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Saturday, June 4, 2016
The Top 10 Day Trips from Vilnius, Lithuania
The city of Vilnius is the biggest draw in Lithuania for most foreign tourist visitors, and the many charms of its old town centre will keep travellers occupied for at least a few days. However, on a visit to Vilnius be sure to get beyond the capital to see what daily life in rural Lithuania is all about. All of these destinations (except Dieveniškės Appendix) can be reached in less than two hours of travel from Vilnius using public transport (trains and buses).
1. Trakai Castle - An easy day trip from the capital by bus or train, Trakai is a small town with an extremely picturesque Gothic castle on an island in the middle of a lake. Inside the castle you can see the Trakai Historical Museum with displays on the long history of the town and its two castles (the second castle is a ruin). Buses from Vilnius run at least every half an hour and the journey takes between 30 and 45 minutes depending on the bus route. Trains from Vilnius run about every two hours through the day, with the journey taking 35 minutes.
2. Kaunas - Lithuania's second city has many 16th-century buildings in the narrow laneways surrounding its spacious central square, while the numerous museums are also worth a peek. For those who like unusual attractions there's the quirky Devil museum, with thousands of different devil statues from around the world, and the Museum for the Blind, where visitors walk through in pitch darkness guiding their way by touch, sound and smell. Buses from Vilnius run very frequently, about every 15 minutes, and the journey to Kaunas takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. Trains also run regularly from Vilnius taking about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
3. Grūto Parkas Soviet Sculpture Park - This outdoor museum near Druskininkai, sometimes informally called Stalin World, boasts a collection of Soviet-era statues and monuments of Lenin, Stalin and other Communist leaders which once stood in public squares throughout the country. Buses from Vilnius run approximately every hour through the day to Druskininkai, with the journey taking 2 hours. The park is actually in the village of Grūta, north-east of Druskininkai on the road to Vilnius, so ask the driver to let you out in Grūta, 1 hour and 55 minutes from Vilnius.
4. Aukštaitija National Park and Palūšė village - This national park in the north-east of the country has many small villages with well-preserved folk culture traditions. The oldest and most beautiful wooden church in Lithuania is in Palūšė, overlooking Lake Lušiai. Palūšė is also the location of the national park headquarters and information centre. Buses from Vilnius run every hour to Ignalina (1 hour and 50 minutes journey time), the main town in the region, which is 4 kilometres from Palūšė. A few buses per day connect from Ignalina to Palūšė, though it is also possible to walk there around the edge of Lake Gavys. Trains from Vilnius also run to Ignalina several times daily, taking approximately 1 hour 40 minutes.
5. Rumšiškės Outdoor Museum - This open-air ethnographic museum near Kaunas displays an extensive collection of historic cottages, farm buildings, churches and windmills gathered from across Lithuania. Buses from Vilnius travel to the village of Rumšiškės about once an hour through the day, with the journey taking 1 hour and 10 minutes.
6. Kernavė - This UNESCO-listed archeological site north-west of Vilnius includes historic castle mounds and the remains of a medieval town from the time when Kernavė was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The extensive historical museum displays many of the artifacts uncovered so far. Buses from Vilnius to the village of Kernavė take approximately 1 hour.
7. Paneriai Memorial - This site located in an outer suburb of Vilnius was the location of the Ponary massacre, where up to 100,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed by the Nazis in World War II. There are monuments to the Jewish and Polish victims, as well as a museum. City buses from central Vilnius run frequently to Paneriai, taking about 25 minutes.
8. Dzūkija National Park and Zervynos ethnographic village - This national park in the south of the country is a region of pine forests and marshes, with several historic villages which maintain traditional cultural practices. Zervynos is a protected ethnographic village which is essentially unchanged from its 18th-century appearance and is one of the best places in the country to experience traditional rural ways of life. Trains from Vilnius go directly to Zervynos village several times daily, taking 1 hour and 50 minutes. Buses and trains run to Marcinkonys, the main town in the national park, both taking about 2 hours.
9. Dieveniškės Appendix - This small region south of Vilnius is almost entirely surrounded by Belarus, a frontier which is fenced and carefully guarded as an external border of the European Union. Lithuanians like to jokingly describe why they think the region exists - while deciding where to place the borders between Soviet republics Stalin placed his pipe down on a map; none of his subordinates was brave enough to move it so they carefully drew an improbable border line that went safely around the pipe. For tourists the attraction lies in visiting a region which feels lost in time compared to most other regions in Lithuania, a place where traditional rural life and cultural practices still hold sway. Unfortunately there is no public transport directly to Dieveniškės, the closest place reachable by bus from Vilnius is Šalčininkai, 25 kilometres to the west (approximately 1 hour from Vilnius).
10. Geographic Centre of Europe monument - This large monument north of Vilnius isn't the only Centre of Europe monument (at least seven other European countries claim to have the geographic centre and five have built monuments) but it is one of the largest. Calculating the centre of Europe requires deciding where the external borders of Europe are first, and there is no agreement on exactly which outer islands should be included and just where the line separating Europe from Asia should be drawn, hence the opportunity for multiple countries to claim the title of being the centre. The site includes a "Centre of Europe" outdoor museum including an open-air sculpture park. The nearby village of Purnuškės has capitalized on its geographical significance with a number of local businesses using the "Centre of Europe" name, including a golf course. The monument is 20 kilometres north of Vilnius and the easiest way to get there is to take trolleybus #10 north to the stop called Zalgirio, where you can catch a bus directly to the park (look for a bus displaying "Skirgiškės" as its destination).