7 places in Lithuania for the traveler who has seen it all
January 1, 1970
by Danutė Vaitekūnaitė
Paris, London, Tokyo, New York, you name it. The destinations everybody talks about and puts on t-shirts; the modern wonders, swarming with tourists and scammers. Everything is already seen, written about and became cliché. Finding something fresh and unseen can become a rather tricky task for the traveler who has grown tired of Eiffel Towers and Big Bens. But would you believe that a small country right in the geographical center of Europe could be that breeze of exhilarating wind you were looking for? Small but ambitious, Lithuania is ready to prove itself even to the most demanding explorer. Before booking your tickets, take a look at some of the most unusual places it has to offer.
1. The Hill of Crosses
With its origins dating up to the 19th century, the Hill of Crosses is a monument of many stories. During the Soviet occupation, it served as a sign of faith and resistance. After numerous attempts to wipe it from the face of the Earth, Soviets finally gave up – every time they destroyed it, the people would rebuild it overnight. Today the Hill of Crosses remains an important sight for religious people from all over the world. Others, however, describe it as the fuel for nightmares. Forever growing, the hill contains more than 100,000 crosses. Anyone is welcome to put their own cross – it has even become a tradition visit the hill in celebration of marriages, anniversaries and graduations. Although thoroughly protected, the Hill of Crosses is always open for visitors, so you can go there even at night if that’s your thing.
2. Grutas Park
After restoring its independence in 1990, Lithuania hurried to get rid of the despised Soviet monuments that had been erected all over the country. Unlike most of the other post-soviet nations, Lithuanians decided to preserve the statues rather than destroy them. As a result, an open-air museum called Grutas Park was established in the Southern territories. Monumental sculptures that survived angry crowds were placed there, along with numerous other relics of the previous era. Formerly reminding the oppressed nation that the Big Brother was watching them, now the statues serve for educational purposes to remind the youth not to take their freedom for granted. Therefore, you can take a walk among the giant heads of dictators and get a taste of what it was like to live in the USSR.
3. Abandoned Amusement Park in Elektrenai
If you seek to experience more of the ghostly Soviet past, you won’t be let down. Eerie buildings like empty schools, hospitals, and even rocket bases can be easily found if you know where to look. Even though a list of abandoned places is not included in official tourist guides, there are many adventurers who offer detailed descriptions on how to get there. If you’re brave enough, you can climb over the fence and visit one of the most captivating places – an abandoned amusement park in Elektrenai. It was once filled with gleeful children, but now it hardly reminds the glory days. Sometimes called the Chernobyl of Lithuania it contains perfectly rusty carousels, Ferris wheels, and administration buildings, ready to take you to on a ride back to the past.
4. The Republic of Uzupis
The self-proclaimed Republic of Uzupis lies in the very heart of the capital Vilnius. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is often compared to the Montmartre of Paris for its Bohemian atmosphere and thriving artistic community. Separated from the rest of the city by a river, Uzupis captures its visitors the moment they cross one of the bridges. “Everyone has the right to be happy”, is written in the constitution of the Republic. “Everyone has the right to be unhappy”, states the next line. The message is clear – you are welcome to come as you are and take a walk in the cobbled streets of this extraordinary micro republic while admiring arcane alleys and houses.
5. Kulgrinda near Lukstas Lake, Varniai Regional Park
You thought Game of Throne was cool? Well, Lithuania’s medieval history is nonetheless epic. Lithuanians were known to be great warriors who lived in mighty castles surrounded by majestic forests. Woods and even swamps provided protection from attackers. Secret pathways called “Kulgrindas” had been developed in swampy areas as an escape plan in case of a threat. They were invisible to the naked eye, therefore helping to lead enemies astray into the tenacious bogs. If you’re not afraid to get your wet feet, you can visit one of the ancient trails in Varniai Regional Park and experience the life of the ancient times.
6. The Treetop Walking Path in Anyksciai
If you’re not keen on strolling in the swamps, you can have a walk high above the forest floor. It can be done by visiting the Treetop Walking Path, which is located in Anyksciai Pinewood. Its beauty was made famous by one of the most renowned Lithuanian poets Antanas Baranauskas. The path rises up to 21 meters and gives the opportunity to admire the forest, as well as the nearby Sventoji River and the towers of St. Matthew Church. This newly created attraction has been praised by UN World Tourism Organization for its innovation and educational tourism. And most importantly, it can be enjoyed any time of the year.
7. The Curonian Spit
Shared by Lithuania and Russia, the Curonian Spit divides the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. The narrow strip of land is a natural wonder and a UNESCO World Heritage site with the highest moving sand dunes in Europe. They rise up to 52 meters (170 feet) above the sea level and are highly protected, but the northern shoreline is the site of beaches in case you wanted to take a swim. If you wander deeper into the woods you can find a mysterious park, known as the Hill of Witches. It got the name from the painstakingly crafted pagan sculptures, placed under the shadows of pine trees. Besides from being a perfect holiday haven, the Curonian Spit charms with its natural and historic wonders.