 Užupis has developed into one of Vilnius’ most desirable districts.  But at the same time it has retained its character, creativity and quirkiness.

What should I see and do in the Republic of Užupis?

Check out the constitution on Paupio Street  

To get an idea of what this self-proclaimed republic is all about, you should firstly have a read of the Constitution of the Republic of Užupis, which is engraved on to 23 individual plaques (in 23 different languages) along a wall at one end of Paupio Street.

Constitution of Uzupis, Paupio Street, Vilnius

It was written by two men – Romas Lileikis, the President, and Thomas Chepaitis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. One was a dog lover and the other a cat lover – and that’s still clear to see in the following principles of the constitution:

  • Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat
  • Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies
  • A dog has the right to be a dog
  • A cat is not obliged to love its owner but must help in times of need.

However, they were also passionate advocates of the life that a post-Soviet world offered.  They believed that everyone should have access to equal rights and opportunities, but at the same time they recognised individuality and freedom of choice.

Uzupis Constitution

Meet the ambassador of Užupis in Keistoteka Bookstore

Bizarrely but unsurprisingly, the ambassador of Užupis is not a human being, but rather a cat.  And an overweight, ginger, camera-shy one at that.  You’ll find Keistoteka pretty much opposite the constitution of Užupis, its entrance marked by a colourful hand-painted sign and an old grammaphone case full of books (oh, and a photo of the ambassador himself).

Keistoteka Bookstore

Bookstore, Uzupis, Vilnius

The ambassador of Uzupis, Keistoteka Bookstore

As well as being able to fuss (if he’ll let you!) and photograph the cat, you can also browse Keistoteka’s collection of books and gifts (including a postcard-sized copy of the constitution itself).

Get a stamp in your passport at the information centre

Even if you don’t want a stamp in your passport (but, quite frankly, why wouldn’t you?), the information centre is a fantastic place to learn a little bit about the republic and have a look at some old photos and memorabilia.  The enthusiastic young girl who works there (and who is also a resident of Užupis) will happily talk you through the relevance and importance of all the artefacts on display there.

Uzupis Information Centre

She’ll also show you the local currency (Uzas), which can only be spent on one day each year – April Fool’s Day.  Known as Užupis’ National Day, April the 1st is the anniversary of the date they declared themselves an independent republic.

The currency of Uzupis

The ‘gentleman’ in the photo below is actually Artūras Zuokas, a resident of Užupis and former mayor of Vilnius who regularly takes part in the Republic’s events.  Anywhere else it would be ridiculously absurd for a former mayor to be seen wearing such attire, whereas in Užupis this is perfectly normal.

Uzupis Information Centre

Hang out in Tibet Square

Adorned with colourful Tibetan prayer flags and shaded by tall trees, Tibet Square is a great little spot in which to take a break and read a book from the Little Free Library – also located here.

You’ll find Tibet Square adjacent to the river Vilnia, just of Malūnų Street.

Tibet Square, Uzupis

Tibet Square, Uzupis

Tibet Square, Uzupis

Photograph the art work

If one thing’s certain in Užupis it’s that the Republic doesn’t take itself too seriously.  The art work you’ll find scattered around the neighbourhood is just one example of this.

Whilst there’s a strong musical theme (I lost count of the number of old pianos I caught sight of), pretty much anything goes here.  From a backpacking Jesus to an old rocking horse who’s lost his rocker, there’s enough queer and quirky pieces to delight and amuse even the most sombre of individuals.

Backpacker Jesus, Uzupis

If you've ever fancied yourself as a bit of a pianist, come to Uzupis!

Kath with sculpture, Uzupis

Artwork, Uzupis

Gaze up at the Užupis Angel

Where Paupio Street meets Užupio Street you’ll find a small square in which the Angel of Užupis stands.  This bronze statue was unveiled on Užupis Day in 2002 and has now become the symbol of the Republic.

There’s quite a few little cafes and wine bars with outdoor seating that overlook the square, so if it’s a beautiful sunny day when you visit, grab a seat, soak up some rays, and gaze up at the trumpeting angel above you.

The Angel of Uzupis

The Republic of Užupis Today

There are approximately 7000 residents in Užupis today, and around 1000 of these are artists.

The annual revenue from the creative industries in Užupis amounts to six million euros. Fifty different businesses operate here and over 300 creative professionals work here in an area of roughly 10,000 square metres of creative space.

Its cultural, economic and social impact has reached far beyond Vilnius, and even Lithuania.

Whether Užupis’ move to become an independent Republic was an elaborate piece of performance art or a genuine political statement, there’s no doubt that it has definitely been a successful one.

Accommodation in the Republic of Užupis

Although we didn’t stay in Užupis (primarily because we knew very little about the neighbourhood before visiting Vilnius, so we chose to stay more central to the Old Town in general), I have since researched accommodation here in case I ever decide to return.  Or if the Lithuanian Tourist Board ever invite me (hey, I can dream!).

