If you’ve read about the best things to do in Lithuania, you have probably seen the Hill of Crosses, near Šiauliai, included in these lists. This site of pilgrimage holds a special place in Lithuanian history and is a symbol of the determination and resistance of past generations.
As such, it’s a moving and beautiful living monument and place of collective and individual memory. It should be on anyone’s Lithuania itinerary!
Find out why the Hill of Crosses is important, what to know when you visit, and how you can get there.
Known as Kryžių kalnas in Lithuanian, the site dates to the mid-1800s, during which Lithuania was a part of the Russian Empire. While the real reason crosses began to be placed on this site, a couple of theories exist. One is that the devote began to erect crosses there out of a belief in the hill’s sacredness. Another is that crosses were placed there to memorialize those who died in the rebellion of 1831.
A Demonstration of Faith and Identity
The number of crosses on the hill has fluctuated throughout the decades. Under the Soviet regime, the crosses were bulldozed from the hill.
But due to the importance of the site and as a way to peacefully demonstrate faith and identity, Lithuanians continued to erect crosses there.
Lithuanian cross-making is an important aspect of Lithuanian traditional heritage, which means that both the act of erecting crosses and the erection of crosses in the Lithuanian style sent a message to oppressive forces, whether the Tsarist or Soviet.
Cross-making, as a subset of Lithuanian woodworking, is also one of the most cherished types of Lithuanian folk art. You’ll see elaborate wooden and metal crosses throughout Lithuania, both near churches and along the roadside. But no greater concentration of crosses can be found than at this pilgrimage site.
Visiting Lithuania’s Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses is free to visit and is open all year round. While summertime may be the most comfortable time to visit, if you would like a more meditative experience, visiting when the weather turns chillier will mean that fewer tourists are likely to be clogging the trails.
Adding to the Hill of Crosses
If so inclined, you are welcome to bring your own cross to leave at the Hill of Crosses. You can also buy one at the gift stalls across the street. Many of the crosses at the hill–some in the Lithuanian style–are large structures rising several meters into the air.
Other crosses, handmade of wood, glass, or metal—as well as rosaries and memorial plaques—have been hung from trees or other crosses, propped up with supports, or grouped in arrangements.
You may thoughtfully choose the place where to hang or place your cross among those that have been left before you. Many people also leave rosary beads or memorials to loved ones.
A Changing Landscape
As new crosses are added, the site shifts and grows, never looking exactly the same way from day to day, season to season, or year to year. Stairs and paths lead up to the top of the hill, down its sides, and around its exterior, enabling you to wander through the stacks of crosses and marvel at their number and variety.
The memory-keeping aspect of the site, along with its quality of regular metamorphosis, implies something alive. Instead of a static monument, it breathes and develops, touched and transformed by the people of all faiths who visit.
Some days, a musician plays music to contribute to the contemplative air. Tour buses stop at the Hill of Crosses and wedding photo shoots take place among its paths.
Tips for Visiting the Hill of Crosses
To enjoy your trip to this special place to its fullest, follow some tips.
- Wear good shoes
- Take a bottle of water
- Take change for the pay toilet at the visitor center
- Because this attraction is an outdoor one, try to plan to visit when the weather forecast is good
- Dress for the temperature/expected precipitation
Getting to the Hill of Crosses
Getting to the Hill of Crosses from Vilnius is fairly easy.
The train from Vilnius to Šiauliai is the fastest form of public transportation at two-and-a-half hours. Lithuanian train tickets can be searched for and purchased online. From there, you can take a bus (or, alternatively, a taxi) to the Hill of Crosses.
The Šiauliai railway station is about a ten-minute walk from the bus station. Look for the bus that says Šiauliai-Joniškas and buy your ticket onboard.
The sign for Kryžių kalnas is notoriously difficult to spot from the bus window, so be sure to get off at the Domantai stop (the third)—the bus driver may be able to help you if you are unsure. The Hill of Crosses is then another two kilometers on foot and is easy to see as you approach.
If you have a car, you can go directly to the Hill of Crosses, about 12 miles from Šiauliai proper, from Vilnius in about two-and-a-half hours–take the A2 north from Vilnius and exit onto the A9 towards Siauliai. Park at the visitor center across the street.
If you’re looking at tours of Lithuania or the Baltics, many will stop at the Hill of Crosses due to its popularity. You can also book a private tour and ask that this sight be included in your itinerary.
You can visit the Hill of Crosses as a part of a trip to other important sights and Lithuanian cities. For example, some people visit it on their way to or from Klaipeda or Palanga. Some people even make it a day trip from Vilnius!
Most people who visit find Kryzu kalnas a top attraction in the Baltics. Its eternal quality, quietude, and triumph over oppressive forces have a different effect on each person and imprints as a memory that is much emotional as it is experiential.