Planning a road-trip from Latvia to Lithuania?
This is part one of your ultimate Baltic States road trip of the best places and things to do from Latvia to Lithuania.
First night stay in Kaunas with a pitstop to the Hill of Crosses on the way. There is plenty of places to stay nearby in Siauliai if you are arriving late in the day. Booking.com is my go-to accommodation booking search engine offering thousands of options to suit every budget.
How to Get to Lithuania from Latvia?
Getting to Lithuania these days is simple and more tourists are opting to engage in a Baltic countries road-trip. After a few glorious days discovering the wonderful city Riga Latvia, I decide to hire a car and head to Lithuania.
I’d heard about the Hill of Crosses in Lithuanian and wanted to visit this sacred place to honour my 89-year-old father who passed away a few days into my trip.
Rent a Car in Latvia
Spontaneously hiring a car today is a breeze from online companies like RentalCars.com, who are my preferred rental car search engine. Rather than navigate out of the Latvian city of Riga, I opted to hire a car in Riga airport.
Is Uber in Riga?
Yes, Uber is in Riga and an inexpensive way to get around if you are not a big fan of public transport. Download the Uber app before you travel with a credit card that does not incur international transaction fees.
An ancient hill covered in crosses is a testament of Lithuanian independence and religious beliefs.
Where is the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania?
The Hill of Crosses is situated 12 kilometres from Siauliai, the fourth largest city in Lithuania and a 2-hour drive from Riga Latvia.
How Far is Hill of Crosses from Vilnius Lithuania?
For travellers coming from Vilnius, the drive is 2.5 hours from Hill of Crosses.
History of the Hill of Crosses?
You might ask why was the hill of crosses was created? Well, Kryziu Kalnas, or the Hill of Crosses was first mentioned in the 1900s writings of victims of the Russian regime and their relatives.
Families were forbidden to honour the missing or bury their loved ones properly and their religious expression was suppressed. It is recorded that 130 large wooden crosses were present on the sacred site in 1900 and by 1938 that number had grown to 400 large crosses on the hill.
Although, the history of the crosses is uncertain, it is likely that the crosses were planted as part of the 1831 uprising against the Russians. During the Soviet era it was illegal to plant a cross however that didn’t stop the Lithuanians from continuing to honour their relatives in this practice.
Sacred Site Destroyed Over the Centuries
In 1961, thousands of wooden crosses were broken and burnt, metal crosses became scrap metal and concrete and stone crosses were smashed and buried into the hill by the Russian regime. Repeatedly the area was bulldozed by the Soviets, but new crosses reappeared overnight.
Over the last two centuries, it is estimated that over 100,000 crosses have been placed here by local Catholics. The following decades saw the crosses come and go. Today, it is difficult to give a true estimate of how many crosses are there, but it exceeds 200,000 with hundreds of visitors and pilgrims adding to the number each day.
Photo credit: National Catholic Reporter
Papal Visit | 7 September 1993
Pope John Paul II celebrated mass at Hill of Crosses in 1993 in front of thousands of worshippers. His message “Thank you, Lithuanians, for this Hill of Crosses which testifies to the nations of Europe and to the whole world the faith of the people of this land” can be read at the base of the Papal cross erected there in his honour.
Is There Parking at Hill of Crosses?
There is no entry fee to visit Hill of Crosses, only a small charge to park in the designated parking areas. Limited free parking is also available on the shoulder of the roads.
Support Local Business
Opposite the carpark is a selection of vendors making and selling an assortment of wooden crosses, religious ornaments suitable for home and decorating the Christmas tree.
These attractive items are only (2 to 5 euros) not expensive so there is no real need to bring your own. Supporting local businesses when you travel is very important to make sure our money spent goes to local communities and attractions like Hill of Crosses.
Souvenir Shops and Amenities
In the adjacent building there are two souvenir shops selling amber jewellery, crosses, books and small trinkets. Toilets and vending machines selling drinks, sandwiches and confectionary is located inside this building as well.
Things to Do in Kaunas Lithuania
Two hours south of Hills of Crosses and in the centre of Lithuania is the second largest city of Kaunas. Kaunas is an old medieval merchant city considered one of the major players in Lithuanian history.
River trade in Kaunas was established on the two major (Neris and Nemunas) rivers during the medieval era. In those days the main enemies of Lithuania was the Teutonic order which also used the rivers to infiltrate the city.
In the 14th century the Kaunas Castle was built to help deter the German military religious (Teutonic) order from attacking the city.
Longest Pedestrian Street
One of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe is found in Kaunas. The main street is 1.6km long and called ‘Laisves aleja’ which translates in English to ‘Liberty Boulevard’ or ‘Freedom Avenue’. Most shops and cafes on both sides of the long street are filled with locals and tourists.
