After visiting Vilnius this summer, the Baltic Sea Coast of Lithuania was bumped up my list of places I want to see. It’s known locally as a stunning area and a bit of a hidden gem. It might not be the case in the neighbouring countries, but for us Brits it’s undiscovered. Based out of Klaipeda I was excited to see all this area has to offer, from countryside to nature, from local traditions to local breweries.
This article is a little more than a list, I’ve covered all the things I suggest you do all year round. Naturally some of these things are only available in the summer, but to make it easy I’ve split it into sections. Active & Outdoors, general Exploring, Food & Drink and Local Traditions. This way you can easily navigate to what you’re interested in. Enjoy!
Active & Outdoors
#1 Walk along the Sand Dunes
Under exploring I talk about the Curonian Spit in detail, so this one is just focused on the Sand Dunes at the Curonian Spit. There are two main spots people like to check out when it comes to the Sand Dunes. Firstly, the Dead Dunes and the Nagliai self-guided walk, which takes you right into the dunes themselves. Secondly, the Parnidis Dune, which is more of a viewpoint. My suggestion: go to both. In peak times expect them to be busy, and when cruise ships are in, I wouldn’t even bother going (I’ve heard it’s madness!). But they are well worth the visit, at the Dead Dunes you won’t even feel like you’re in Europe, let alone Lithuania. And then the sunset and view over Kaliningrad from the Parnidis Dune are spectacular.
#2 Go Kitesurfing at Svencele
Svencele is a so-called kitesurfing Mecca! It’s one of those sports that has a fantastic community around it, friendly and welcoming. I wrote about learning to kitesurf in Morocco recently. I plan on it being the next sport I learn properly! In off-season there’s nothing here, but during peak season its thriving. The accommodation and restaurants are mostly housed in shipping containers, which give it an industrial hipster vibe. Then the sunsets across the lagoon are unbeatable. This is certainly somewhere I want to come back in summer.
#3 Learn Wakeboarding at one of Europe’s biggest cable parks
Moving on from Kitesurfing to wakeboarding! Let me introduce the 313 Cable Park. Created by wakeboarders for wakeboards, they pitch themselves as not another wakeboard park. And it seems they have taken it to the next level. Most parks have two towers, yet they have five. They’re set up for beginners and pros alike. If you don’t want to wakeboard then there are swimming pools, saunas, terrace bar, outdoor gym, tennis, massage and skateboarding.
#4 Canoe at night along the Dane river
Wait a second, at night? Are you sure? Yes. Take a guided tour with Wet Weim along the river in hand-made wooden canoes, at night. We explored the embankments of Lithuania’s oldest city, Klaipeda. It’s a spooky feeling, getting into a canoe at night, under the light of the old-fashioned flame or our torch at the front of the canoe. We paddled down to the city centre, passing the magnificent ship of Meridianas. The tour last around 1.5 – 2 hours and Wet Weim also offer canoe tours to the Curonian Spit, birdwatching tours and Canoeing at Trakai Castle.
#5 See the countryside by bike
Lithuania has embraced cycling and the Baltic Sea Coast has several cycling routes. You can cycle north as far as Latvia, and to a lot of places on this list. As I mention below, the most cost-effective way to see the Curonian Spit is by bike, but why stop there? It’s a pretty flat coastline, perfect for casual cyclists. There are several bike-rental companies in Klaipeda and a list of trails and a variety of distances on Map my Ride, or look at Cycling Holidays in Klaipeda for tours and further information.
#6 Visit the Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
One place I was already aware of on the Baltic Sea Coast of Lithuania it was the Curonian Spit. Since my visit to Vilnius a few months back, this has been on my list. They call it a miracle created by sand, wind and people. There’s a lot to take in here, whether it’s the fact it’s officially connected to the Russian province of Kaliningrad, the picturesque fishing villages, the abundance of migrating bird life, or the buried villages in the dunes.
Or it could be the price. Yes, this is not to put you off, but visiting the Curonian Spit is remarkably expensive if you take a car. And the price is about to go up for 2020, although there is limited information about this. You not only pay for the ferry but also at certain checkpoints on the island. There’s a host of things to do, visit the town of Nida, explore the hill of witches, marvel at the sand sculptures, go cycling, enjoy the beach or check out the sand dunes (#1 on this list). In fact, when it comes to cycling that’s the way I recommend you see the Curonian Spit. It’s very flat and it will save you a lot of money compared to driving. Check out #7 about Dreverna below for an insider’s tip on the cheapest way to get there.
