Vilnius, Lithuania, pumps up ‘personal’ appeal

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius leads a contingent of tourists through the capital city’s historic streets. Photo credit: Go Vilnius

In an effort to keep momentum going in the strong inbound tourism it’s experiencing, Lithuania’s capital city Vilnius has added a new initiative, Meet a Local, with the city’s mayor the first to step up—and out—and offer his services as a volunteer guide.

The city is experiencing an unprecedented tourist boom, with some 1.2 million tourists visiting in 2018, reflecting a 12 percent increase. Overall, more than 80 percent of visitors are international. 

The new program, looking to provide a more personalized and authentic experience for visitors starts with dedicated online booking and tandems with the city’s “Vilnius Greeters” initiative. Both volunteer platforms are offered without cost.

According to Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius, who led the first “Local” group that included visitors from the U.K., “Vilnius is a city where various cultures and people have been mingling, exchanging ideas and learning from one another for centuries. We wanted to find additional ways to showcase the hospitality and openness of our city to our guests while making their stay in Vilnius as authentic and enriching as possible. When it comes to getting familiar with a foreign place, nothing beats a genuine conversation with a local.”

Walking around in red vests, volunteers of Vilnius Greeters provide face-to-face information and are available to direct visitors toward a wanted destination, recommend a landmark to see or a restaurant to try, and answer any other Vilnius-related questions. Meet a Local connects area residents with visitors to spend time talking, walking, sharing knowledge on interesting off-the-beaten path activities and offering personal Vilnius stories.

A History of Hospitality

The city has been a multi-ethnic enclave throughout its history, with Lithuanians, Poles, Jews, Russians, Germans and Tatars, among others all in the mix. The tradition dates back to the 14th century, when Gediminas, the ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, made Vilnius the Duchy’s capital and sent letters to various cities inviting artisans to come and live in Vilnius.

While the mayor’s schedule will prevent him from personally greeting every tourist, he offered his under-the-radar Vilnius places to visit, noting, "the neighborhood of Fabijoniškės would be of particular interest to the viewers of [the] hit TV miniseries 'Chernobyl,' since extensive parts of the show were filmed there,” said Šimašius.

The programs are part of Go Vilnius, the city’s official tourism and business development agency that offers information on everything from real estate to leisure activities in order to simplify investing in, relocating and traveling to Vilnius.