Sitting seemingly in the middle of nowhere in the Lithuanian countryside is the mysterious Hill of Crosses. Over 100,000 crosses hit on this seemingly random mound that is a pilgrimage for christians from all over the world, as well as those looking for something strange, out of the ordinary and frankly quite eerie! Heading over here we had heard mixed reports and did wondering if the long journey from Vilnius and back would be worth while…but boy did it live up to our expectations!
A mysterious legend
Not only is this wonderful place worth visiting due to its magnificent and strange appearance, but the history here is fascinating, heartbreaking and displays the spiriting of the Lithuanian people. Much history surrounds the practice of leaving crosses here but it is generally considered to have become a mass place of pilgrimage for Lithuanian people after the 1831 uprising. This hill was a one time fort using in the battle where many young Lithuanian men fought valiantly and died in their attempt to overthrow their Russian rulers. Many of those who passed were never found, bodies were rarely returned to family members and so those in mourning had nowhere to focus their grief upon. This was then when the site became a place similar in many ways to the grave of the unknown solider, a place to represent all those who were lost.
Over the years this place came to signify the peaceful endurance of religion in Lithuanian. Many came here to pray for peace, freedom and liberty and despite it being primarily a religious shrine it also came to symbolise the spirit of the Lithuanian people and their long wait for independence.
Over the course of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania this place once again became a symbol of rebellion and resilience. Many would still flock here to lay crosses and celebrate their nations culture, identity and heritage despite the soviet unions opposition to religion and individual identity. The Hill of Crosses was a place in which the people of Lithuanian could protest and resist their occupation via peaceful methods rather than violent clashes. The Soviets bulldozed the site on at least three occasions and even had plans to flood the area, but the people just kept coming and building crosses!
Exploring this iconic place
As we walked along the tiny road through fields in what felt like the middle of nowhere something appearing in the distance. A small mound and an already growing number of people. For some reason we expected that getting here early we would be two of only a handful of people here. But the coach station, tourist information centre, cafes and shops by pay to that naive notion. Our initial response was disappointment, the hill looked tiny over the tourist complex and it already felt overcrowded. We plodded on thinking this would be a let down.
But we look our time walking along the track towards the hill, as we did the size of it grew and grew. We decided to head around the back of the hill first as the coach groups were centred on the front and main walkways. As we did the true scale of hill became clear. Due to its unique shape it actually appears much smaller than it really is, the hill has two main peaks and around the back section is often much quieter.
As the coach trippers finally left we eventually had the hill almost to ourselves, now this was the experience we we had dreamt of. The hill itself is crazy, it is like nowhere else we have ever been. There are a few main paths that cut through the centre and traverse around the sides of the hill. Most of the visitors coming here stick to these well trodden paths. But what we love about The hill of Crosses is how open it is for exploration.
There is a maze of smaller paths that weave in and out of the middle of the hundreds of thousands of crosses. Getting right into the centre of the organised chaos here and you really get a sense of the sheer scale of the place. You see the details up close of the carvings on the wooden crosses, the many peoples names they have been dedicated too and the way they seems to tangle and grow together as one.
We expected initially to only spent a short time here walking up and down the hill over what appeared to be the only paths, as it seemed many other visitors ended up doing. But getting in and amongst the crosses themselves proved to be a much more awe inspiring, breath taking, unique and strange experience.
It really ended up becoming one of the highlights of our trip. Weaving in and out of the 100,000 crosses here was such a surreal experience. Getting lost within the chaotic and untamed mound, hearing people chanting, singing and even screaming with passion but being only surrounded by crosses with no other person in your line of sight. It has to be one of the oddest and most insane places we’ve ever been!
Living up to our expectation in a different way than expected
We headed here for a different kind of experience, to see something other than the many Old Towns, churches and architecture the Baltic region had been providing us with. As much as we love these charming and quaint ancient towns, we were desperate to get back out again and see something completely unique as we had in the Balkans.
But here we expected to just visit this strange hill of crosses, we had no real idea what to expect, but we had no idea how deep the experience would be. Being able to delve right into the hill, to mingle amongst the crosses and even add to the mound ourselves made it much more interactive.
Getting lost in the sea of crosses, the ocean of noise and chaos whilst being in one of the most spiritual places we have ever been was unforgettable. Not to mention that fact that we had been told on many occasions how underwhelming the size of the hill was, but in actual fact we were blown away by its strange size and shape. How it seems to carry on going and going once you get into the belly of it after it first appeared so much smaller!
How to get to The Hill of Crosses
Loads of people told us it wasn’t possible to get to the hill of crosses from Vilnius in one day. Well, we were determined to prove them wrong! It is actually quite easy if not a long day.
Firstly you need to take the train to Šiauliai from the main Vilnius train station. We bought the ticket the day before but you can buy them on the day. We took the 6:45am train to make sure we had enough time. Your seats will be reserved for you for the 2-3 hour journey (it seemed to take longer on the way back for some reason). There is another train at 9:41am which will still probably give you plenty of time.
The last train from Šiauliai leaves at 7:11 pm and arrives back in Vilnius at 9:54 pm. We took one at around 5:30ish.
Then you need to get on a local bus. First as you exit the train station, turn left at Dubijos Street, then right on Tilzes. At the bus station you need to take the bus to Joniškis from platform 12. If you are unsure then there is a ticket booth and if you just ask for the Hill of Crosses they will sell you your ticket and point you in the right direction. You can also buy your ticket from the driver and again if you ask for the Hill of Crosses they will stop and let everyone known when you are there. There were quite a few people on our bus heading there so don’t be afraid to ask as people do speak quite good English. The actual name of the stop however is Domantai.
The bus takes around 15 minutes and costs around 1.20 Euros one way. The first bus after we arrived off our train and walked straight there was the approx 10:30am. The bus back leaves from the opposite side of the road but from here it is easy to hitchhike back into the city too. Return buses are at 10:43, 12:12, 1:03, 2:03, 3.02, 5:27, and 7:03.
Once you leave the bus you will be left in the middle of what seems like a bunch of fields! There will be a brown sign with “Kryžių kalna” on it, follow these signs down a road for 2km and you will arrive at the Hill of Crosses!