The Top 10 things to do in Lithuania
There are many things you can only do in Lithuania - or at least it wouldn't be the same if you did it anywhere else. Here's our pick of the top 10 adventures you can indulge in.
Walk on the tree tops
Forests are not in short supply in Lithuania and now you can skip across the tree-tops of a Lithuanian forest like a squirrel at the award-winning treetop walking path in Anykščiai Regional Park that will give you spectacular views of the Lithuanian countryside.
Anykščiai tree-top trail will give you not just a birds-eye view of the country’s lush forests but the feeling of being as free as a bird, 21 metres above the forest floor. Not one for those without a head for heights, the Anykščiai walkway won a top UN tourism innovation award last year.
Hit the red button
It may not be everyone’s idea of a fun excursion but hidden away deep in the Žemaitija National Park is a former Soviet nuclear missile base that once had enough firepower and missiles to annihilate the whole of Europe. Lithuanian’s themselves didn’t know it was there for 20 years but now it has been converted into a fascinating Cold War museum.
10,000 Soviet soldiers were secretly brought in to build the base in 1960, which has a circular underground control centre and four main missile silos, each 25 metres deep and one of which is open to the public. The missiles mysteriously disappeared from the base in 1979 and it was allowed to fall into disrepair but it was a key Soviet missile base both during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Warsaw Pact invasion of then Czechoslovakia.
Climb one of highest dunes in Europe
The Parnidis Dune in Nida is a natural wonder that rises over 52 metres above the Curonian spit just south of the picturesque fishing village and tourist town of Nida. Climb the wooden steps pockmarked with viewing platforms to get a spectacular panoramic view of the beautiful Curonian lagoon, spit and Baltic Sea. On top, it feels more like a desert than a dune as you look at rolling golden mountains of sand heading south towards the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Inland the dune is coated with forest, to the south is a nature reserve and popular filming location, to the north the picture-perfect Nida.
On one of the peaks of the dune is a cut stone sundial that was snapped in half by a hurricane in 1999. Since repaired, it is a reminder of the power as well as beauty of the nature here.
Freak out at the hill of witches
Lithuania was the last country in Europe to convert to Christianity and its strong formerly pagan culture can be seen throughout the country in the wooden carved figures of kings and fairytale princesses dotted across the landscape. For those looking to experience those pagan traditions first hand, Just behind Juodkrantė in Neringa sits the Hill of Witches, an outdoor sculpture park and trail located on a forested sand dune.
The mainly life-size sculptors pieces depict characters from Lithuanian folklore and pagan traditions, with enough witches to freak out more nervous visitors. The artists who created the sculptors drew on a long tradition of woodcarving in Samogitia, and on the equally long tradition of Midsummer Night's Eve (Joninės) celebrations on the hill. Opened in 1979, the park has been expanded several times, and now contains about 80 wooden sculptures along a series of trails.
Lithuanian winters are cold, very cold and the country is dotted with lakes large and small so the country’s committed band of fisherman are never put off by sub-zero temperatures. The hardy Lithuanian fishermen don’t tend to use wooden huts to shelter themselves like in the US or Canada but rather tough it out sitting exposed on the ice.
The real fun starts when winter starts turning to spring and the ice starts to get thinner and break up. Undeterred by the less favourable conditions Lithuania’s ice fishermen regularly still venture out but often with less than positive results. Irritated by the constant and costly rescues of fishermen at this time of the year, the Lithuanian government has even introduced a fine for those found ice-fishing beyond a certain date. Be careful.
Take flight in a hot air balloon
Lithuania has more hot air balloons per head of population of any country in the world and from Spring to Autumn the strikingly coloured airships can be seen soaring over Vilnius and out north, south, east or west depending on the prevailing winds. The most popular route is probably to try and fly out over the spectacular Trakai Castle and its surrounding lakes, but any ride that takes you into the clouds over the rolling Lithuanian countryside is bound to be a trip worth taking.
Indulge in a lakeside wood-fired barbeque
It’s a Lithuanian tradition, set up camp on the side of a picturesque lake, get the barbeque fired up (make sure to bring your shaslik) and take a dip on the bath-like water on summer days and evenings while your food sizzles away above the charcoal. Planning and early arrival are generally essential on the better summer days as most of the best lakeside’s spots are occupied by families and groups of friends from early on - and they have little intention of moving until the sun starts to go down.
Mushroom and berry picking
Towards late summer and through autumn, Lithuanian forests provide a bountiful harvest of blueberries, wild strawberries and edible mushrooms. Whether for business or pleasure, Lithuanians love to go out and take advantage of this natural bonanza, and if you know your mushrooms and berries or have an experienced guide, you can too. Try not to eat everything you pick and bring some home, too! Blueberries and wild strawberries are great with milk, cream or yogurt, while mushrooms are great fried or in soup.
Lithuanians are still close to many of their old pagan traditions and Joninės (also known by Rasos, one of the celebration's pre-Christian names) is no exception. This holiday coincides with midsummer's eve and celebrates the shortest night on the calendar. Activities may depend on how observant a group of Lithuanians you celebrate with, but celebrations traditionally involve a big bonfire, live music, dancing and an all-night party to greet the rising of the sun! Lithuanians take this celebration seriously – the party happens on the night of June 23rd into the 24th, and the 24th is a national holiday so that people can sleep in!
Take a walk through Soviet history at Grūtas Park
When Lithuania regained its independence, it was unclear what the country should do with the numerous Soviet monuments it no longer needed. Many of these were eventually relocated to Grūtas Park, where visitors can take a reflective walk and experience the iconic style of Soviet monuments and propaganda. The park also features a cafe that offers Soviet-era dishes and a gulag-type enclosure fence to complete the experience.