Vilnius is a city of elegant baroque buildings and its oldest, the Church of Saint Casimir, is the backcloth for a video of scrolling shapes accompanied by rousing music. My experience started here. But first, some history. On 25 January every year the old town of Vilnius, in Lithuania lights up to celebrate the birthday of the town on the same day in 1323.
The Vilnius Light Festival gathers together artists from all over Europe to light up the streets, alleys, courtyards and buildings with thought-provoking installations.
This year the vibrant town of Vilnius celebrated 701 years since its founder, Duke Gediminas sent his famous letter to several German cities and other cities in the Holy Roman Empire.
This letter announced the intention of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to convert from paganism to Catholicism and invited knights, merchants and all tradesmen to come to the Grand Duchy to practice their trades without any restrictions and some benefits. It was in this letter that Vilnius was first mentioned as the capital city of Lithuania and hence the time it came into the light. During the Light Festival changing patterns of laser lights dance in the sky from the top of Gediminas Tower, all that remains of his castle.
Beneath the glow of the laser lights and blending in with local attractions the light festival brings the city to life at night. Excited crowds clatter through the darkened streets with maybe a few snowflakes drifting down to romanticise the evening. The brilliance of the installations created stunning night landscapes, for example the glowing tower ARTEFAKTAS by Tomas Stonys with the Orthodox Cathedral of the Theotokos in the background.
One of the most interesting and spectacular installation is that created by a local artist, Rimas Sakalauskas. He had a vision that Vilnius could be transported into space and created a mockumentary about a plan to move Vilnius to outer space. This fascinating rolls across the façade of the city’s huge Jesuit Gymnasium, illustrating the story relating to the development of the Vilnius University’s Observatory during the mid-eighteenth century. It is one of the oldest astronomical institutions in Europe and today houses a small museum.
My favourite installation was FLUX, created in 2021as part of the Constellations Festival in Metz, France. This popular installation has been travelling the world since its creation. And I can understand why. I stood inside the Church of Saint Catherine watching sticks of light dancing to uplifting music as they stood up and fell down changing patterns and colours all the time.
The Festival lights burn bright between 6 pm and 11 pm each evening of this three-day festival giving visitors plenty of time to follow one of various trails and enjoy the illuminated artworks along the way. And, there are so many other attractions in the city of Vilnius this would be the ideal opportunity for an interesting city break.
FLY: Currently, the only direct flights to Vilnius depart from Luton and Stansted airports with Wizz Air and from London City airport with LOT but there are several alternatives via airline hubs such as Swiss Air via Zurich and Finnair via Helsinki. There is a regular public bus service from Vilnius Airport to the old town.
Also read: I went to prison in Vilnius, Lithuania