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Lithuania

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Travel Guide Europe Lithuania

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Introduction

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Lithuania has an unspectacular landscape, but a vibrant culture more than makes up for this. Of the three Soviet Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, it was the Lithuanians who made the most daring push towards independence. Today, Lithuanians still stand out from their fellow Baltic inhabitants as being somewhat reckless.

Vilnius, the nation's capital, is a classic eastern European historical city: it thrives on a modern, multicultural feel, while at the same time harkening back centuries in the Old Town (the largest in eastern Europe). The seaside resort of Palanga is another of Lithuania's top attractions, boasting excellent prices and a fantastic beach. For a more mystical attraction, Lithuania's Hill of Crosses is just the place: the thousands of crosses which cover the small hill were hacked down several times by the Soviets, only to reappear each time.

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Brief History

The ancient history of Lithuania is not much different from other countries in the Baltic region. After the last Ice age settlements of several tribes began to emerge. in the 1230s the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, who was crowned as King of Lithuania on 6 July 1253. After his assassination in 1263, Lithuania was the target of attacks by the Teutonic Knights and Livonian Order. Despite these invasions, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, could grow to become the biggest country in Europe by the end of the 14th Century.

In 1385, the Grand Duke Jogaila accepted the offer to become king of Poland. He converted Lithuania into Christianity and established a personal union between Poland and Lithuania. After two civil wars Vytautas the Great became the Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1392. Thanks to close cooperation, the armies of Poland and Lithuania achieved a great victory over the Teutonic Knights in 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald, one of the largest battles of medieval Europe. After the deaths of Jogaila and Vytautas, Lithuanian nobility attempted to break the union between Poland and Lithuania. the growing power of the Grand Duchy of Moscow threatened Lithuania's Russian principalities and sparked the Muscovite–Lithuanian Wars and the Livonian War. At the end of the 16th Century the commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania was created.

During the Northern Wars (1655–1661), the Lithuanian territory and economy and was devastated by the Swedish army. Before it could fully recover, Lithuania was again ravaged during the Great Northern War (1700–1721). The war, plague, and famine resulted in loss of approximately 40% of the country's inhabitants. For the powerful Russian Empire, Habsburg Austria and Prussia the Polish-Lituanian Commonwealth was too powerful. In 1772, 1792 and 1795 Russia, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria. Invaded the commonwealth and annexed huge parts of it. The majority of the Lithuanian territory became part of Russia.

Lithuania declared its independence during World War I. This happened on 16 February 1918. This independence was short lived. The fate of Latvia and the other Baltic states was sealed by the German Soviet Nonaggression Pact, signed between Hitler and Stalin. In june 1940 the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, but during the war, Germany took control over Lithuania. In the last year of the war the Red Army took control of the country again. The Baltic States were included into the Soviet Union. During the war it is estimated that around 780.000 citizens of Lithuania, including 190,000 jews died.

In the late 1980's, when perestroika and glasnost were the key words, nationalists saw their chance to regain independence. Independence was declared on March 11, 1990, becoming the first Soviet republic to do so. The Soviet Union imposed economic blockade attempting to suppress this secession. The Soviet troops attacked the Vilnius TV Tower and killed 13 Lithuanian civilians on the night of 13 January 1991. The final push was given by the coup attempt in Moscow in August 1991. The last Russian troops left on 31 August 1993. In 2004 Lithuania together with nine other countries including the other two Baltic states became part of the European Union. Lithuania also became part of the NATO in that same year.

For a more detailed version of the History of Lithuania, check the article: The History of Lithuania

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Geography

Lithuania shares international borders with Russia, Poland, Belarus and Latvia. The largest and most populous of the Baltic states, Lithuania has almost 100 kilometres of sandy coastline which faces the open Baltic Sea, between Latvia and Poland. Lithuania's major warm-water port of Klaipeda lies at the narrow mouth of Curonian Lagoon, a shallow lagoon extending south to Kaliningrad and separated from the Baltic sea by Curonian Spit, where Kuršių Nerija National Park was established for its remarkable sand dunes. The Neman River and some of its tributaries are used for internal shipping. Situated between 56.27 and 53.53 latitude and 20.56 and 26.50 longitude, Lithuania is glacially flat, except for morainic hills in the western uplands and eastern highlands no higher than 300 metres. The terrain is marked by numerous small lakes and swamps, and a mixed forest zone covers almost 33% of the country. The growing season lasts 169 days in the east and 202 days in the west, with most farmland consisting of sandy- or clay-loam soils. Limestone, clay, sand, and gravel are Lithuania's primary natural resources. According to some geographers, the geographical midpoint of Europe is just north of Lithuania's capital, Vilnius.

