Vilnius is famous not only by its cultural monuments but also by its picturesque nature. The variety of landscapes, their beauty and temperament; this are the features that distinguishes Vilnius from other European countryside.
Only 25 km to the North of Vilnius is the real centre of Europe. The National Institute of Geography of France marked it to be so in 1989.
Centre of Europe you will find by driving Molėtai road up to the indicator to Bernotai. Approximately in 14 km from there there is the European Park. The aim of the open air museum is to give a sense to the geographical centre of Europe with the language of art.
Europos parkas (the European Park)
Joneikiškių k., 4013 Vilniaus raj. (19 km north from Vilnius, driving Verkiai road), tel. 237 7077
This park was established in 1991 according to the initiative of the young sculptor Gintaras Karosas. The aim of the museum is to make the geographical centre of Europe essential with the help of the language of art. The sculptures, which are the works of sculptors from more than 70 countries worldwide, are exhibited in the open area of 55 ha. Among them one can see some of the works of famous modern artists such as S. LeWitt, M. Abakanowicz and D. Oppenheim. Every year, different artists representing different cultural traditions and international backgrounds add contribute some of their works to this beautiful park at the geographical centre of Europe.
The wavy relief of the park and the small ponds build the perfect backgrounds for the sculptures. The blossoming meadows in spring, the harmony of colours in autumn, and the changing illumination of the day in summer create unique and breath-taking impressions that are certain to appeal to every taste.
The European Park is one of the most visited places in cultural tourism in Lithuania. Some more than 40 thousand people arrive annually to enjoy the beautiful nature, to run away from daily life routine, to spend free time fruitfully, and to get close look at modern arts.
Pavilniai Regional Park
Directorate of Pavilniai and Verkiai Regional Parks
Žaliųjų ežerų g. 53, tel. 272 9834, fax 272 9835
Pavilniai regional park was established in 1992. Its area includes 2100 ha. The purpose of the regional park is to preserve heritage of both nature and culture. One of the most important peculiarities of the park is the quite large differences of relative heights (up to 100 m) and the incomparable variety of their forms. The most attractive feature of Pavilniai park is its erosion hill chain, as well as its flora. There are more than half (more than 750) of Lithuanian species of flora; quite a number of rare plants. Some places are available that even reminds of the depth of the gloomy forest.
In this park, the unique geological site – the Pučkoriai rock exposure – is located. This is one of the highest and most impressive rock exposures from the glacial époque not only in the Vilnia river valley but also in the entire Lithuania. The rock exposures measures approximately 65 m in height, and 260 m in width. One can enjoy the indescribable panorama of Vilnia valley from the top of the rock. The Lower Vilnia is more than 60 m deep. Vilnia streams there like it was a mountain brook.
Another part of the park – the Markučiai preserve – is a very attractive and rich piece of nature. There are plenty of springs and oaks. In the preserve the A. Pushkin’s Museum is located – an old wooden construction erected in 1867. The poet himself never visited this place, but his relatives used to walk throughout these outskirts. In ancient times, Markučiai oak tree forest was the summer place of the Dukes of Lithuania.
One more perfect place of the park is the Belmontas hill rising above the town and overgrown with pine trees. Its name is as such because of the beauty of the place: in Italian, bello monte means ‘beautiful hill’.
In more than fifteen places of Pavilniai park, one may enjoy not only beautiful views of hills, valleys, forests, or the Vilnia river valley, but also the magic remains of a cultural heritage and many interesting old buildings. From the sightseeing places, the beautiful panorama of Vilnius is overwhelming. To get familiar with the main features of the landscape of the regional park, it will be helpful to learn the established system of cognitive pedestrian paths, and to also review the motor (and bicycles) tourism routes. The main cognitive pedestrian path consists of three parts leading to the following routes:
- Ribiškės–Pūčkoriai (12 km or 7.5 mi long);
- Barsukynė–Sapieginė (10 km or 6.2 mi long);
- Sapieginė–Belmontas (6 km or 3.7 mi long).
Verkiai Regional Park
Directorate of Pavilniai and Verkiai Regional Parks
Žaliųjų ežerų g. 53, tel. 272 9834, fax 272 9835
The purpose of Verkiai regional park is to preserve the Green Lakes (Žalieji ežerai), surrounding nature and cultural complexes available in Verkiai, Kalvarijos and Trinapolis outskirts. Besides this, it is an attempt to develop cognitive tourism, to propagate the ideas of nature protection, to take care and interest in the heritage of material and spiritual culture.
