Siauliai is an industrial city in Samogitia, the northwest region of Lithuania, though it borders Aukštaitija the northeast region. It's the country's fourth largest city: in 2023 the population was 40,434, with a total of about 108,000 across the metropolis. It's a modern city with several sites of interest, but the stand-out is the "Hill of Crosses" pilgrimage site 12 km north.
Šiauliai takes its founding date as 22 Sept 1236, when it was documented as the site of the Battle of Saule - though probably that was 30 km northeast. It grew slowly, being devastated in the 16th and 18th centuries by plague and "The Deluge", the invasion by Sweden. After a rebellion in 1769 it was rebuilt in classical style on a grid pattern, and boomed in the 19th when road and rail transport fostered its industries. The big business here was leather and related trades such as footwear, textiles, candles and confectionery, and local magnate Chaim Frankel built a fine mansion on the proceeds. Šiauliai was wrecked in the First World War and eviscerated in the Second, when within a few weeks of the Nazi arrival its large Jewish population lay in the forest graves they were forced to dig for themselves.
Postwar Soviet rule was oppressive but established industries of metal-bashing (including a bicycle factory), electronics, wood-processing and construction. Independence in 1990 led to growth of the service sector and a westward-facing economy. The airport from 2020 was developed as an Airbus servicing facility, and its military role continues as it's within 15 minutes flying time of NATO's eastern frontier.
- 1 Šiauliai bus station (Bustaras) (500 m west of the railway station within Saulės Miestas shopping centre). Bus lines on these domestic routes are Toks and Kautra.
- Vilnius – Buses run roughly hourly, taking 3-4 hours via Panevėžys and Radviliškis; or you might have to change.
- Kaunas – They are likewise hourly, usually via Kėdainiai, and continuing from Šiauliai to other towns such as Mažeikiai or Žagarė.
- Klaipėda – Some four or five daily buses take 3 hours, but early morning and evening buses take slow roundabout routes.
- Riga, Latvia – One bus per day is direct from Riga Airport, and two per day run from Riga city with a change at Trukmė.
- 2 Šiauliai railway station (Traukinių stotis) (the railway station is central). For timetables check Deutsche Bahn, as Litrail forbids access to its own timetables.
- Vilnius – Trains run every 2-3 hours and take 2 hr 15 min via Kaisiadorys, Jonava, Kedainiai and Radviliskis. From Šiauliai they continue via Telšiai to Klaipėda, taking just under 2 hours.
- Kaunas – Two services per day take 3 hours changing at Kaisiadorys, and four others take 4 hours changing at Vilnius.
The most convenient commercial airport is Vilnius (VNO IATA), and there are budget flights to Kaunas (KUN IATA). Šiauliai Airport (SQQ IATA), 7 km southeast, is primarily military with no commercial flights.
The city sprawls, but most points of interest are within a compact area.
City buses[dead link] run 05:00-23:00. Timetables are posted at bus stops, the station and online. Single tickets are sold on the buses (adult €1, senior €0.50). E-ticket fares are €0.50, for an upfront charge of €1.50 for an e-card, so you break even on the third journey: buy these at the bus station on Tilžės g.
Best booked through your accommodation—they know who's trustworthy. Or use the eTAKSI app for smartphones, or Taxify or Uber.
As of 2023, official rates are flagfall €0.70 plus €0.70/km and €6/hr waiting.
- 1 Angel Museum, Višinskio g 24, ☏ . M-F 10:00-18:00. Models and sculptures of angels - cute, moving or emetic as the mood takes you. Adult €2, conc or child €1.50.
- 2 Bicycle Museum, Vilniaus g 139, ☏ . Tu-F 10:00-18:00, Sa Su 11:00-17:00. The town has a bicycle factory Baltik vairas, and this quirky museum exhibits the history of the bike. Adult €5.
- 3 Photography Museum, Vilniaus g 140, ☏ . Tu-F 10:00-18:00, Sa Su 11:00-17:00. Small museum on the history of photography, but short on actual photos. Adult €5.
- Rooster Clock Square (Gaidžio laikrodžio aikštė) (intersection of Vilniaus g and Tilžės g next to the Photography Museum). The downtown crossroads and rendezvous point. The rooster on the clocktower traditionally flapped its wings and squawked a greeting, but broke down in Soviet times. It was repaired in 2003 and now squawks in several languages at 12:00 and 18:00 daily. Vilniaus g is pedestrianised and dotted with street sculptures and murals.
