Every time we plan a trip, we look for exciting and unique experiences. We want to visit places few have seen before. And take one-of-a-kind, irreplicable pictures. We also search for a feeling of spiritual fulfilment, seeking to strengthen our soul against stress and uncertainty. How does one find the middle ground while wanting so many different things? The travel experience can be transformed by simply raising our heads, where the church towers soar skyward. And it is the remote churches and monasteries that help us maintain ties with the generations that came before. There, stress and anxiety simply disappear.
It's possible you might have never thought of taking such a trip, but we have some ideas that might convince you. We've collected 33 places for spiritual experiences all across Lithuania – from an underwater cross to a church in a tree – that all deserve a detour. Or maybe even an epic road trip covering them all.
A wooden copy of the Vilnius Cathedral. St. Trinity's Church in Rumbonys (Alytus district)
In smaller Lithuanian towns, visitors have the opportunity to marvel at what is called "folk architecture" - a style that mimics grander structures using inexpensive materials, like wood instead of marble. Close to Alytus, one of the best examples of this has been preserved - a wooden copy of the Vilnius Cathedral. Built in 1795, this church sports a six-column portico reminiscent of Classicism style buildings. Its interior walls are decorated with stylized folk ornaments proposed by artist Antanas Žmuidzinavičius (ironically, famous for having established the Devils' Museum in Kaunas).
Inspired by Rome. Kalviai Church of St. Anthony Of Padua (Kaišiadorys district)
Lithuania's own little Roman Parthenon hides in Kalviai, a small town in central Lithuania. Overlooking the blue waters of Kalviai Lake, the Church of St. Anthony Of Padua was built by an unknown architect in the early 19th century, following the example of Roman rotundas. The circular domed building, the first of the two rotunda type churches in Lithuania, has suffered multiple storms and fires, but maintained the original wall finish of crushed pink-hued stone - a rare find in Lithuanian architecture.
Route of Contemplation (Kaišiadorys district)
One of the most notable features of Catholic spirituality, devotion to the Rosary, is believed to be a remedy against the hardships of life. In Guronys village, this tradition of Christian contemplation took the form of the Route of the Mysteries of the Rosary, consisting of five chapels decorated with scenes from the Bible and the lives of Lithuanian Catholics. The Route is part of a 10-hectare park where pilgrims and visitors will also find the Guronys Retreat and Spirituality Center that offers retreats for those seeking spiritual growth.
Guronys is also the birthplace of Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius. Although the homestead has ceased to exist, the sacred Rosary road and park in Lithuania was established here in 2006. It has a large chapel surrounded by five smaller chapels. A rosary exposition can be visited nearby.
Lifted from the bottom of the lagoon. St. Michael Archangel Church of Rumšiškės (Kaišiadorys district)
The building of the Kaunas Hydropower Plant, one of the most ambitious engineering projects in Lithuanian history, saw the creation of Kaunas lagoon - the country's largest artificial body of water, covering 0.1% of its territory. For a lagoon to serve as a water reservoir powering the plant, the Nemunas River was dammed, its waters flooding about 40 villages and over 700 homesteads. The St. Michael Archangel Church stood where the bottom of the Lagoon now is, in the village of old Rumšiškės, until it was moved to the upper terrace of Nemunas along with its bell tower. A marvellous example Lithuanian "folk architecture", this wooden church now holds celebrations to honour the inhabitants of the flooded villages. This church holds celebrations honouring the inhabitants of the flooded villages.
The tallest cross in Lithuania (Šilalė district)
Offering ample space for prayerful walks, Kaltinėnai Spiritual Park honours the memory of Lithuanian exiles - some 350,000 people deported to labour camps in the inhospitable parts of the Soviet Union. The Calvaries of the Exiles, found in the park, consist of 21 sculptures commemorating both the Passion of the Christ and the anguish of the exiles. On a nearby hill stands the Cross of Resurrection. Built in 1990, the year Lithuania regained its independence, the cross symbolizes the nation's rebirth. At the height of 20 meters, this is the tallest cross in Lithuania.