Kaunas Coffee Cafe
You must stop by Vero Cafe to enjoy a delicious traditional Lithuanian dessert, quality coffee while you connect to free Wi-Fi and recharge your phone.
Church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary
The historic architecture of Kaunas is just one of the alluring elements that continues to attract return visitors. The first churches were built in the 1300s and magnificent gothic religious structures began appearing in the early 1400s as the city expanded around City Hall Square.
Church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary (Church of Vytautas the Great on Aleksoto g.) is considered the oldest in Kaunas. According to the legend, Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas gave the church to the city as a gift. The Duke promised the Virgin Mary he would build a church on the riverbank after he was beaten and nearly drowned in the river. Over the centuries, the church has been devastated by both wars and floods.
Kaunas is considered one of the most romantic cities in Lithuania. Its impressive Italian baroque style 17th century Pazaislis monastery was built by the very religious, influential and wealthy Pac family. Although the monastery was severely damaged in war times, it is said that it never completely lost its beauty. In 1832 it was closed by the Russian authorities and later converted into an Orthodox church.
Orthodox Church Returned to the Catholics
Between 1915 – 1918, when the Orthodox monks were fleeing it is claimed that the monks stole many grand treasures from the monastery including the heavily jewelled St Mass Cup. The St Mass cup was decorated with over 1,000 precious gemstones including diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Long after the robbery, the ruined monastery was returned to the Catholics in 1920 and restored by the Sisters of the Lithuanian convent of St Casimir.
From Church to Hospital
In the mid-1940s after World War II, the Soviet Union authorities converted the monastery and church into a psychiatric hospital then into an art gallery in 1966. The 1990s saw the complex returned to the nuns of the convent and renovation work commenced. Today music is played under the vaults of the church and many music festivals and concerts take place here each year.
Where to Eat in Kaunas?
One food that is prominent on most menus in Kaunas are gourmet style burgers and Lithuanian beer. Local lamb is also regularly featured in very description. The best burgers in Kaunas are at Peledine on Sv Gertrudos 22.
Although, the majority of dining establishments are casual, there are a few fine dining restaurants worth exploring.
Kaunas Fine Dining
Kaunas restaurants Numan and Uoksas offer the finest local cuisine using locally grown produce. Have a splurge and experience the best dining experience in one of the top Kaunas restaurants. Prices won’t break the bank compared to western Europe restaurants.
Both restaurants are located a little out of the city. Numan is a about a 10-minutes walk from the Kaunas Town Hall and Uoksas is approximately 20-minutes walk from the centre of the old town. Don’t let the short walk put you off, both are exceptional restaurants and worth the effort.
Where to Stay in Kaunas in Lithuania
The 4-star Daugirdas Old City Hotel is located in the heart of Kaunas’s Old Town and 50 m from Old Town Square. The hotel occupies a restored building from the 16th-century connected by a glass roof. The restaurant were breakfast is served, is located in the 16th-century basement decorated with original frescoes.
All rooms at the Daugirdas Hotel are classically furnished and decorated with warm colours. Each comes with free fast speed Wi-Fi, satellite TV, safe box, mini bar and bathroom with floor heating and hairdryer.
This 4 plus star hotel, Park Inn by Radisson in Kaunas offers spacious, air-conditioned rooms with cable television and free high-speed Wi-Fi. Guests can also workout in the fitness centre or visit the sauna, free of charge.
The rooms of the Park Inn by Radisson Kaunas feature classic interior design with Scandinavian influences. The private elegant bathrooms have a shower and hairdryer.
The hotel has a casino onsite as well as a spa and wellness centre with a solarium, a massage parlour and a Turkish bath, available for an additional surcharge. Hotel’s Olympic Casino is open all day.
Dining at Raddison Kaunas
Thanks to its central location many of Kaunas’s landmarks are within walking distance. St. Michael the Archangel Church is within 250 m. The Devil’s Museum is within a 10-minute walk. The Old Town is 1.2 km away and Kaunas International Airport is 15 km away.
Amberton Cozy Hotel Kaunas is located in the heart of the Old Town, only metres from the city’s historic Town Hall, Cathedral, House of Perkunas and Restaurant Casa Della Pasta is only 10 metres away. There are various shops, restaurants and pubs all within walking distance in the area.
Rooms are air-conditioned, fitted with cable TV, minibar and free high-speed Wi-Fi. The hotel was renovated in 2017 and each room is soundproofed, spacious and elegantly decorated. All feature a work desk and a private bathroom with a hairdryer.
Next Stop Vilniaus Lithuania
So, you enjoyed reading about Hill of Crosses and Kaunas in Lithuania! Well, continue reading about destinations in Poland which include the best attractions, restaurants, coffee spots and much more.
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