#7 Stop at the fishing village of Dreverna
The old fishing village of Dreverna on the Curonian Lagoon shore is now a regeneration success story. It’s now a modern ship port with unique wooden holiday houses overlooking the lagoon. In addition to that there’s now a list as long as your arm of things to do here, for adventurers and families alike. It has a children’s play area, swimming pool, sauna and hot tub. You can rent boats, Stand-up paddleboards, peddle boats and even learn to kitesurf. During high season they also offer a ferry to the Curonian Spit for only €5, and you can even take your bike. Now that’s the insider’s tip I was talking about, it’s by far the cheapest way to get there.
#8 Find the “Capital of Stones”
The town of Mosėdis is a beautiful gem in Samogitia and nicknamed the “Capital of Stones”. It’s a pretty enough town to visit on its own, but also home to the Vaclovas Intas’ National Stone Museum. It’s a collection of rocks and stones brought to Lithuania from as far back as the ice age. It’s a fascinating collection, established by local hero Vaclovas Intas. It offers a collection of fossils, minerals (precious and semi-precious stones). And the park, which is also part of the museum, it is completely free to walk around.
#9 Discover the Baltic Mythology Park
To the north of Lithuania and close to the town of Darbėnai, you’ll find the Baltic Mythology Park. Firstly, it’s in a stunning forest location, with beautiful surroundings. We learnt about the sculptures and mythological ideologies behind them. In the Pagan times they believed in the gods, and the mythology is from the Prussian times. It’s an interesting place, and some of the sculptures are more than impressive. It’s absolutely worth a visit, and guess what? Entrance is free! You can even cycle here along the 30km route from Klaipeda.
#10 Tour the Klaipeda Old Town
This is kind of an obvious one, but no visit to Klaipeda would be complete without a tour of the Old Town. In a place like this it’s always worth taking the tour as there will be so much knowledge and history you’re missing out on. From Hitler’s speech to Theatre Square, to the metal sculptures dotted around the city. The tour also taught us about its Prussian history, cobblestoned streets and the German ‘fachwerk’ style. It’s not a huge city (the 3rd largest in Lithuania), so a tour of 1-2 hours is enough. One thing I didn’t manage to see, the excellent street art around the city, so I’d recommend finding a tour for this.
Food & Drink
#11 Chill out at the beach bar
I’ve already talked a bit about the beach life in the outdoor & active section, from kitesurfing to exploring the sand dunes. It’s also something you might not associate with Lithuania or Klaipeda. But just outside of Klaipeda you’ll find the beach bar of Baltas Ruonis. Perfectly positioned overlooking the beach and Baltic Sea, it’s a great place to watch the world go by. The cosy restaurant also has a delicious menu of local food, burgers and seafood. Yum.
#12 Take a tour at the local brewery
I don’t go to too many places without finding a local beer or brewery. And the Baltic countries have some of the best craft beers I’ve tasted! Svyturys is a newly opened sister brewery from Brooklyn Brewery, so I guess this might limit its ‘craft brewery’ status. It doesn’t however limit the creativity; I especially like the Red Brick Workshop, a small-batch experimental series. We took a tour of the beer museum and had a tasting on at the top bar. The beer is great, and the restaurant isn’t bad either, stop by when you’re in Klaipeda. Speaking of beer, a pub that came highly recommended by locals was Faksas Klaipėda, right in the heart of the city by the river.
#13 Sip local Lithuanian Wine
Lithuania is certainly not famous for its wine production, and its climate is not conducive to grape vineyards. Therefore, the wine uses a Nordic-style production made from apples and wild-berries. We spent a few hours having a wine-tasting at Memel Wine, with an amazing variety of wines made from gooseberry, blackcurrant, raspberry and quince. You wouldn’t even know one of the wines isn’t made from grapes, and its award-winning. The winery is not too far from Dreverna, to the south of Klaipeda.
#14 Eat a local delicacy
During my two visits to Lithuania, they have a few local dishes the locals insist you try. The main ones that stuck out to me are as follows:
- Bulviniai blynai (potato pancakes). Potatoes seem to form a part of every dish in Lithuania, and this one was one of my favourites. Grated potatoes, eggs and onions fried until brown. My rating: 7/10.
- Cepelinai (potato dumplings). Sticking with the spuds, if there was one dish everyone said I must try it’s this one. The verdict: filling, sickly and too much! It tastes okay, but it’s a bit heavy and greasy for my liking, but you must try it. There are meat and vegetarian options. My rating: 5/10.
- Šaltibarščiai (cold beetroot soup). I had a hard time believing this could taste any good, and guess what? I was right. I couldn’t understand the appeal to this one, try it for yourself. My rating: 2/10!