Green Lakes Landscape Preserve
Deep and standing slopes of ravine valleys of the Green Lakes had formed during the glacier époque, approximately 18,000 years ago. In the lowest parts of them lay the lakes. The mid lake of the hilly landscape is not only very impressive but at the same time it is very valuable from the biological point of view. It is rich in plants and their growing places are inscribed in the Red Book of Lithuania.
Turniškės Landscape Preserve
The Riešė river found in the preserve splits into another two rivers – the Riešė and the Turniškės rivers. This is a very rare phenomenon in Lithuania. One more feature of this preserve is the mechanical site dating back to the 19th century – the Naujieji Verkiai paper mill still operates with a system of engineering channels.
Verkiai Landscape and Architecture Preserve
Even before the establishment of the capital city Vilnius, Verkiai was the place of the pagan cult and is considered as the birthplace of the son of the Pagan Senior Priest Lizdeika. There, the unique ensemble of Verkiai palace, built in the end of the 18th–19th centuries, is under protection now.
Kalvarijos Memorial Preserve
The visitors of these places especially like to swim in the clean waters of the Balsys and Gulbinas lakes. But the main accent of the preserve is the Verkiai Kalvarijos, established in the middle of the 17th century. The Verkiai Road of Cross, adapted to the natural landscape, is an attempt to restore the path of Jesus Christ. Such architectural-urban ensemble has no analogues in entire Europe. In order to visit the main features of the landscape of the regional park, a system of sightseeing bicycle trips and pedestrian paths are currently under establishment.
Trakai Tourist Information Centre
Vytauto 69, Trakai, tel./fax (8 528) 51934
Trakai is a genuine archaic town on water. At the same time it is the beautiful place for relaxation and rich in numerous beautiful lakes. The Trakai town and its neighbouring outskirts, as the state's centre, had begun to form in the 13th century. According to the chronicles, the Grand Duke Gediminas after a successful hunt found this nice place not far away from the capital town of his time, Kernavė, and decided to erect the castle there. So the new capital Trakai originated. The town was mentioned in German chronicles for the very fist time in 1337. And that year is considered as the official year of the town’s foundation. Around the newly built castle in Trakai, settlements began to emerge. When Vytautas became the Vassal Ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Trakai had become the political and administrative centre. Eventually, the town gained the Magdeburg rights.
Trakai castle was built in the 15th century. This is the only water castle in the entire territory of Eastern Europe. The castle is one of the most visited historical and architectural sites in Lithuania. The museum of history operates there. Different events are organised, as well as festivals of theatre and concerts.
Trakai is interesting also because of the fact that there live 30 Caraite families – representatives of the Turkish ethnic group, the ancestors of which were invited by Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania in the 14th century. The Caraites guarded the castle of the Grand Duke, and were the personal bodyguards of Vytautas himself. Besides this, they earned their living by making handicrafts and trade. Their society preserved their religion, customs, and culture up to present times.
Aukštadvaris Regional Park
Draugystės g. 2, Aukštadvaris, tel. 8 528 65246
The incredibly nice and interesting outskirts of Aukštadvaris are famous for their numerous lakes, the 40 m deep Devil’s Pit, the oak of poet A. Mickiewicz, the Gallows Hill (Kartuvių kalnas), the ponds full of trout, and the Lavoriškės hill – fort, called Napoleon’s Hat.
St Virgin Mary Visit’s Church
Birutės g. 5, Trakai
This is the first parish church built in 1409 by the attempts of Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. The main altar of the church contains the image of St Virgin Mary. It is believed that it was a wonder-maker and protects from the misfortunes. Since 1603 this place celebrates a Church festival carrying the name of St Virgin Mary which attracts many believers from different places of Lithuania.
Karaimų g., Trakai
One of the most famous ethnographical sights of Trakai is the street and buildings that witness the history of Caraims. The interesting fact is that the Caraims used to build their houses three windows facing the street, every window had its purpose: one for the Duke Vytautas, one for God and the third for the Caraim himself.
Kairėnai Botanical Garden
Kairėnų g. 43, tel. 231 7933, fax 231 7429
Botanical Garden of Vilnius University was founded in 1781 by Professor J.E. Gilibert (1741–1814). The garden occupied an area of 300 m² and contained about 2000 species of plants from various countries of the world. Later by the efforts of famous naturalist G.A. Forster (1754–1794) another tract of land was acquired for the Botanical Garden. In 1824 the collections of the Garden contained as many as 6565 species. In 1832, when the University was closed down by the Tsar administration, the introduced plants perished. In 1919, a new Botanical Garden was started. Now the park occupies a territory of 199 hectares and contains about 9000 species of flora.