Lithuania is small but feisty. The country gained the world’s attention when it waged a David and Goliath battle against Russia and became the first of the Baltic States to break free of Russian occupation in 1990. Lithuania is determined to revere its centuries of history even as it moves strongly forward into the future. The gorgeous Old Town of capital city Vilnius is one of the largest in Eastern Europe, and its well-preserved Gothic and Baroque architecture sits side by side with shadowy narrow streets housing a vibrant arts scene, cafes and lively, modern bars and clubs.
Day 1: Vilnius
Vilnius is small, with a population of just over half a million, on the banks of the Neris and Vilnia Rivers. The city was first mentioned in letters in 1323 and the lovely Old Town is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Spend your first day in Lithuania exploring Vilnius with its many churches, Orthodox and Catholic sitting side by side - and the network of courtyards of the university, a city within a city, dating from 1579. Don’t miss 16th century St Anne’s Church, a Gothic masterpiece, the Gates of Dawn with its miraculous 17th century icon of the Virgin Mary, and the wonderfully decorated 17th century Church of St Peter and Paul. And of course there are the darker monuments to history also: the old KGB building, and the small, surviving Jewish community.
Day 2: Castles and History
Head just out of Vilnius to Trakai Castle. On an island, its only defense is water making it one of a kind in Eastern Europe. There is a small museum in the castle. A little further afield is Lithuania’s second largest city, Kaunas. Visit Pazaislis Monastery, now a center for culture where summer concerts are held. Not far from Kaunas is the Open Air Folk Museum of Rumsiskes where you can see Lithuanian life as it was one hundred years ago in original buildings that have been relocated here from all over the country.
Day 3: Crosses, Coasts and Spas
Today is a day of water; Lithuania has 758 rivers, 2,800 lakes and 99 km (62 mi) of coastline on the Baltic Sea. Most of the coastal area is preserved for nature like the lovely Curronian Spit National Park with its lagoon, Baltic Sea beaches, sand dunes and pine forests. Another park worth visiting is Aukstaitija National Park full of rivers and lakes and with a water mill haunted by the devil! Don’t miss the unusual Beekeeping Museum. A must-see is the Hill of Crosses, outside the town of Siauliai. Thousands of crosses give thanks and mark wishes made – even Pope John Paul II visited. Finally, if you like your water warm and ready to soak in, perhaps with a little mud for the skin, Lithuania is known for its health-giving mineral waters. Sink into one of the many spa retreats such as Druskininkai, and visit nearby Grutas Park, an open air museum with a surprising collection of Soviet sculpture.