What a special place to visit. The Hill of Crosses is one of the most unique destinations I’ve ever been to, and I actually felt quite emotional on my visit. It’s made up of well over 200,000 crosses, and is one of Lithuania’s most popular sites – it’s easy to see why.
People began planting crosses here en-masse in the 1800s, 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 in the 1900s, 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 people would risk their lives in peaceful protest by planting crosses again, even overnight to avoid detection. 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.
Getting to The Hill of Crosses is easiest by car. The nearest town is Šiauliai (pronounced show-lay), 12km away. If you’re coming from Vilnius it’s a 2.5 hour drive, or 2hrs from Kaunas. We drove from Vilnius, en-route to Riga, as the site is about half way, making it the perfect stop off.
If you don’t have a car, you can also take a train from Vilnius or Kaunas to Šiauliai. From there, head to the bus station and get the next bus to Joniskis and get off at Domantai, from where it’s a 2km walk to The Hill of Crosses site. Buses are to and from Šiauliai to the site are unreliable though, so I really recommend a car if you can do so.
Please also take insect repellant – I managed to get bitten 3 times on my face, 6 times on my legs, one on my bum and all across my scalp. And I was wearing trousers and a jumper!