8 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Lithuania
With its medieval monasteries, quaint towns, and charming wine country, Lithuania is a small but fascinating country located in Eastern Europe. It's a place where time seems to have stood still, and even the vegetation is reminiscent of ancient times.
Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, preserves a beautiful medieval townscape, with a superb collection of Baroque and Renaissance churches and monasteries, and the multicultural nature of the city makes a visit an experience.
Also very much worth a visit is the ancient trading port of Klaipėda, in North Lithuania, which today has turned into a modern city with some of the best shopping malls in the Baltic countries. Discover the best places to visit in Lithuania with our guide to the top tourist attractions in this little-known but beautiful country.
Vilnius Old Town
More than any other European capital city, Vilnius has an Old Town. The name means "willow-town," and, in fact, the city's oldest houses, buildings, and streets are almost all lined with willows. Vilnius has a fairy-tale quality that is apparent even in the bustling modern downtown. The market in the Old Town Square is a great place to shop for Lithuanian handicrafts and finds, and the famous Whiteheads Chocolate shop is a major attraction for chocolate-lovers. Like many European capitals, Vilnius has its fair share of museums. And while it's no Prague or Budapest, it's hard not to fall in love with the old city. The Council House is the first-ever baroque building in Lithuania, and the spectacular 19th-century Trinity Tower now houses a collection of folk art. The town also has its share of grand churches, including St. Anne's, where an act of heroism by a medieval peasant saved a visiting pilgrim, and St. Paul's, considered Vilnius' most beautiful Baroque church. On the east side of the Old Town, the Palace Square, with its statue of the old war hero and Freedom Monument, was once part of the old fortress.
Vilnius Castle (Vilnius pilsėlis) is Lithuania's most iconic landmark. Built in 1844-1846 in a Neo-Gothic style, the imposing structure is a landmark and a symbol of Lithuania's turbulent history, one of the cornerstones of Lithuania's 19th-century independence struggle. The castle's name has been often misspelled "Vilno" by mistake, which resulted in much confusion and lost tourism. In an attempt to keep the name "Vilnius" simple, the city's authorities officially declared it in its current spelling, "Vilnius." The castle's wide and tall gothic arches are among its most striking features, and although much of it is a little damaged, you can still enjoy its peaceful interior courtyard, where you can relax. The Castle Park is a great place for a relaxing break and to wander around, though you need to climb up to the castle's observation point to get a good look at the site. Vilnius Castle is surrounded by the beautiful Park of the Lithuanian Way of Beautification, a landscaping project created by Lithuanian architect Liudas Bačkis in 1892-1893, and is easily accessible from the major European city of Vilnius.
Kaunas Castle (Kaunas Arhibinė) dates from the 17th century, and is the largest and most beautiful of all the castles built in Lithuania. The castle's apsidal shape allows visitors to walk on the ramparts of a massive five-story tower which covers an area of 14,000 square meters. With its view over the old city of Kaunas, it was named by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810 the best fortress in Europe. Its vastness and presence is made even more impressive by the fact that the Kaunas Castle's construction was mostly financed by Vytautas' treasury rather than by taxes. The fortress is home to a number of museums, including the Museum of Applied Arts, which boasts the world's largest collection of toys and books about the history of crafts and arts from the 17th century to the present. Also of interest is the Lithuanian Costume Museum, with its collection of historic costumes and art, and the Museum of Folk Art, with its historical folk objects. The highlight of any visit to the Kaunas Castle is to take a guided tour with a costumed guide who is well versed in historical details and facts about this wonderful structure. It is a must if you are planning to visit Kaunas.
Trakai National Park
The Monasteries of Trakai National Park feature the oldest and the largest Orthodox church in Lithuania, which once served as a fortress in the 13th century, as well as a medieval castle and one of the oldest wooden synagogues in the world, a star-shaped double monastery. Trakai's 14th century Chmielna Church, which contains medieval frescos, and the late-18th century Church of Elijah on Castle Hill, which contains the world's only double bell tower, are also worth seeing. With Lithuania's mountains bordering on it in the south and west and a landscape of rolling hills and valleys across much of the country, Trakai National Park (Savaimies) is ideal for hiking. Excellent trails run through the park from which you can see more than 40 nature and historical sites and visit ancient monasteries, such as Radziszawa, Nemenkos and Kolochonos. Trakai's main sight, the Cathedral of Holy Trinity, is located just outside the park. To reach the Church of Elijah on Castle Hill you need to take the cable car on the island of Panteina and a boat from Trakai.
Vilnius Cathedral is an imposing architectural feature in the heart of the Old Town of Vilnius. This one-time cathedral of the Catholic Church was converted to a splendid exhibition space after the Soviet occupation. In fact, the Cathedral was the site of the last major battle of the 20th century between the forces of the Red Army and those of the reborn nation of Lithuania. Here, in an assault that came to be known as the Battle of the Cross of Vilnius, Soviet soldiers made a sort of prayer of revenge for their hard years of occupation. There are two fantastic museums near the Cathedral, the Museum of Genocide Victims and the Ethnographic Museum. In contrast to most other Eastern European museums, the latter doesn't actually reside in the building. Instead, it stands in the adjoining park, which also hosts the Museum of Genocide Victims. The Vilnius Cathedral was originally built in the 14th century and is notable for the very large and beautifully decorated carved wooden doors. It also houses a number of different relics of the Crucifixion, some of them quite intricate. There is also a small box-shaped museum with religious icons of the Orthodox Church. During the Lithuanian War of Independence in 1919, the red-tiled roof of the cathedral was badly damaged by a Russian bomb. Restoration took place after the restoration of independence in 1990, and included the repair of the structure itself, as well as replanting the city around the Cathedral in white limestone.
Kaunas Old Town
Named for the 14th century Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Kaunas is an important cultural center in Lithuania and a prime tourist attraction. The city's history dates back centuries and was a center of culture until the Middle Ages, when it was conquered by the Teutonic Order and its indigenous inhabitants were all but exterminated. After World War II, the city was part of the Soviet Union and was slowly transformed into a modern city, home to some 70,000 residents. The Old Town or, as it is now called, Kaunas's Old Town, is a conglomeration of fourteenth-century European town layouts around the market square. Its highest points are the all-stone Minorite Monastery with its 13th century frescoes and a clock tower and the Lutheran Cathedral, a significant example of German architecture. The architect of the Old Town was Wendelin Florian von Daun, who helped to combine the distinctive elements of fourteenth-century architecture and established a new decorative style. Other sights include the Museum of Lithuanian History, the art galleries, and a house of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, with historical furnishings from 1781-92. The Old Town is accessible by foot or a ride on the orange streetcars that run through it.
Museum of Genocide Victims
The Museum of Genocide Victims at the country of Litvakia was opened in 1999 to honor the people who were murdered during the German occupation. Located in the town of Druskininkai, the museum features 2,000 life-size models showing the path of the Nazi occupation in Lithuania. As the residents of Druskininkai lived through the genocide, they were the people who created the models, which include people of all ages, ethnicities and nationalities.
Trakai is a huge reservoir located some 100km north-west of Vilnius and can be visited on a short day trip from Vilnius. The best way to see it is from a boat tour on the Lake Lagoon (Lagos is the name of the lake) which runs daily between April and October. The boat trip covers several attractions, the largest of which is the immense Trakai Castle. After a short trip on the lake, return to Vilnius to spend the evening at a local wine bar or restaurant.