Lithuania: pastoral landscapes of the Baltic hinterland

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Main facts:

  • Capital city: Vilnius

  • Language(s): Lithuanian

  • Currency: Euro, EUR

  • Population: 2,826,000

  • Timezone: UTC+2

  • Main religion: Catholicism (77%)

  • Standard of living (subjectively): medium

Top 10 interesting places and activities:

Approximate costs (person/day):

~€ 15-50

~€ 1-3

~€ 5-10

~€ 3-7

Sights map of Lithuania

Travel around Lithuania

The ancient Lithuanians originally resided in the territories of the Baltic states, but did not have a single state. With the arrival of the German crusaders of the Teutonic Order in their lands, they were united by invaders into a common territory, which became the basis of the future Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It existed for more than 500 years, and under the rule of Prince Vytautas in the 15th century, Lithuania reached its highest peak and strength. However, the continuing grueling wars with the Teutonic Order led to the need for an alliance with Poland, and as a result, a single Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was created from the union of Poland and Lithuania.

By the middle of the 18th century, the state fell into disrepair due to several invasions of Swedes, Russians and Austrians. As a result, after the Great Northern War, the Commonwealth was disbanded as a state, and all Lithuanian lands were taken over by the Russian Empire. Active "russification" was perceived by the local as a violation of their national customs, as a result of which the Lithuanians strongly resisted the interventionists. During Napoleon’s war with Russia, they took the side of France, but its defeat led to even greater oppression of the small Lithuanian people. Only after the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1918 did Lithuania become an independent state, and in 2018 the 100th anniversary of its formation was celebrated. However, the World War I that followed soon firstly marked the control of the Lithuanian lands by the Germans and then by the Soviet troops. During World War II, the Lithuanians maintained a close alliance with the German troops and resisted the “Soviet invaders” until 1953, and later staged several large-scale protests. Lithuania was the first republic to quit the USSR in 1990.

Nowadays, Lithuania is the largest of the Baltic states, which is located on the coast of the Baltic Sea and borders on the Kaliningrad region of Russia. Its population is about 3 million people, the main religion is Catholicism. Since 2004, the state is a member of the European Union and the Schengen zone. When arriving in Lithuania, the first thing you can see is a huge amount of farmland, with which almost all the free spaces in the country are filled. The rest is occupied by national parks with dense forests and lakes, which are home to many wild animals and birds (Dzūkija, Aukštaitija, Kaunas regional park and many others). Lithuania is the poorest of the Baltic countries, but low inflation and rising incomes are gradually taking the country out of protracted stagnation.

Some people believe that the Lithuanians are unfairly not friendly towards the Russians, consider them as "occupiers" and even enemies of the nation. There are two objections to this. Firstly, if they study the history of this state in detail, the Russians really occupied these lands during the Third Divide of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Russian Empire) and after the Second World War (USSR). Prior to this, Lithuania was tormented by Poland and Germany, and because of its small number, the Lithuanians had to constantly cede their lands and lose their national wealth. Secondly, the locals (except the extreme nationalists) are extremely friendly, many are ready to speak Russian and share stories and legends about their country. For them, the tourists are not only a source of income, but also a way to strengthen faith in the independence and uniqueness of their young state, which for centuries has been ruled by more powerful neighbors. Lithuanians believe that joining the League of Nations, the European Union and NATO is a way to protect the neighbors from aggressive ambitions that took place in the recent past. In a sense, they have every right to think so.

Imagine that you find yourself in a small cozy village surrounded by forests and lakes. It is quiet and peaceful, well-groomed roads and houses, leisurely people live in measured everyday life. Most of the settlements in Lithuania will appear as such to the tourist. The main part of the country is agricultural land, forests and lakes, sometimes interspersed with small villages and small towns. In addition to the three major cities (Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda), there are no settlements in the country with a population of more than 150,000 inhabitants, while the richest and most beautiful sights are concentrated in only two cities - Kaunas and Vilnius. Klaipeda is an ancient trade town and resort on the Baltic Sea coast, therefore, people mainly come there in summer for a sea holiday on the beach and visit the Curonian Spit National Reserve.

Kaunas is a very nice and beautiful city. About 350,000 people live here, while the entire old city is built up with two or three-storey buildings decorated in the form of wooden boards or blockhouse. Here, time seemed to have stopped, and it seemed as if a peasant would come out from behind the nearest corner with his flock or wagon, as everything looks like a big village. But "village" does not mean dirt and destruction; on the contrary, there is rather a prosperous district town in which small cafes on the central boulevard attract rare tourists, rich Catholic and Orthodox churches hold services, and locals are always ready to talk about their country. Kaunas has one of the most ancient castles in Lithuania. It was once a significant fortification of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but today only a fragment of the wall and a red brick tower are left from it. Around the city a big regional park is broken, and nothing reminds of the warlike past in these lands.

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If you go in the direction of Vilnius, in the city of Trakai you can find a real medieval fortress - the largest and most picturesque castle in Lithuania. It was built by the national hero Prince Vytautas at the beginning of the 15th century on an island in the lake region, and became the most impregnable castle in the Baltic region. For all its existence, no army could take the castle by storm, and it is not surprising: it is located on a small island in the middle of a deep lake, its walls are about 10-15 meters high, and the garrison of ten thousand Lithuanians inside was ready for a siege for long months. This monumental building has saved many lives in the history of the country and today attracts many Lithuanians and tourists from abroad. For those seeking a deep history, this place will tell about the significant victories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, for those seeking entertainment there are a lot of boats and catamarans for exploring the lakes, and all vacationers here will surely find peace and many solitary places on the low lake shores.

The main part of the country is natural parks and agricultural land. Small cities are cohesive communes where neighbors from different nationalities live peacefully and help each other. The capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, is perhaps the most interesting and vibrant city in the republic; the city of the pretentious Lithuanian Bohemia (Uzupis), a thriving classical culture and a mass of foreign tourists who want to learn more about this small but proud country. Most of the buildings of the Old Town are built in classical architecture, reminding the streets of Vienna. Asceticism and simplicity in the decoration of buildings is due to the functionality and small wealth of the young republic. In Vilnius, many old Catholic cathedrals and churches, there are also medieval baroque churches. Most of the streets bend among the low buildings, so sometimes you feel in the center of a large village (deja vu). Some streets are so narrow that only a pedestrian can pass through them, and in the courtyards you can often find a cafe, a workshop or a personal store.

Despite its small size and the lack of rich delights, Vilnius is very beautiful and diverse. From the rich decoration of the Bernardine Monastery and the Lower Castle to the ascetic Cathedral and a small National Museum - everything is clean and well maintained here. Parks and alleys occupy almost half of the city, and because of this it is considered one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the Baltic states and Europe. From the Hill of the Three Crosses you can observe a beautiful panorama of the city. From the height, it is clearly visible that Vilnius is filled with Catholic churches, green parks and cozy streets, where harmony and tranquility coexist with vibrant bohemian and noisy youthful fun.

However, you should not go to Vilnius for a busy active life; here reigns order and well-being, worthy of a prosperous provincial town, and not a dynamic business capital. The same can be fully argued about the country as a whole. Lithuania is not a place for a bubbling life - it is a calm, well-kept region for a pleasant and soulful rest.

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