Vilnius has tons to offer for those interested in active adventures, as well as those wanting to take a moment to relax and slow things down a bit. The latter should definitely make their way to the greenest place in Vilnius, Žvėrynas (meaning Menagerie). The district got its name in the 16th century when it was a large forest filled with game hunted by the famous nobleman Radvilos. Among locals, it was one of the best places for romantic walks and eventually became a resort suburb filled with spas and saunas in the 19th century. Žvėrynas is different from every other part of Vilnius, and the architecture and the atmosphere still resemble the old days. Time slows down there, and a walk in this cosy district is like a therapy session: a cup of coffee while watching the Neris River flow, a breath of fresh air filled with the aroma of pine trees, and all kinds of greenery to soak in There are so many ways to discover Žvėrynas and find all of its perfect spots.
The famous ponds that were once part of a watermill have been served as a backdrop to one of the city’s most enticing walking routes since the 16th century. The soothing views of the ponds next to the oldest street of Žvėrynas are relaxing – stop to feed the birds or walk around looking for springs while travelling back in time. If you’re looking for a place in an enchanted forest, just cross the nearby bridge over the Neris River and you’ll find yourself in Vingis Park. From there it’s your choice: adventures and active leisure in one part of the park, or fresh air and wildlife in the other part. You’ll be able to return to the Old Town by following the curves of the Neris River upstream. The beautiful views of nature merge well with the city’s exceptional architecture.
Impressive villas that are hundreds of years old make the experience all the more charming. Swiss towers, decorative Russian window frames, traditional Lithuanian ornamentation, or colourful stained glass verandas are pretty much straight out of a fairy tale. The 108 wooden villas in Žvėrynas add to the special aura, colouring everyday life with bright greens, blues, and yellows.
The restaurants in Žvėrynas are just as relaxed as the district itself – oozing with a friendly atmosphere and inviting guests to enjoy slow food. Imagine yourself having dinner in a garden or a greenhouse all year round. At Panama Food Garden experiences are an integral part of the gourmet journey, which include octopus, oysters and seasonal dishes. It feels a bit like sitting in a Lithuanian village. Another wooden house hides the restaurant Veranda, which looks just like home – a green terrace in the summer and a fireplace in winter are a great backdrop for the culinary improvisations and live jazz performances every Friday and Saturday. Get into the picnic vibe and grab your lunch at Picnic Bistro in Vingis Park. If jogging is your cup of tea, stop over at Vingio istorijos for refreshments after your run, or treat yourself to brunch (no jogging required).
You won’t even notice the world around you while sitting with a cup of coffee in the labyrinths of Eduardas Balsys Square. There is always a place to enjoy the Monet-like sights at Boris Nemcov Square, located right by the famous Žvėrynas ponds. But even if you are at the more busy part of the district next to the Georgian Embassy, a cup of coffee at Tbilisi Square can also be an extra special experience.
You’ll find a small architectural gem that’s very different from anything else you can see in Vilnius next to the Liubartas Bridge. Karaim Kenesa is one of the two prayer houses of the Crimean Karaites left in Lithuania. When Žvėrynas Bridge was built in 1903, Vilnius was directly connected to the green suburb. The impressive Our Lady of the Sign Church was built as a counterbalance to Vilnius Cathedral at the other end of Gediminas Avenue. Just wait for the golden hour for your perfect shot.