True Lithuania

Lithuania in a weekend (or a day)

Three Lithuanian cities have enough what to do for a weekend break.

*Top weekend breaks. Ten cities and regions of Lithuania that are possible (and interesting) to enjoy in a weekend.

*Weekend in Vilnius. 10 locations to sum up the Lithuanian capital - its medieval might, its Soviet tragedy and its position as a modern European city.

*Weekend in Kaunas. 10 locations that define Kaunas, the 19th century fortress city, the interwar capital era buildings, the Old Town and more.

*Weekend in Klaipėda. The port city with a German history that is a stop for Baltic cruise vessels.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Top 10 lists, Weekend breaks No Comments

Top 10 weekend breaks

Lithuania offers multiple locations for a great weekend trip. All of the following should give enjoyable 2-4 days, but, of course, one may also decide to spend a relaxing week there, or to just check the highlights in a single day. The ranking is based both on the number of interesting localities and the easiness to get there and explore the location in a weekend.

1.Vilnius is both Lithuania's capital and top destination. Once a capital of Europe's largest Medieval state it still boasts a massive Old Town full of Baroque church spires (one church for every 700 locals). It is joined by Lithuania's best entertainment and nightlife as well as sobering sights reminding of the 20th-century genocides and the collapse of Soviet Union (which started in Vilnius). As a location of largest airport Vilnius is also easiest to arrange a weekend trip to.

2.Kaunas is the Lithuania's second city. Having served as a "temporary capital" in 1920-1940, Kaunas excels in the architectural heritage from the interwar period (art deco and Bauhaus). Some of the key national museums are still located in Kaunas. Furthermore, Kaunas has an authentic Medieval old town that once used to be frequented by Hanseatic merchants. The downtown is still entirely surrounded by 19th-century Russian military fortifications that were meant (yet failed) to stop a German invasion. Kaunas airport offers numerous low-cost flights to Western Europe or alternatively one may arrive at Vilnius airport (~100 km away).

3.Neringa (Curonian Spit) is the top natural attraction of Lithuania. A 99 km long narrow peninsula (50 km of the length within Lithuania) is one large National Park, full of windswept sand dunes ("Lithuanian Sahara"), pristine pine forests and fishermen villages that now double up as rather exclusive resorts. Arrival is possible via Palanga airport 30 km away or by ship to Klaipėda port (albeit passenger routes are limited at both).

4.Klaipėda, Lithuania's 3rd largest city, had its Old Town ravaged by Soviets who destroyed its churches. Still, Klaipėda unique feel of the seaside and German history (the city was under German rule until World War 1 and known as Memel). National Romantic (heimatstil) and timber-framed houses, as well as 19th century and World War 2 German fortifications, are interesting to watch, joined by seaside entertainment (dolphinarium, sea museum, beaches) as well as a lively Old Town. Best to arrive at Palanga airport 30 km away or Klaipėda port.

5.Palanga is the Lithuania's top seaside resort. Come for a summer weekend (especially in July/August) to see it crowded to the maximum. Join the masses flocking to its wide sandy beaches and Basanavičiaus street, the main space for every-evening outdoor gigs, funfairs, and other entertainment. If one prefers more sightseeing, there is a large 19th-century palace (now hosting Amber museum) and wooden villas. One drawback is that hotels may get fully booked if the weekend is hot, so order in advance. Best to arrive to Palanga airport.

6.Druskininkai is the Lithuania's top spa (mineral spring) resort. It has recently expanded and went more upscale as the old spas were joined by modern entertainment such as an indoor water theme park (with sauna space), an adventure park and an indoor Alpine skiing track. Add saunas, spas and calm streets with cute wooden villas to that and you'll have more than enough to do for an active (or relaxing) weekend. Best to arrive at Vilnius airport (~140 km away), unless you are from Belarus or Poland in which case you may drive.

7.Dzūkija National Park is the Lithuania's largest forest. Opportunities there include kayaking as well as traditional free-to-everybody berry-picking and mushroom-picking (or buying fresh berries and mushrooms from locals if you are unsure in your ability to distinguish edible from inedible). There are numerous traditional wooden villages deep in the forest where seemingly little has changed for some 100 years. While the forested nature itself is the main draw, some of the forest towns and villages offer pretty sights, such as Liškiava monastery. Best to arrive at Vilnius airport (~130 km away) and hire a car.

