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Kernavė hill-forts.

Kernavė is a town in Lithuania, located approximately 35km north-west of its capital Vilnius, and is a former (the first known) capital city of Grand Duchy of Lithuania.


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.

Wooden chapel in Kernavė.

One of the hill-forts has somewhat conical shape (its northern part has slid down into Kernavėlė stream due to the erosion), 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.

Get in[edit]

Bukiškis viaduct on the A2 highway, north of Vilnius: a turn to Kernavė at 54.765101, 25.198279 . Keep right, go through the underpass, then drive straight all the time.
Pajauta Valley and Neris river in a distance.
Drums at the festival of Experimental Archaeology.

From Vilnius: drive the motorway A2 up to Bukiškis (at the outskirts), turn left, drive forward all the time via Avižieniai, Sudervė and Dūkštos (roads No 171, 116).

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 roundabout at the "T" junction (coordinates 54°50'21.74", 24°56'16.07"), 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 (54°53'13.82", 24°51'12.9", or behind the cemetery at 54°53'17.07", 24°51'5.72" if the former place is full), 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 hours. Destinations are not Kernavė, check carefully which one goes via Kernavė, you'll have to get off there and the bus will proceed on.

Get around[edit]

Town is small, easily walkable. The historical site can be visited only by foot, hill-forts have installed steps which are quite steep.

See[edit][add listing]

  • Bardo Galerija (S V Mitchell's Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture), Pilkapio St 17 (western edge of town, a homestead surrounded with woods), +370 610 17920 (). Weekends 13:00-18:00 or by appointment. Personal gallery of Steve Vincent Mitchell. Exhibition of surreal, mystical, sometimes nightmarish paintings, installations and sculptures. Some fine art items available for purchase. (54.889432,24.837052)
  • Hill-forts and Pajauta Valley
  • Kernavė Archaeology and History Museum Kernius St 4a, (On the main street), Info, excursions: +370 382 47385 (). Tu-Sa: Apr-Oct 10:00-18:00, Nov-Mar 10:00-16:00. Closed on Su, M and holidays. Entrance fee ~€2, guided tour in English language €20 (1h, up to 30 persons).
  • "Mirnabalis" (Private farmstead-gallery), Pakalniškiai village, Kernavė elderate, Širvintos district (2.5km NW of Kernavė, by the right side of the road if driving from Kernavė itself), +370 382 47364, mobile +370 687 26000 (). Classes for groups (up to 20) and individuals since 10:00 on Sa. Art gallery: ceramics, chamotte, painting, education.
  • Šulinys (Water Well), Vilniaus St 8, +370 616 36291 (). A local artist sculpture studio-gallery “Šulinys”. Has a special educational program for families, also has apartments for guests. Admission fee €1.2; excursion for the group of adults (10-20 individuals) €20/1h; entertainment: game with a cannon €9/30min, ride by “Kernavės taksi” €9/30min. (54.886632,24.856956) edit
  • Town surroundings:
Site to take a break with a picnic shelter on a cognitive path by Lielupė rivulet. Coordinates 54.89003, 24.82124
Observation site "White Hill", view to Neris river. Coordinates 54.886643, 24.829488
  • West of town - Kernavė Cognitive Path (Kernavės pažintinis takas). Directions: from central crossroad go west past the cemetery down Traidenio St, then turn left to Pilkapio St, go till the end, then turn to the right (west) and go up to the site called Baltasis kalnas (White Hill) at 54°53'14.83"N, 24°49'44.15"E . The path leads across the forest, its length is about 3km, there is an info shield and installed stairs where necessary, the path crosses Lielupė rivulet twice. Note that you have to get there on your own, no signs or any hints in Kernavė town itself nor on the way to the path available.
  • South of town, Kriveikiškis suburb - an archaeological site around Žvalgakalnis (Lookout Hill, coordinates 54°52'41.6"N, 24°51'28.9"E). The hill is about 22m in height, has steep slopes; eastern part has slid down into Kernavė rivulet due to the erosion. Directions: from the foot of Lizdeika Hill walk east down the valley along the slope (valley by your right hand side, the slope of the upper terrace by your left hand side) for ~490m. There you’ll find a set of stairs installed on the slope. Climb it up – a small site of the hilltop defensive positions is to the left, and a lovely meadow ahead up to rivulet marks a site of an old necropolis of Kernavė citizens, dating back to the 1275-1390. The dead were buried in purely pagan manner, orientation of graves is rather variable, not a typical strict Christian western orientation. Unique types of jewelry and other findings that were found during archaeological excavations can be seen in the local Archaeology and History Museum. A self sprouted rose hip on the site marks the special place related to some unusual events during the archaeological investigations, the story could be told if you ask the Museum staff.
From the hill top meadow you can see wonderful panoramic views rarely seen on photos, because the tourists do not come up there.
In order to avoid extra climbing you can walk to the town directly: cross the meadow NE direction towards the overgrown rivulet bank, as the meadow ends up you find an easement (servitude path) across the private fields, it leads to a proper Kriveikiškių Street. When on the street - walk to the right and you soon will reach the main street; turn to the left and you’ll approach a site at the edge of the upper terrace. It is used by paragliding enthusiasts as a take-off site - quite possible you’ll see some if the wind is suitable.

