When my friends told me they wanted to go to the Cold War Museum in Lithuania, I was like “Ok, sure.” But that’s because the museum has the worst possible name for what it really is: a decommissioned nuclear missile base. You’d think everyone would want to lead with that. A road trip through Lithuania is not complete without a visit to this old Soviet nuclear missile complex, now a Cold War Museum. It’s probably at least a 45 minute detour from wherever you’re headed but it’s worth every second.
What is it?
In the 1960s, the Soviets built the Plokstine nuclear missile base and equipped it with enough nuclear power to level any city in Europe. Stationed deep in the countryside of Lithuania, the project was actually kept secret from the Lithuanian people. The missile complex houses four missile silos, one of which you can see in person during your visit. They’re all connected by a central command center, which is a massive underground bunker.
Little known fact: The missiles from this base were the ones sent to Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis via the Black Sea. So this little base in Lithuania played a critical but largely unsung role in this major worldwide crisis.
The base was closed in 1978, so obviously there are no active missiles, and some parts of the base, like the control room, are just a shell now. But the Lithuanians brilliantly repurposed the space and turned it into an amazing museum that allows you to get deep underground to learn about the Cold War era.
How to get there?
The Cold War Museum is in the middle of nowhere in Zemaitija National Park, so it’s only accessible if you drive there. It’s about three and a half hours from Vilnius by car or about an hour and a half from Klaipeda. We arrived from Riga, which is about three hours away. The drive takes you through a large part of the park and the base is next to Lake Plateliai. The roads are a little jacked up but there’s a clear route for your car.
Visiting the museum
Entrance is 5 euros per person. And though there are signs all over that say you’re not allowed in the complex without a guide, there were no scheduled guided tours when we arrived. So we were allowed to enter on our own with only instructions to follow the white lines on the floor if we got lost. We were literally the only people in this entire missile complex. It was creepy as hell and super fun.
The exhibit starts with some historical background including the development of the Atomic bomb and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Each of the exhibit rooms focuses on some different aspect, like technical information, propaganda during the Cold War, and historical context.
I was expecting something a lot less well-presented, given the cost, but the displays were interesting, informative, and included videos and detailed recreations of barracks and control centers. Which means, there’s creepy Russian mannequins fucking everywhere. So you might turn into a room from a long concrete corridor and be faced with some dead eyed doll at a communication desk.
However, the museum is very poorly organized, which is due more to its venue than the museum itself. The white lines that you’re supposed to follow sometimes end in the middle of nowhere and sometimes go in two opposite directions. The orientation was difficult, so I can understand why the visits are normally done with a guide. Also because I’m sure they don’t want a couple of people climbing around a giant missile silo like monkeys. But we were all alone so we did, of course. Through tiny crawl spaces in the silo, you can see different parts of the 130-foot missile silo.
If you enter without a guide, check the stairways to make sure you’re not missing anything. The stairways and where they lead are the most confusing, and the white lines don’t always go to the right door. And remember, if you haven’t gotten to the missile silo, you’re not done yet. So keep looking around. You’ll know you’re close when you find the creepy gentleman with the gas mask in a long hallway (his back will be turned to you).
The silo is pretty impressive to look down at. You can’t even really see the bottom over the wide, rusty rim. Once you’ve seen it, you can go back above ground to a world of fresh air and cellular service.
Unless you happen to work at an active nuclear site, visiting this missile base in Lithuania is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to stare down the barrel of a nuclear silo. So when you suggest this to your friends, lead with that and not “Cold War Museum.”
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Plateliai guides on GPSmyCity here.