Šiauliai is Lithuania’s fourth-largest city and is often left off of itineraries when planning a trip to this region.
There’s really only one thing that brings most tourists to Šiauliai, and that’s the Hill of Crosses.
And it is without a doubt worth checking out. It has a fascinating history. It’s also part of the Lithuanian resistance against the Soviets during the occupation.
But there’s more to this small city. I really think spending at least a day here with a short trip to the Hill of Crosses (it really doesn’t require much time to visit), is well worth your time.
Planning a trip to Vilnius while you’re here? Be sure to check out all of my articles about Vilnius here.
Getting to Šiauliai Lithuania
If you have a rental car, getting to Šiauliai is very easy. Simply pop it into your map app of choice (I prefer Waze) and you’ll be able to navigate there without a problem.
If you are taking a bus, there are only a few direct buses per day between Šiauliai and the major hubs of Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipeda.
If you are doing a bit of a tour around Lithuania, I highly recommend taking the train. The train from Vilnius to Šiauliai runs four times a day and is probably the quickest way to get there.
From Šiauliai, you can then head onward by train or bus to Klaipeda and the Curonian Spit.
You can book trains in Lithuania here. If you plan to take the bus to get around, be sure to download the Lithuanian bus app. The bus app allows you to pre-book buses and avoid trying to speak to the bus drivers who almost never speak any English.
Watch: My Full Video of two days in this beautiful city
Where to Stay in Šiauliai
For such a small city, there are quite a lot of apartment options in Šiauliai (seemingly more than there are hotel options). These are a few of my favorites.
- Sweet Apartments – This is my personal favorite spot because it is outrageously affordable (as low as $22 USD per night) and each apartment sleeps about three or four people. So between a group of friends or a couple, this is way cheaper than a hostel. It also has a full kitchen, so you can self-cater. It is five minutes from both the train and bus stations and it’s a very short distance to the downtown. Book a stay at Sweet Apartments here.
- Skaistažiedė – This is a great mid-range option at only $40 USD per night (or roughly €35 per night). It’s located on the edge of town and is a great option if you are traveling with a car because they have a parking lot where you can park up for free every night. Each stay includes a big breakfast and coffee each morning. This is also a great option for families who are traveling together because there are rooms with multiple beds for up to four or five people. Book a stay at Skaistažiedė here.
- City Center Apartment in Šiauliai – This is the nicest and most modern accommodation in Šiauliai that I have found. The apartment is beautifully decorated. It has all of the amenities that you might want for a stay, especially if you want to stay for a few days. There’s a washing machine, free parking, WiFi, and it’s really well located near the lake and plenty of walking trails. The apartment starts at $62 USD per night or about €54. Book a stay at the city center apartment here.
Awesome Things to Do in Šiauliai Lithuania
These are the absolute best things to do in Šiauliai. There are quite a lot of things to do, which is why you should give this small Lithuanian city enough time to explore (and to learn more about Lithuania!).
1. Hill of Crosses
Of course, the number one thing to do in Šiauliai is to visit the Hill of Crosses.
The easiest way to get to the Hill of Crosses is by car. It is 12km or about 7.5 miles from downtown Šiauliai and takes about 10 minutes to get to by car.
If you do not have a car, you can either take a bus, or organize a taxi to take you, wait for you, and take you back. You can organize these taxis at the Tourist Information Center in downtown Šiauliai. This can cost anywhere between $20 and $30 USD depending on the time of year and time of day.
If you want to take the bus, which is the cheapest option, get yourself the Lithuanian bus app. The app not only allows you to book bus tickets, but also to check bus times.
You want to take the bus from the Šiauliai bus station to Joniškis. It leaves from platform 12 and you want to get off at the Domantai stop. You can tell this to the bus driver or you can simply say Hill of Crosses. The bus costs less than €1.
Once the bus drops you off, take the small road (the only other road you’ll see besides the bus road) to the hill of crosses. It is a 2km walk and takes about 15-20 minutes. When you want to go home, just retrace your footsteps.
