Lithuania is a vibrant, quirky and largely unspoiled country, which has undergone rapid change since becoming independent from the Soviet Union. You’ll find lively nightlife, both in Vilnius and on the coast, ample grounds for outdoor pursuits in the national parks and several great beaches, as well as a stark contrast between city life and rural simplicity. Here's our pick of the best things to do in Lithuania.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, your essential guide for visiting Europe.
At the centre of Vilnius, poised between the medieval and nineteenth-century parts of the city, is Cathedral Square (Katedros aikštė). The Old Town, just south of Cathedral Square, is a network of narrow, often cobbled streets that forms the Baroque heart of Vilnius, with the pedestrianized Pilies gatvė cutting into it from the southeastern corner of the square.
To the west of this street is Vilnius University, which was constructed between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries around nine linked courtyards that extend west to Universiteto gatvė. Within its precincts is the beautiful Baroque St John’s Church (Šv. Jono bažnyčia), founded during the fourteenth century, and taken over by the Jesuits in 1561.
When considering things to do in Lithuania, visitors to Vilnius should not miss the TV Tower, as its observation deck provides a stunning panoramic view of the city and its surroundings.
Once you arrive, follow Vytauto gatvė and turn right down Kėstučio gatvė to reach the remains of the Peninsula Castle, now partially restored after having been destroyed by the Russians in 1655. Skirting the ruins along the lakeside path, you will see the spectacular Island Castle (Salos pilis), one of Lithuania’s most famous monuments, accessible by two wooden drawbridges and preceded by souvenir and rowing-boat rental stalls.
The best way to explore the park is to start in the tiny hamlet of Palūšė, where there is a handsome 19th-century wooden church and belfry. The park has an additional administrative centre at Meironys. Perhaps one of the quirkiest museums in the country is the folksy Bee-keeper’s Museum in the village of Stripeikiai. There are various hives in the shapes of pagan gods, along with woodcarvings of bee-related deities.
From the beach, head east along pedestrian Basanavičiaus with the rest of the human tide, past the street musicians and vendors, countless restaurants, arcade games, amusement park rides and amber stalls. You can dance until morning at one of the clubs on Vytauto gatvė, the main street, or on S. Darius ir S. Girėno gatvė, which leads off Vytauto gatvė to the beach.
It has no rivers, a few lagoons and along its shore lies a chain of manmade beaches and dunes. A bird’s-eye view is a wonderful picture of white, sandy hills against a dark blue background. Curonian Spit was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2000.
The most plausible is that it was to commemorate rebels killed in nineteenth-century uprisings against the Russian Empire. In the Soviet era, they were planted by grieving families to commemorate killed and deported loved ones and kept multiplying despite repeated bulldozing by the authorities. Today, crosses are often planted to give thanks for a happy event in a person’s life.
Occupying the northeastern shoulder of the square, the red-brick tower of Kaunas’s austere cathedral stands at the western end of Vilniaus gatvė. Predating the cathedral by several centuries is Kaunas Castle, whose scant remains survive just northwest of the square.
Little more than a restored tower and a couple of sections of the wall are left, with temporary art exhibitions inside. However, in its day the fortification was a major obstacle to the Teutonic Knights.
The marble and oak interior is enriched with frescoes restored under the aegis of the Čiurlionis Museum, which became responsible for it in 1966. Built for the obscure Camaldolese Order, it was briefly populated by Lithuanian-American nuns in the early 20th century, and again in 1992. The huge reservoir beside the monastery is called the Kaunas Sea (Kauno Marios) and is popular for recreation.
The Treetop Walking Path is built as suspended wooden bridges, stairs and viewing platforms through the forest. The path offers amazing views of the surroundings of the forest, including the Anikščiai pine forest and the Šventoji River valley. In addition to natural views, visitors can also observe Lithuanian wildlife up close, including various animal species.
The museum is located in a former 19th-century fortress that was used to defend the port of Klaipėda. Today, the museum's exhibitions cover a wide range of subjects related to marine life, marine history and sailing.
Visiting this spot is one of the best things to do in Lithuania with children, as some of the sculptures double as slides and see-saws. Look for the sign on your right as you are heading south through Juodkrantė town. A walk beside the lagoon path with its stone sculptures provides a pleasant contrast.
Druskininkai is located in the southern part of Lithuania and is one of the most famous spa towns in the country. It is not only famous for its mineral waters and mud treatment, but also for its modern spa resorts, water parks and entertainment activities that make a visit to this town one of the best things to do in Lithuania for the whole family.
Another equally popular spa town in the country, Birstonas is situated in central Lithuania, next to the Nemunas River. It is also known for its mineral springs, mud spa and natural attractions, which include the neighbouring Nemunas Loops Regional Park.
A controversial and rather startling place, it has collections of former Soviet leaders and various Communist bigwigs acquired from the scrap heaps of the early independence years.
Others include potato pancakes (bulviniai blynai), and koldųnai – boiled or fried dumplings with meat or mushroom filling. Popular beer snacks include deep-fried sticks of black bread with garlic (kepta duona) and smoked pigs’ ears. Pancakes (blynai, blyneliai or lietiniai) come in a plethora of sweet and savoury varieties.
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