Backpacking Lithuania might not be the most often choice of travellers. Personally, I think this is due to lack of knowledge about the Baltic states, false stereotypes of countries who got their independences back after the soviet union or just because of rumours that it’s cold out there (which is true, but only in Winter!). In this article, I want to tell you that Lithuania, as well as other countries in the region, is a beautiful place. It is filled with green forests and lakes, amazing national parks, a beautiful seaside and an old capital Vilnius, which is one of the fastest developing mid-sized cities in Europe.
I have discussed this topic with many people – Lithuanians and travellers from other countries. After all the suggestions made by them, I have decided to go with a short list of places that would be interesting to backpackers, not tourists. So this is a brief list of places, I think, are definitely worth to visit if you decide to go backpacking Lithuania.
1. Vilnius – the beautiful capital of Lithuania
Backpacking Lithuania cannot be done without visiting the old capital of the country – Vilnius. Although the city is making big strives in development within mid-sized European cities, it’s known for its history and its beautiful old town.
This is one of the greenest capitals in Europe, filled with parks and surrounded by forests. You can find many places to see astonishing panoramic views of the city. There are many great places to eat and drink too. Try some traditional food like cepelinai and šaltibarščiai (the cold beetroot soup) and many other dishes. Also, definitely, try the traditional Lithuanian beer. Best places for that are Šnekutis pub, Alaus namai (literally the House of Beer), Bambalyne. In these places you will be able to find the real Lithuanian live beers from small breweries, one of the best beers in the world, I must say.
If you’re in Vilnius, you should also visit the bohemian neighbourhood – The Republic of Užupis, which has its own history, very warm and artistic people and even its own constitution! A few of my favourite lines from it:
3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.
32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
You can find the whole constitution and more about this amazing place in this article by Wandertooth.com here.
Depending on where you are, it’s very easy to go to Vilnius. From Europe, you can reach it by train or by bus. Cheap daily tours are made by Ecolines or Simple Express companies. Vilnius has also an international airport and cheap airlines like Ryanair and Wizzair fly to the city very often. If you’re in the airport, just jump on the bus number 3G which will take you directly into the city centre for something around 1 Euro.
2. The historical town of Trakai
Another thing you must see when backpacking Lithuania is the old town of Trakai. For a short period of time, Trakai was the capital of Lithuania and one of the grand dukes of the country built his residence in this town. Even though this place nowadays is very touristic, the Trakai castle popping out from a small island, surrounded by beautiful lakes and forests is a sight you must see. The castle itself is a museum now and sometimes concerts and plays are organised in the courtyard of it. In July, you can witness some inscenizations of medieval battles as Lithuania is celebrating the victory of the battle of Grunwald (July 15th) as well as the Lithuania’s Statehood day (July 6th).
You can take a boat tour in the lakes, take a guided tour around the area if you like history, or just take a swimwear and go swimming or sunbathing and have a relaxed day. While you’re there, try the traditional food kibinai, which are sold on every corner of the town. Kibinai is a traditional meal of the Karaites minority. The tribe lived in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and were known for their great service to the grand dukes of the country.
You can easily get to Trakai from Vilnius by taking a bus or even a train. It will take only 36 min by train and cost you 1.61 Eur.
3. The sacred Hill of Crosses
Although some of you might think that religious things are not interesting, this has more to do with resistance and freedom. It might seem like this place is just an area filled with crosses, but this has a huge symbolism for the Lithuanian heritage. And if you decide to go backpacking Lithuania, you might consider experiencing this place too.
Historians say that this began after the 1831 and 1863 when the Lithuanians and Poles unsuccessfully upraised against the occupation of Russian Empire. The relatives could not locate the bodies of the ones who died in rebellion so they symbolically placed crosses on a hill of a former hill fort.
When the old political structure of Eastern Europe fell apart in 1918, Lithuania once again declared its independence. Throughout this time, the Hill of Crosses was used as a place for Lithuanians to pray for peace, for their country, and for the loved ones they had lost during the Wars of Independence. The site took on a special significance during the years 1944–1990, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. Continuing to travel to the hill and leave their tributes, Lithuanians used it to demonstrate their allegiance to their original identity, religion and heritage. It was a venue of peaceful resistance, although the Soviets worked hard to remove new crosses, and bulldozed the site at least three times.
To this day, this places remains as a symbol of freedom, love and sacrifice and people bring new crosses and other symbols to the hill. No one knows the exact number of crosses there, but it’s well over 100.000.
I must say, it’s not only the sight of the place but the feeling you have when you’re there that really makes this place worth your while. Don’t miss this place out when backpacking Lithuania.
Hill of Crosses is located near the town of Šiauliai. You can get there from any big city of Lithuania by train or bus. I’d say fastest and cheapest way is by train and you can buy your ticket at www.litrail.lt. From there you can either get a taxi which will cost you around 10 Eur one way or get on a bus. If you decide to use a bus this is how: out of the train station, turn left at Dubijos Street, then right on Tilzes. You will buy your ticket, which will cost around 1 Eur, from the driver on the bus. You are looking for the bus that arrives at platform number 12, labelled Šiauliai – Joniškis. Get off the bus at the Domantai stop. It isn’t labelled, but if you let the bus driver know where you are going, he can make sure to stop at Domantai. Watch for the brown sign that says “Kryžių kalnas” which will let you know you are near. Once you get off the bus, follow the arrow down the road (about 2 kilometres) to where the Hill of Crosses is located.
