The Republic of Lithuania, on the east coast of theBaltic Sea, boldly became the first of the Soviet republics todeclare its independence in 1990. With a restructured economy, itjoined the EU in the spring of 2004, and the gates of thisfascinating country are now wide open for tourists andpleasure-seekers.
Relatively small, with only 62 miles (100km) ofBaltic coastline, and hemmed in by Latvia, Belarus, Poland, andpart of the Russian Federation, Lithuania has a wide variety ofofferings for visitors, including around 2,500 lakes, 18 sizeablemeandering rivers, and forests covering a third of itsterritory.
The country also boasts of being smack in the centreof Europe: travellers can stand in the official centre of thecontinent at a now popular tourist attraction 15 miles (24km)northwest of the capital, Vilnius.
Vilnius itself is an ancient and atmospheric city,founded in 1323, with a beautiful old quarter declared a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site. Just a few miles from Vilnius lies Trakai,capital of Lithuania in the Middle Ages, on the shore of the scenicLake Galve.
A little farther west, visitors can revel in thepeaceful Birstonas mineral water spa resort. Lithuania's secondlargest city, Kaunas, is a cultural centre boasting numerousmuseums and a number of renowned theatres among itsattractions.
On its Baltic coastline, Lithuania lures travellerswith pretty seaside resorts such as Palanga, with unspoilt whitesandy beaches backed by pine forests. Easily accessible by air androad from the main centres of Europe, an ever-increasing number oftravellers continue to savour the delights of this BalticState.
Standing guard over the city of Vilnius since the13th century, the landmark Gediminas Castle was built by thefounder of the city and has served as defence bastion, prison, andnow major tourist attraction.
Originally, the castle was made of wood, later cladin 10-foot (3m) thick stone walls, and then all but destroyed byRussian troops in the 17th century. Now completely and carefullyrestored to its former glory, the top of the majestic octagonaltower provides a breath-taking view of the old city.
It is the highest point in the Vilnius Old Town,which itself is a UNESCO-listed site. The castle also contains amuseum depicting the history of Lithuania and Vilnius, withexhibits including models of the city at various points in historyas well as archaeological finds from the region.
The castle is also an emotional landmark for thosewho remember the Baltic Chain, or Chain of Freedom, a peacefulpolitical movement which united the three Balkan states in theirfight for independence back in 1989 when Lithuania, Estonia andLatvia were republics of the Soviet Union.
The Baltic Chain was a demonstration in which morethan two million people joined hands in August 1989 to create ahuman chain spanning the three Baltic countries to demonstratetheir solidarity and their desire for freedom. The chain, amemorable and impactful moment in European history, ended atGediminas Castle in Lithuania.
The resplendent Vilnius Cathedral, which standsproudly on the central square of the Old City, has a chequeredhistory that left it decaying and abandoned through the Soviet era.The Cathedral now resembles a classical Greek temple more than itdoes a Christian church.
It's now once again the pride of the city, filledwith incredible artworks, traditional icons and history. Thecathedral, originally built in the 13th-century, stands on the siteof an ancient pagan temple. Rebuilt several times in the succeedingcenturies after fires and storm damage, Vilnius Cathedral is anunusual and architecturally impactful cathedral, containing morethan 40 paintings and frescoes.
There are a number of chapels which are interestingin their own right, located around the premises. Most noteworthy isthe Casimir Chapel, first constructed in 1623, containing eightsilver-plated statues and décor wrought by artist ConstantinoTencallo. No matter what their religion, visitors tend to find thecathedral impressive and the grounds peaceful and attractive.
Vilnius has some amazing churches and other specialattractions in the city include the St Peter and St Paul Church,which houses numerous sculptures, and St Anne's Church, a beautifulGothic building.
A few miles north of Vilnius town centre, Lithuanian sculptorGintaras Karosas founded the Europos Parkas (European Park) on a55-hectare site that encompasses the geographic centre of Europe,as determined by the French National Geographic Institute in1989.
The Park attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year,who come to stand in the centre of the continent and admire apermanent outdoor sculpture exhibition, set amid rolling hills,woods and fields dotted with natural springs.
About 100 works by artists from dozens of different countriesare on display. Guided tours are available, and the site includes asmall restaurant, shop and post office. European Park is also areally lovely place to enjoy a walk in the natural surroundings andhave a picnic.
Autumn is particularly beautiful because of the striking colourof the trees and vegetation but it still remains gorgeous throughspring and summer too. In winter, it's perhaps a bit cold but aninvigorating stroll through the snowy landscape can be fun, asgates are open all year round.
If you are travelling in Lithuania with children, then EuroposParkas is the ideal family excursion from Vilnius. It's a goodopportunity to enjoy some fresh air and let the kids get rid ofsome energy. Lovers of contemporary art will also enjoy the park,where the sculptures are well integrated into the naturalscenery.
In the early 20th century, about half of the population ofVilnius were Yiddish-speaking Jews and the city was dubbed the'Jerusalem of the North'. The Nazis in World War II effectivelyobliterated this community, encircling the Jewish quarter in barbedwire.
