Planning the perfect itinerary to the somewhat under-traveled Baltic country of Lithuania involves a little bit of research. Luckily, if you’re reading this post, you’re doing a bit of that research right now. This city list will give you a little bit of everything on offer in Lithuania from the insight into a rather oppressed history to medieval castles and on to bustling cities with a modern, European flair.
Vilnius will surprise you. Named the “European Capital of Culture 2009”, this jewel of a city – also the capital of Lithuania – offers up a nice mix of history. The Old Town of the city is actually named as an UNESCO World Heritage site filled with cathedrals and even the Gadiminas Castle. Historical buffs will want to check out the Ex-KGB Museum and the Three Crosses Hill to get a feel for the more tumultuous recent past, much like that of Estonia and Latvia. For those into quirky attractions, there’s always the statue of Frank Zappa, surrounded by walls of graffiti art, or city tours on Segways to suffice.
Siauliai is home to the Hill of Crosses, which is a site that now represents Lithuanian nationalism in the face of oppression. Originally started in the 14th century, the Hill of Crosses grew during times of upheaval when Lithuanian bodies were lost. A cross for the soul would be placed on the hill with thousands of others, even after the Soviet forces decided to plow it down at least 3 times in the 1900s. It is said today to be home to over 100,000 crosses, but once there, you’ll quickly assume that this number is low. Siauliai and the Hill of Crosses make for a good day trip option from Vilnius.
Located in the northwestern area of Lithuania, just near the sea, Klaipeda is a great place to soak up the beach in the summer. Besides that, this relaxed town offers up a number of museums, restaurants and places to drink (plenty of wine on that list) to keep a traveler busy and satisfied. If you have time, be sure to take a ferry to the Curonian Spit, just 10 minutes away.
Kaunas is the 2nd largest city in Lithuania and has many features in common with Vilnius. It could easily be called a city of museums as it is said to have nearly 40 of them there, but churches and cathedrals are also strong in numbers. Just like most other major Baltic cities, the Old Town area has a lot of draw for tourists with medieval buildings and cobble-stoned streets. Other sites of interest include the catacombs at the Church of St. Michael the Archangel and the funicular railways that can take you to some amazing city views.
Trakai should be on your list of Lithuanian cities to visit for the sole purpose of exploring one breath-taking castle. Although a reconstruction, this site presents the most picturesque setting for photos as the castle sits across a lake accessible only by a large wooden bridge. The Castle Museum is open to visitors for a small entry fee. Trakai is a very short bus ride from Vilnius, so it is definitely worth taking half a day to visit and walk around this tiny town.
Written by GYE contributor Brooke Schoenman.