While most people couldn’t point it out on a map and though it's a largely overlooked European country, Lithuania is certainly worth a visit. A blend of quiet woods, lively cities, traditional values, and quirky sites, there's plenty to keep visitors entertained for a weekend or two.
A Floating Castle
Set amidst the blue waters of Lake Galve and more than 20 tree-studded islands, the bright red towers of Trakai Island Castle have marked the horizon for the last 600 years. First used as a defense fortress, a residence and then a prison, the island fortress is currently a museum and the only castle in eastern Europe that sits atop an island. The idyllic setting and unique location has made Trakai one of Lithuania’s most popular tourist stops.
A Place of Remembrance: The Hill of Crosses
Outside Siauliai, a rather large city in northern Lithuania, sits a hillside. On top of that hillside and flooding over its sides are approximately 200,000 crosses. Some are tall, intricately carved sculptures that tower over visitors walking through the area. Many others are small, simple and so inconspicuous they get lost in the chaos. The Hill of Crosses started out as a way for Lithuanians to commemorate lost loved ones but later became an act of rebellion and beacon of hope. When the Soviet Union took over after WWII, they tried to suppress the expressions of faith by bulldozing all traces of religious iconography. The people remained undeterred, however, and continued to rebuild the memorial. Its existence today is a testament to their grit, determination and unshakeable faith.
With rolling hills, lush forests and pristine lakes, Lithuania is a locale that quiets the mind. In square miles, it's only the size of West Virginia, but it encompasses five national parks, the most stunning of which is Curonian Spit National Park. This long thin sliver of land slices through the coastal waters with a lagoon on one side, a sea on the other and Europe’s largest collection of sand dunes residing in the middle. The views of the Baltic Sea are unmatched, while the spit also contains what’s known as the dancing forest: a collection of unusual trees twisted into several patterns of rings, hearts and convoluted spirals.
Those Craft Beers
Lithuania has consistently been ranked as one of the most affordable countries in Europe and that extends to a night out on the town. In the past, beer-making took place in almost every household and the successful home brews, made with local ingredients, were passed from father to son for generations. Typically, the local beer is sweet and flat with a distinctive earthy flavor, but the preferences of the younger generation have evolved to include stronger alcohol content and quirkier flavors. Stop by one of the many underground beer cellars and you’ll find your drink both cheap and satisfying.
Historic CitiesLithuania’s historic cities are some of its prime destinations. Its capital of Vilnius is a city trapped between the past and present. Known as the Baroque beauty of the Baltic, its cobblestone streets and countless church spires give it an air of days gone by, while the growing number of shiny skyscrapers are evidence of its emergence into the technology-driven world. The less well-known, but equally charming city of Klaipeda is filled with German half timbered houses, waterways and a canal that cuts straight through the middle. As the country’s only port town, the city emphasizes its seafaring ways with a festival that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the area every year.
A New Way to Pamper Yourself
Between the soothing mineral springs, the spas of Druskininkai and the country’s unusual, but effective “amber therapy,” you’ll find no shortage of ways to relax during your trip. Even though amber is typically associated with jewelry or other decor, Lithuanians have taken its use far beyond the norm. For centuries it’s been believed to possess natural healing qualities so they’ve started offering unique massage and relaxation procedures using what’s dubbed as “Lithuanian gold.” Enjoy it while you're here because Lithuania is the only country in the world where you can try this unique treatment.