There’s a host of top Historic Sites in Lithuania to visit and among the very best are the famous Gediminas Tower, the Lithuanian National Museum and the Paneriai Memorial Museum. Other popular sites tend to include Vilnius Cathedral, Museum of Genocide Victims and St Peter and St Paul Church.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Lithuanian cultural landmarks, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Lithuania, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in Lithuania?
Gediminas Tower in Vilnius is the only remaining structure of what was once the city’s Upper Castle. The Upper Castle was one of three castles in Vilnius, all of which suffered a series of attacks in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, particularly by the Teutonic Order.
Today, Gediminas Tower is open to the public as part of the Vilnius Castle Museum. Inside it houses models of what the castle once looked like and it has an observation deck from which you can get great views of the city’s UNESCO-listed historic quarter.
The Lithuanian National Museum is made up of a series of museums, all located within the areas where the city’s castles once stood. Two of the main exhibition locations of the Lithuanian National Museum are the city’s Old and New Arsenals, which together house a series of exhibits chronicling the country’s history up to World War Two.
The Old Arsenal mainly focuses on prehistoric Lithuania through a vast archaeological collection and also has a medieval exhibit up to the thirteenth century. Meanwhile, the New Arsenal picks up from the thirteenth century with the establishment of the state of Lithuania and up to the early twentieth century.
Before the Second World War the beautiful forest area around Paneriai was a very popular recreational area for residents of Vilnius and its surroundings. In 1940 and 1941 Red Army soldiers established a military base in Aukštieji Paneriai.
Within days of being captured by the Germans this base became a place of execution. The shootings were supervised by the Nazis, but mainly carried out by the Special Squad, which consisted of 60 to 100 Lithuanian nationalist partisans.
Between July 1941 and April 1944 more than 100,000 people were murdered at Paneriai, the majority were Jewish. However, Poles, Roma, communists and Russian prisoners of war were also killed there.
The museum was opened in 1960 at the mass murder site. After Lithuanian independence, on the initiative of the Jewish community, the first memorial stone with inscriptions in Hebrew, Yiddish, Lithuanian and Russian announced that 70,000 Jews were murdered here.
The exhibition at the Paneriai Memorial Museum shows photographs of people murdered at Paneriai, orders and other documents issued by the occupying power and found in the area of the massacres, as well as clothing, shoes and prisoners’ work tools. In 2009, for the 50-year anniversary of the museum, parts of its exhibition were renovated.
Vilnius Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of St Stanislaus and St Vladislav, is located in the UNESCO listed historic old town of Vilnius.
Over the years, many events of national significance have taken place at Vilnius Cathedral, such as the coronations of several of Lithuania’s Grand Dukes. Many of the country’s most famous and important figures (or parts of them) are also contained within Vilnius Cathedral, including medieval ruler Vytautas the Great and Grand Duke Alexander Jogailaitis.
Vilnius Cathedral also houses works of art, many dating back to the sixteenth century. One of its oldest pieces is a fresco called “The Crucifixion”, which is believed to date back to the fourteenth century, making it the country’s oldest wall painting.
The Museum of Genocide Victims, commonly known as the KGB Museum, is dedicated to the history of Lithuania under the Soviet rule between 1940-1941 and 1944-1991. As its name suggests, it is particularly focused on the repressions against the Lithuanian people.
Exhibitions at the Museum of Genocide Victims look at the history of the Soviet occupation and the activities of the Soviet secret service. There are also exhibitions on the armed and unarmed anti-Soviet resistance, and those Lithuanian people who were sent to the Gulags and exiled to the remotest parts of the Soviet Union.
St Peter and St Paul Church in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius was built in the latter half of the seventeenth century. Its founder, Hetman Mykolas Kazimieras Pacas, intended the church to mark the city’s liberation from Russia.
With its thousands of stucco figures and beautiful interior, St Peter and St Paul Church is considered to be a fine example of Baroque architecture.
The Holocaust exhibition, which is also called “Green House”, is located near the center of Vilnius at Pamenkalnio str. 12. It is one branch of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.
The seven rooms of the museum tell the story of the once flourishing Jewish community in Lithuania (“Litvak” community) from the times of the grand duchy of Lithuania, until their tragic death in the 20th century. The main focus of the exhibition is on the Holocaust.
The Church of St Anne in Vilnius is a strikingly beautiful gothic church in the city’s old centre, it being part of this area’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The distinctive red hue of the Church of St Anne can be attributed to the thirty-three types of clay brick used to construct it.
Today, The Church of St Anne is grouped with the neighbouring Saints Francis and Bernardine Church, with tourist routes going through both. Tours are available in English, Lithuanian and Russian.
The Saints Francis and Bernardine Church, translated as Sv. Pranciskaus ir Bernardino, is a late fifteenth century church in the UNESCO-listed historic quarter of Vilnius. It is one of the country’s largest religious gothic structures.
Today, Saints Francis and Bernardine Church is grouped with the neighbouring Church of St Anne for tourist purposes, with long and short route guided tours offered of these historic sites.
The Gate of Dawn, translated as Aušros Vartai, was once one of nine city gates that guarded Vilnius as part of its sixteenth century city wall. Today, it is the only surviving city gate, the other eight having been destroyed by the Russians in the eighteenth century.
Like many such gates, the Gate of Dawn houses a chapel, however it is the icon of The Blessed Virgin Mary housed in the chapel of this particular gate which makes it unique. Known by some as the Vilnius Madonna, this painting is revered by members of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic faiths. Some even say that it was the chapel of the Gate of Dawn that spared it from destruction.