- Kepta Duona (fried bread). Served as more of a snack, I first discovered this in a pub in Vilnius, served with my pint. I was hooked! So simple and so delicious, made from Lithuanian dark rye bread its fried with a lot of salt, garlic and oil. My rating: 9/10.
- Raguolis or sakotis (traditional spit cake). Finally, the traditional cake served for special occasions, yet I seemed to try it a few times. The spikes are made from dripping batter so it’s quite a skill to make, and very moorish. My rating 7/10.
- Kastinys (cream butter). This spicy sour cream butter is usually served with boiled potatoes or Samogitian pancakes filled with minced meat. Either way this is delicious and was one of my favourites, another one that’s not for those of you counting calories! My rating 8/10.
#15 Walk the Forest of Junipers
This is an area with a unique landscape. It’s known as the Forest of Junipers, or the Šaukliai tundra. The Salantai Regional Park has 125 species of plants growing here, including the 6-metre-high junipers. And dotted around you’ll find boulders deposited from moving glaciers 12-13 thousand years ago during the ice-age. There’s a short walk with a viewpoint allowing you to educate yourself along the walk and take in the stunning scenery.
#16 Walk along the Raised Bog
Habitats such as wetlands and bogs are becoming increasingly important worldwide, for the protection of wildlife and their impact on the environment. So, it’s great to see that the Aukstumala Raised Bog is being so well protected. Apparently, it’s one of the “most famous raised bogs in the world”, and that’s because it’s the first scientifically explored raised bog, by German botanist CA Weber in 1902. The nature trail has some educational posts which highlight the important of them and how fragile the ecosystem is. It’s also a great place to spot birds, hosting over 90 species of cranes, geese, duck and other bird species finding shelter on their migration.
#17 Visit a Bird Ringing Station
Speaking of birds, now this is a true bird-watchers paradise. Located at Vente Horn peninsula (south of Klaipeda) is one of the most important bird-ringing stations in Europe. In fact, it’s the largest ‘bird trap’ in Europe. Many birds migrate here and don’t cross the water, creating a funnel effect for ringing the birds. As many as 1-200,000 birds pass through in one day. We learnt about the importance of ringing the birds, mostly in understanding their migration patterns. And don’t worry, all birds are ringed and released without harm. Some of these birds have been reported to go as far as South Africa. Amazing.
#18 Try your hand at ancient pottery making
Close to the town of Mosėdis you can try your hand at black pottery making! It’s the oldest clay burning technique in Lithuania, and one of the few countries to preserve this craftsmanship tradition. Along with learning the tradition you can buy hand-made pots, vases, jars and kitchenware. To really appreciated how hard they are to make, you need to have a go yourself! I recommend booking this experience with a local guide.
#19 Learn about the traditional blacksmith trade
Traditional trades such as blacksmiths have been in decline in countries like Lithuania. However there seems to be on a resurgence lately, particularly in the area of Kretinga. We visited one close to Mosėdis (where you’ll find the pottery making). I met with Edvardas who showed me the technique and explained how he learned the trade. He was basically self-taught! Unlike Blacksmiths in the UK, most of the trade is on bespoke items for decoration or functional purpose. Blacksmiths in the UK are usually dedicated to shoeing horses. For a visit contact Edvardas on Instagram or ask your local guide.
#20 Learn about local traditions
There were two things on my itinerary where I met some amazing local people to learn about their history and traditions. However, both need to be organised with a guide, mainly due to the fact you’ll need a translator. Firstly, close to Dovilai I met a descendant of Prussian Lithuanian and was invited into his authentic home. We tasted coffee, pie and dried fish. It was an interesting insight.
The second chance was meeting the amazing Alma in her clay house. She runs a homestay, but the real treat is to drink her herbal tea. There is everything from energising tea, tea for your digestion and tea to help you climax. Yes, you read that correctly! Her house is close to Mosėdis so you can combine this with a visit to the stone museum. Again, this is something you need to organise with a local guide.
Where to stay
I based myself in Klaipeda and stayed at the National Hotel, a lovely hotel right in the heart of the city with everything you need. The breakfast and service were amazing, and I had everything right on my doorstep. I highly recommend it. Everything you need in the article it within a 2-hour drive from Klaipeda. I’d also consider staying at one of the wooden holiday houses at Draverna, taking advantage of the ferry across to the Curonian Spit.
My trip to Lithuania was sponsored by Interreg South Baltic Programme project “Baltic Sea Tourism Centre“. Nonetheless, the photos and opinions are all my own (as always).