4. The Lithuanian “beer way” – for the people who love good beer
I have to say, this is not a must if you’re backpacking Lithuania, but it is if you are one of those travellers who enjoy trying the traditional foods and drinks of different countries.
Lithuanian beer is known to be different from other beers. Lithuania has good lagers but if you look more carefully, you can find the real beers, what they call “live beers”, which often are sweeter, fruitier and very nice. I would say this is somewhat similar to ales in England, when the beer is not pasteurised, secondary fermentation is used, etc.
One of the most famous beer regions of this country is Biržai. The town itself is very nice but I would recommend coming here for the tour which is called the “Lithuanian beer way”. On the tour you will be told about the history of Lithuanian beer, how it is made, where it is made and of course you will be able to try all the best beer as well as to try the traditional cheese, local meat and other foods. So if you are a traditional food/drink enthusiast or a beer lover, I would recommend taking this tour!
You can find more information about it and how to go to the town here.
5. Kayaking in Aukštaitija National Park
Aukštaitija National Park is a great place for everyone who loves nature and wildlife. But you will not be able to go into this place and just do some trekking as it is strictly protected. You can only get into it accompanied by an official park’s guide/ranger.
But there’s a way more better way to explore this beauty of nature – kayaking! As the country is quite flat, there are not too many places to hike, but it has so many lakes and rivers, that kayaking got very popular there. You would miss out on a lot if you don’t try kayaking while backpacking Lithuania!
Many people go kayaking in the hot seasons, some do it even in Winter. There are many rivers in Aukštaitija National Park and even more companies who offer kayak rent in them. Many of the kayak rent companies have detailed descriptions of all the routes you can take, with pictures, the level of difficulty and so on. I don’t think you will find rivers that are too hard like you would find in the US or Canada. In Lithuania, it’s common to get some food, beers in the kayak, have a great day in the river with your friends and then spend the night in tents in the camping grounds, with bonfires, guitar music and a sauna. A night out in the real nature – this is the best way of backpacking Lithuania.
Aukštaitija National Park is about 100 km north of Vilnius, so you can get there by bus or with a car. But it’s more difficult if you are looking for a kayak rental somewhere in the area. Best thing to do is to search online for the best kayak rental place, that offers a good price and route that you want, contact them and ask them for the best directions. Each kayak rental usually has their own headquarters in the area. Note that you will most likely have to get your own tent for spending the night in the national park, although some rentals offer this as an extra service.
A few companies that provide the Aukštaitija National Park: baidariuuostas.lt, kayakrent.lt, sakarva.lt. There are many companies and many prices, you just need to search online to get the best ones. Usually, the price can be around 10-35 Eur per day, depending on the route, season and if it’s a weekend or not.
6. The breathtaking Kuršių Nerija (Curonian Spit)
The Curonian Spit (Lithuanian: Kuršių Nerija) is a 98 km long, thin, curved sand-dune spit that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea coast. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, I would say, this is one of the best destinations of backpacking Lithuania.
The place offers magnificent landscapes, sand dunes that are shaped differently every day by the strong winds in the area. You will see many kiteboard enthusiasts in this place because of the strong winds.
The place was damaged by forest fires a few years ago, but it has still a lot to offer. You can try to find accommodation in one of the small towns in the area itself, but the prices are very high. But even if you have the money, if you are visiting in Summer, it is very hard to get a place if you haven’t booked in advance. So the majority of travellers just get a hostel in Klaipėda and use the ferry for day trips into the Curonian Spit.
Besides the towns themselves and all the dunes, you should also visit the Hill of the Witches, which is near the small town of Juodkrante. In 1979, the wood craftsmen created a few sculptures based on the Lithuanian folklore. Later more and more sculptures were created and to this day every year, the craftsmen either repair the old sculptures or create new ones. You will see many pieces of art in this place.
You can also find the Lithuanian Sea museum and dolphinarium in the town of Smiltyne, where the ferry takes you first. There are so many things to see and do in the area that you will find it hard to do only in one-day-trip. But if you decide to go there, plan your activities ahead as the transport is costly there. So it’s better to know where you need to go to in advance.
You can find all the information on places to visit, activities to do and much more by following this link.
You can get on a ferry from the city of Klaipėda, which will cost you around 10 Eur. There are buses and taxis operating in the area regularly, but you have to keep in mind that this is a strictly protected area, that has a lot of eco-friendly inner laws and is a huge tourist attraction centre. So the prices there are higher than in the rest of the country. Here you can find the detailed information on how to get to the Curonian Spit.
This is just 6 destinations to go to if you decide that backpacking Lithuania is something you would like to do. But even though the country is small, it has a lot more to offer.
And to sum up the backpacking Lithuania article here’s a short video of the country’s nature and landscapes. Beautiful…