Lithuania

A small Baltic country adjacent to Poland, Russia, Belarus and Latvia, Lithuania is a land of beautiful wild nature, great historical sights and lively folk traditions. Lithuanians connect their identity with pre-Christian traditions which are reflected in their art, culture and even names given to their children. Lithuania is also a modern country and an EU member state which is easy to reach from other cities in Europe, so don't get discouraged by their extremely difficult language – the younger Lithuanians speak fluent English.

Lithuania is known as the homeland of amber, Baltic gold, a beautiful gemstone made of resin. It’s found along the coast of the Baltic Sea, where heavy storms and winds help the amber reach the shore. Leaving aside the amber, the seaside is a popular summer destination for recreation. Among the maritime towns, the most favourite are Nida, located on the Curonian Spit, Klaipeda and Palanga. Though the Baltic waters are quite cold, even in summertime many people enjoy the therapeutic features of the climate, unspoilt wildlife, picturesque dunes and sandy beaches. Apart from the seaside, there are several other regions of exceptional beauty in the country. First of all is Aukstaitija National Park, a great rural territory attractive for its numerous plants, birds and animals. Dotted with a number of lakes, it forms a great destination for kayakers, cyclers or hikers. There are also ancient villages with wooden huts, watermills and churches, as well as archaeological sites in the park.

It’s not only the advantages of the Lithuanian landscape that draw tourists to this country. Since it has a complicated history and its culture was shaped by several neighbouring nations, the abundance and diversity of its historical and cultural sights will amaze you. There are stunning Medieval castles such as the one in Trakai, picturesquely located on an island. A fairy-tale red-brick construction was once one of the main centres of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which in the Middle Ages was a powerful state whose territory comprised today's Lithuania, Belarus, large parts of Ukraine and Russia. Another interesting castle can be found in Kaunas. Those who like newer curiosities and monuments should head to Grutas Park, an open-air museum of statues from the Soviet era. Located close to Druskininkai, the large garden holds figures of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx and Felix Dzerzhinsky. Another completely different attraction is the Hill of Crosses, a holy pilgrimage site near Siauliai. Crammed with crosses, this hill has a truly unusual appearance and is often visited by Catholics and tourists.

Lithuania is also known for its beautiful historical towns located all over the country, starting with the capital, Vilnius. Despite being the largest urban centre in Lithuania, Vilnius has the atmosphere and charm of a small town. People are attracted mainly by the nice Old Town with plenty of ancient houses and historical churches, intersected by the winding Neris River. You shouldn't miss Gediminas Castle, Archcathedral Basilica, St. Ann's Church, the University, Dawn Gate (Ausros Vartai) and St Peter and Paul's Church. An unusual monument is the statue of Frank Zappa, honouring the great musician. Apart from the capital, the other interesting town is Kaunas, with its nice, restored Old Town and interesting Devil's Museum. Much smaller is the town of Druskininkai, popular as a health resort and offering an abundance of health treatments and pretty architecture.

Lithuania has long-standing folklore traditions, including heroic myths related to the establishment of Lithuania and the founding of Vilnius. These stories were based mostly on actual events, but have been influenced by patriotism over time. The major elements of Lithuanian mythology are god, nature, inner heroism, and morality.

Small but diverse, rural and modern, combining folk pagan culture with precious monuments of European and Catholic culture, Lithuania is a fascinating country at the north-western peripheries of Europe. Interestingly, the country is known for its basketball players, who enjoy an international reputation. It makes a convenient starting point for further travel to other Baltic countries, such as Poland, Russia or Scandinavia.