True Lithuania

Museums of Lithuania: Introduction

Lithuania has many museums all over the country.

The best few of them are a great introduction to the nation. Many others are just rooms full of poorly-explained mediocre-quality exhibits (with limited opening times and no English used). Learning more about a particular museum is, therefore, crucial before visiting.

In general, large urban museums tend to be better, but the countryside has quite a few gems as well. Private museums (of which there are few) tend to be better presented than the public ones. Among the latter, those renovated after independence are the best options.

Most Lithuanian museums fall into five types and here we suggest the best museums of each type:

Ethnographic museums

Ethnographic museums showcase pre-modern traditions, tools, arts and crafts of a Lithuanian village. Some of them are outdoors and include reconstructed pre-WW1 homes.

Rumšiškės Ethnographic Museum is the most famous among them – 195 ha in area it is also among the largest museums of the world. Entire villages from every Lithuanian historic region have been built here: together with churches, mills, artisans and some farm animals. Traditional holidays are celebrated the traditional way.

A typical farmstead in Rumšiškės museum. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Much smaller regional alternatives are Horse Museum in Anykščiai (Aukštaitija region) that specializes in re-enacting pre-modern crafts and giving information on horses and Telšiai Countryside Museum, which is more static.

Prussian-Yotvingian settlement in Southern Sudovia is a reimagination of a prehistoric village that puts atmosphere before historical authenticity and is more of a sight than a museum. Pakruojis manor living museum (weekend-only) is the only one to concentrate on nobility rather than the peasantry.

Art museums

Art museums usually feature either works of a single Lithuanian artist or a collection of art particular period(s)/style(s).

The best period collections are National Art Gallery (Lithuanian 20th century paintings) in Vilnius and Grūtas park (Soviet propaganda sculptures which every artist was forced to create). Excelling in their fields are Museum of Archeology in Kernavė (Baltic prehistoric art) and Museum of religious art in Vilnius (pre-modern religious art) - although for religious art Vilnius churches may be a better fare to see it in authentic context.

Among the one-artist museums M. K. Čiurlionis art gallery in Kaunas is the most important one by far, as Čiurlionis's symbolist otherworldly style is almost synonymous with "famous Lithuanian paintings". Other artists that have their own museums are mostly Lithuanians who once escaped the Soviet occupation and bequeathed their works to Lithuania after independence: Vytautas Kasiulis (uber-colorful style paintings, Vilnius), Kazys Varnelis (optical art, Vilnius), Kazimieras Žoromskis (optical impressionism, Vilnius), Antanas Mončys (sculptures made of a single slab of wood, Palanga).

Works by Lithuanian-American Kazimieras Žoromskis in his eponymous museum. Photo ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Catch-all regional museums

Catch-all regional museums typically cover the local archeological finds, flora and fauna, manor riches and peasants tools, customs and pictures of recent history. Most regions aren’t that unique so visiting many such museums is not advisable. Opt for the ones that are located in buildings worth visiting (e.g. manors) and renovated.

National Museum in the Vilnius Old Town covers entire Lithuania. Not as great as the name suggests it is still a nice introduction.

Alka museum of Samogitia in Telšiai had its collection amassed before World War 2 and Soviet destruction, resulting in a great quality.

Kretinga museum’s lack of exhibits are compensated by a nice manor location with an indoor garden restaurant.

Interior of the restored Kretinga manor (now museum). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Museums of genocide and resistance

Museums of genocide and resistance serve as a repository for images, stories, letters of Soviet Genocide victims and fighters against the regime. Many such museums have been established all over Lithuania in the 1990s as memorial halls to the locals who perished. In the small towns, their opening times are especially sporadic. Opt for visiting the major such museums in Vilnius instead as their collections are the most extensive and best suited to non-Lithuanians.

The most famous are the Museum of Genocide Victims in a former HQ of KGB Soviet secret service where many have been tortured and murdered, Vilnius New Town. Interior is as it was left by KGB.

Tuskulėnai Museum built over a KGB mass murder site is restored and boasts a nice modern memorial.

Interior of Tuskulėnai Memorial. The symbolic round central room (right) is surrounded by a corridor full of numbered urns with the remains of Tuskulėnai victims. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

9th fort in Kaunas covers both the Soviet and Nazi German genocides as its site was used for murders by both regimes.

Thematic museums

Thematic museums cover a single topic and its relation to Lithuania. Museums on topics that are the “essence” of Lithuania are especially worth visiting. Other museums are interesting only if they are related to your hobby.

The most “Lithuanian” thematic museums are those of Amber (inside Palanga manor palace), Lithuanian history (inside Trakai island castle), Grand Duchy of Lithuania (inside Vilnius Grand Dukes Palace), Lithuanian folk musical instruments (in Kaunas Old Town), Basketball (in Joniškis).

Museum of the Seas in Klaipėda is likely the most extensive among the rest (it includes shipping history info and a kind of sea animal zoo). Museum of Ethnocosmology has the most ingenious building, but it may be more of an artwork than a museum with few exhibits inside. Cold War museum has the most appropriate location (inside a real Soviet missile silo).

Lookout/telescope tower in the museum of ethnocosmology. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Some other thematic museums: Railways, Energy and Technology, Military Vehicles (all in Vilnius), Communications, Sport, War, Aviation, Cold War spy equipment (all in Kaunas).

Memorial museums

Lithuania has a large number of Memorial museums, each dedicated to a single famous person or family. Typically they are located in that person’s former home and exhibit their original furniture and things. A foreigner is unlikely to know most of these people but a chance to feel the spirit of a particular era that is still present in many such museums can be rewarding. Vilnius and Kaunas have the most of those with some half of them requiring an advance arrangement to visit.

A memorial museum of interwar opera singer K. Petrauskas in Kaunas. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Museum opening times and discounts

Most museums are open for 5-6 days a week. If there is one non-working day it is usually either Sunday or Monday, if there are two such days then the second one is either Saturday or Tuesday.

Major and private museums tend to stay open late into the evening while small and regional museums may close at ~17:00.

Discounts are available for children, students, and old-age pensioners.

English inscriptions are available in the renovated and private museums, but unrenovated museums may have just Lithuanian or Lithuanian-Russian ones.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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