This article was originally posted June 30, 2018, and has been updated March 26, 2019.
Not everyone considers Lithuania when thinking about travel destinations. But they should – there’s a lot of history and interesting things to enjoy!
Lithuania is not usually a destination that immediately springs to mind for travel and tourism. But, it, along with its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia, can offer tremendous (and affordable) travel experiences. A Lithuanian tour can show you the rich and unique history and culture of this diverse and proud region. While a Lithuanian tour may not be at the top of your travel list right now, it’s one of those countries that you would never consider visiting until you have actually visited – and then wonder why you waited so long!
In this article, we’ll be sure to give you all the persuasion you need! All the information is based on first-hand experiences from genuine original travels to the country. I will tell you where the best places are to go, plus what to see there, and why they are so unmissable. Additionally, I’ll give you the low-down on some of the staples of their cuisine. There are so many dishes that are amazing and delicious! I’ll tell you what you must try and what you might deem an acquired taste.
But before we begin with all that, I want to give you some help for your Lithuanian tour. Let’s take a look at the basics of the Lithuanian language. This can really aid you in your navigation, dining, and other activities on your Lithuanian tour.
Learning the Language to Help You On a Lithuanian Tour
Lithuanian is a notoriously difficult language to learn. Understanding the basics of the language can greatly help you on your tour. You may even find this article a little easier to read if you can get your mind and mouth around some of the words in the Lithuanian language. Like all languages, it takes a certain degree of determination and dedication, because there are a lot of rules and grammar to remember. I personally learned the basics by way of a YouTube tutorial, and then bought a book afterward to study the grammatical aspects and use the language properly.
It’s first important to learn a few of the basic pronunciation rules. There are a few added letters in the Lithuanian alphabet compared to English. The most common ones you’re likely to see are the consonants Č, Š, and Ž, which are pronounced “Ch,” “Sh” and “Zh” (like you would a “J” in French) respectively. Of all the additional vowels, Ė is the one you’ll see the most, usually on the end of words and feminine names. It is pronounced as a light “eh.” Another is the letter Ū, which you will see less commonly, pronounced as a more intense “oo” sound.
Furthermore, the letter J is pronounced the same as a Y in Lithuanian so the word “jūs” for example will be pronounced “YOOSE.” The letter I on the end of words has an unusual pronunciation, sounding almost like the word “ear” but with no emphasis at all on the “r” sound. More like an “EE-uh” sound, but subtler. For instance, the informal word for “goodbye” – Iki – is pronounced “Ick-EE-uh” (not to be confused with Ikea).
Below, you’ll find a table of basic works you’ll want to know in Lithuanian to help in your daily interactions while on your trip. The good news for those who aren’t the best at languages is that quite often, you will find people who also speak English. Like many European countries, most well-educated citizens speak their own tongue and at least 1 other language, often English. Many speak several languages. The most common are Russian (70% of the population), English (30% of the population), Polish (14% of the population), and German (8% of the population).
|Hello||Sveikas (to a man); Sveika (to a woman)|
|Thank you||Ačiu labia|
|Sorry / Excuse Me||Atsiprašau|
|Do you speak English?||Ar jūs kalbatė angliškai?|
Best Places and Cities to Visit on Your Lithuanian Tour
Being a relatively small country, Lithuania has few cities you would call “famous.” Its capital, Vilnius, is obviously the place you would expect to find at the top of most people’s lists. Fortunately, it has a wealth of historical, cultural, shopping, and dining experiences waiting for any travelers undertaking a Lithuanian tour.
Much of the old town’s structures have been demolished or have fallen down of their own accord. Part of one that remains – the only remaining part of Vilnius’ upper castle – is named Gediminas’ Tower. The tower sits at the top of a reasonable climb, definitely achievable on foot, but there are also cable car funiculars on standby for tourists who don’t fancy the walk.
The views of the city below are truly breathtaking from atop the tower. While the tower itself is not all that large, and houses a museum inside, it is actually symbolic of the city of Vilnius.
Hill of the Three Crosses
From the top of the hill on which Gediminas’ Tower stands, people on a Lithuanian tour can also see another Vilnius landmark – the Hill of the Three Crosses – in the distance. The story behind this memorial monument is a touch more macabre; the three crosses that stand on this hill were reportedly built to commemorate some priests who were beheaded there in the 14th century. Lithuania’s history is filled with such episodes, as in many European countries. Tales like these, that you may expect to find in shows like Game of Thrones, are quite numerous and common. If you like that sort of thing, it’s a country well worth visiting.
The TV Tower
Then, of course, there’s the TV Tower. Once a landmark of considerable strategic importance during the earlier 20th century, to the point where Vilnius’ citizens rallied around in defense of it, it now houses just a small museum. And a large, rotating restaurant. While you enjoy the reasonably–priced meal, also take advantage of the stunning 360° views of the capital below you. This is similar to the TV Tower in Berlin, Germany, which you can learn more about in our article Berlin Travel Guide: What to Do and Places to Visit in Berlin, Germany.
There is more beauty to be found a bit further out of town. It’s best to hire a car to experience Vilnius fully, especially the outlying areas. The trams and buses that do run throughout the city can only take you so far.
One of your definite stops should be the Žalieji Lakes. The waters here have a uniqueness about them, in that they appear emerald green. The lakes themselves provide stunning and picturesque views regardless of the season. In the winter, the cold is such that the entire thing freezes over – so thick sometimes that it can be walked or even driven on (not that I recommend the latter, at all). During the summer, social events are always held down by the water – something to watch out for if you want a social aspect to your Lithuanian tour.
