LITHUANIA TOURISM GUIDE
The historic city of Vilnius (founded in 1323) is the capital of Lithuania. Surrounded on three sides by wooded hills and situated in a picturesque valley formed by the rivers Neris and Vilnia, the ancient yet modern centre of the city lies on the southern or left bank of the river. Vilnius' Old Town is the biggest in Europe and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike Riga and Tallinn in the other Baltic Republics, Vilnius is not of Germanic origin, although like these other cities it has a large old quarter which is gradually being restored. Almost all major European architectural styles are represented, although ultimately it was the Baroque which came to dominate. The heart of the capital is the beautiful and spacious Gediminas Square, the main feature of which is the Cathedral built in the Classical style. Other interesting churches are the Gothic St AnnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Church and the St Peter and St PaulĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Church, which houses the body of St Casimieras, one of the most revered of LithuaniaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s dukes. It also includes some fine sculptures. Any itinerary of the city should include the historic University of Vilnius, which was granted its charter in 1579, the Golden Age in the cityĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s history. The university is among the oldest in Central Europe and has a distinctly Renaissance feel with its inner courtyards and arcades. To enjoy a view of the whole city, visitors should climb the Gediminas Tower. High on a hill in the center of the city, it rises above Vilnius and is the symbol of the Lithuanian capital.
About 25km (18 miles) from Vilnius lies Trakai, an ancient capital of Lithuania. Situated on the shore of the picturesque Lake Galve, on which boat rides are available, the city has a castle dating from the 14th century. Further to the west is the spa of Birstonas, renowned for its mineral waters and tranquility.
To the west of Vilnius lies the industrial and cultural center of Kaunas, LithuaniaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s second city. Also known as the Ă˘â‚¬Ëścity of museumsĂ˘â‚¬â„˘, it boasts, amongst others, the Devil Museum and a memorial to those who suffered during the Nazi occupation. The most famous museum is dedicated to the works of the Lithuanian painter Ciurlionis. Kaunas also numbers three theatres, some 11th-century castle ruins and the old City Hall among its attractions.
Other places of interest in Lithuania include the small riverside spa resort of Druskininkai, situated 135km (84 miles) from Vilnius, and the small town of Rumsiskes, 80km (50 miles) from Vilnius and 20km (12.5 miles) from Kaunas, with its open-air museum of wooden architecture exhibiting farmhouses from all the various regions of the country. Five strange grassy mounds mark Lithuania's ancient capital at Kernave, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Popular seaside resorts include Palanga and Kursiu Nerija (with the settlements of Nida and Juodkrante), which are famous for their clean white sand beaches, natural sand dunes and pine forests. Palanga also boasts the Amber Museum-Gallery (website: www.ambergallery.lt) and an interesting botanical park. Nida is the last village on the Lithuanian half of the spit surrounded by endless stretches of clean white sand. A lighthouse from 1874 can be visited here, as can the Thomas Mann Cultural Centre, situated in the house where the German writer spent his holidays between 1930 and 1932. There is the award winning Park of Soviet Sculptures at Gruto Parkas, which reminds visitors of some of Lithuania's grim past. To the south lies the city of Klaipeda, an important seaport as well as the main center for ferry connections from Lithuania. The two main towns in the north of the country are Siauliai, an important industrial center with the famous Hill of Crosses about 10km (6 miles) from the city, and Panevezys with its famous Drama Theatre.