Things to Do in Lithuania
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a historical wellspring, and no trip is complete without exploring the medieval Vilnius Old Town (Vilniaus Senamiestis. Evolving over centuries, the oldest part of the city features labyrinthine streets busy with restaurants, bars, and shops, and offers visitors a charming gateway to the Higher Castle.
Though dwarfed somewhat by Vilnius' towering Bernardine Church, St. Anne's Church remains an architectural gem known for its rose windows, ornate spires, and late-Gothic design. Centrally located in the Old Town, the church's facade is its draw; the humble interior is quick to see, so it's an ideal stop on a walking tour.
The marvelous 17th-century Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Sv. Apastalu Petro ir Povilo Baznycia may seem typically baroque, but the relatively dull exterior belies its interior brilliance. Step inside to find detailing that's almost overwhelming, from thousands of intricate statues to a boat-shaped, art nouveau chandelier.
Uzupis may feel like a city within a city, which is no surprise, since this artsy district actually declared independence from greater Vilnius more than two decades ago. Though left to crumble under Soviet rule, the renewed bohemian enclave is packed with galleries, bars, and restaurants, and offers easy access to Old Town sights.
As the only remaining defensive wall in Vilnius, the 16th-century Gate of Dawn (Ausros Vartai is a top historic attraction. The fortification and its church are perhaps best known as home to a revered religious icon, the Vilnius Madonna—which some believe is imbued with healing powers—making the sight a top draw for Orthodox visitors.
Standing on a small hill in northern Lithuania are over a hundred thousand crosses, a powerful symbol of Lithuanian national faith and identity. The exact origins of the site remain a mystery, but over the years, not only crosses, but rosaries, statues of the Virgin Mary, and tiny carvings have been left at the site by religious pilgrims.
The Pazaislis Monastery is one of Lithuania’s most treasured cultural monuments and is a popular destination for religious pilgrims, artists, and secular tourists. The monastery is the largest in Lithuania and revered as one of the finest examples of Italian baroque-style architecture in Northern Europe. Visitors are welcome to tour the monastery grounds and attend church services and special pilgrimage events.
Vilnius University (Vilniaus Universitetas is among the oldest universities in the region, and it showcases a microcosm of Lithuanian history. Find diverse architecture, a 16th-century library, and great views from St. John‘s Church. Atop the church's bell tower, you can appreciate views from the tallest building in the Old Town.
The Curonian Spit is a curved and thin 61-mile (98-kilometer long sand dune that separates the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon. The Kursiu Nerija National Park was created in 1991 to protect the unique beauty of these ever-changing dunes. The park provides an important habitat for migratory birds and rare plants, as well as many opportunities for hiking, cycling, and kayaking trips.
Located on Daukanto Square and surrounded by stately mansions, Vilnius' Presidential Palace is an ornate residence befitting a head of state. It's hard to miss its grand neoclassical exterior and charming palace gardens. It's an easy stop while exploring the Old Town, and the flag-changing festivities, held each Sunday, are a top draw.
More Things to Do in Lithuania
This red-brick landmark above the Old Town is one of the last remaining vestiges of Vilnius' medieval Upper Castle. Beyond its historic exhibition spaces, visitors to Gediminas Castle Tower (Gedimino Pilies Bokštas can admire fantastic views from this hilltop landmark with panoramic vistas of Vilnius from its viewing platform.
From mind-bending 3D paintings to interactive optical illusions and distorted mirrors, the Vilnil Museum of Illusions is filled with fun exhibitions to challenge your perceptions. Entertaining for all ages, the museum offers the opportunity to take unique and Instagram-worthy photos.
Situated on the scenic riverfront, Kaunas Castle is a 14th century structure packed with archaeological relics. Tour the castle to see a medieval prison, history exhibits, and animation about the 1362 castle siege. The castle is part of the Kaunas City Museum and also holds exhibits about Lithuania's past.
A centuries-old piece of the city's infrastructure, Bernardine Church (Bernardinu Parapija was built atop a razed 15th-century church, survived wars and invasions, and once formed a piece of Vilnius' defensive walls. This worship space is an architectural gem mixing baroque and Gothic detailing and features ornate interior carvings.
The Rumsiskes Open-Air Museum of Lithuania is located in the countryside just east of Kaunas in central Lithuania. One of Europe’s largest ethnographic open-air museums, this museum features reconstructed historical buildings and exhibitions of furniture, crafts, and artifacts all of which reveal what rural life was like here from the 18th to the mid-20th century.