Just a short drive out from Vilnius is the city and lake resort of Trakai. The latter of those consists of a community of lodges, primarily. But the main landmark to see here is the island castle, which stands around a lake. Lakes, in fact, are fairly common in Lithuania, and a major social and recreation spot in most places.
In addition, Trakai has a restaurant called Senoji Kibininė, where you can buy some of Lithuania’s signature foods. One of them – a meat pastry called Kibinas – is highly recommended. But we will get to the cuisine and delicacies later in this article.
While nothing to truly worry about, Vilnius and Kaunas have a sort of rivalry between their citizens. These adversities are privately held though; you are not going to get violently attacked if you visit Kaunas from Vilnius on your Lithuanian tour or anything like that.
The main attraction for Kaunas is its zoo – called Lithuanian Zoo or, in its own language Lietuvos Zoologijos Sodas. This 14–hectare park hosts over 2,000 animals for your viewing pleasure and should definitely be a stopping point on your Lithuanian tour. Crocodiles, polar bears, and vultures are among the rarities you stand a chance of seeing on your visit.
While still nowhere near to the levels of Vilnius, another major tourist-oriented city in Lithuania is Šiauliai, situated in the north of the country. Despite what I just said, it does outdo Vilnius in one area: how many crosses they can put on a hill. We have already talked about the Hill of the Three Crosses in the capital. Well, Šiauliai has its own Hill of Crosses, containing over 100,00 as of 2006. However, unlike the memorial purposes of the monument in Vilnius, the Hill of Crosses here is actually a pilgrimage site. The crosses, statues, and effigies have been left there gradually over time by pilgrims and visitors, which even included Pope John–Paul II. It makes for great photography opportunities.
Speaking of which, Šiauliai also has a celebrated photography museum, containing many exhibitions from Lithuania’s modern photographic geniuses. Be sure to make it a stop on your list of places to visit on your Lithuanian tour!
Dishes, Drinks, and Delicacies to Try on a Lithuanian Tour
In a country as unique as Lithuania, there is naturally a rich cuisine and culinary history. It’s so impressive, it deserves its own section in this article! Some things are quite different than you may be used to, but are incredibly common in Lithuania. And, speaking from experience, many are quite delicious!
The main thing you will come to notice on your Lithuanian tour is how fond of potatoes the people are. Restaurants will usually have sections in their menus for meat and fish. Lithuanian ones have another section, specifically for potato-based dishes.
I dare you to try saying that word without sounding like Sean Connery!
This dish – a relative of Borscht – is unmistakable, especially in that it’s bright pink, for one thing. It is a cold soup, usually made with beetroot (which gives that color), plus eggs and cucumber. Its flavor is quite reminiscent of mayonnaise, in my opinion. Potatoes do come into play when eating this dish. They don’t feature in the Šaltibarščiai, but they are usually served hot on the side as a dipping tool, rather than bread or crackers.
In the UK, they have Cornish Pasties, a meat and pastry dish native to the western state of Cornwall. The Kibina is Lithuania’s equivalent. We already mentioned in the previous section about the restaurant Senoji Kibininė, which is the place to get Kibinas. They are meat wrapped in pastry – what more could you ask for? Ideal for lunch or a midday snack!
Here’s a hangover cure if ever there was one! Cepelinas, or Potato Zeppelins, are a definitive dish of Lithuania. They are boiled or fried potato dumplings, stuffed with a meat crackling. They are simply gorgeous and incredibly addictive. Have a couple of these on your Lithuanian tour, you will want them at least once a week.
There are pancake versions as well, called Blynai, served with a number of different sides including smoked salmon, cheese curds, and sour cream. Yum!
For those with a sweet tooth, I give you Tinginys. It’s also known as “Idler’s Dainty” for no definite reason, other than that the word “tinginys” is actually Lithuanian for “lazy.” It’s a chocolate and biscuit dessert – the mixture is made into a sort of sausage shape, frozen and then sliced into pieces to eat. It is something you should order in a restaurant while on your Lithuanian tour. Or, if you are planning on a long-term stay, you can learn to make it yourself. It’s quite simple, and quite delicious.
Trauktinė and Žagarės
These are a family of local liqueurs that you should sample if you get the chance. Rather on the potent side, they are taken in a shot form traditionally. Trauktinė can be flavored with any number of things like honey or berries, while Žagarės is strictly cherry–flavoured.
Be Prepared for the Weather
Navigating the weather of Lithuania is playing a game of extremes. The first time I visited, it was January, at the beginning of a delayed winter. Their December had been mild, and Vilnius had received no snow until the day I arrived. Thereafter, it was close to -30°C. I was furred up to the throat with a fleeced hoodie and a ski jacket, plus fur-lined boots and gloves. And even then, I could feel the cold. In short, if your Lithuanian tour is planned for the winter months, pack everything thick and insulating that you own. You will need it!
But if you go in the summer, the opposite is true. The summers are scorching at 30°C or more. This is a main reason why they make use of the numerous lakes to host social events. There are also several water parks that are bound to be popular during that time of year.
My second visit was in October, where the weather was dry and a comfortable, a warm 20°C or so. If you don’t like the cold but can’t tolerate intense heat either, this is the time of year I would recommend for your Lithuanian tour.
If the temperatures are off from your preference, and your only opportunity to travel falls at a time when the weather is not ideal, you might consider the southern hemisphere. We’ve got full guides to travels in Africa, Australia, and Asia!
Don’t Forget to Buy…
If you would rather have something physical to reference while you’re on your Lithuanian tour, or if you plan to scour the entire Baltic region, then this book from the incomparable Dorling Kindersley will be perfect for you.
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