Lithuania remained part of the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth until the 18th century, when it was annexed into the Russian Empire. After the Tsarist monarchy was dissolved in 1918, Lithuania became independent – until 1940 when it was first occupied by the Soviet Union, then Nazi Germany and then the Soviets again. Once more, Lithuania declared its independence in 1990, one of the first Soviet republics to do so and boomed once more, becoming one of Europe’s fastest growing economies and a member of the European Union.
Lithuania’s fascinating ethnic differences – there are five distinct ethnographic areas, each with its own dialects, customs, traditions, stories, architecture, costumes, music and dance – reflect its complicated political history. Lithuanians are rightly proud of their heritage and folklore and for travellers interested in culture, crafts and food, the rich diversity makes travelling around the country extremely compelling. While town museums provide informative introductions and the best opportunities for experiencing Lithuania’s heritage are festivals, especially during spring and summer.
Most visitors come for the outdoors and the country doesn’t disappoint with a natural, pristine beauty that’s enviable: emerald green rolling hills, fragrant pine forests, serene lakes with island castles and windswept beaches with towering sand-dunes. Western Lithuania is exceptionally beautiful with its highlight the UNESCO World Heritage listed Curonian Spit, with impressive sand dunes on a slither of land separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. For kicking back on the beach, Palanga, with white sands backed by pine forest, is unbeatable.