There’ll be plenty of fanfare and public events to mark the occasion of the last Baltic nation joining the European common currency.

Essential information:

Population :3 millions

Foreign visitors per year: 985,700

Capital: Vilnius

Languages: Lithuanian, Russian

Major industry: manufacturing

Unit of currency: litas (Lt); euro (€) in 2015

Cost index :bottle of Svyturys beer 8 Lt (US$3.20), sit-down meal per person 20-40 Lt (US$8-16), double hotel room 150-300 Lt (US$60-120)

Festivals & Events:

Image from Vilnius Festival

Actually ten festivals in one, the Vilnius Festival showcases everything from classical music and jazz to dance, theatre and cinema during the month of June.

What’s Hot…

Eurobasket, theEurovision Song Contest,standing up to Russia,particularly after events in Crimea

What’s Not…

Any mention of rejoining Russia, particularly after events in Crimea.

Life-changing experiences:

Life-changing experiences The seaside probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when people think of Lithuania, but the Curonian Spit is one long line of gorgeous beaches stretching south towards Russia, backed by Europe’s largest moving sand dunes. This wasn’t always sand and marram grass – the spit was once densely forested, before the trees were felled to build boats for the Battle of Gross-Jagersdorf (1757). Today, the spit is World Heritage listed, and the most popular holiday spot in the country – to help keep it beautiful, free tickets are offered to visitors who carry 120L of rubbish away when they leave.

Nida Beach – Curonian Spit, Lithuania

Then there’s lovely Vilnius, whose baroque old town – the largest in northern Europe – earned Lithuania its second entry on the World Heritage list. Like a less cutesy and less commercial Prague, the old quarter is a warren of winding alleyways and cobbled squares flanked by curlicue-covered town-houses. Teutonic statues and occasional onion domes lend a definite Russian flavour, but there’s refreshingly little pressure to buy a furry ushanka hat.

Aušros Vartų street of Vilnius’s Old Town

Current craze :

Love for shooting hoops runs deep in Lithuania, where basketball tournaments between Lithuanian and Soviet teams became an allegory for the greater struggles of the Cold War. ‘Eurobasket’ is consistently the most popular word entered into Lithuanian online search engines and ten former Lithuanian players have made it to the American NBA. The above-average height of Lithuanians ¬nearly 4cm taller than the European norm – may well have played a part.

Žydrūnas Ilgauskas
Žydrūnas Ilgauskas plays in NBA since 1996 and he was part of Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, two of the biggest teams

Random facts:

  • Mindaugas, who united Lithuania in the 13th century, was the country’s first and only monarch.Lithuania was the first Soviet Republic to declare independence, leading the charge in 1990.

  • Vilnius proudly displays the world’s only statue to Frank Zappa, replacing a Communist monument that was torn down after Independence.

Most bizarre sights:

Topping the list of unlikely attractions is Gruto Parkas, popularly known as Stalin World, with its statues of ‘heroic workers’ and rescued busts of Lenin and Uncle Joe, spread around a forest park guarded by gulag-style watchtowers. The theme park’s founder, mushroom-mogul Viliumas Malinauskas, insists that the park exists to make fun of Communism, but plans for Siberian-style `deportation’ trains to ferry tourists from Vilnius were flatly rejected by local officials!

Almost as strange is Siauliai’s Hill of Crosses, a weather-worn collection of around 100,000 crucifixes of every imaginable kind and size, groaning under the weight of rosaries and devotional offerings. The first crosses appeared here after the 1831 uprising against Russian rule, and the collection is still growing (new additions are positively encouraged).

Siauliai’s Hill of Crosses

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