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Midsummer Day Festival (St John's Eve) June 24 (also known as Rasos), (Whole town, hill-fort site and Pajauta valley in particular). The night from June 23 to 24. Celebration is no longer supported by the Museum; still Rasos is traditionally organized] by Širvintos Culture Centre, that is, a district municipality administration which regularly publishes information about upcoming events.
  • Days of Live Archaeology festival July 6-7 (Whole town, hill-forts and Pajauta valley). 11:0-19:00. Annual festival of medieval archaeology, crafts and warfare. Entrance fee ~€3.
  • Dog Sledding (Rogių šunys), Vičiūnai grange, Kernavė elderate, Širvintos district (5km north from Kernavė centre), +370 650 99985 (). M-Su 10:00–20:00. Dog sledding entertainment all year round, for both adults and kids, with or without instructor. Additional options - catering services, “Wooden Bus” rentals, professional photo session, ATV ride, organization of Team game. Also 3-6 day youth camps. For 1 person: do-it-yourself dog sledding €75/3h-4h (min 2, max 4 persons); dog sledding with instructor €30/optional duration for the group of 4-10 people, or €27 for the group of 11-20 people, or €24 for the group of 21-40 people. 3-day camp for 7-9yo kids €65, 6-day camp for 10-14yo kids €175. (54.9101,24.86351)
  • Equestrian Centre “Žirgas” (Horse) (Jojimo centras Žirgas), Pūstelninkai village 1, Dūkštos elderate, Vilnius district (5.65km south-east of Kernavė centre, turn south from the main road at 54°51'37.86”N, 24°54'11.95”E), Mobile +370 686 48181 (e-mail form on their website “Kontaktai” section). Advance reservation required. Apart professional services related to horses, horse show and training, the Centre also offer horseback riding entertainment for regular visitors including kids. Horseback ride for 1 person: €12/20min, €15/30min, €18/40min; lesson for showjumping competition €29/45min; cognitive excursion around the centre (1 circle, no less than 5 persons) with horseback ride €3, or without horseback ride €2. Photosession with the horse €50/40min. (54.85344,24.89237)
  • Horseback Riding (Namelis prerijose - Cottage On The Prairie), Kernavė, +370 612 16364 (). Another, rather different, horseback riding entertainment: riding horses in the woods, ride in a carriage or sleigh, one or more days of hiking with horses, outdoor attractions for kids. The horse farm specializes in žemaitukas, a historic pony breed from Samogitia. The regular route is a 15km distance from the "Cottage On The Prairie" in Kernavė to the Goat Farm near Maišiagala and back. The carriage tour in and around Kernavė town, along the sandy "Green Forest" paths; sleigh tour involves a ride through the snowdrifts (when available). Approximately €15/1h; carriage/sleigh ride €30; 1 day horseback hike €60.
  • Paragliding must be booked in advance (paragliding club Sparno Broliai), +370 686 78466 (). Price €30-90.

Buy[edit][add listing]

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.

Eat[edit][add listing]

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.

  • Kerniaus baras (Kernius' Bar), Senovės St 21 (Eastern part of town, within premises of an old water mill), Mobile (info, orders) +370 614 86659 (). Also organize various celebrations, banquets, business parties, birthdays, weddings, and educational programes such like grain milling, pancake cooking, Kūčiukai (Christmas Eve cookies) cooking, Shrovetide mask making and many more.

Drink[edit][add listing]

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:

  • Arvydas Jankauskas Homestead (Arvydo sodyba), Valiukiškės village LT-19170, Kernavė elderate, Širvintos district (West of Kernavė, across Kernavė forest on the bank of Neris river), +370 382 47318, mobile +370 612 73443 (, fax: +370 382 47318). M-F 08:00-24:00. 200 year old homestead, has 7 saunas, observation towers, wigwam camp, fireplace.  edit
  • Gitana Juozapavičienė Homestead (Gitanos sodyba), Valiukiškės village LT-19170, Kernavė elderate, Širvintos district (West of Kernavė, across Kernavė forest in the valley of Neris river), +370 382 47322, mobile +370 656 85323 (). Also offers kayak, canoe, fishing service.  edit
  • Jankai Homestead (Jankų sodyba), Klišabalė village, Širvintos district (East of Kernavė, east side of the road No 116), Host: +370 685 46688, for bigger events: +370 683 04606 (). Ethnographic type of homestead. Russian sauna, billiards, table tennis. Banquet hall, small cozy kitchen, fridge, stove, microwave and all necessary utensils and tools. Whole homestead without lodging for the night €160, same with lodging ~€300. Food can be included under agreement. Asking price for everything else. (54.879809,24.873695)

Sleep[edit][add listing]

  • Kernavės bajorynė Kaimo turizmo sodyba "Kernavės bajorynė", Kernavė, Širvintos district (If driving from Vilnius or Kaunas - turn to the right at 54°53'6.31", 24°52'6.38", before reaching the main entrance to the town) +370 5 205-8555, mobile +370 656 59199 (, fax: +370 5 205-8554; Skype: Kernaves bajoryne). Reservation via e-mail or by phone.
  • Poilsis Kernavėje (Relaxation In Kernavė), Pakalniškiai village, Kernavė elderate, Širvintos district (One kilometre NW of Kernavė, by the right side of the road if driving from Kernavė itself), Mobile +370 650 13661 (). Operates since 2008. Open all year round; hosts don't live at the farmstead and visits when required. (54.904455°,24.839823°)


  • The Kernavė (and all Širvintos district to which Kernavė belongs) phone code is 382 and the five digit local subscriber number.
  • Kernavė Post Office (Kernavės paštas) is on the main street, address Kernius St 3, +370 382 47340. M-Th 10:00-12:00, F 10:00-12:30.

Get out[edit]

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 11km away from Kernavė in Dūkštos village, address Vilniaus St 3, phone +370 615 38708, e-mail [email protected] 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 3h, distance on foot 3km, group size up to 20 people, price €75 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.

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