8.Šiauliai is the most famous for its Hill of Crosses, where millions of these Christian symbols have been brought in in defiance of the Soviet atheist regime. Now visited by religious and non-religious alike this inspiring place gives many possibilities for contemplation, prayer, meditation or simply being in awe of its beauty (Lithuanian wooden crosses are a UNESCO-inscribed art. While Šiauliai city itself is unappealing after it has been ravaged by World Wars, it offers numerous museums to spend the rest of the weekend. Best to arrive at Riga airport (120 km away), which is the largest airport in the Baltics (there is no customs control on Lithuania-Latvia boundary and Hill of Crosses is en-route from Riga).

9.Samogitia National Park is famous for its Plokštinė Soviet Nuclear Missile launch site, where an authentic launch shaft may be entered and Cold War museum explored. The rest of weekend may be spent checking wooden churches, enjoying various lakes or going to the Orvidai farmstead - a mystical artwork to some, a junkyard to some others. Best to arrive at Riga airport (~180 km away) or a far less popular Palanga airport (~50 km away) and hire a car.

10.Lakes of Aukštaitija are dotted around a massive area that also has authentic old villages, lakeside towns, old wooden churches (e.g. Palūšė) and strange sights such as a pagan shrine, a UFO-like museum-cum-artwork, and a Soviet nuclear town. However, one needs a car and much driving to explore it all in a few days; alternatively, one may hire a bike to ride just around the national park. Arrival to Vilnius airport is the most logical.

Map of the top 10 locations for a weekend break in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Weekend breaks No Comments

Weekend in Vilnius: Top 10 Sights & Experiences

The capital of Lithuania Vilnius once was the center of Europe's largest medieval state. Famous for its Baroque churches, massive Old Town and its role in destroying the Soviet Union, Vilnius is definitely worth a weekend visit. With many direct routes to Vilnius such trip is now easier than ever to arrange. Should you come to Vilnius, these ten places may serve as the hubs for further exploration.

1. Become in awe with the 2000 sculptures of "Life as a performance directed by God" inside the Saints Peter and Paul church (Antakalnis).

2. Visit the Museum of Genocide Victims located in a former KGB prison to learn about Lithuania's grim recent past that still haunts the memories of older locals (New Town).

3. Walk under the miraculous Gates of Dawn and the approaching Aušros Vartų street with large churches of 3 Christian denominations (Old Town).

4. Explore the courtyards of Vilnius University, feel the gone-by ages in its marvelous interiors and ascend the massive belfry of St. John church, tallest in Vilnius (Old Town)

5. Feel the former power of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy at the Katedros (Cathedral) square, overlooked by red hilltop castle ruins, the Cathedral and the rebuilt Grand Dukes Palace (Old Town).

6. Enjoy the elaborate flamboyant facade of St. Anne church and the larger neighboring St. Francis and St. Nicholas churches (Old Town).

7. Explore some narrow streets of the Old Town and Užupis and try to take a peek into courtyards.

8. Cross the Žaliasis or Baltasis bridge into Southern Šnipiškės, the "Wall Street of Vilnius". Visit the National Art Gallery and catch glimpse of entirely wooden off-the-beaten-track Giedraičių street where time seemingly stopped a century ago (Šnipiškės).

9. Walk the Gedimino Avenue, the traditional high street where most government institutions are located (and regular fairs take place). See the barricades at the Parliament reminding of the heroic armless struggle against Russian invasion in 1991 (New Town).

10. Splurge in Akropolis and Ozas neighboring malls, together making one of the Eastern Europe's largest shopping and entertainment zones (Soviet boroughs). If you prefer something more authentic you may spend a morning at gigantic bazaar-like Gariūnai marketplace instead where Lithuanian capitalism was reborn in the 1990s.

Extensive online guide to Vilnius is available here.

Map of the top 10 Vilnius tourist sights. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Vilnius by topic, Weekend breaks No Comments

Weekend in Kaunas: Top 10 Sights & Experiences

Kaunas may be Lithuania's second city but it is not that far behind Vilnius in both size and importance. Ryanair flights and good road/rail access opened up Kaunas as a weekend destination. Here are some ideas to spend your couple of days in Kaunas.