They marched the 60,000 or so residents into the Paneriai Forestand executed them. Sadly, some sources estimate that the number ofJews killed in Vilnius was far higher. Today, the Genocide Museumhas been established at the killing field in memory of the victimsof this horror.
There is also a Jewish Museum depicting pre-war Jewish life andvisitors are welcome at the only remaining Vilnius Synagogue. TheJews were once numerous in Lithuania, with efforts now underway torebuild and restore many aspects of the former Jewish Quarter.
Incredibly, some say that Vilnius once housed more than ahundred synagogues, not to mention schools, libraries and othercultural institutions. Tours of Jewish Vilnius incorporate thesesombre but extremely worthwhile historical and culturalattractions.
Several private operators offer these tours which shouldcaptivate any visitors with an interest in Jewish culture orEuropean history. However, young children may not be prepared forthe realities of these tragic sites.
The dark days of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania arepreserved in this disturbing collection, which is contained in theformer KGB headquarters building; a building which is a symbol ofhardship for the Lithuanian population old enough to remember therealities of the occupation.
Those who drew the antagonism of the authorities were detained,tortured and often executed in this building. The Museum ofGenocide (Genocido Auku Muziejus) is also often called the KGBMuseum and the building remains almost exactly the same as it wasduring Soviet occupation.
Some of the museum's exhibitions include the 'EavesdroppingRoom', highlighting the use of secret surveillance by the KGB, and'Life Goes On', a look at the day to day living of Lithuaniandeportees and prisoners.
There is also the haunting experience of the prison in thebasement. Audio guides are available for a small cost and theybring the place vividly to life. Guided tours of the museum arealso available in English.
The Genocide Museum is one of the top-rated tourist attractionsin Vilnius and the collection is informative, well-organised andhaunting. Visitors should note that some of the material is rathermacabre and may not be suitable for young children.
Vilnius has a humid continental climate. Summers (June toAugust) are warm, with daytime temperatures often topping 72°F(22°C), although average temperatures are closer to 62°F (17°C).June is the rainiest month of the year. Winter (December toFebruary) is very cold, with temperatures rarely climbing above32°F (0°C) and often dropping below 16°F (-9°C). Lakes and riversfreeze over at this time of year.
Lithuania has a climate mid-way between maritime andcontinental. The weather is changeable, with mild, wet summers andcold winters. Rainfall is spread throughout the year, but moretends to occur on the coast than inland.
Summer and spring are the wettest seasons and cloudyskies and afternoon thunderstorms are common during these months.January is the coldest month, with daytime temperatures averagingaround 23°F (-5°C).
Winter months can see temperatures going below -4°F(-20°C), with freezing northeasterly winds. Heavy snows are fairlycommon in Lithuania. Summer temperatures sit comfortably between68°F (20°C) and 77°F (25°C), but can reach higher than 86°F (30°C).July is the warmest month.
May to September, in the months of late spring,summer and early autumn, is the most pleasant time to visitLithuania as winters can be brutally cold. Between May andSeptember, tourists should anticipate some rain. But generally, theweather is lovely.
The summer months of June through August are the mostpopular times to visit, with many of the country's festivals heldduring this time, giving some extra incentive to visitors.
The unit of currency is the Euro (EUR), divided into 100 cents.ATMs are found in Vilnius on the Cirrus and Visa networks, but arerare in smaller towns. Most retailers, hotels, restaurants and thelike accept credit cards.
Lithuanian is the official language, but Russian andEnglish are widely spoken.
European-style, two-pin plug sockets are standard,with an electrical current of 220 volts, 50Hz.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastthree months beyond the period of intended stay in Lithuania. Novisa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 dayperiod.
British passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject'(containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abodeissued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas TerritoriesCitizen' issued by Gibraltar, only need to be valid for period ofintended stay in Lithuania. All other endorsements require at leastthree months validity beyond the period of intended stay inLithuania.
A visa is not required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen','British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to theRight of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British OverseasTerritories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days in a 180 day period for holders of passportswith any other endorsement.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast three months beyond the period of intended stay in Lithuania.No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 dayperiod.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast three months beyond the period of intended stay in Lithuania.No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 dayperiod.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast three months beyond the period of intended stay in Lithuania.A visa is required.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid on arrival inLithuania. No visa is required.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastthree months beyond the period of intended stay in Lithuania. Novisa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 dayperiod.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast three months beyond the period of intended stay in Lithuania.No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 dayperiod.
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes thefollowing countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark,Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy,Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway,Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden andSwitzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visathat has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder totravel freely within the borders of all the aforementionedcountries.
Non-EEA foreign passengers to Lithuania must hold (i)return/onward tickets, (ii) the necessary travel documentation fortheir next destination, (iii) sufficient funds to cover theirexpenses while in the country, and (iv) valid health and travelinsurance, to cover any medical expenses incurred while inLithuania.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at leastsix months validity remaining after your intended date of departurefrom your travel destination. Immigration officials often applydifferent rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.
Travellers intending to visit forest areas forlengthy periods should take the necessary precautions againsttick-borne encephalitis. Doctors may also advise vaccinationsagainst hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
EU citizens are entitled to emergency medicaltreatment if they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) fromtheir country of origin. Medical facilities are fair and there areplenty of doctors, but equipment and resources are lacking in someareas.
