Lithuania’s five national parks are representative of the country’s heritage, history, and diverse natural landscapes. Providing refuge to endangered plant species, 200-year-old trees, foxes, wolves, and numerous bird species, Lithuania‘s national parks abound with natural beauty. All of the national parks contain inhabited, historical villages with old buildings constructed of wood and cultural monuments depicting local folklore. For an easy visit from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital city, Trakai Historical National Park is only approximately 45 minutes by public transport, yet still allows for cultural exploration and appreciation of pristine, blue lakes. Further afield are Zemaitija, Dzukija, Aukstaitija, and the Curonian Spit National Parks.
Zemaitija National Park
Zemaitija National Park was established in 1991 due to its importance for Lithuanian biodiversity and culture. Exceptional as a site of cultural heritage, Zemaitija, or Samogitia in English, is an ethnic region of Lithuania, and the people of this region were historically the last to adopt Christianity during the Crusades, although some pagan beliefs remain in place to this day. Some traditional experiences can be had at Zemaitija National Park, including Shrove Tuesday celebrations (in February or March depending on the date of Easter) and an art festival in late June.
Zemaitija National Park comprises several lakes, Plateliai, Berzoras, Ilgis, and Ziedelis, thus water sports such as boating and windsurfing are popular activities. Plateliai Lake is especially notable because it is 1,200 hectares and contains seven islands that are home to important biodiversity and surrounded in Samogitian legend.
Dzukija National Park
This 55,000-hectare park is 85% forested and also contains archaeological sites and monuments. The forest mainly consists of pine trees, making it a habitat suitable for mushrooms and berries. Depending on the season, you may see Lithuanians picking edible mushrooms, cranberries, bilberries, and tiny wild strawberries. The wildlife that can be found in Dzukija National Park are elk, deer, wild boar, foxes, hares, and wolves.
For history lovers, Dzukija National Park holds the inhabited 14th-century town of Merkine, which is set on a hill that provides great views of the park. Other old villages can also be found in Dzukija National Park including Liskiava, which is well-known for weaving and woodcarving.
Curonian Spit National Park
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a stunner located along Lithuania’s coast. The Curonian Spit is a long, thin piece of land that is 98 km long and only 0.4 km wide at its narrowest point and 4 km wide at its widest. The Lithuanian portion of the Curonian Spit (a portion of the spit is within Russia’s Kaliningrad territory) is home to historic fishing communities. Additionally, the Curonian Spit is one of the best locations in Lithuania for birdwatching of shorebirds, particularly of mergansers, egrets, and cormorants. Birding is especially good in the end of September during migration season. An additional unique feature of the Curonian Spit are the shifting dunes, located between Nida and Kaliningrad.
Steeped in Lithuanian mythology, the Curonian Spit is a legend said to have been formed a long, long time ago by a beautiful giant girl named Neringa, who created this sandy peninsula to protect the bay from a stormy sea created by an evil serpent. This story can loosely be understood through observing the beautiful wooden carvings along the Hill of Witches in Juodkrante, a village on the Curonian Spit.
Trakai Historical National Park
Located only about 45 minutes by train or bus from Vilnius, Trakai Historical National Park is the most convenient national park to visit during a trip to Lithuania. Known for its natural beauty of pristine lakes surrounded by the dark green of evergreen trees, wooden houses built with the architectural style of the Karaites, and especially, the stunning brick Trakai Castle built on an island in the middle of a lake. At first glance, this all-encompassing site is truly breathtaking for both its nature and cultural heritage.
Aukstaitija National Park
Aukstaitija National Park is Lithuania’s oldest national park that spans 40,570 hectares in the east of the country. The park was instated to protect pine trees that are over 200 years old, as well as large swaths of forest, lakes, and cultural monuments. One such cultural building is a hexagonal wooden church that dates back to 1757, which can be found in the village of Paluse. Several ancient fortification mounds can also be found in Aukstaitija, including the Taurapilio Mound near Lake Tauragnas. Surrounding another lake, a trail with wooden carvings depicting Lithuanian folklore can be followed.
Aukstaitija National Park also provides a safe refuge for several endangered plant species that are included on the Lithuanian Red List. White-tailed and golden eagles can be observed soaring over numerous lakes, and storks can be observed foraging for tubers in fields.