- Chocolate Museum (opposite the Photography Museum). Tu-F 10:00-19:00, Sa 10:00-17:00.
- St George's Church (Sv Jurgio baznycia), Kražių g 17 (opposite railway station), ☏ . This is Roman Catholic but topped by onion domes, as it was built in 1908 for Russian troops.
- 4 Sundial Square. A lakeside park, where a Golden Boy on a column shoots an arrow in the general direction of Minsk. The column casts a shadow on a sundial below, and commemorates the Battle of Saule (which means "sun") on 22 Sept 1236. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword advanced out of Riga to lay into the pagan Samogitian and Semigallian tribes, and to link up with their allies the Teutonic Knights of Prussia. But on swampy ground they were slaughtered by lightly-armed, more agile pagan forces; the Brothers were broken by the defeat, and their territories rebelled. Their survivors joined the Teutonic Knights, which remained powerful until broken in turn at Grunwald in 1410. The site of the Battle of Saule is thought to be Jauniūnai, 30 km northeast of town towards Joniškis.
- Old city cemetery. The atmospheric woodland park next to the sundial. It was created in 1831 when cholera struck the city, and used until 1959, with Catholic, Orthodox and "Free-thinkers" sections. Many monuments were lost to wartime bombing.
- Iron Fox (Geležinė lapė). A big metal sculpture on the lake shore east of the cemetery. Either he / she is marking territory, or a scoop-bag the size of a bin-liner will shortly be needed.
- 5 Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral (Šv apaštalų Petro ir Pauliaus katedra), Aušros takas 3, ☏ . Prominent with its 75 m spire, this large Roman Catholic church was built in Renaissance style in the 1620s. It was part defensive - note the shooting loops - as it was at risk from armed robbery and sectarian riots. It was bashed about in wartime but restored, and promoted to cathedral in 1997. Pity about the drab modern block of flats next to it.
- 6 Chaim Frankel Villa, Vilniaus g 74, ☏ . Tu-F 10:00-18:00, Sa Su 11:00-17:00. Frankel ran a leather business and built this Art Nouveau mansion in 1908. It was a military hospital under the Soviets then refurbished, to exhibit his era and the Jewish community of those times. Adult €5, conc or child €2.50.
- 7 Cat Museum (Katinų muziejus), Žuvininkų 18, ☏ . Tu-F 10:00-17:00, Sa 09:00-16:00. Collection of feline memorabilia, plus six live cats that appreciate being stroked, and a sad mini-zoo.
- 8 Radio and TV Museum, Vilniaus g 174, ☏ . W-F 10:00-17:00, Sa Su 10:00-17:00. Small exhibition of what your gran watched, no signage in English. Adult €2.
- 9 St Ignatius' Church (Sv Ignaco Lojolos baznycia), Vilniaus g 247B, ☏ . This was built as a Jesuit oratory in 1936, shut down under the Soviets, but rebuilt as an RC church in the 1980s.
- Railway Museum (next to Dubijos g, one km northwest of the station). A little more than an old locomotive.
- 10 Botanical Garden, Paitaičių g 4. M-F 08:00-17:00, Sa Su 10:00-18:00. Small but well-maintained by the university. Free.
- 11 Šiauliai History Museum, Aušros al 47, ☏ . Tu-F 10:00-18:00, Sa Su 11:00-17:00. Rebuilt in 2022, the city's history is now exhibited here.
- 12 Žaliūkiai Miller’s Farmstead, Architektų g 73. A 19th century windmill restored to working order.
Hill of crosses
- 13 Hill of Crosses (Kryziu Kalnas) (Take a bus towards Joniškis and get off at Domantai; these run hourly and take 15 min. Walk 2 km along the lane signed "Kryziu Kalnas"—if you're accompanied by a scrummage of headscarves you are going the right way. Also possible by taxi, where 30-45 min should be long enough.). 24/7. A pilgrimage site 12 km north of Šiauliai. It's a hillock or embankment packed with crosses - over 100,000 at the latest estimate in 2006, with more arriving daily. The cross was a pagan symbol long before Lithuania's conversion to Christianity in 1387, the last European country to convert, and there may already have been a tradition of planting them here on the site of a hill fort. However the modern cult started in 1831 after a failed uprising against Russian rule; many rebels' bodies were never found so their families planted crosses here in remembrance. Another uprising in 1863 had the same outcome. The hill thus became symbolic of Lithuanian national endurance under oppression. The Soviets bulldozed the site three times and erected fences and ditches, but back came the crosses. Pope John Paul II visited in Sept 1993 - the open structure just north is where he held mass. You're free to plant your own cross so long as it's less that 3 m tall, and tourist shops sell these. Good luck finding a place to plant it, and many visitors have failed to, so in places crosses lie in a jumble like a scrapyard. Free.