There are a few private clinics of high standard.Doctors and hospitals usually expect immediate cash payment forservices. Travel medical insurance is highly recommended.
Safety in Lithuania is not a major issue for travellers as thecountry is largely devoid of civil unrest and the terrorism threatis low. Car theft is rife, and there is the usual risk of mugging,pick-pocketing and bag snatching, especially on publictransport.
The majority of crime is petty rather than life-threatening.Visitors should exercise due care and avoid carrying valuables orflashing conspicuous wealth. It's advisable to carry a copy of yourpassport for identification purposes. Traffic accidents are common,so extra vigilance is required for driving, especially atnight.
The Catholic Church is influential in Lithuania and travellersshould be respectful of religious customs. A handshake is the mostcommon greeting among strangers in Lithuania.
Business in Lithuania is rather formal, though the youngergeneration is less conservative. Face-to-face meetings are key,with good eye contact and a firm handshake upon greeting.Businesspeople usually exchange cards and it is important to bepunctual.
Suits and ties are the norm, with titles and surnames usedunless otherwise indicated. Lithuanians are hospitable and friendlyand any social invitation should be accepted, as this is a goodopportunity to forge better business relations and build trust.
Meetings tend to start with some small talk and can sometimesend with a summary of the discussions, though decision making andresults can be slow. Business hours are usually from 9am to 1pm and2pm to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
The international dialling code for Lithuania is +370. Theoutgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g.0044 for the UK) and the country has three-digit area codes. Localcalls can be dialled without the area codes.
There are at least three major mobile GSM network serviceproviders and connections are excellent. There are also 2G and 3Gnetworks, with 4G/LTE networks starting out in the bigger cities.The internet is well-established in Lithuania. Small towns andvillages have public internet access points in libraries, postoffices and tourist information centres.
Duty free allowances for non-EU travellers to Lithuania include200 cigarettes or 250g of tobacco or 50 cigars; 1 litre spirits, 4litres wine or 16 litres beer; perfume for personal use. There istechnically no limitation on alcohol and tobacco products for thosetravelling from other EU countries.
Lithuanian Official Tourism Website: www.tourism.lt
Embassy of Lithuania, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 2345860.
Embassy of Lithuania, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 75922840.
Embassy of Lithuania, Ottawa, Canada: +1 (613) 567 5458.
Honorary Consul of Lithuania, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 3283550.
Consulate General of Lithuania, New South Wales, Australia: +612 9969 6232.
Embassy of Lithuania, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 203 5757.
United States Embassy, Vilnius: +370 (5)26 65500.
British Embassy, Vilnius: +370 (5)24 62900.
Canadian Embassy, Vilnius: +370 (5)24 90950.
Irish Embassy, Vilnius: +370 (5)262 9460.
The central old quarter of Vilnius is compact andmost of the sights visited on foot. Those who would prefer to takein the sights in a more leisurely manner can make use of the city'sefficient network of buses and trolleybuses; fares can be paid onboarding or tickets bought at a discount from newspaper kiosks.
Most visitors prefer to make use of taxis, whichare relatively cheap, although it is wise to ensure the driver hasswitched on the meter before leaving on the journey, or tonegotiate a fare before setting off.
Taxis can be hailed on the street, ordered bytelephone or found at ranks at strategic spots in the old town.Self-driving in the city isn't recommended because of heavy,undisciplined traffic. All the large international car hirecompanies have offices in the city and at the airport.
Visitors to Vilnius should be aware that, althoughthe city is generally very safe, petty theft and pick-pocketing canunfortunately be a problem on public transport. People are alsosometimes targeted while walking around. So although it is a greatdestination to traverse on foot, try not to walk alone at night, ordisplay conspicuous wealth while getting around in the city.
Slap bang in the middle of Europe, the capital ofLithuania is a delightful medieval city of magnificent churches,art and nightclubs. It's a combination which gives it a uniqueambience and explains why more people are enjoying holidaying inVilnius.
It is an historic old city, with a wealth of culturalattractions and very picturesque surroundings. The UNESCO-listedold quarter is particularly enthralling. Many of the most popularattractions in Vilnius are memorials, it's a city that has seenmuch tragedy in its long history.
Worthwhile sites include the Museum of GenocideVictims, several memorials to the Jewish population wiped outduring World War II, and the Hill of Three Crosses, which legenddecrees was originally the site of the martyring of severalmonks.
Although some of the subject matter in the city'smuseums and memorials is sombre or macabre, Vilnius is a proud cityand there is an aura of triumph as well. The numerous lovelychurches, pretty surroundings, sidewalk café culture and charmingcobbled streets offer many happy diversions for tourists.
The best time to travel to Vilnius is during itssunny, warm summers when temperatures can soar to 86°F (30°C) andit remains light long into the evening, making it possible forthose enjoying a Vilnius holiday to make the most of the outdoorrestaurants and bars. Winter, by contrast, is not a good time totravel to Vilnius as temperatures plummet below freezing.