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Regions/Counties

Lithuania is divided into 10 counties.

  • Alytus County
  • Kaunas County
  • Klaipėda County
  • Marijampolė County
  • Panevėžys County
  • Šiauliai County
  • Tauragė County
  • Telšiai County
  • Utena County
  • Vilnius County

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Sights and Activities

Curonian Spit

The Curonian Spit is a small neck of land in the west of the country and divided between Lithuania and Russia.
Human habitation of this sand dune peninsula dates back to prehistoric times and throughout this period it has been threatened by the natural forces of wind and waves. Human efforts have made it possible to survive to the present. Erosion has been prevented by reforestation projects for example. It is on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Vilnius Old Town

Vilnius' Old Town

Vilnius' Old Town

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Vilnius' Old Town was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994 and originally much of the Old Town was the Jewish ghetto. It's one of the largest Old Towns in Eastern Europe and the biggest Baroque area in the world, with also Gothic, Renaissance and Rococo and Classical styles mixed into it all. Vilnius had an influence on the cultural and architectural development of much of eastern Europe and walking around the old town is one of the highlights of the country. The hart of the Old Town is the University with its 13 courtyards and the adjacent St. John's Church where you can up in an elevator (5LT) for an outstanding view across the Old Town and further beyond. There are also numerous other churches including the beautiful Gotchic style St. Anne's Church. Pilies Gatve is where all the action takes place, with restaurants and bars. It's a pedestrian area with some nicely restored houses and cobblestoned pavement. From there, the main throroughfare goes south towards the Gates of Dawn, the only remaining original entrance to the Old Town. Other highlights include the Basilian Gate, Presidential Palace, the Gediminas Castle, Archcathedral Basilica, Frank Zappa statue, the Lithuanian National Museum and some fine churches.

Vilnius Cathedral and Belfry

Belfry at Vilnius Cathedral

Belfry at Vilnius Cathedral

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

The Vilnius Cathedral and Belfry are just north of the Old Town, below the Gediminas Tower. Inside the Cathedral is the baroque chapel of St. Casimir. Outside the Cathedral, at the square, there is particular tile on which there is written the word "Stebuklas" (meaning "miracle" in Lithuanian). Stand on it, make a wish and turn around three times. This tile also marks the end of the Vilnius-Tallinn human chain in the 1989 protest of the Soviet Union. It's not signposted, because that would mean bad luck! The Belfry is one of the characteristic photo shots in the city and 57 metres high.

Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses is one of the biggest attractions in Siauliai which is located in the north of the country. Many people from all over the world, especially christian piligrim travelers, come here. The origin is still unknown, but it is considered that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort around 1832. Over the centuries, crosses, giant crucifixes, carvings of Lithuanian patriots and statues of the Virgin Mary among others have been brought here by Catholic pilgrims.

Hot Air Balloon Flight

Hot air ballooning is one of the most popular activities in Lithuania. During summertime the sky is full of colourful balloons. A flight above Vilnius is a must-do activity! Of course you can fly above all cities in Lithuania. Trakai Castle, Gediminas Castle, Hill of Crosses, Laisves Alley and other places from the sky are completely different and definately worth seeing! Ballooning centers suggest you group flights, romantic flights and winter flights.

Kernave Archeological Site

Kernave Archeological Site is Unesco World Heritage object. There is a unique complex of 5 hillforts in Kernave. Lithuania has many hillforts, but Kernave is the only place in the Baltic States where so many hillforts are near each other. Now Kernave is one of the most important and the most interesting monuments in Central and Eastern Europe from archeological point of view.

Trakai Island Castle

Trakai Castle

Trakai Castle

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

The fantastic fairytale like Trakai Island Castle is located about 25-30 kilometres from Vilnius. It is located in the town of Trakai, on an island of Lake Galvė. The construction of the redbrick castle began in the 14th century by Kęstutis, and around 1409 major works were completed by his son Vytautas the Great, who died in this castle in 1430. Trakai was one of the main centers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the castle held great strategic importance. Entrance costs 14LT (about €4) and also gives you access to the splendid museum inside, with lots of historic art, coins, clothes and more. Except for the castle itself, it is also nice to walk around and enjoy the rustic area with forests, lakes and nice walks.