1.Spend time (and maybe sip a drink) in the historic heart of Kaunas, the Rotušės square which is still surrounded by authentic buildings, churches and the city hall (Old Town).

2.Enjoy the incredible view of Kaunas Old Town and its gothic spires from Aleksotas vantage point (Aleksotas).

3.Take a short trip to Pažaislis monastery, one of the prettiest Baroque complexes in Northern Europe. In summers you may swim in the local Kaunas Reservoir beach nearby (Pažaislis).

4.Learn about Lithuania's most famous painter and his symbolist works right in his prime shrine, the M. K. Čiurlionis Gallery (New Town).

5.Walk under the tree shades of Laisvės Avenue, noting the prime Industrial Era and Interwar architecture en route (Central Post, Officers' Club, Sobor, Interwar Presidency, Musical theater) (New Town).

6.Listen to a free evening carillon concert in Vienybės square while looking at its monuments dedicated to the Lithuanian freedom (New Town) .

7.Walk the Vilniaus street, a new-old hub for Kaunas downtown cafes and entertainment with authentic pre-20th-century buildings. Don't forget to take a detour to the small Gothic St. Gertrude church (Old Town).

8.Visit at least a single fort of the pre-WW1 Kaunas fortress (best surviving European fortifications of the era). 9th fort with its sad past and museum is the most popular, but renovated 7th fort and dilapidated 6th fort are more off-the-beaten-path alternatives (Fortress districts).

9.Ascend the Žaliakalnis hill district in a funicular to see the massive art deco Ressurection church and other key projects of Interwar independent Lithuania, standing amidst historic private homes where luminaries used to live (Žaliakalnis).

10.Take a stroll in one of many Kaunas parks, such as Santakos (confluence) or Basanavčiaus, both offering interesting views of Lithuanian prime river Nemunas.

Map of the top 10 Kaunas tourist sights. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Kaunas by topic, Weekend breaks No Comments

Weekend in Klaipėda: Top 10 Sights & Experiences

Klaipėda is the Lithuania's only seaside city, unique for its German history.

Whereas you are a cruise ship passenger on a day-long stop or a tourist taking a short detour from other parts of Lithuania, there will be enough ways to spend your time in Klaipėda.

1. Explore the small Old Town: Theater square, Tiltų street, Danė river embankment. Sip a drink and eat dinner in its numerous calm restaurants.

2. Walk the Lagoon embankment and breakwater in Smiltynė with old romantic villas, a fisherman's farmstead, explorable 20th-century fishing vessels and nice views of the port. A short ferry ride will be necessary to get there.

3. Imbibe yourself with 19th-century German architecture in Liepų street of the New Town.

4. Visit the Lithuanian Sea Museum (Smiltynė) for sea animals, dolphin shows and information on Lithuanian shipping, all presented in a 19th-century German fortress.

5. Visit the museum of Lithuania Minor (Old Town), presenting the regional history and pre-WW2 diorama of Klaipėda.

6. Imagine the rich pre-WW2 city by printing out some old images and comparing them with what you see today. Much remains but some pretty buildings (such as the historic churches) unfortunately have been torn down by the Soviets.

7. Visit the small-but-modern museum in Castle ruins (Old Town) to be briefed on the city's history. If it's summer be sure to check if there are no events in the surrounding ex-industrial lands and docks.

8. Witness how the swing bridge (Old Town) is manually rotated by a couple of dockworkers and how yachts and small ships then pour from castle moat into the Danė river and vice-versa.

9. Check the Klaipėda University campus (New Town) located in a massive former barracks.

10. Sunbath at the surprising northern beaches of Klaipėda. You have a choice to either lie under a shade of WW2 military installation, at a constantly eroded Olando Kepurė cliff or within the traditional gender-segregated naturist sections (pre-dating Western naturism by far and considered uncivilized by the foreign diplomats of early 20th century).

Full online travel guide to Klaipėda

Map of the top 10 Klaipėda tourist sights. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Klaipėda by Topic, Weekend breaks No Comments