Fans of the BBC’s War & Peace series are in luck. They can now follow a trail through Vilnius that takes them by some of the key shooting locations.
A tour to filming locations of the BBC's War & Peace
© DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

The trail is an initiative of the Lithuanian State Tourism Department which is expecting an influx of visitors to the capital due to the success of BBC's adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's epic story.

On Thursday, members of the press were lead along the trail through the Old Town of Vilnius for a sneak peek of what is awaiting tourists. And there will be a lot of tourists, predicts Edita Gaigalienė, PR Chief Specialist at the Tourism Department. “The rate of interest from the United Kingdom in Vilnius increased by 65% when the series premièred there,” said Gaigalienė.

A fact not surprising, considering that over 6 million viewers in the UK watched the first episode when the series launched in January of this year. War & Peace was largely shot in Lithuania, with some scenes filmed in Rundāle in Latvia, and in St. Petersburg in Russia. With a budget of €21 million, the six-episode series is the most expensive one the BBC has ever produced.

Different routes

There are several War & Peace routes available on the website of the Tourist Department. Visitors can choose to stay in Vilnius and explore the city and its many set locations via bike or on foot. People who want to see even more, can opt to go by car to discover those set locations outside of Vilnius and throughout Lithuania.

The locations that require more travel include the Island Castle in Trakai, which stood in as a residence of Tsar Alexander I in the series; the Open Air Museum of Lithuanian Ethnic Culture in Rumšiškės, which served as rural Russia; and the rolling hills of Kernavė, which were used as a battlefield.

On Thursday, as the press was lead by a route through the Old Town of the capital, the mostly Vilnius native press members marvelled at the sights they had never seen before. Many corners, courtyards and small alleyways, as well as some of the landmarks that Vilnius prides itself for, lay on the trail. This includes the famed Gediminas Castle which, in the series, served as a landmark in the Austrian Alps.

Tourism booster

It is not just Britons that are expected to visit Lithuania this year. As the series has been sold to over 20 countries, including the Netherlands, France, Russia and all Scandinavian countries, a wide array of tourists are expected to visit Vilnius during the summer months. “I think Russians will be particularly interested to see how Vilnius was turned into Moscow in the series,” said Gaigalienė.

Lithuania was the pre-eminent location for the filming of War & Peace. Sights in the country can easily be adapted to look like several different places, claimed Lineta Mišeikytė, a producer at Baltic Film Services.

"The camera cannot be tricked, so the filmmaker seeks set location that are the most geographically and historically similar to the original. In Lithuania, the Curonian spit can become Lake Baikal; Kintai the steppes of the Ural; the gravel pits of Trakai the Bering Strait, Rumšiškės can be Siberia; and the valleys of Kernavė can serve as the Alps,” said Mišeikytė.

War & Peace was not always going to be shot in Lithuania. “The main competitors in terms of film locations are Central and Eastern Europe. In this particular instance, Lithuania beat Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia," said Mišeikytė.

In 2015, the number of tourists visiting Lithuania grew by 2.3%. The number of tourists from the United Kingdom increased by 17.2% in 2015. The Tourism Department is expecting exponential growth throughout 2016.

War & Peace will air in Lithuania in June. Just in time for Lithuanian series lovers to explore the set locations this summer.

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