Lithuania is home to the tallest shifting sand dunes in Europe. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the National Park of the Curonian Spit (the northern part of which is in Lithuania and the southern half in Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia). Located near the historic fishing village of Nida, the Dead Dunes can move at a rate of up to 15 km per year and in the past have covered entire villages. Botany enthusiasts will be interested to hear that the dunes are home to rare plant species.
Lithuania is nearly 40% covered by dense forests. Many of these amazing forests are protected by Lithuania’s five incredible national parks, which are located across the country. These forests provide homes for unique wildlife, such as roe deer, wild boar, and hedgehogs, and delicate flora including mosses, wild berries, and carnivorous plants.
Lithuania shines at its brightest during its numerous cultural festivals. One of its largest, the Kaziuko Festival, takes place in early March (3rd, 4th, and 5th in 2017) and is to celebrate the life of Vilnius’ patron saint, St. Casimir. During the festival, Vilnius is flooded with visitors shopping for handicrafts, eating street food, and enjoying live performances. Look out for beautifully hand carved wooden items, Palm Sunday bouquets, hand painted Easter eggs, and linen goods.
Another interesting cultural celebration is the Užgavėnės or Shrove Tuesday Festival, held in February at the Open Air Museum of Lithuania at Rumšiškės. Užgavėnės is a must-visit festival, with people wearing costumes and hand carved wooden masks, eating lots of pancakes, and singing. The festival culminates with the burning of a More ( a straw effigy), which is considered an evil symbol of winter. This annual event is one of the most popular celebrations at Rumšiškės. Other Užgavėnės events can be found across Lithuania, with a large festival also held in Vilnius.
Wearing its history on its sleeve, or rather, on its buildings, the architectural styles across Lithuania are many and varied. In Vilnius visitors can identify Art Nouveau, Neoclassical, Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture, and some buildings even have a mix of several styles.
Elaborately decorated wooden homes were the norm in Lithuania prior to the 1940s, and some of these beautiful homes can be seen throughout the country. The Šnipiškės district in Vilnius, Žaliakalnis district in Kaunas, and the Open Air Museum of Lithuania in Rumšiškės all have excellent examples of this Lithuanian architectural style.
Klaipėda, Lithuania’s port city, shows its historical German influence in numerous buildings. Half timbered houses can be seen in Klaipeda’s old town, as can buildings in the German romantic style, which were built using red brick.
Soviet occupation left more than its fair share of scars across Lithuania, and also left behind some impressive examples of brutalist architecture. In Vilnius the (now dilapidated) Palace of Sports and Concerts and the National Opera and Ballet Theater are good examples.
Prior to the Holocaust, approximately 250,000 Jewish people called Lithuania their home and about 45% of Vilnius’ total population was Jewish. Although Vilnius only currently has one synagogue in use (The Choral Synagogue which was built in 1903) it previously boasted 105 with the largest being the Great Synagogue. These were destroyed partly during World War II and partly during the Soviet occupation.
Elijah Ben Shlomo Zalman was one of the most brilliant Lithuanian Jewish scholars in the 18th century and a bust erected in his memory can be seen on Žydų g on the grounds of the former Great Synagogue (a school is now located on the site). Numerous other museums, relics, and memorials can be found both in Vilnius and across Lithuania.
During WWII, Jews and Lithuanians alike faced persecution, and mass executions were held at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas. The Ninth Fort is now a museum and memorial ground.