Lovely Lithuania

Lovely Lithuania

by Jolanta Jackson
Stripes Europe

Small but gorgeous, Lithuania offers you dozens of UNESCO World Heritage sites, millennium-old history, medieval castles, affordable dining, drifting sand dunes and romantic walks on the beach. So, pack your bag and catch one of a budget airline’s cheap flights to lovely Lithuania.

Vilnius

Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, will give you an in-depth look at one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites and a best-value European city break destination. Vilnius offers one of the largest and most beautiful old towns in Central and Eastern Europe with cozy cafes, restaurants and narrow, curvy streets full of new discoveries around every corner. You will also see impressive examples of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism domes as well as towers and castles spread throughout the medieval city. The historic center of Vilnius includes the areas of the Upper, Lower and Curved castles with the area that was encircled by a wall in the middle ages.


Vilnius Cathedral in the summer. | Photo by Randall Jackson

Start your Vilnius tour in the Cathedral Square where you will find the magnificent neoclassical Vilnius Cathedral, the newly rebuilt Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the statue of Vilnius’ founder, Grand Duke Gediminas. There is a magical tile between the Cathedral and the tower which says "Stebuklas" (meaning miracle) on it. If you step on it, close your eyes, turn around three times and make a wish. Legend says it will come true. Later, take a short climb to the Gediminas castle tower, which dates from the 13th century, and enjoy the breath-taking views of Vilnius from above.

Strolling down the narrow downtown streets, you will find St. Anne’s Church, a prominent example of both Flamboyant Gothic and Brick Gothic styles. According to a well-known legend, Emperor Napoleon, after seeing the church during the Franco-Russian War in 1812, liked it so much that he expressed a wish to carry it home to Paris in the palm of his hand. 

Later, enjoy your walk on Pilies Street visiting little souvenir, jewelry, crafts and linen shops. Be sure to buy original pieces of jewelry made of amber or “Lithuanian gold.” Amber has been harvested from the shores of the Baltic Sea since prehistoric times and Lithuanian people still believe it possesses the power of healing.


Cepelinai, a Lithuanian staple. | Photo by Randall Jackson

After a long walk, you deserve a good Lithuanian meal. The most popular traditional dishes are “cepelinai,” grated potato dumplings stuffed with minced meat or cottage cheese. The best place to eat is at Restaurant Forto Dvaras. Other traditional dishes include cold beet-root soup with hot potatoes, “saltibarsciai” roasted black bread, “kepta duona” and deep fried biscuits, “zagarelii.” Don’t forget to try one of 200 varieties of cold Lithuanian beer or make a toast with a glass of Lithuanian sparkling wine or the non-alcoholic “gira,” made from black bread. 

Trakai Island Castle

Just a half-hour train ride from Vilnius is Trakai, an island castle built in the 14th century and became a residential place for the dukes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until the capital was moved to Vilnius. Now the castle is one of the most visited tourist attractions and is a popular place for weddings, picnics and picture-taking. Visit the castle’s museum exhibiting many treasures found at the site and explore its secret passageways and spiral staircases. Be sure to enjoy impressive stained glass and frescoes. You can also rent a rowboat or hop in a paddleboat and enjoy the serene lake with picturesque views from every angle. Since Trakai was a multicultural capital, for lunch try the most popular Karaites dish “kibina,” pastries traditionally filled with mutton and onions.


Trakai Castle on a wintry day. | Photo by Randall Jackson

Kaunas

The second-largest Lithuanian city is just a one-hour train or bus ride away from Vilnius. Some cheap airlines fly directly there, and it is worth visiting. At the confluence of the two largest Lithuanian rivers Nemunas and Neris, Kaunas was the capital city during the interwar period when Vilnius was annexed by Poland, and now it is called the city of museums. You can visit the War Museum of Vytautas the Great, Historical Presidential Palace or Devil’s Museum (Zmuidzinavicius Museum), which has a collection of more than three thousand sculptures and carvings of devils from Lithuania and all over the world. The Akropolis mall was built around a few original 18th-century old town buildings and is a good place to shop with a variety of stores and restaurants. From there, head toward the pedestrian avenue, Laisves Aleja, and visit the city’s oldest church Vytautas’ Church and a 14th century Kaunas Castle. 

Klaipeda and Curonian Spit

If you are in Lithuania for a long weekend, you still have time to go to the Baltic Sea and visit the port city of Klaipeda and the Curonian Spit. From the downtown of Klaipeda, which features German-style, 18th-century wood-framed buildings, you could hop on a ferry to the Curonian Spit, a long thin sand dune in between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea.  The Baltic legend says the spit was formed by a giantess named Neringa, who was playing with the sand on the seashore. Now the Curonian Spit is a UNESCO World Heritage site with refreshing pine forest and huge drifting sand dunes. You could climb to the Panardis sand dune, which is 52 meters above sea level and enjoy the enchanting views of the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea. Since the Lithuanian-Russian border is less than a mile away, make sure you follow the trails while hiking in the dunes, so you don’t cross the border illegally. Take a quiet romantic sunset stroll on the seashore and search for pieces of amber. As the legend says, the ruins of the sea goddess Jurate’s amber castle that was destroyed as punishment for loving a fisherman.  

Still doubt if you are ready to visit Lithuania? You are, because you already know one very important word in Lithuanian, “Aciu” (AH- choo), which means “thanks.”

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