Other sights and activities

  • Centre of Europe - located 25 kilometres from Vilnius, in the village of Purnuskes

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Weather

Summers are warm, around 22 °C degrees during the day on average from June to August, and days above 30 °C are possible. Winters are cold with snowfall. Average maximum temperatures are around -5 °C while nights average around -10 °C. Occasionally, when the winds blow east from Siberia, temperatures can plummit way below -20 °C. Precipitation is fairly even throughout the year, but winters tends to be a bit drier. On average, there are between 10 and 15 wet days with around 60 or 70 mm of rain or snow a month. The sun is abundant in summer, with long days, meaning it shines about 1673 hours a year in Vilnius for example.

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Getting there

Plane

Vilnius International Airport (VNO) is where most travellers arrive by air in Lithuania. It is located about 6 kilometres from Vilnius. Air Baltic operates a number of flights to European destinations including Copenhagen, Paris, Riga, Rome and Tallinn, and seasonal to Antalya, Dublin, London and Munich. Low-cost airline Wizzair flies to/from Barcelona, Cork, Eindhoven, Sheffield London Milan, Rome and Stockholm from April 2011 onwards. Some of the other airlines serving Vilnius are Lufthansa to Frankfurt and LOT to Warsaw. Some other destinations serve cities like Kiev, Amsterdam, Vienna, Brussels, Prague, Berlin, Helsinki, Oslo, Rhodes, Heraklion, Varna, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga, Tenerife, Tel Aviv and Moscow.

To/from the airport

  • Train: Direct train services between Vilnius Airport Railway Station and the central station of Vilnius started in October 2008, taking about 7 minutes from the airport to the centre. It is the fastest way and train run daily from about 6:30am to 7:30pm. Trains go about 1-2 times per hour and the one-way price is 2.50 Lt (€0.73).
  • Bus: buses 1, 1A and 2 all connect the airport with the city centre.
  • Car: taxis and car rental facilities are both widely available at the airport.

A good alternative is the Kaunas International Airport (KUN) near Kaunas, which has flights to Riga with airBaltic but what's more interesting is a wide range of flights with Ryanair to/from Alicante, Paris, Bergamo, Berlin, Bristol, Brussels, Dublin, Edinburgh, Gothenburg, Frankfurt, Liverpool, London Gatwick Airport, London Luton Airport, London Stansted Airport, Oslo-Rygge, Stockholm-Skavsta Airport, Tampere, Airport Weeze and seasonal to/from Birmingham, Girona, Kos and Rhodes.

To/from the airport

  • Bus: To Kaunas city centre, take bus #29, which operates from 5:00am to 0:30am. There are also buses to Vilnius and Klaipeda and even to Riga and Riga International Airport, with the FlyBus, stopping on the route in Bauska, Riga city centre and Riga International Airport. A one-way ticket costs €15.
  • Car: taxis and rental cars are both available at the airport. If travelling by yourself, the airport can conveniently be reached by taking the A6 highway.

By Train

Trains connections to and from Vilnius include Kaliningrad, Moscow, Minsk and Warsaw.

By Car

Crossings from Poland and Latvia are fast and straightfoward and with the right documentation and insurance you will be on your way within minutes, though some busier crossings from Poland might take half an hour or so.

By Bus

Eurolines has a number of international bus connections to and from Vilnius and a few other cities. Destinations include Riga, Tallinn and Warsaw. Ecolines has quite a few services as well including Kaliningrad, Moscow, Gdansk and Minsk.
Some buses go all the way to Germany (including Berlin) and to London though not on a daily basis.

By Boat

Lithuania has a number of connections by ferry to countries within the region.

Sweden

Germany

Denmark

Russia

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Getting Around

By Train

Lithuanian Railways has services between Vilnius to Kaunas, Klaipeda and Siauliai. There are up to 15 trains daily between Vilnius and Kaunas and several overnight sleeper services to the Baltic coast. Ignalina (for the lakes and forests in the northeast and Trakai (a popular daytrip from the capital) have frequent departures as well.

