The Hill of Crosses is awe-inspiring and simply stunning.
Made up of well over 200,000 crosses, this monument is one of Lithuania’s most popular sites and one place you absolutely must visit in Lithuania.
It’s located 12km north of Šiauliai, in the northwestern region of Lithuania.
People began planting crosses here since at least the 19th-century, although the tradition probably began much earlier. Following the failed 1831 Uprising against the Russian Empire, people placed crosses on the hill both as a sign of their religion, and also to honor victims and relatives of the uprising (many of whom were deported to Siberia).
During Soviet times, the Hill of Crosses took on an even greater importance—as a sign of resistance to the totalitarian regime. The Hill of Crosses was bulldozed by the Soviet authorities several times, but every night, people crept back, risking their lives, and planted the crosses again. The Hill of Crosses became a symbol of Lithuanian national identity, as well as a significant religious site.
Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on the Hill of Crosses on September 7th 1993, to a huge crowd of 100,000 people. There is a small chapel commemorating the spot where he celebrated Mass, and at the far end of the hill there is a Franciscan monastery, which was built in 2000.
People still plant crosses today, in memory of loved ones or as a spiritual symbol. There are plenty available for purchase at the kiosks around the visitor center.
Getting to the Hill of Crosses is easiest with a car, but definitely doable with public transportation (although a bit more tricky). I visited the Hill of Crosses as a daytrip from Vilnius, and while it was a fairly long day, it was well worth it.
You can take any train or bus (I’d recommend trains, as they’re faster) from Vilnius or Kaunas to Šiauliai (pronounced show-lay), the fourth largest city in Lithuania. From there, head to the bus station and get the next bus to Joniskis (which usually leaves from platform 12). You’ll want to get off at Domantai (or Domantu), 10km north of Šiauliai, You can buy tickets at the bus station or from the driver, and chances are if you say you’re going to Domantai and you don’t speak Lithuanian, the bus driver will know you’re a tourist heading to the Hill of Crosses. Kryžių kalnas (pronounced kri-zhu kal-nas) is Lithuanian for Hill of Crosses if you want to specifically let the bus driver know.
From the bus stop, it’s a 2km walk down the road (the same side as the bus stop you got off at) to the Hill of Crosses. It’s well signposted from the road, and once you’re about halfway you’ll be able to see the crosses in the distance.
I was given two timetables with buses for getting from Šiauliai to Domantai, one from the bus station in Šiauliai, and one from the visitor center at the Hill of Crosses. The Joniskis-bound bus times from Šiauliai to Domantai are: 7:25 (not on Sunday), 8:25 (Monday-Friday), 10:25, 11:00, 12:15, 13:10, 14:15, 15:40, 17:05, 17:30, 20:30 (Mondays, Fridays, and Sundays). All of this information is valid as of February 2017!
Getting back is a bit trickier if you’re visiting the Hill of Crosses as a daytrip. Leaving the Hill of Crosses, you’ll walk the 2km back down the road to the highway, cross the highway, and get a Šiauliai-bound bus from the opposite side of the road that you were dropped off at.
The two timetables for buses have slightly different times, but generally about the same. Buses run from Domantai to Šiauliai at: 7:33/7:43 (not on Sundays), 8:50, 9:32/9:37 (not on Sundays), 10:43, 12:12/12:17, 13:03, 14:03, 15:02/15:07, 16:00, 17:27/17:32, 19:03 (Mondays, Fridays, and Sundays).
I arrived in Šiauliai by train from Vilnius at about 12:15, just missing the Joniskis-bound bus to Domantai (the train station in Šiauliai is about a 5-10 minute walk to the bus station), so caught the 13:10 bus to Domantai. We got off at the Domantai stop at about 13:45, and walked for about 10-15 minutes to the Hill of Crosses.
Due to bus times, we opted to get the 16:00 bus back to Šiauliai (in order to catch the train to Vilnius at 17:35), having a very comfortable amount of time to explore the Hill of Crosses. But despite the information timetables I was given, I don’t know if the 16:00 bus actually exists. It wasn’t listed at the bus stop, and we waited until 16:30 and still no bus in sight (and we got to the bus stop at 15:40, 20 minutes early, so we know that the bus didn’t come early and we had just missed it).
By that time, it was looking like the bus didn’t exist and wasn’t coming, and we would miss the train back to Vilnius, and have to take the last train (at about 7:50pm) or bus (at about 6:30pm), meaning we wouldn’t get back to Vilnius until past 10:00pm (a very long daytrip!).
We ended up accidentally hitchhiking back to Šiauliai, after some guy pulled over at the bus stop and offered us a ride back to town. I have never hitchhiked and don’t recommend it—and it’s something I would NEVER do traveling solo. But traveling with another person (and since that person was a guy), knowing that hitchhiking like that is really common in that part of the world, the fact that there was only one older man in the car (and two of us), and because I didn’t want to miss our train, convinced me to take the risk. It was completely fine! The man was really nice, dropped us off at the train station and didn’t take any money when we offered. But at the same time, it was fairly nerve-wracking for me.
My train from Vilnius to Šiauliai cost 9.90€, and the bus from Šiauliai to Domantai was 0.86€. The train from Šiauliai back to Vilnius cost 8.70€.
I would recommend an early start if visiting the Hill of Crosses as a daytrip from Vilnius (or Kaunas). Another option is heading to Šiauliai in the late afternoon, staying the night, and visiting the Hill of Crosses first thing in the morning. Alternatively, it would be really convenient to visit the Hill of Crosses en route to Riga, Latvia. The highway (A12) where the Hill of Crosses is located is the main highway from Šiauliai to Riga, and buses run fairly frequently from Šiauliai to Riga (I don’t think you can get a bus to Riga from the highway Domantai stop, but I’m not sure).
Seeing the Hill of Crosses was one of the coolest things I’ve done on my travels so far. The place is inspiring and beautiful, and has such a fascinating history. Don’t miss this amazing place! I absolutely recommend visiting the Hill of Crosses when in Lithuania.
What’s the coolest place you’ve ever been? Would you like to visit the Hill of Crosses?