Lithuania is situated in the Northern Europe and is the largest and most populous of the Baltic states , it has around 99 kilometres (61.5 mi ) of sandy coastline, of which only about 38 kilometres (24 mi) faces the open Baltic Sea . Lithuania's major warm-water port of Klaipeda lies at the narrow mouth of Curonian Lagoon (Lithuanian: Kuriu marios ), a shallow lagoon extending south to Kaliningrad . The main river, the Nemunas , and some of its tributaries carry international shipping vessels.
Lithuanian landscape is glacially flat, except for morainic hills in the western uplands and eastern highlands that are no higher than 300 metres (1,000 ft ), with the highest point being found at Juozapines at 292 metres (958 ft). The terrain features numerous lakes, Lake Vitytis for example, swamps, and a mixed forest zone covers 30% of the country. The climate lies between maritime and continental, with wet, moderate winters and summers. According to some geographers, Lithuania's capital, Vilnius , lies a few kilometres south of the geographical centre of Europe .
Lithuania consists of the following historical and cultural regions :
85% of the Lithuanian population are ethnic Lithuanians who speak the Lithuanian language (one of two surviving members of the Baltic language group), which is the official language of the state. Several sizable minorities exist, such as Poles (6.7%), Russians (6%), and Belarusians (1.1%).
Poles are the largest minority, concentrated in southeast Lithuania (the Vilnius region). Russians are the second largest minority, concentrated mostly in two cities; they constitute a minority in Vilnius (13%), Klaipeda (20%) and in the town of Visaginas (30%)
Because of prolonged Russian rule and Soviet occupation, most Lithuanians are bilingual in Russian. According to the Eurostat poll about 80% of the Lithuanians can hold a conversation in Russian and almost all are familiar with the most general phrases and expressions. Nowadays, most Lithuanian schools teach English as a first foreign language, but students may also study German, or, in some schools, French. Schools where Russian and Polish are the primary languages of education exist in the areas populated by these minorities.
The historically predominant religion is Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church has been the majority confession since the Christianization of Lithuania in the 14th century. No less than 79% of Lithuanians are nominally Roman Catholic. Many churches, chapels and roadside shrines express the historically Catholic sentiments of many Lithuanians. Since 1990, church attendance in Lithuania, more or less declined. Only about 10% of Roman Catholics attend Mass weekly . Prior to 1993 to 1995, the Roman Catholic Church was an influential factor in the country, and some priests actively led the resistance against the Communist regime and, after independence was regained, against socialism and liberalism, especially in ethical questions.
The nationally renowned anti-communist resistance shrine, the Hill of Crosses, upon which thousands of Latin rite crosses were erected or placed, is located near the city of iauliai. During the late 1800s, the erecting of Latin crosses upon the mentioned hill was forbidden by the Czarist Russian Orthodox authorities. During the 20th century, the Soviet authorities also forbade such explicit religious symbols. The crosses were removed in 1961, with tractors and bulldozers, but despite Soviet prohibitions, Lithuanian Roman Catholics continued to put small crucifixes and larger crosses on this Hill of the Crosses. Pope John Paul II visited the hill during his visit to Lithuania, primarily because it was a sign of anti-Communist Catholic resistance, as well as a Roman Catholic religious site.
The diverse Protestant community (1.9 % of the total population) is much smaller than the Roman Catholic Church; Protestants are scattered all over the northern and western parts of Lithuania. Lithuania was historically positioned in between the two German-controlled states of Livonia to the north and the Protestant formerly monastic, Teutonic State of Prussia to its south. From those two regions in 16th century Lutheran Protestantism started to spread into the country. After 1945 Lutheranism in the country has declined. Baptist and Calvinist and other Protestant churches, have attempted to convert members into their faiths since 1990.
The country also has minority communites of Eastern Orthodoxy (mainly among the Russian minority), to which about 4.9 % of the total population belong, as well as of Judaism, Islam and Karaism (an ancient offshoot of Judaism represented by a long-standing community in Trakai), which together make up for another 1.6 % of the population.
Summer and spring (May through September) are far and away the best times of year to travel in Lithuania. The majority of foreign tourists come during July and August, when low-budget hotels and hostels can be fully booked. While there's usually a picturesque sprinkling of snow on the ground in winter (November through March), there's also only a few hours of daylight each day.
Vilnius , Lithuania's capital city has an international flavour, partly due to the influence of the big Lithuanian diaspora and partly because it has always been exposed to influences from central Europe and beyond. Vilnius lies 250km (155mi) inland from the Baltic Sea on the banks of the Neris river. It's in the southeast of Lithuania, just a stone's throw from the Belarus border. The centre of the city is on the southern side of the river, and its heart is Cathedral Square, an open square with the cathedral on its northern side and Gediminas Hill rising behind it.
Palanga , This small city is quiet in winter, but in summer it's transformed into Lithuania's premier seaside resort, and accommodation is at a premium. It features a long, sandy beach backed by pine-covered dunes; a large botanical park with a rose garden; a hill thought to have been the site of a pagan shrine; and an excellent Amber Museum . Palanga hosts a grand opening of the summer season on the first Saturday in June; the closing of the season, on the last Saturday in August, is marked by a massive street carnival, market, song festival and pop concert.
Curonian Spit , The typical Baltic coastal scent of mingled ozone and pine is at its headiest on the northern Lithuanian half of the Curonian Spit which dominates Lithuania's Baltic coast. This area is made up of four settlements - Juodkrante, Pervalka, Preila and Nida - none of which are more than a couple of kilometres from the coast. There's a magical air to this isolated 98km (60mi) thread of sand, which is composed of dunes and lush pine forests inhabited by elk, deer and wild boar. Savouring fish freshly smoked to an old Curonian recipe is a highlight of a visit here. In summer you can hire jet skis or paddle boats in Nida; ice fishing and drinking vodka are the principal winter pursuits.
Hill of Crosses , This two-humped hillock is covered in a forest of thousands upon thousands of crosses - large and tiny, expensive and cheap, wooden and metal. Some are devotional, to accompany prayers, others are memorial. It's thought that the tradition of planting crosses here may have begun in the 14th century. In the Soviet era the crosses were bulldozed at least three times, only to spring up again. It's an eerie place, especially when the wind blows and the silence is broken by the rattling of crosses and rosaries. The Hill of Crosses is 10km (6mi) north of Siauliai, 2km (1mi) east off the road to Riga, the Latvian capital. Siauliai is 140km (87mi) north of Kaunas and has good rail and bus connections with both Kaunas and Vilnius.