Lithuania’s early inhabitants were various Baltic tribes arriving as early as the 3rd millennium BC. The Kingdom of Lithuania was formed at the union of these tribes under King Mindaugas in 1253. His rule was short-lived, however, when he was assassinated a decade later. During the Northern Crusades in the 13th century, Lithuania, along with neighboring Latvia and Estonia, were mostly conquered Livonians and the Teutonic Order of Germany.
The Gediminid dynasty came to power in the late 13th century, vastly expanding the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The House of Gediminas formed an alliance with Poland, which was strengthened after threats from the Grand Duchy of Moscow. In 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was established. The Swedes invaded during the Northern Wars in the mid-1600s, and then the Great Northern War hit the country even further. The Commonwealth was partitioned by the Russian Empire, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria in the late 1700s.
In World War I, Lithuania declared its independence in 1918. Poland annexed and occupied the capital, Vilnius. The Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, annexing its territory, and when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviets, Lithuania became occupied by Nazi forces. Control was returned to the Soviets in 1944, and it became the Lithuanian SSR in 1945. Ethnic Lithuanians were deported from the country, and the Lithuanians fought back and many died. The anti-Communism movement began in the 1980s, and Lithuania declared its independence in 1990, though it was not without violent resistance from the Soviet Union. Lithuanian independence was recognized in 1991.
Lithuania shares borders with Latvia, Belarus, Poland, and Russia’s exclave, the Kaliningrad Oblast. Just across the Baltic Sea from Lithuania are Sweden and Denmark.
- Vilnius (capital)
Lithuania is a Baltic country, situated along the Baltic Sea in northeastern Europe. The terrain of Lithuania was largely formed by the melting of Ice Age glaciers, with close to 3,000 lakes, mostly in the east. The landscape is mostly flat with hills and some minor highlands. About a third of the terrain is forested, while lakes and swamp regions make up other regions. The highest point is in Samogitia, and stands just 298 meters (977 feet) above sea level. The largest river in Lithuania is the Nemunas River, which flows 917 kilometers (570 miles), while other major rivers include the Neris, Venta, and Sesupe. Its main port is Klaipeda, along the Curonian Lagoon.
Points of Interest
Lithuania has several important natural sites, including many national and regional parks. The national parks include Aukstaitija National Park, Dzukija National Park, Samogitian National Park, National Park of Curonian Spit, and Trakai Historical National Park. One popular attraction in Lithuania are its hill-forts, known as pilikalniai, which offer great views and pleasant outdoor space.
Lithuania’s history has left it with various sites, including the fortresses of the Russians and Germans who once occupied the lands. There are also several castles in Lithuania, like Norviliskes Castle, which is a Renaissance style castle, while Raudone Castle is built in the Gothic style. The capital, Vilnius, is home to an Old Town, built in the Middle Ages, which features architecture from the Baroque, Classical, Renaissance, and Gothic styles, though the medieval city was a wooden one. Also in Vilnius are the Gediminas royal family’s castle, cathedrals, and Verkiai Regional Park.
Lithuania’s main airport, located in the capital, is Vilnius International, with service from many destinations in Europe. Other options are Palanga Airport, Kaunas International, and Latvia’s Riga International Airport. Trains are available from destinations in Latvia, Poland, and Russia. Domestic travel by train is a good option, especially for tourist destinations, including national parks. Boats are also an option from Sweden, Germany, and Denmark.
The Baltic Road is a well-maintained route between the Baltic states, connecting Vilnius to Tallinn and the rest of the Baltic, and other roads in the country are usually nice. Within Lithuania, car and bus are good methods of travel, with frequent bus service that is fairly inexpensive. In cities, taxis are also typically cheap and convenient.