The city of Vilnius has expanded its volunteer-based hospitality program by adding a new initiative, Meet a Local, and the city mayor was the first one to share his Vilnius secrets. Travellers in Vilnius are welcome to use the volunteer-powered Meet a Local and Vilnius Greeters services free-of-charge. Vilnius Greeters volunteers, recognized by wearing red vests, are walking around the city to answer any questions, while a new personal connection via Meet a Local starts with online booking.
Vilnius city mayor Remigijus Šimašius has become the first volunteer of the new initiative. Known for his open-minded governing approach, the mayor believes that Vilnius is a genuinely welcoming city and actions like Vilnius Greeters and Meet a Local will highlight the fact:
“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.”
The city has been a welcoming multi-ethnic enclave throughout its history, with Lithuanians, Poles, Jews, Russians, Germans, and Tatars, among others, living together in peace. 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. Even though the medieval artisans didn’t have the privilege of being welcomed by local volunteers, current guests do.
Walking around in red vests, volunteers of Vilnius Greeters are providing face-to-face information right in the city centre. The volunteers are readily available to direct visitors towards a wanted destination, recommend a landmark to see or a restaurant to try, and answer any other Vilnius-related questions.
Meet a Local, on the other hand, is precisely what it sounds like – a platform connecting locals with visitors. Participating locals will spend time with tourists talking, walking, sharing knowledge on hidden gems or tiny streets, and offering their personal Vilnius stories.
The mayor already spent time with the first tourists participating in the Meet a Local program – a couple of guests from the United Kingdom. Of course, a busy schedule will keep mayor Šimašius from personally greeting every tourist, but he offered his under-the-radar Vilnius places to visit.
“Apart from the well-known monuments and cozy old town streets, I would recommend exploring the area around the Central Station, as well as our Uptown, Naujamiestis. In Naujamiestis, visiting the Open Gallery – an outdoor gallery in a post-industrial environment – is a must. Finally, the neighborhood of Fabijoniškės would be of particular interest to the viewers of hit TV miniseries Chernobyl, since extensive parts of the show were filmed there,” said Šimašius.
The new tourist-welcoming programs are timely, as the city is experiencing its biggest ever tourist boom. Last year, the number of tourists in Vilnius grew by 12 percent to reach 1.2 million. With more than 80 percent of visitors coming from abroad, Vilnius Greeters and Meet a Local will help them get immersed in the authentic Vilnius experience.