Country of contrasts. 6 things to do in Lithuania
Have you heard about Lithuania? I am asking this, because there is a serious problem with this country – probably 5 of 10 people couldn’t mark it on the map.
It is a small country1 with a rough history and a strong character. Located at the shore of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania is surrounded by Poland, Russia, Belarus and Latvia. Visually, country looks like a little girl – small and totally flat. 30% of its territory is covered in woods. It has a lot of lakes2 and a beautiful coastline.
Due to its occupation period, Lithuania has grown into a country of contrasts. On the one hand, it’s rich with green nature, sandy beaches3, historic and architectural landmarks. On the other hand, it has grey and depressing urban Soviet heritage4, abandoned industrial factories, big gap between 3 main cities and the rest of the country.
Nevertheless, Lithuania is one of the best places to visit, if you are tired of sweet tourist destinations and want to taste an intriguing piece of Europe. To illustrate this, let me present TOP 6 things to do in Lithuania.
#1 – Explore Vilnius day’n’night life
Vilnius is the capital, and together the biggest city5 of Lithuania. To be fair, comparing city’s size with other capitals in Europe, it’s just a small village in Eastern part of the Old Continent. However, in my opinion, size really doesn’t matter and I’m 97% sure, that you would agree with me after visiting it.
If you were reading intro thoroughly, you should remember me saying, that Lithuania is country of contrasts. Well, 70% of this statement is about Vilnius. Here you can find various types of architectural monuments, really a lot of interesting museums6, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Jewish, German cultural heritage, even self-proclaimed Republic of Užupis – Bohemian and artistic district in the heart of old-town.
However, tourists get surprised, when small wooden huts appear next to modern and urban office buildings or if they wander to gypsies encampment in the suburbs of the city. In Lithuania’s capital people are talking to each other in Lithuanian, Russian, Polish, English, French all over the streets. Vilnius is an open and in some way multicultural city with a rich history of different cultures living together for a long time.
#2 – Stop to taste Medieval Times at Trakai
About 30 km from Vilnius there is a small, but outstanding city – Trakai. If you don’t have much time, just stop there to admire Medieval Castle standing on the small island in Galvės lake and continue your journey.
However, if you can spend there 3-4 hours, then get ready to taste and experience interesting things. I have some suggestions for you: explore Trakai Castle and its surroundings, rent a water bike, taste a traditional Karaims Kybyn, walk your kybyns across the lakeshore, explore the Užutrakis Manor Park. I promise you, half day trip to Trakai will be very entertaining.
#3 – Feel the spirit of interwar period in Kaunas
Kaunas is the second biggest city in Lithuania7, which is also known as a former capital of Lithuania. Between the World War I and World War II, Kaunas was the heart of Lithuania and this interwar spirit is still alive here. 2016 is the year when Kaunas was awarded the European Heritage Label for the architecture of the interwar period.
So, firstly, Kaunas is super interesting for the century-old heritage – from architecture to people. In the oldest districts of the city, such as Žaliakalnis (Green Hill), spirit of the interwar period elite is still alive. There still are classy elders, who preserve the beliefs of that time and applies it to their everyday life. People are conservative here, but their manners are inspirational. Sadly, each day there remains less of those with such an exemplary way of living.
Secondly, nowadays Kaunas is students city8 – peaceful at the summer, vibrant during autumn, winter, spring. Studies attracts young adults from all over the country, region and other continents. This means that each year the city, that used to be one of the most conservative in Lithuania, is becoming more and more diverse and liberal.
While visiting Kaunas, you have to see things which makes it special. The most famous of those are: the interwar period architecture in city center and on the Green Hill (Žaliakalnis), Pažaislis Monastery as an example of Italian Baroque architecture and confluence of Nemunas and Neris rivers at the Santakos Park. With its rich history, people and architecture, Kaunas really is the heart of Lithuania.
#4 – Road trip on the route 141: medieval castles, German heritage and fishing villages
Personally, it is my favorite route for a road trip in Lithuania. All the way from Kaunas to Klaipėda, this route is accompanied by the biggest Lithuanian river – Nemunas. From the town called Vilkija9, nice sights are almost every 10 kilometers.
As I see it, this road can be cut into three parts. First is the Medieval part, with Raudonės and Panemunės Castles on top of it. Both are located on the hill with the view to Nemunas and are surrounded by the small castle towns. Secondly, it is the small villages with German footprints in their architecture.
The final part of this road, is ethnic fishing villages with a smell of salty water in the air. At the westernmost part of this road, Nemunas is getting started for union with Baltic Sea. So, naturally, here we have a lot of interesting water bodies. For example, Mingė village at the jaws of Nemunas is called a Lithuanian Venice, due to the canals around which red and blue colored cottages are located. Despite the fact that there are nothing similar to the Venice, except the canals, Mingė could be a perfect stop for a tasty lunch at the authentic fish restaurant10.
My suggestion is to choose this road11 while traveling to the #5.
#5 – Enjoy Baltic Sea at The Curonian Spit
I think Curonian Spit is the most awesome place which Lithuania and, probably, the whole Eastern Europe has to offer. It is one big sand dune, which lasts for about 100 km, is ~3 km wide and is located between two bodies of water – the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon.
And you know what? No contrasts here. Charming and peaceful little fishermen villages, like Nida and Juodkrantė, perfectly sandy beaches, the view and the smell of pine forest, big sand dunes and a panoramic view from them – everything is perfect in this extraordinary Peninsula.
Ok, there is one thing that you should know. During hot summer days, Baltic Sea is cold as an early morning in autumn – about 17 degrees. So, jumping into the sea, will be the biggest challenge on your holidays at the Curonian Spit.
#6 – Go camping in Labanoras Regional Park
Forget about a warm hotel bed, and Google how to fight with the bloodsucking insects – you are going to camp in the woods of Labanoras. Or don’t you want to experience the real Lithuania? I hope you do, because it is one of my favorite attractions there. No hot water, shower, or a proper toilette. Just woods, lakes and bonfires.
Labanoras Regional Park is located in the Eastern part of Lithuania. The part that is crowned as the land of the lakes in the country. So, here we have a various size of lakes changing each other in the rich green woods. And, as we all know, woods means no civilization. No civilization means people living in small, authentic villages. So, those villages are another important thing, which we can find there. To sum up, you need a tent, camping stuff, photo camera and GPS or a map, which will help you to find all the lovely villages in the woods12.
Lithuania in conclusion
There couldn’t be a conclusion for Lithuania. And there is no way, that I could fit my impressions about this country into one post. However, there is one thing that I can put into conclusion.. Pack your bags, turn on the car engine and go on a road trip to Lithuania. I promise you a lot of cultural shock, good vibes, fascinating sights and beautiful people.