Open House Vilnius: Architectural Secrets Revealed

 *Open House Vilnius, which usually takes place in spring, has been postponed until July, according to its website, due coronavirus restrictions against people gathering in enclosed spaces.

The Vilnius city landscape is a mixture of Baroque, Neoclassical, and Brutalist architecture, with a smattering of Art Nouveau and Medieval architecture. If you live here, you can begin to take this spectrum of architectural styles for granted—after all, Vilnius has a subtlety to it, its architecture relatively understated compared to many other European capital cities. However, once you get inside and begin to learn about the hows and whys of certain buildings, your appreciation will certainly grow. “Ugly” Soviet-era buildings reveal a certain charm, former luxury residences give the impression that they were a bit shabby even to begin with, and updates, renovations, and changes in ownership have meant that some historic elements have been lost while others have been retained.

What Is Open House Vilnius?

Open House Vilnius is the once-a-year opportunity to peek into over 70 of Vilnius’s most notable buildings. This free festival allows visitors to join regular tours that tell about the interiors, history, and inhabitants. Open House Vilnius becomes increasingly popular, and the only thing you have to be aware of prior to attending is which buildings open to the public during the festival require pre-registration due to security or other purposes, such as embassies and Lithuanian government buildings. You will have to present your ID (passport or residency card) before joining the tour at the designated time.

Volunteers lead the tours, and while most are given in Lithuanian, many of the tour guides don’t mind answering questions in English. When you visit a building in their care, the locals’ pride in the buildings is obvious—whether they delve into the Music Academy’s workings or conduct the tour of Art Nouveau townhouses and lament the sale of apartments to individuals who will strip the interiors of their historic features.

What Will You See at Vilnius’s Annual Festival of Architecture?

The range of buildings you can visit is limited by time, location, registration, and popularity. Tours run about every half hour, with lines forming well in advance and a limited number of individuals allowed in at once. Some tours list their approximate time of duration, allowing you to schedule your open house visits for the day with some accuracy—this is why you may want to plan to group your visits by location so that you can get to one or the next easily. Many open house showings don’t require registration, so you’re free to join those queues, so check beforehand in order not to miss the registration period. Of course, popularity may also put a kink in your plans—sometimes the number of tours can keep up with demand and people end up waiting for longer than expected to be shown around.

From residential buildings of Russian Empire-era aristocrats to Soviet-style structures, you’ll see tiled stoves, jewel-like stained glass, enormous murals, notable architectural solutions, and rediscovered secrets while learning about the owners, architects, and famous residents of the buildings. For example, the nineteenth-century apartment building of Ignas Parčevskis preserves remnants of an era that the Soviet decades attempted to forget; this building found many utilitarian uses over the years that were in opposition to its intended use as residences for the wealthy. On the other end of the spectrum is the Cooperative Union of Lithuania, an unmissable example of Brutalism on Gedimino Avenue, which is imbued with warm tones and an atmosphere of calm with its oasis-like atrium. Other open houses that are worthwhile, particularly for short-term visitors to Vilnius, may be the Lithuanian Parliament, the national library, and the TV tower.

Open House Vilnius is one of the most anticipated festivals of the year, and if you’re in town during the time of the festival, taking the opportunity to view some Vilnius’s architectural treasures will mean a unique and memorable experience. It’s also a good reminder that, as Vilnius grows and develops, not all of these buildings will remain as they are—some will be sold to owners with different visions and others may be torn down and replaced with other constructions. Open House Vilnius celebrates Vilnius’s architectural heritage even in the midst of such changes.