The name “Kernavė” loosely translates as “Kernius family estate” which refers to the Grand Duke Kernius, who established his Seat here approximately in 1040.
Kernavė is a very small town on the upper terrace of Neris river, between the river and the road No 116. The site of the former capital, a complex of five hill-forts and the archaeological remains of a large medieval settlement, is at the lower terrace of Neris river and not visible from the town itself. This lower terrace is called the Pajauta Valley. According to archaeological data the first settlers appeared in 9th-8th millennium BC, in late Palaeolithic Age.
In 13th century Kernavė became a thriving town of feudal craftsmen and tradespeople. It was first mentioned in written sources in 1279 as the estate of Traidenis, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. In 1390 the town was burnt down by Crusaders, the wooden buildings were left in ash and people moved on the upper terrace of the river, in the present location of the settlement. The complex of hill-forts consists of one central hill-fort (called Aukuro piliakalnis – Altar Hill-fort) which was a Ducal residence; two collateral hill-forts which were defending the Duke’s castle and the town (called Mindaugo sostas and Lizdeikos kalnas), westernmost Įgulos kalnas - Crew Hill, and the fifth hill-fort which is situated about 400 m SE away from the main group and is called Žvalgakalnis - Lookout Hill.
One of the hill-forts has somewhat conical shape, it's called a Lizdeika Hill. Lizdeika was a prominent priest, better known from the legend of Gediminas' Dream: it was him who has foretold that Vilnius will become a capital. After the introduction of Christianity the main pagan temple in Vilnius was destroyed, thus the chief priest transfered the temple to Kernavė. Legends tell that the huge oak grew somewhere in vicinity, and the pagan priestesses looked after the sacred fire under the crown of this oak. Lizdeika himself lived in a small fort on the conical hill. It is not clear whether priestess Pajauta was an actual daughter of Lizdeika or Kernius (as legends suggest), probably she was a daughter none of them. She was a high priestess and a hearted person of extraordinary beauty. Pajauta cult was still alive in the 19th century, there was a wooden idol on a hill (supposedly the tomb of her son, warrior Pajautas) on the other side of Neris river near Žasliai village. Local people knew the so called Laments of Pajauta untill the beginning of 20th century. However now only Guronys Hill, also known as Pajautas' Tomb (54º50’19.2", 24º33’59.8"), reminds this cult.
The State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė was founded in 1989, it now covers an area of 196.2 ha. Since 2004 it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From Vilnius: drive the motorway A2 up to Bukiškis (at the outskirts), turn left, drive forward all the time via Avižieniai, Sudervė and Dūkštos (road No 171).
From north (Riga, Šiauliai or Panevėžys): drive the motorway A2 up to the second viaduct to Širvintos and turn to the right at 55°1'1.02", 24°54'39.29" (Širvintos itself is on the left, turn to the right, road No 116; the road sign reads "Kernavė 18 km"), drive via Musninkai village up to Kernavė.
From south and west (Poland, Klaipėda, Kaunas or Trakai): drive the motorway A1 up to Vievis, pass it through and turn to the left soon after the church (road No 108), cross the railway and the river, drive up to the "T" junction, then turn to the left (road No 116) and drive up to Kernavė.
Leave the car near the cemetery at the main entrance to the town, especially if you came to some festival and are not going to stay overnight.
By bus from Vilnius Bus Station: busses run towards Kernavė about 6 times per day from the suburban (blue) platforms No 10 or No 11, at intervals of approximately 0.5-1.5 hr. Destinations are not Kernavė, check carefully which one goes via Kernavė, you'll have to get off there and the bus will proceed on.
Town is small, easily walkable. The historical site can be visited only by foot, hill-forts have installed steps which are quite steep.
During festival the traditional craft fair takes place on Altar Hill-fort. Items available are both precise replicas of archaeological findings and traditional Lithuanian craft products that has not changed over the centuries. Range varies from ceramics and woodwork to herbal medicine prepared using ancient methods and recipes. On the main street of town vendors sell more mainstream Lithuanian craft products and home made food.
During festival the traditional fair always takes place in town and the archaeological site; the guests can buy the food and drinks at the spot.
The place is not supposed to visit neither for the nightlife, nor for any urban attraction. Celebrations, private parties and family events are supposed to take place in the proper places for that, namely within homesteads - countryside tourism units that offer the service suitable for such kind of events. Apart those listed on "Eat" and "Sleep" sections, there are three more in vicinity:
Neris Regional Park is one of the nicest and mysterious areas in the country. The territory of the park begins SE of Kernavė town, just outside the administrative boundaries of Kernavė elderate. It stretches SE along the roads 116 and 171 (towards Vilnius) roughly up to "Sudervė Road" - the road No 5212 that connects Pilaitė district of Vilnius and Sudervė town with popular attraction Vilnoja Stone Sculpture Park. Neris Regional Park covers both sides of Neris river, however the right bank (same as Kernavė location) is most convenient to visit and explore. The Visitors Centre is 11 km away from Kernavė in Dūkštos village, address Vilniaus St 3, phone +370 615 38708, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Working hours M-F 08:00-16:00, Sa-Su (May 1 - October 1) 10:00-14:00. The park has 2 hiking trails on the right bank of Neris river, and the one cognitive path in protected area of Dūkštos Oakwood which is rather short and easy to walk. Two other trails are rather complicated and involves climbing up the steep hill-forts, natural hills and slopes. Visitors centre offers guided tours in English language, they should be booked via e-mail of phone. One of unusual tours is a night tour "The Night Story by the rivulet of Dūkšta", duration approximately 3 hr, distance on foot 3 km, group size up to 15 people, price 200 LTL per group.
The left bank of Neris river can be explored as a separate trip, as it requires minimum the whole day. If necessary, there is a possibility to stay overnight right in the middle of the forest in Žalgiris village - contact Adventure Academy which provide accommodation service there. Wild camping also is possible and allowed in designated spots.