Be sure to check the bus times before you go (on your app!) and then head back to the bus stop at least 10 minutes before it’s due to arrive. They will not wait until the stated departure time if they arrive early.
2. Vilniaus Gatvė
Vilniaus Gatvė is the main pedestrian boulevard in downtown Šiauliaia.
The street became a pedestrian thoroughfare in 1976. At the time it was the very first pedestrian street in the entire Soviet Union.
Now it’s one of the main shopping hubs of the city. You’ll find restaurants, bars, and cafes here. It also has tons of great sculptures, art pieces, and street art on nearby buildings that are worth exploring.
Be sure to check out the rooster clock, which chimes at 12:00 and 18:00 each day.
Read: The Best Restaurants in Vilnius
3. Rūta Chocolate Museum
The Rūta Chocolate factory has been in business since 1913. During the Soviet occupation, it became a state-run business, but after independence, it was returned to the original family who started it.
This isn’t the original factory, but you can now visit this modern chocolate factory and tour the museum to learn about chocolate production.
The most popular reason to come isn’t really the museum, though. It’s to go to the museum shop and buy the different chocolates made by Rūta. Many of the things are not usually available in the supermarket, so it’s nice to be able to try different flavor combinations or types of chocolates.
There is also a popular cafe on site where you can have cakes, coffee, and rich hot chocolate.
4. Bicycle Museum
This is without a doubt my favorite thing to do in Šiauliai.
I both love bicycles and history and this museum has both in abundance.
Entrance is €5 and you get a free audio guide to use as you explore the three floors of this museum.
Šiauliai was once home to the Baltik Vairas bicycle manufacturing company. During the time of the Soviet Occupation between the end of WWII and 1990, it was the largest manufacturers of bicycles in Nothern Europe.
While the manufacturer still operates, it’s on a much smaller scale than before. However, many of the bicycle models that were produced there are on display at the museum. There are also tricycles, homemade bikes, and bikes that have traversed the world.
The museum and audio guide offer stories of real people and a look at what life was like during these different decades in Lithuania and more specifically, Šiauliai. I found it incredibly fascinating.
There are also bikes that you can try to ride. On each floor, you can tap on iPads that are attached to different bicycles and you can see how hard they are to pedal, how fast you can go on them, and how uncomfortable those old-fashioned seats are!
5. Walk Around Lake Talkša
Right in the downtown area of Šiauliai is a huge lake with a trail that takes you about halfway around the lake to the other side. During the summer months, this is a great place to head if you want to go fishing, swimming, or get out on a kayak on the water.
In Spring and Autumn, it’s beautiful to walk along the trail into the forest behind the lake and explore. In winter, it’s just plain cold. But it freezes over and can be incredibly beautiful when covered in snow. Just be sure to dress warmly.
Also, be sure to check out the iron fox! He’s been something of a mascot for this town ever since the art piece was placed there.
6. Photography Museum
There are two reasons to visit the Photography Museum: for the interesting photography exhibits and for the rooftop view. Oh, and the camera obscura, ok so three reasons.
There are two levels to the museum which have permanent and temporary exhibits. Many feature local photographers or at least regionally local (to Northern Europe). However, sometimes there are international photographers exhibiting here.
I personally love the old photos of Šiauliai and seeing how much the city and all of Lithuania have changed in the last few decades. Be sure to check those out in the photo archives.
Head to the rooftop to take in a really fantastic view of Vilniaus Gatvė below and to check out the camera obscura.
If you want to visit the museum it costs €5. If you only want to go to the rooftop, it costs €1.
7. Rabbit Island
If you have a car, this is a really awesome thing to do in Šiauliai, especially with kids (or kids at heart!).
This little lake area is very popular in the summer months because there is a small beach and you can swim here. On warm, sunny days there are cafes to have some coffee or ice cream outside.
Sometimes they have outdoor concerts here at the little amphitheater. Even if there’s no event happening, you can get a great view back over the city and surrounding area.
If you walk towards the small island in the middle of the lake, there is a wooden pathway around it. On the island are angel statues and tons of plump bunnies hopping around.