Budget: Downtown Forest Hostel and Camping.  Although its names suggests it’s located in the midst of the Lithuanian countryside, this place is actually right in the centre of Užupis, on Paupio Street (the same street as the constitution), at the foot of a hill close to St. Anne’s Church. Surrounded by trees and with a large garden, shared terrace and camping area, Downtown Forest Hostel & Camping offers dorm room and private rooms and breakfast is available upon request.  When I checked the price of a three-night stay over a weekend in September, it was less than £90 for two people.

BudgetKrivules Apartment.  If you’d rather have your own living space then this apartment looks really smart and well-maintained inside.  Considering there’s one double bed and one sofa-bed (and therefore sleeps up to four people), Krivules Apartment represents amazing value for money.  It’s located on the road adjacent to Paupio Street.

Mid-rangeAngel House Vilnius 38A.  Uber cool-looking attic apartment on Užupis Street.  Sleeps up to four and offers wonderful city views.

Mid-range: Last but not least, this Airbnb apartment is AMAZING! Just take a look at the photos.  It’s got two bedrooms and sleeps four so the £62 per night (plus service charge and cleaning fees) price tag doesn’t actually sound too bad when you put it into perspective.  If you haven’t yet joined Airbnb, get £25 in travel credit by signing up here.

Restaurants and cafés in the Republic of Užupis

Sweet Root. Widely recognised as one of the best restaurants in Vilnius, Sweet Root serves up creatively prepared, seasonally-inspired food.  I desperately wanted to eat here but could in no way justify spending €65 on one meal (although this does include a welcome drink, a coffee, and several little tasters). €65 is the set price for a seven-course tasting menu. Have a look at the reviews on Trip Advisor here.

Prie Angelo.  Right on the corner by the Angel of Užupis, Prie Angelo looks cozy and inviting and was always busy whenever we wandered past.

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**Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  All this means is that if you make a purchase through one of the links I have provided, I will earn a small commission as a result but the cost to you will remain exactly the same**

And here are some pretty images for your Pinterest boards 😉

The Republic of Užupis: Vilnius’ Quirky Bohemian Neighbourhood | Gallop Around The Globe

The Republic of Užupis: Vilnius’ Quirky Bohemian Neighbourhood | Gallop Around The Globe

The Republic of Užupis: Vilnius’ Quirky Bohemian Neighbourhood | Gallop Around The Globe

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  • Reply Pascale June 2, 2018 at 9:25 AM

    Simply love this post. It contains all the elements to make me want to visit. Gorgeous photos, and plenty of information to get me going. Thank you!

  • Reply Cheryl Howard June 2, 2018 at 9:44 AM

    Love this post! Visited Vilnius a couple of years ago and I loved it – of course I definitely made my way to Uzupis as well. Such a quirky fun place.

    • Reply Kiara Gallop June 3, 2018 at 4:05 PM

      Isn’t it just 😀 That bookshop you found in Venice is totally like something you’d find in Uzupis too!

  • Reply Jewels June 2, 2018 at 11:40 AM

    I love discovering quirky places like this! Thanks for putting it on my radar!

  • Reply Sarah June 2, 2018 at 3:29 PM

    What a weird, random, super cool place! I’m psyched to check it out on my upcoming trip to Vilnius. Thanks for sharing so much great info about it.

    • Reply Kiara Gallop June 2, 2018 at 3:55 PM

      It totally was and I loved it for those reasons! Hope you enjoy Vilnius as much as I did 🙂

  • Reply Megan Indoe June 2, 2018 at 4:03 PM

    Oooh this is a fun destination that wasn’t on our radars before! I love that cat picture! Haha, the April Fool’s day joke is pretty funny! Hope to make it there soon!

  • Reply Maja's little dream May 30, 2020 at 10:15 PM

    This place was not on my list. But after reading this post, I’m definitely changing that! Vilnius seems to be an exciting place. Thank you for sharing it!
    Maja’s little dream recently posted…Rüdesheim am Rhine – Rhine ValleyMy Profile

    • Reply Kiara Gallop May 30, 2020 at 10:36 PM

      Vilnius wasn’t really on my list either but my friends and I found some cheap flights that worked on the dates we wanted to travel. Now I would list the city as one of my favourites in Europe 🙂

  • Reply Portia Jones May 31, 2020 at 7:34 AM

    I absolutely love quirky and off-beat destinations! Definitely will add this my ever-growing list. One of my favourites is Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen. This bizarre little community in the city operates independently from the rest of Copenhagen. They have their own laws, their own flag and their own way of life. If you like slightly weird destinations then you should definitely check it out. xx

    • Reply Kiara Gallop May 31, 2020 at 8:34 AM

      Yes, I’ve been to Freetown Christiania 🙂 Although it was the middle of winter so there didn’t seem to be a lot going on, or in fact many people there (didn’t see any other tourists). I got eagle-eyed by the few residents I did see as I wandered through. It was quite creepy actually!

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