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Trakai is a small town, its main attraction being the old part, notable for the wooden houses built by the Karaites, a tribe of Turkic people who were brought to Lithuania by Grand Duke Vytautas from the Crimea and who served as his bodyguards. the Karaites' house of worship, a kinessa, and a museum of Karaite culture are places worth visiting.
In and around Trakai there are about 20 lakes, the largest of them being Lake Galve, an established centre of water sports in Lithuania. Almost one-fifth of the park area is occupied by lakes. Forests take up one-third of the park territory. Trakai is increasingly becoming one of Lithuania's busiest recreation zones, hosting a number of international events every year, like the hot air balloon festival of 1990.
The environs of Trakai, with old villages and ancient castle hills, attract not only those interested in history but also numerous lovers of nature. In the Varnikai - Ilgelis and Plomenai nature reserves one can find a number of rare species of birds and plants. The Trakai National Park is visited by over 300 thousand people every year.
Covering an area of 18 thousand hectares, the Kursiu Nerija National Park was designated to protect the unique scenic beauty of the Kursiu Nerija, a narrow peninsula separating the Kursiu Marios (Curonian Lagoon) from the Baltic Sea. The peninsula, a sandy stretch of land extending 98 kilometers, with the width varying from 400 meters to 3.8 kilometers, was formed some five to six thousand years ago, as sand accumulated in the shallower waters along the Baltic coast.
The sea winds shifted the sand, creating a range of large sand dunes stretching for about 70 kilometers from Smiltyne to Sarkuva. The largest of the dunes, such as the Sklandytoju, the Angiu Kalno, and the Urbo Kalno ones are up to 1000 meters high and provide a charming view of the sea, the lagoon and the green forests.
Up to the 15th century the spit was covered by both deciduous and coniferous forests. Later, however, large portions of them were felled by the axe. This lead to severe sand shifting. 14 villages were swallowed up by the moving sands. It was in 1825 that G.D. Kuvertas started the first reforestation project to try to stop the sand. At the present time life on the spit is protected by about 7 thousand hectares of forests, most of them pine-woods.
The settlements situated on the spit boast of original architecture, typical to this region. In Juodkrante, the first stop on the road from the northern tip Nida, the peninsula's administrative centre, one can see a number of old fishermen's houses that are protected as architectural monuments. The other settlements before Nida are Pervalka and Preila, typical fishing villages. Nida is the largest and most beautiful of the Lithuanian settlements on the spit. 37 rare plant species grow on the spit. Some of them are listed in the Red Book of Lithuania: Eryngium maritimum, Glaux maritina, Aster tripolium and Erica tetralix. Kursiu Nerija has 2.600 residents. All settlements contain etnographic architectural monuments, the old part of Nida has been pronounced an urbanistic monument.
The Kursiu Nerija National Park stands out among the other parks of Lithuania. Because of ecological concerns, access to the spit is restricted. Visitors can obtain information and book a guided tour of the park in Klaipeda.
Dzukija National Park was designated in 1991 in the region of Varena. Its aim is to protect the landscape, the old villages, historical and cultural monuments, and forests of south-eastern Lithuania. The park's territory is 55 thousand hectares, 85 per cent of which is covered by woods. The pine stands make up 90% of the forest land. The park contains 12 historical, 25 archaeological, 10 architectural and 35 art monuments.
Among the historical attractions of Dzukija National Park, the ancient town of Merkine and the village of Liskiava are of greatest interest. Merkine dates back to the 14th century and is situated at the confluence of the Nemunas and Merkys rivers. Merkine castle hill which gave the rise to the town, offers an unforgettable view of the Nemunas valley and surrounding woodland.
Liskiava, which can be easily reached by boat or by bus from Druskininkai, is a settlement on the bank of the Nemunas, surrounded by numerous legends and folk tales. Most of them are connected with the Liskiava castle hill, on top of which one can still see remnants of the 14 century castle.
Besides Liskiava, there are a number of other old villages - some dating back to the 16th century - that have retained the traditional layout of forest villages and architecture of buildings. The inhabitants of many of them still excel in the traditional folk crafts: weaving, wood-carving and pottery.
Pinewoods, which dominate in the Dzukija National Park, abound in mushrooms and berries and have since long ago been a source of extra income for the local people. Among the mushrooms most sought after are edible boletus and chantarelle. The latter are gathered in large quantities and even exported abroad. Wild strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, and red bilberries are the most widely spread kind of berries found on the territory of the park.