Located in the former headquarters of both the KGB and the Gestapo, the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights (Okupaciju ir Laisves Kovu Muziejus is a must-see for history enthusiasts. From prison cells and an execution chamber to history exhibitions, the museum offers a careful look into key events of modern Lithuanian history.
Built in the 15th century and taking center stage at the heart of Vilnius’ Old Town, the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is a masterpiece of baroque architecture and one of the city’s most important monuments. Reopened in 2018 after a 15-year reconstruction, it’s now home to the National Museum of Lithuania.
Grutas Parks (Gruto Parkas) is a fascinating cultural center that exhibits Soviet era relics and statues in its museum and sculpture garden.
From 1989 to 1991, when Lithuania regained its independence, Soviet monuments were dismantled and dumped throughout the country. In an effort to preserve the monuments but with little money to do so, the government allowed Lithuanian entrepreneur Viliumas Malinauskas to open this self-funded sculpture park in 2001 near the town of Druskininkai.
Spread over 20 hectares (49 acres), Grutas Park has 86 monuments and statues set among re-creations of Soviet prison camps, guard towers and barbed-wire fences. Here you’ll find statues of the main Communist leaders and thinkers, including Lenin, Stalin and Marx, leaders of the Red Terror and the Red Army. The set-up is designed to help visitors understand the impact of Soviet ideology on the Lithuanian people.
Vilnius’ main boulevard stretches from the River Neris in the west to the sweeping expanse of Cathedral Square in the southeast, and is named after the country’s greatest hero, the legendary Grand Duke Gediminas, who is credited with founding the fledgling country of Lithuania in the 13th century. Built in 1836 as Vilnius expanded with the arrival of the railway line from St Petersburg, Gediminas Avenue (Gedimino Prospektas) was originally named Georgij Avenue and has been renamed several times according to the regime in power. The wide avenue is lined with trees and glamorous Baroque townhouses in pastel colors; these house many government ministries and courthouses as well as banks, the national library and several leading Lithuanian theaters. By day a popular shopping and meeting place, Gediminas Avenue comes into its own at night when it morphs into one of Vilnius’ most upmarket dining spots.
As the street bisects Vilnius city center, landmarks along Gediminas Avenue include Seimas Palace, built in 2007 in modernist style as befits the seat of the new, independent Lithuanian Parliament. The 17th-century Lukiškės Square borders the avenue to the north; now a tranquil green lung of the city, it was the site of public hangings in the 19th century and during World War II, dissidents were executed here by Soviet troops.
The Bastion of the Vilnius Defensive Wall (Vilniaus Gynybinės Sienos Bastėja) is one of the last surviving parts of the city’s historic wall. Built in the 17th century, it is a horseshoe shaped building with a tower and connecting tunnel. Damaged during the Russian occupation in the late part of the 17th century, the bastion gradually lost its defensive function. By the beginning of the 19th century, most of the defensive wall had been destroyed and the bastion was turned into a garbage dump for the city.
Reconstruction of the bastion began in 1966 as the tower was rebuilt and the tunnel and interior rooms were renovated. A museum opened within the bastion in 1987 and there visitors can see weapons and armor from the 15th to 19th centuries, as well as cannons and stone cannon shells. A viewing platform also offers a nice view of Vilnius’ Old Town.
Part of the 19th-century Kaunas Fortress, the Ninth Fort took on a darker role in Lithuania’s history during the country’s Nazi occupation in World War II, when it was used as a Jewish extermination camp. Today, the site has been preserved as a museum and memorial dedicated to the more than 30,000 people who were killed there.
Soaring to a height of 1,071 feet (326.5 meters), the Vilnius TV Tower is Lithuania’s tallest building, standing watch over the city’s Vingis Park. In addition to being a functioning radio and TV tower, it’s also a popular vista point, with an observation deck and revolving restaurant.
Druskininkai Aquapark, Lithuania's largest waterpark, contains water slides and swimming pools, a hotel, a spa and wellness center, and an entertainment center with a bowling alley, as well as a food court and a nightclub. It’s the ideal one-stop destination for travelers looking for great rainy-day activities.
Though many shops around Eastern Europe offer amber trinkets for sale, Vilnius' Amber Museum-Gallery (Gintaro Muziejus-Galerija is in a class of its own. The ground floor space is part gallery-museum and part shop, and visitors can learn about Baltic amber in its plethora of colors, buy jewelry, and enjoy a daily amber polishing display.
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