The remote site in Lithuania sparked my curiosity years ago. I couldn’t help to find it both intriguing and a bit spooky, so on my way from Vilnius to Riga, I decided to take a detour and visit the Hill of Crosses (Kryžių kalnas).
The total number of crosses is estimated in the hundreds of thousands
Things to do in Lithuania: a visit to the Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses: a bit of history
The Hill of Crosses is a famous site of pilgrimage located about 12 km north of the city of Šiauliai, in northern Lithuania. Visited by Pope John Paul II in 1993, its precise origin is unknown and houses hundreds of thousands of crosses. Some say over 150,000. Others say over 350,000. No one really knows but there are loads of them.
The site took on a special significance during the Soviet occupation. It became a place of hope and non-violent resistance. A visit to the Hill of Crosses is, without a doubt, one of the most unique things to do in Lithuania.
Tour company vs self-guided tour
If you decide to do a day trip from Vilnius using a tour company, you are looking at three hours on the road each way. And probably just about an hour visiting the Hill of Crosses. Most tour companies operate on similar schedules, which means the site could be packed during your visit. Tours may be cancelled last minute if there’s not enough attendance. Private tours are also an alternative, at an extra cost.
I arrived around noon on my own and was quite worried by the number of tour busses making their way at the same time. An hour later, I had the place pretty much to myself.
I prefer self-guided tours as I like to take my time and set my own schedule when traveling. This time was no exception. However, under certain circumstances, using a reputable tour operator could be more convenient.
Check your bus or train schedule before deciding. Keep in mind what time of the year you’ll be visiting. Winters are extremely cold and it gets dark early. You wouldn’t want to wait for hours for a bus or train in below zero temperatures.
Tour busses make a quick stop around noon after which you can pretty much have the place to yourself
How to get to the Hill of Crosses
A visit to the Hill of crosses is not the easiest to organise. It took a train, a bus and 2 km on foot to get there. Unless you hire a car, you’ll most likely have to travel via Šiauliai, the closest city to the site.
Šiauliai can be reached by bus or train from Vilnius. The latter is considerably faster, taking around two hours. The cost of the ticket was 11,60 EUR at the time, but prices can vary. The trains and booking system are top-notch.
If arriving by train, you’ll have a 7-minute walk to the coach station. Make your way to the information desk to check the departure platform. You need to take a bus heading to Joniškis. Your stop is Domantai, about 20 minutes from Šiauliai. Busses don’t run very frequently, so check the schedule in advance.
English is sparsely spoken outside the capital, so the more information you gather beforehand, the easier it’ll be to move around. I’d suggest you have your destination written on a piece of paper or marked on Google maps in case you need assistance.
The small and extremely busy bus was 1 EUR at the time of writing. Again, I’d advise you to show the driver your destination and use Google maps to guide you.
Domantai is a stop in the middle of the countryside. You’ll have to do 2 km on foot to the Hill of Crosses. Follow the signs marked Kryžių kalnas.
If traveling to/from Riga, you’ll need to take a bus to Šiauliai, which takes roughly two hours. At the time of writing, the ticket had a cost of 12 EUR. I had a good experience with Lux Express.
The site became a place of non-violent resistance during the Soviet occupation
In case you need a place to leave your bags, both the train and coach stations have luggage storage. I left mine at the train station for 2 EUR per bag at the time of writing. Beware of closing times as your luggage could end up stranded there!
Hours and entry fees
The Hill of crosses is open 24/7. There’s no entrance fee to visit, but you can expect to pay for parking if arriving by car.
Leave your cross to add to the growing collection
You’ll find the information centre on arrival, a souvenir shop, and clean toilets. Snacks are also available for purchase.
The staff is super friendly and assisted me in calling a taxi to go back to Šiauliai, which had a cost of 15 EUR.
With so many things to do in Lithuania, it seems hard to narrow the options down. But a visit to the Hill of Crosses is well worth the time as it is an attraction like no other. I spent a good couple of hours on the site, taking photos and contemplating the view. If you are on a tight schedule, one hour should be about enough to get a good glimpse and take some snaps.
With some careful planning, a visit to the Hill of crosses can make the perfect addition to your Lithuania itinerary. If you’ve already visited, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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