The park's birdlife boasts a number of rare eagles, including Haliaelus albicilla, Pandion haliaetus, and Circaetus galiccus, and the forests are the habitat of considerable populations of elks, deer, wild boars, foxes, wolves, and hares. A number of protected plant species are found in the park, too. The administrative centre of the park is Marcinkonys. It can be reached by bus or by train.
Welcome to Zemaitija National Park with its majestic Lake Plateliai and picturesque landscape including a great variety of unique natural, historical and cultural values.
Establishment and Goals
Zemaitija National Park (ZNP) was established in 1991 with the aim of preserving, managing and sustainably developing those areas of Zemaitija in north-western Lithuania, that are most valued for their natural and cultural qualities.
The Park's goals are to:
· Conserve the main system of lakes and forests in Zemaitija;
· Conserve the existing cultural heritage and restore the damaged parts;
· Carry out scientific research, data collection and regular monitoring of the Park's environment and ethnic and cultural heritage;
· Cherish the cultural traditions of Zemaitija; disseminate ideas and knowledge of environmental protection; encourage traditional forms of farming; promote appropriate recreation activities, and primarily develop interpretation and education as sustainable tourism.
The Total Area is 21,720 ha: woodlands occupy 9,683 ha (44,6%), water - 1857 ha (8,5%), wetlands - 963 ha (4,4%), natural meadows and pastures - 1614 ha (7,4%), farmlands - 6794 ha (31,3%), settlements - 360 ha (1,7%), other - 449 ha (2,1%).
The territory of Zemaitija National Park is divided into the following Functional Zones: Conservation (10460 ha, 48,1%), Protection (3,140 ha, 15%), Recreation (520 ha, 2%), Farming (7,600 ha, 35%).
The Total Population is 3,500. There are 2 small towns (boroughs) and 53 villages.
Thing to do in the ZNP
The details of the following activities and services can be found in the Park’s Information Centre in Plateliai.
Tourist trips on foot, by bicycle and car looking at wildlife, historical and ethnical culture of Zemaitija.
Boating and sailing, water bikes, windsurfing, yachting; best on lakes Plateliai, Berzoras and Ilgis.
Angling permits are required from the HQ the ZNP or from the Information Centre in Plateliai). The best lakes are Plateliai, Beržoras, Ilgis, Žiedelis and pond Rotinėnai.
Camping is allowed in designated places by lakes Plateliai, Skyplaičiai, and Luoka.
Visit museums and exhibitions.
Traditional festivals and other celebrations and events: Shrove Tuesday Carnival in February or March; Rasos or St. Jonas' Festival - Folk Art Festival on the 23rd of June; Great Church Feast in Žemaičių Kalvarija during the first ten days of July; Swimming Competition across Lake Plateliai on the last Sunday of July;
Plateliai Regatta at the end of August.
Walking and Cycling
The Šeirė Educational Nature Path (4.1 km) near Plateliai is a good introduction to the typical landscape of Žemaitija. It includes the forest of Šeirė, the transitional mire of Gaudupis, as well as the common and rare species of plants, animals and ecosystems. Alternative walking and bicycling tours are possible but they must be organised in cooperation with the Information Centre in Plateliai. The visiting reserve zones is forbidden.
Plateliai is a small town on the western side of Lake Plateliai which is the deepest, largest and clearest lake in Žemaitija: approximately 1200 hectares in area, about 47 metres deep in places (the average depth is 10.44 metres). There are 7 islands rich in legends and 3 of them have great ecological importance.
Plateliai was first mentioned in the 15th century. Peninsula Šventorkalnis was the first settled place and on Pilis island there were castles.
Plateliai has the classical traditional central square with one of the oldest wooden churches in Lithuania, built in 1744. Plateliai Park is famous for having the biggest ash-tree in Lithuania (Raganos Uosis/ the Witch’s Ash-tree), 7.2 metres of girth, as well as a lime-tree with 3 trunks. Some buildings belonging to the French counts Chuazel remain from the 19th century and one of them, a former granary, has been restored as an Exhibition hall.
The main office and administration of Žemaitija National Park and the Information centre are in Plateliai.
Beržoras, a village by the lake of the same name was first mentioned in the 15th century. A church and a bell tower built in the same way like Plateliai church but in 1746 is also one of the most ancient wooden churches in Lithuania and a churchyard too.