- 14 Franciscan Hermitage (Mazesniuju broliu ordino Lietuvos sv Kazimiero provincijos Kryziu kalno vienuolynas) (300 m northeast, access via the road if it's been raining, the direct path gets muddy). The Brothers Minor of the Franciscan Province of St Casimir. It has 16 cells for novice monks but its church is open to visitors. Instead of a crucifix and wall behind the altar, there's a large window so the backdrop is of the crosses on the hill, so the church is not conventionally "oriented". Consecrated in 2000, it was built after the Pope pointedly asked where was the church?
- Saulė Concert Hall is at Tilžės g 140.
- State Drama Theatre (Valstybinis Šiaulių dramos teatras) is at Tilžės g 155 opposite the Photography Museum.
- MB Game Tunnel (MB Žaidimų tunelis) is a bowling alley with other amusements such as snooker. It's at Tilžės g 121 opposite the Chocolate Museum, open daily 16:00-01:00.
- Football: FA Šiauliai play soccer in A Lyga, the country's top tier. FA stands for "football academy" and they're the phoenix successors to FC Šiauliai who went bust in 2016. Their home ground is Savivaldybė Stadium (capacity 7000) about 1 km northwest of city centre; it's shared with the women's team FC Gintra, also in their top tier. The playing season is March-Nov.
Stores are strung along Tilžės gatvė, the spine of town coursing southwest to northeast. The most central is Maxima on Rūdės g near the Bicycle Museum, open daily 08:00-23:000.
- Senasis Sodzius, Stoties g 3 (By bus station and Saules Miestas shopping centre), ☏ . M-F 10:00-15:00. Budget canteen for trad Lithuanian food, you pay cash upfront. They only speak Lithuanian so some pointing and grunting is needed to order. Lunch hour gets busy.
- Arkos, Vilniaus g 213 (50 m north of Photography Museum), ☏ . Daily 10:00-00:00. Decent filling food, service spasmodic.
- Kapitonas Morganas, Vilniaus g 183 (50 m south of Photography Museum), ☏ . M-F 11:00-23:00, Sa 12:00-00:00, Su 12:00-23:00. They've given up the pirate decor so it doesn't much resemble the rum advert, but it's one of the better spots in town centre.
- Leja and Boho opposite side of Vilniaus gatvė get good reviews.
- 1 Juone Pastuoge, Aušros al 31, ☏ . M-Th 10:00-21:00, F Sa 10:00-01:00, Su 10:00-19:00. Tavern with live music and trad Lithuanian food, fun atmosphere, occasional malfunctions of cooking and service.
- 2 Brodvėjaus Pica, Pramonės g 6 (within Bruklinas Store), ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-20:00, Su 11:00-18:00. It's pronounced "Broadway Pizza" and has a wide selection, but slow service lets it down.
- Pubs are close to Vilniaus g, and include Bottoms Up, Black Bar and Rock n' Roll. Nero is a shisha cafe.
- Brewery Gubernija may have brewed since 1665, serving a noble estate, but became an industrial business in 1867; it was revived in 2019. It's 2 km north of the centre at Dvaro g 179, open daily 09:00-19:00 for tastings and shop sales.
- Distillery Pakrutos Manor in Pakruojis town make gin, schapps and liqueurs.
- 1 Hotel Šaulys, Vasario 16-osios g 40, ☏ , email@example.com. Upscale hotel in town centre. Rooms feel a bit dated, but clean with TV and safe. The hotel has a restaurant and conference facilities. B&B double €90.
- 2 Turnė, Rūdės g 9, ☏ . Basic hotel, central, decent for what you pay. B&B double €50.
- Hotel Šiauliai is a Soviet-era behemoth in town centre by the bicycle museum.
As of Aug 2023, Šiauliai and its approach highways have 4G from Bite and Tele2, and 5G from Telia.
- Klaipėda, Lithuania's third largest city, lies west. It's modern but with many points of interest, and a short ferry-ride brings you to the Curonian Spit.
- Palanga is a beach resort north of Klaipėda.
- Kaunas, Lithuania's second city, is southeast, with many features of its time as a Russian bastion then a Polish city.
- Riga north in Latvia has a fascinating old town centre.