Altar of tree branches. St. Mary of the Snows Church in Girdiškės (Šilalė district)
The two side altars of the St. Mary of the Snows Church might remind you of the ancient times when Samogitians worshipped sacred trees and forests. The altars, made around 1928, are made of debarked oak tree trunks and branches that intertwine to resemble the rhythm of Gothic architecture. The church itself is a neo-Gothic masterpiece with a playful addition of a "defensive" tower by the northern wall.
Curing miracles in Gvaldai Chapel (Drungėliškės, Šilalė district)
The Gvaldai chapel stands in the middle of the forest - at the place where, as the story goes, a man once found a statuette of Jesus of Nazareth lying on a stone. When multiple attempts to bring the statuette to Kvėdarna church ended in it continuously reappearing on the stone, the man built a chapel there to house the statuette. Today, the original chapel, built around 1840, is enveloped by the second, bigger one, constructed a century later. The "chapel-within-a-chapel" is believed to be a miraculous place with powers to cure various ailments.
A chapel in a power station (Panevėžys district)
Lithuanian book smugglers, or knygnešiai, were the people who risked their lives to transport Lithuanian books printed in the Latin alphabet into Lithuanian-speaking areas of the Russian Empire, defying a ban on such materials that was in force from 1864 to 1904. To commemorate their fight against forced Russification, a former power station on the edge of the Bistrampolis manor park was turned into a chapel-museum. Decorated in frescoes depicting portraits of book smugglers and the books they carried, the chapel houses the cross the patriarch of book smugglers, Jurgis Bielinis, died next to on his way to discuss Lithuanian independence in Vilnius in 1918.
Krekenava Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and its replica in a tree (Panevėžys district)
The filial church of the Roman Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Lithuania, the Krekenava Basilica hosts a miraculous painting of the Mother of God and Child. Venerated for centuries, the painting is said to be brought to Krekenava at the dawn of Christianity in Lithuania. A replica of the neo-Gothic basilica can be found in a tree on the nearby Švenčiuliškių street, where it was placed by a Krekenava local.
Pilgrimage on two wheels (Kupiškis district)
Fancy combining sacred sight-seeing with cycling? The 52 kilometre-long cycling route across the Kupiškis district in northeastern Lithuania runs by many interesting houses of worship, including as the Church of St Anthony of Padua in Salamiestis, whose cobblestone walls make it look like a medieval fortress, and the wooden Antašava St. Hyacinth Church, a fine example of Lithuanian "folk architecture".
St. Dominic's Church and Monastery Complex in Palėvėnė (Kupiškis district)
A Dominican monastery with roots in the 17th century, the Palėvėnė St. Dominic's monastic complex is one of the most authentic Baroque ensembles in Lithuania, featuring a gorgeous late Baroque altar, a uniquely shaped pulpit, and lodges with the names of the monastery's benefactors. But it is not solely a place to admire architecture - the local community offers the visitors to spend an evening listening to stories about the monastery, visiting the monastery's mysterious cellars, and trying locally-caught carp and herring prepared according to old recipes preserved by the monks.
Under a reed roof. The Nida Christian Help Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Nida)
Before 2003, the Nida resort on the Curonian Spit did not have a Catholic church, but soon after its construction, the Nida Christian Help Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary became a prominent feature of its townscape. Standing on a sandy hill in the centre of the town, the church combines architectural elements typical to the Lithuanian seaside, such as water reed, with contemporary glass construction. The church's white spire with a cross can be seen from multiple points across Nida. The church's bell bears the following engraving: "Ring, the loud bell, between the dunes of the sea, call and aid the people of Neringa".