By Car

The roads in Lithuania are generally in a good condition and road signs are ok too. Modern motorways connect Vilnius with Klaipeda, Kaunas and Panevezys. Renting a car is good option to visit the more remote national parks and if split between 2 or 3 people, prices are affordable as well. International and local firms have offices downtown or at airports. As a EU citizen you only need a national driver's licence, other need an international permit as well as long as it has photo ID.

By Bus

Kautra is one of the main bus companies but there are lots more. Usually, services are more frequent and faster than trains and they also tend to go to even the smaller villages at least once or twice a day from cities like Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda. Tickets can be purchased online at Autobusubilietai.lt.

By Boat

Lithuania has a beautiful stretch of Baltic coast, and some fantastic rivers and lakes to take leisurely boat rides or organized tours. Still, few noteworthy passenger services exist.

By Bicycle

Lithuania has a wide range of excellent cycling routes. You can download maps and directions from Bicycle.lt.

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Red Tape

If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

The Lithuanian litas (LTL, plural litu) is the currency of Lithuania. It is divided into 100 centu.

Banknotes are in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 litu.
Coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 centu, 1, 2, 5 litu

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Eat

Zeppelins (Cepelinai)

Cepelinai, or didzkukulia, are potato dumplings with meat inside. They are usually served with bacon, fried onions and sour cream. If you are used to eat light food, don’t eat too much, because it is not easy digestible food and you may have stomach problems. Vegetarians can try the version of cepelinai with curd inside.

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Drink

Try cheap, but very good Lithuanian beer.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Lithuania. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Lithuania. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for several days or more in the period of March to November.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Lithuania is a relatively safe country to visit. Crimes such as pick-pocketing, thefts and robberies do happen, but if you stay watchful, you should be safe. Always lock your car and don’t leave money and expensive things in a car, because thefts from cars are common in Lithuania. Like the other Baltic countries or countries in Eastern Europe, direct racism is much more a problem compared to western countries. As a coloured person you will at least be watched a lot. Don't panic though, violence is rare. Unfortunately, gays are not really respected among the majority of people, so keep a low profile regarding your sexual preference.

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Keep Connected

Internet

For those who need to connect at an Internet cafes, major cities do have internet cafes. If you're bringing a laptop or smartphone, Wireless LAN Hot-Spots are available in distinct places (mostly "Zebra" from - TEO), sometimes free, otherwise not very cheap. Best chances of finding one are at airports, railway stations, in cafés, shopping malls, universities, various places. You can ask in your hotel, but don't count on wifi being free all the time, especially at more upscale places.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

Lithuania's international phone code is 370. Emergency numbers include 101 (fire), 102 (police) and 103 (ambulance), but you can connect to all of them by calling 112, the general emergency number.

There is a monopoly operator for land line phones by TEO. Land line phones are easy to find throughout the country. Phones are used with cards, which you can find in kiosks, "TEO" or newspaper stands.

There are three major mobile phone operators in Lithuania: Omnitel, BITE and TELE 2. About 97% of the country's surface is covered by the standard European GSM 900/1800 MHz network. If you bring your own cell phone, make sure to switch off roaming to avoid high costs especially for internet. Instead, buy a local SIM card, which is much cheaper.

Post

Lietuvos Paštas is the national postal service of Lithuania. Postal services are generally not very fast, but fairly reliable. That is, most of the postcards and letters will eventually arrive on the foreign adress, albeit after some days or even weeks. If you want it to be sent the fastest possible, go for courier instead of ordinary (domestic post) or for airmail instead of surface (international mail).
Post offices are usually open from 8:00am to 6:00pm on Monday to Friday and 9:00am to 2:00pm on Saturdays, although these opening hours may vary depending on the office, with big central offices keeping longer hours, while small villages might have shorter opening times. Stamped mail (both national and international) can be dropped in the yellow post boxes for collection. Stamps are available at post offices and kiosks.
To send parcels to other countries, you might better use international courier companies like DHL, TNT, UPS or FedEx.

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Quick Facts

Lithuania flag

Map of Lithuania

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Capital
Vilnius
Population
3,592,000
Government
Parliamentary Democracy
Religions
Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox)
Languages
Lithuanian, Russian, Polish
Calling Code
+370
Nationality
Local name

Contributors

as well as Peter (6%), Hien (5%), Agne (3%), valerija (1%), Riga James (1%), Lavafalls (<1%), dr.pepper (<1%)

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This is version 68. Last edited at 7:15 on Jul 9, 14 by Utrecht. 34 articles link to this page.

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