Beržoras has interesting religious connections. 14 chapels of the Road of Christ’s sufferings were built in 1760 and reconstructed in the end 20th century. It’s the only Road of the Cross in Lithuania with 14 stations.
Žemaičių Kalvarija, mentioned in written sources in 1253, is reputed to have possessed a powerful castle even a place of sacrifice. This borough is distinguished by its natural and cultural features (a ridge of eskers and a network of roads and streets from 9th to 13th centuries). It is also interesting for its archaeological, art and religious features (a castle and burial mound from Kurshes times; church, chapels and monastery of Dominicans with their school from 17th century and a miraculous painting of God’s Mother).
Žemaičių Kalvarija is especially famous for the Great Church Feast of the Road of Christ’s sufferings which has taken place here since the 17th century.
Museums and Exhibitions
A Military exposition is to be found in a former Soviet Army’s underground nuclear missile site in the forest of Plokštinė. Visitors can view a shaft 27 m deep, the control room and headquarters for missile launching as well as some Soviet Army memorabilia.
Memorial Museum of the eminent Lithuanian writer Žemaitė (Julija Beniuševičiūtė-Žymantienė) in Bukantė village. The exhibition about her life and creative works is exhibited in the writer’s original 19th century house.
Museum of Lithuanian poet Vytautas Mačernis in Žemaičių Kalvarija. The exposition is about the life and works of this poet of great talent but tragic destiny.
Regina and Justinas Jonušai’s Museum of Folk Art and Ethnography in Godeliai village (private). There are paintings, carvings made by the Jonušai and other folk artists and a small museum of ethnography in an old granary.
Leonardas Černiauskas’ Art Gallery-Creative Studio in Babrungėnai village (private). Mr Černiauskas exhibits his paintings and carvings in a restored stone built Water Mill dating from 1816. There is also a small exhibition of ancient artefacts.
Kazimieras Striaupa’s Granary in Dovainiai village (private). There are the carvings made by Mr Striaupa and exhibited in a granary that is also built by him.
Žemaitija National Park is famous for its rich cultural heritage from the Stone Age. The people of this area, so-called Žemaičiai, have preserved their dialect, customs, characteristic traits, original buildings and vernacular architecture. There are more than 200 items of cultural value including castle hills, sacrifice hills, burial mounds and ancient settlements. The castle hills include Užpelkiai, Gegrėnai, Pūčkoriai, Jazdauskiškiai, Grigaičiai, St Jonas’ (Žemaičių Kalvarija), Šarnelė; the sacrifice-hills are found in Visvainiai, Mikytai, Vilkai, Gilaičiai, Paparčiai and ancient settlements in Gegrėnai and Šarnelė.
The most significant architectural features are the churches in Plateliai, Beržoras and Žemaičių Kalvarija, the Water Mill in Babrungėnai and some ancient farmsteads.
More than 90 ancient art works are preserved, mostly crosses, chapels, roadside poles with statuettes of a saint that have been built alongside roads or fixed on trees.
The undulating landscape of Žemaitija National Park was moulded 10,000-12,000 years ago by ice sheets and receding glaciers. Typical features are rounded hills, moraine ridges around Lake Plateliai, and a great number of deeper or shallower lakes, bogs and meandering streams. The highest point is 191.8 m, the deepest - 96 m.
There are 26 postglacial lakes and 32 streams in the Park. The territory of the ŽNP is a watershed to 3 river basins: the Minija, the Bartuva, the Venta. There are lots of large and small bogs. The bog of Šarnelė in the Wetland Reserve of Paparčiai is the classic example of Žemaitija’s raised bogs. Examples of transition mires and alkaline fens are found at Siberija, Šeirė and Stirbaičiai.
Forests and Meadows
Forests cover nearly half of the Park’s territory and the predominant species is a spruce (Picea abies L., 47%). There are also pine-trees (Pinus sylvestris L., 26%), birches (Betula verrucosa Ehrh., 13%), grey alder-trees (Alnus incana (L.) Moench., 4.4%), oaks (Quercus robur L., 4.1%).
Occasional natural meadows are interspersed between forests, hills, bogs, lakes and springs.