Candle Sanctuary in the cellar. Church of St. Gertrude (Kaunas)
Built on the cusp of the 16th century, the Church of St. Gertrude in Kaunas is one of the oldest Gothic churches in Lithuania. Nowadays, the cellar of the church serves as a candle sanctuary. Believers can light a candle, expressing a wish, and throughout the week until the candle burns out, people visiting the sanctuary pray for its fulfilment.
One of the most modern in the world – Elektrėnai Catholic Church of Mary, the Queen of Martyrs (Elektrėnai)
Located near the Vilnius-Kaunas highway, the Church of Mary, the Queen of Martyrs of Elektrėnai looks more like a building from a sci-fi film than a Catholic church. Its impressive semi-circular portal, consisting of a high rectangular arch and six column-like crosses, symbolizes the seven centuries of Christianity in Lithuania. When the church was being constructed in the middle of the 90s, its ambitious architecture had no analogues in Lithuania, posing a serious challenge to the builders. Today, the church is the symbol of Elektrėnai.
Built without nails. Palūšė St. Joseph wooden church (Ignalina district)
The octagonal bell tower of the Church of St. Joseph in Palūšė - the only such tower in Lithuania - has a distinct look of an ancient observation tower. It is also familiar to most Lithuanians as it had once decorated the 1 litas banknote. Surprisingly, the bell tower is not the church's most interesting feature! It is the way it was built - without iron nails, using only an axe. Constructed in the middle of the 18th century, the church sports a hospitable inscription above its doors: "Come in good, leave better." In addition to a serene place for prayer, visitors of Palūšė church also get an unforgettable view into the vastness of the Lūšiai Lake from a nearby hill.
The oldest wooden church in Lithuania. Church of the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ in Stelmužė (Zarasai district)
The 16th-century church is considered the oldest monument of wooden architecture in Lithuania. Originally a Calvinist place of worship, the building is an example of Lithuanian "folk architecture", which used inexpensive materials (mostly wood) to emulate Classicism architecture. The church's mid-17th century altar and pulpit, featuring exquisite Baroque carvings, are particularly valuable and unique in Lithuania.
Masonry reminiscent of Scotland. Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Sorrows in Salakas (Zarasai district)
The grey masonry of the Salakas church makes it look like it had been teleported there straight from Scotland. The thick stone walls and the seemingly sky-scraping tower give the building an appearance of a medieval cathedral rather than a small-town church. The Salakas townspeople themselves have contributed to the construction of their place of worship, bringing stones from their fields and assisting the masons. The church was supposed to be even taller - 95 meters in height - but after the scaffolding collapsed the goal was adjusted to a lower but still impressive height of 72 meters.
Worship in the forest. The Full House Community Chapel of Divine Mercy in Panara (Varėna district)
Funded through pilgrim donations, the Chapel of Divine Mercy in the Panara village belongs to the Full House community - a Catholic group dedicated to helping those battling addictive disorders. A budding congregation, the community has its own rhythm of prayer, rest, and spiritual training. Visitors are welcome not only for Sunday Mass, but also for a tour around the community and a visit to its farm of medicinal herbs and spices.
Kvass drinking at a monastery. Tytuvėnai Church and Monastery Complex (Kelmė district)
Legend has it that the site of the Bernardine monastery in Tytuvėnai was chosen because of a prophetic sign - before the first stone was laid, a miraculous light appeared, indicating the slope by the Tytuva river as the location for the monastery. Today, the Tytuvėnai Pilgrimage Centre has adapted one of the best Baroque ensembles in Lithuania and North-Eastern Europe for both tourism and pilgrimage. Various educational activities invite curious visitors to live a day in a monk's life - you can write with a goose quill, observe the herbs grown in the monastery garden, make a rosary, and even sample the different types of home-made pilgrim kvass.