8. Have a Traditional Meal at Juonė Pastuogė
Even if you are only passing through Šiauliai after visiting the Hill of Crosses, you need to eat! This is the best place to eat in Šiauliai if you want to try traditional Lithuanian food.
They have a menu in English and the staff all spoke a bit of English. There is tons of outdoor seating which is nice most of the year. Even when it starts to get cold there are heat lamps at each table to keep you warm.
On the weekends, this is the liveliest bar in town with live music and most of the locals heading here for food and beers.
9. Šiauliai Art Gallery
The Šiauliai Art Gallery opened its doors only two short years after Lithuanian independence in 1992. They opened with the goal of offering locals a place to experience art and also as a space for artists to be able to express themselves in a public forum.
In addition to the gallery’s main exhibits, they are constant temporary exhibits on rotation. They also host a number of events throughout the year to bring more art to the community and give local artists a chance to shine.
The focus is heavy on visual and modern art techniques including dance, music, and film pieces. Be sure to check out what events they have going on during your stay and give some support to this fantastic local organization.
10. St. Ignatius of Loyola Church
The St. Ignatius Church was first established in Šiauliai in 1930. However, it is perhaps more famous because of the priest who helped hide Jews inside the church between 1941 and 1944.
During Soviet occupation, the church was closed, like many churches around Lithuania, and turned into a warehouse, then later into a gym, and in the 1980s, it was the local drama theater.
At the time of independence in 1990, the church was finally returned to the parish. In 1993, Pope John Paul II came to Šiauliai to visit the Hill of Crosses as well as to rest in the church and consecrate the school that you see next door now. There’s now a life-size statue of the Pope in the church courtyard.
11. Šiauliai Cathedral
The centerpiece of the city, the Šiauliai Cathedral is a must-visit. It is officially called the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.
It was originally built between 1617 and 1626. However, in 1880, the bell tower was struck by lightning and needed serious repairs.
Then again during World War II, when much of Siauliai was completely destroyed, the cathedral suffered a lot of damage. It was restored during the Soviet era and in 1997 was officially given cathedral status by Pope John Paul II.
This cathedral is one of few Renaissance-style churches in Lithuania and has quite a beautiful interior as well. But I prefer viewing it from the outside where it looks more like a castle than a cathedral.
12. Prisikėlimo Square
Almost directly across from the Cathedral is the city’s main square. This is one of the most interesting things to do in Šiauliai if you want to learn more about its history or get a really great view.
Usually, the square is quiet and open. In the summer months, there are sometimes events here. As it gets colder you may find art exhibits in the plaza to take a look at.
But the main reason I love the square so much is the small museum on the far side of the square along Varpo Gatvė. It looks like nothing more than a concrete wall, but if you walk behind the wall, you’ll find a doorway that takes you inside.
Inside there are photographs of the city from the 1930s and 1940s right next to photos of those same locations, but taken in 2019. It is incredible to see how much the city has changed. It is also quite fascinating to see what cars and buildings and clothing looked like in Šiauliai back then.
It’s completely free to enter. There are three levels and when you get to the top, you get a wide-open view of the square and cathedral.
13. Centrinio Park
The city’s main downtown park, Centrinio Park is a really nice place to come to relax, go for a walk or jog, or to play some frisbee golf.
There are basketball courts, ping pong tables, a skate park, and a small outdoor arena where live events take place during the summer.
It’s not an enormous park, but I found it was incredibly beautiful to come as the autumn leaves were changing.
14. Chaim Frenkel Villa
Chaim Frenkel was an industrialist who lived in Šiauliai in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During his lifetime, he opened one of the largest and most modern leather factories in Tsarist Russia.
Frenkel built this villa in 1908 as a home for him and his family. They lived here until 1931 when it was converted into a Jewish secondary school until 1935.
It’s now a museum that you can visit and explore. The gardens around the villa are free to visit and are incredibly beautiful, especially during late spring and summer. You can easily tack this onto a stroll around the nearby lake.