There is a rich and diverse world of plants with 789 species of plants, 196 species of mosses, ( 58 species of plants are listed in the Lithuanian Red Date Book as rare and endangered ). There are also some species of plants that are under protection in the European Union: Botryhium simplex, Liparis loeselli, Hamatocaulis vernicosus, etc. Some species like Cladium mariscus, Trichoparum cespitosum, Carex magellanica, Lunaria rediviva, Salix lapponum, Primula farinosa are relics of glacial times.
185 species of birds have already been identied in the Park and 38 of them are extremely rare like Black Stork (Ciconia nigra), Pern (Pernis apivorus), Corncrake (Crex crex). There are 49 species of mammals and 12 of them such as Lynx (Lynx lynx), Otter (Lutra lutra), White hare (Lepus timidus), etc. are protected. 10 species of bats out of 14 species found in Lithuania are registered in the ŽNP. In addition to the common species of fish, there are also rare fish of the Salmon family European Cisco (Coregonus albula) and European Whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus holsatus) that have existed in Lake Plateliai since the post-glacial era. Most lakes and streams are inhabited by large-clawed crawfish. Some rare moths, beetles and mollusca are also found.
How to get here
Žemaitija National Park is about 22 km to the north of Plungė (on the Plungė-Mažeikiai road). There are buses and trains to Plungė from other Lithuanian towns but access to Plateliai is by bus or car only.
Places to stay
There are summer houses, rest houses, farmsteads, hostels, campsites (but only with your own tents) to stay overnight in the ŽNP.
Cafes and Grocery shops
There are cafes in Plateliai and Žemaičių Kalvarija. Some of them open all year round, others only in summer time. Grocery shops are found in Plateliai, Žemaičių Kalvarija, Dovainiai, Gintališkė, Šateikiai, Alsėdžiai.
Information about Žemaitija National Park can be obtained from the Park’s information centre in Plateliai. Some information about the Park can be found in tourist farmsteads, summer houses, hostelsand on the information panels in the countryside.
Take care of Žemaitija National Park
Please take care of Žemaitija National Park and conduct yourself according to the special regulations that are in force inside the National Park. For more information about these regulations and visitor tickets, please contact the Information Centre in Plateliai. Restrictions include:
Camping, campfires and picnics are allowed only in designated places.
Car traffic is permitted only on public roads and specially marked tour routes.
Motorised boating or sailing is not allowed.
Angling permits are required.
It is forbidden to enter reserve zones.
It is forbidden to make excessive noise, pollute the environment, damage and destroy flora, fauna, cultural heritage or signs.
Lithuania's first national park - Aukstaitija National Park - was designated in 1974 and covers an area of 40570 hectares in the regions of Ignalina, Utena and Svencionys. Over 70 per cent of its territory is pine stands, including the ancient woods of Azvinciai, Mincia and Linkmenos. Some of the pine trees in Azvinciai wood are over 200 years old and the oaks of Trainiskis, Kaltanenai and Varniskiai are the remains of the ancient oak-tree forests that once covered large territories here. The park represents a picturesque forested and hilly terrain abounding in lakes and having ethnographic villages; it contains quite a lot of other cultural monuments.
Scattered among the woods and hills are some 100 smaller and larger lakes, often interconnected by rivulets and streams. The largest of them is Lake Dringis (721 ha). Lake Tauragnas, the deepest in Lithuania (60.5 m deep) is also here. The Baluosas features seven islands, one of which has a little lake of its own, feeding the Baluosas waters through a small stream.
Of some thirty rivers on the territory of the park, Zeimena is the most beautiful, although the smaller ones - Kriauna, Lukna, Buka, Sventele, Stregzda - are no less attractive to tourists, linguists and ethnographers alike.
The woods, marshes and meadows of Aukstaitija National Park abound in rare plant species, including a number of plants that are listed in the Red Data Book of Lithuania and are protected as endangered species. The woods of the park are the domain of elk, deer and wild boar. The lakes and rivers, too, are rich in wildlife, from Canadian mink to a variety of birds that can bring quite a few exciting moments to a devoted birdwatcher.
The park's territory embraces some 80 settlements and villages, some of which have retained not only their old original layout but also archaic wooden farm buildings and other structures. Paluse village, which is the tourist centre of the Aukstaitija National Park, was first mentioned in written sources in 1651. It still boasts an octagonal wooden church dating back to 1757. Paluse is the starting point of most of the tourist routes, both shorter and longer walks and a rowing-boat route along a system of lakes and streams connecting them.
Accommodation is provided in old wind mills turned into tourist centres.
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