The biggest Samogitian organ and a historical bench. St. Virgin Mary Immaculate Conception Parish Church in Kražiai (Kelmė district)
When peaceful locals gathered to protect the Kražiai Benedictine monastery from the tsarist officials who were ordered to shut it down in November 1893, a bloody confrontation ensued. The Kražiai Massacre, as the event is now known, became a symbol of Lithuanian efforts to protect the people's identity and Catholic faith against the Russian Empire. The Lithuanians' resistance notwithstanding, the monastery and its church remained closed for fifteen years. Nowadays, only the Baroque church, the churchyard fence and a small chapel remain of the former monastic complex. The church still has the bench to which the tsarist soldiers tied their horses before the massacre.
The Tyzenhaus drum in Rokiškis St. Matthew Evangelist Church (Rokiškis)
The neo-Gothic St. Matthew Evangelist Church in Rokiškis hides a list of all the parishioners that contributed to the building of the church behind its main altar. The main patrons of the construction were the noble Tyzenhaus family, whose members now rest in the crypt under the presbytery. Reynold Tyzenhaus, the head of the family at the time, gifted the church a copy of the trophy drum that was brought to Lithuania after the victory against the Ottoman Empire at Chotim in 1621. The drum, 130 centimetres in diameter, is still used occasionally, for instance, during service on Good Friday.
Candle casting in the Videniškiai Monastery (Molėtai district)
The White Augustinians arrived in the Videniškiai town in eastern Lithuania at the beginning of the 17th century and set up a community that thrived for the next couple of centuries. Today, the former monastery hosts a museum dedicated to the order, where you can observe the faces of White Augustinians immortalized in frescoes. Visitors can also participate in candle casting, textile painting workshops and try a "monk stew", whose recipe hasn't changed for centuries.
Tours in the Little Vatican. Five Kretinga monasteries (Kretinga)
The town of Kretinga in western Lithuania is sometimes called the country's Little Vatican. And for a good reason – the town is home to five monasteries: the Kretinga Bernardine Monastery and Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Complex, the only St. Clara's Monastery in the Baltic States, the Convent of the Sisters of Mother Teresa, the Blessed Virgin Mary's Ceaseless Help of God's Home of the Franciscan Sisters and the Most Sacred Heart Franciscan Missionary Congregation. Visitors can take a themed tour to explore the monastic communities and meet the nuns, discover the routine they follow, and visit the churches, chapels and crypts of the monasteries.
Through the city with a nun "In the Footsteps of the Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis" (Marijampolė)
Marijampolė is the city of the Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis - a Catholic prelate beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987. Thousands of pilgrims from Lithuania and abroad come to Marijampolė every year to walk the paths of the Blessed prelate and pray at his altar in the Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel, where the sarcophagus with his body lies. Next to the Basilica, the Marian Monastery of Marijampolė houses a Matulaitis memorial museum and provides guided tours around the city.
Crosses made by the most prominent wood carver (Kėdainiai)
Kryždirbystė, or cross crafting, refers to the traditional Lithuanian art of making crosses, listed among the UNESCO Masterpieces of Intangible Heritage. Intricately carved from oak and sometimes incorporating iron elements, crosses were placed on roadsides, in cemeteries or churches as memorials to the dead or signs of spiritual protection. The most renowned Lithuanian cross crafter was the self-taught Vincas Svirskis (1835–1916), whose crosses, once seen across central Lithuania, are now kept in national museums. In the biggest hall of the Kėdainiai Regional Museum, 15 crosses carved by Svirskis are on display, and the visitors can admire the sincerity and monumentality of his work.
Making a protective mask in the Church Heritage Museum (Vilnius)
Situated right in the heart of Vilnius, the impressive Renaissance architectural ensemble of the St. Michael the Archangel Church and the former Bernadine monastery is home to the Church Heritage Museum. The museum houses the most valuable objects from the Catholic sanctuaries of the Vilnius Archdiocese. At the centre of the exposition are the monstrances and reliquaries of the Vilnius Cathedral Treasury – masterpieces of goldsmithing, these expressive witnesses of centuries of devotion, unveil the rich history of the Lithuanian Catholic Church. Ornate examples of church textiles, other artistic liturgical items and craft objects are also on display. The Church Heritage Museum offers an extensive list of educational activities that complement the permanent exhibit and any temporary exhibitions, with the last addition reflecting the current events - the museum now invites you to make your own protective face mask.
