6 Reasons to visit Lithuania

Josh Ferry Woodard

We uncover the best towns, art, and history that will be sure to tempt you to the beautiful country of Lithuania

Vilnius Old Town

Vilnius Old Town is one of the largest surviving medieval centres in Northern Europe. 

It is filled with wonderful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque palaces, cathedrals, churches and theatres. The cobbled streets are a joy to explore, with surprises around every corner.

Literatu Street, for example, is an interesting collection of over 100 abstract artworks dedicated to different Lithuanian works of fiction.

Amandus and Ertilo Namas are world-class ‘New Baltic’ restaurants that playfully reinterpret traditional Lithuanian dishes with impressive feats of gastro-sorcery. 

While the constitution states “Every dog has the right to be a dog,” cats are equally well respected: a famously rotund moggy by the name of Ponulis who frequents Keistoteka Bookstore is Uzupis’ official foreign ambassador.

 

Trakai Island Castle 

Trakai Island Castle is a majestic Medieval palace resting in the middle of Lake Galve. Just a 40-minute drive from Vilnius Old Town, Lithuania’s ancient capital Trakai is a lush archipelago adorned with over 200 lakes.

While the 14th century castle’s orange towers and turrets look impressive from a boat, they take on a magisterial quality when viewed from the vantage of a weightless hot air balloon. Soaring above silver cloud-shaped lakes and deep green needle forests, the region’s bucolic side can leave an indelible mark on the soul.

 

Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses is a sign of Lithuanian unity and rebellion. 

Details surrounding the landmark’s true origin are a little murky. But local guides say that people started placing crosses on the hill following a massacre that was carried out by the ruling Russian Tsar in 1864. 

The shrines were demolished by the Russian authorities, but local people continued to erect crosses in memory of loved ones.

During the Soviet era the Hill of Crosses was flattened by bulldozers at least three times. Each time Lithuanians left their homes, secretly, under the cover of darkness, to replace the memorials.

Since independence in 1990, the Hill of Crosses has grown to become a powerful symbol of national unity with over 100,000 crosses. While the majority of the tall wooden structures are laid by Lithuanians, people come from all over the world to add to this eerie yet fascinating landmark.

 

Curonian Spit

The Curonian Spit is a 98 km long sand dune spit that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. 

The thin strip of land is remarkable for the fact that its southern portion falls within the Russian territory of Kaliningrad. Gazing across the yellow landscape of dunes and reeds, it is quite a strange feeling to see Russia in the distance.

During Soviet rule the area was closed to the public, but since 1990 it has become popular with tourists, who enjoy the novelty of crossing the Lagoon by ferry and relaxing in the quaint fishing-cum-resort village of Nida.

Apart from swimming in the Baltic waters, local attractions include scenic bike rides beside the dunes, Pagan cemeteries and expert fish smokehouses. 

 

Hill of Witches

Nestled within the pine forests of the Curonian Spit, the Hill of Witches is a slightly spooky outdoor sculpture gallery. 

Lithuania was the last Pagan nation in Europe–not giving in to Christianity until 1387–and the Hill of Witches sculpture park indicates that these ancient stories remain prevalent to this day. 

The 80+ beautifully crafted wooden sculptures depict stories from Pagan folklore, ranging from a rooster that scares away witches, devils and goblins at dawn, to a faithful fishermen’s wife awaiting her husband’s return and a tale of a village barn dance being infiltrated by the devil.

Perhaps most arresting, is an ornate dark wood archway with an intense wide-eyed sculpture of Lucifer stood behind it. It is said that those who pass under the portal will never return. 

 

Kaunas Street Art

Lithuania’s second city is undergoing a period of development and renewal in the run-up to 2022, when Kaunas is set to become European Capital of Culture.

Landmarks such as Kaunas Castle and its dry grassy moat, the imposing M. K. Ciurlionis National Art Museum with its avant-garde combinations of music and painting and the Devil’s Museum with its 2,000+ collection of global depictions of the devil are certainly worth visiting. As is the city’s burgeoning street art scene.

Local artists have breathed new life into decaying buildings by splashing bright colours and inspiring images onto everything from old factory facades to gloomy tunnels and residential courtyards.

The Courtyard Gallery is a 24/7 outdoor gallery space designed to bring people together and foster community. It’s not as prestigious as the national galleries but its quirks and idiosyncrasies are helping to put Kaunas on the map as a centre of culture.

Street artists from around the world are being encouraged to make their mark on the city, meaning new murals are popping up all the time.