Near one of the oldest cemeteries in Lithuania. Beržoras St. Stanislaus Church (Plungė district)
According to a legend, the St. Stanislaus Church of Beržoras was built at the place where a shepherd once saw a painting of the Holy Virgin Mary in a treetop. The churchyard hosts the old Plateliai parish cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Lithuania. Along with the ancient tombs, the Beržoras town has preserved its original, single-street village appearance. The town also boasts 14 Stations of the Cross chapels that have been in use since 1760.
The cross at the bottom of Lake Plateliai (Plungė district)
Pope John Paul II once said that to understand the essence of the Cross, one needs to descend into the depths. The Franciscan brothers of Kretinga gave shape to these words by placing a cross at the bottom of Plateliai lake, famous for its clear waters. Standing at 12 meters under the water surface and 1 meter away from the lakeshore, the cross can be visited by taking one of the tours offered by the local diving centre.
Where mummies rest. Liškiava Monastery (Varėna district)
An hour-long steamboat trip down the Nemunas river from Druskininkai brings pilgrims to Liškiava, a town boasting an impressive late Baroque ensemble of a former Dominican monastery. The Liškiava Blessed Trinity Church has a beautiful polychromatic interior and a 19th-century organ, once used by Konstantinas Čiurlionis, the father of Lithuania's most famous composer and artist Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. The crypt of the church houses a museum where visitors can see the mummified remains of Dominican monks who lived there.
A Monstrance of Bullets. Gojus Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel of Patient Health (Trakai district)
The biggest treasure of the Gojus Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel is the miraculous Mother of God painting, which pilgrims venerate asking for a cure to their ailments. The chapel also hosts an extraordinary monstrance made of bullets, extracted from Austrian, Prussian and Russian soldiers wounded in World War I and brought to a nearby hospital.
The beginning of the Great Samogitian Calvary Festival – on Panų Hill (Telšiai district)
Panų Hill or Mergakalnis (Hill of Girls) is famous for the gruesome legend behind its name. The story goes that when the Swedes were ravaging Samogitia in the 17th century, the local girls hid in a cave in this hill. When the Swedes found their hiding place, they shut the cave opening with stones, burying alive about 2000 young women. To commemorate the dead, a chapel was built. The current chapel, rebuilt in 1990, is decorated with crosses left by believers asking for health and happiness. Every July, Panų Hill attracts crowds of pilgrims as the starting place of The Great Samogitian Calvary Festival.
A stop for the disadvantaged – Pauliai Monastery (Jurbarkas district)
An old school building in Pauliai was converted into a rehabilitation centre by the Capuchin friars in 2017. Now, Pauliai monastery provides shelter and guidance for those battling addictions. The friars also host spiritual retreats, and visitors can also come for a prayer, or simply to meditate in nature next to a stream flowing nearby.
A Future Queen's Place of Prayer. The Dieveniškės Parish of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary (Šalčininkai district)
Located about 6 kilometres from the Belarusian border, the town of Dieveniškės was once part of the lands owned by the noble Goštautai family, one of the most influential magnate families in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The first Dieveniškės church, built in 1474, even had a royal connection. Before becoming the Queen Consort of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Barbara Radziwill (or Barbora Radvilaitė in Lithuanian) resided in a neighbouring manor with her first husband from the Goštautai family and used to come to the town church to pray. The current bright yellow wooden church was constructed in the late 18th century; the bells in the tower at the gate to the churchyard are more than two centuries old.
Contact in advance for visits to sanctuaries and the times of worship services.
The information has been prepared according to the material collected by the National Tourism Development Agency Lithuania Travel, tourism information centres and members of the program Create Lithuania.
For more information about religious tourism in Lithuania, visit here