Lithuania is often seen as a fairly indistinct flat European country that’s overlooked from a touristic point of view. But while it’s not on most tourists’ radars, this Baltic country has more than enough unique and interesting quirks and places that make it a worthwhile destination. Maybe it’s the unspoilt sandy coastline, the colourful Old Towns, the Pagan heritage, the uneasy history or the national obsession with potatoes and basketball. Or probably a mix of all of the above.

Being relatively small and in the Geographic centre of Europe, Lithuania makes for an excellent extended weekend destination in the warmer months of the year. And as an added bonus, it’s very affordable for European standards!

 

Lithuania Travel Itinerary

The following itinerary is split into 2 parts of the country: capital region & seaside. I think this gives you the best flavour of the country and with just 2 bases means it can be done in as little as 4-5 days (i.e. an extended weekend trip). Or 1 week to give yourself more time to explore.

With the widest choice of flights arriving in the capital Vilnius, the suggested plan is to start in the capital and make your way to the seaside halfway through. While car is always more flexible, public transport also works for this itinerary with a little more planning on the Curonian Spit peninsula.

Vilnius Region

See Lithuanian countryside from a hot air balloon

 

Trakai Hot Air Balloon Experience

Viewing the world from an angle you never get to see as you lazily float over it is an unforgettable experience anywhere you do it. And while it isn’t the most budget-friendly activity, Lithuania offers some of the best value hot air balloon rides in the world. 

You can book a flight around the major cities in the country – Vilnius and other Lithuanian cities even allow flights over the city, which is a rarity in itself. We opted for a countryside option near Trakai, about 30 minutes’ drive from Vilnius. Watching the world as the sun rises, sometimes just meters above pine tree forests, lakes, villages and wildlife (we definitely confused some deers!) is probably the number one thing we did in Lithuania. Landing wasn’t particularly rough and actually quite fun. Concluded by a glass of prosecco at the end – 8AM in our case!

There are plenty of reputable hot air balloon companies, our choice being Balloon.lt which we can definitely vouch for. The whole ordeal felt a lot more personal than the likes of Cappadocia, with our pilot basically doing this as a hobby using his own balloon. Transport from wherever you’re staying is included, and while everything is set up you can even help out with unpacking and filling the balloon. Prices at the time were €105/person and the options are early morning or evening, both times when the air is calmer. Check the forecast and be prepared for cancellations (for your own good!) as strong winds don’t make friends with hot air balloons.

 

Explore the Alleys of Europe’s Largest Old Town

Vilnius Old Town Courtyard

The well-preserved baroque Old Town of Vilnius is one of Europe’s finest and has what seems like endless cute cobbled streets to explore.

For me the real character of Vilnius and its highlights are the smaller alleys and the inner courtyards usually accessible through archways from the main streets. It’s almost as if the courtyards each have their own stories to tell.

As a bonus tip, try and find the city’s narrowest alley called Skapo, at just 2 meters wide.

“Travel” to Uzupis, a country inside Vilnius

Uzupis, Vilnius - Republic within City

Yes, Vilnius has its own mini-republic, complete with its own flag, president and constitution. If this sounds like Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiania, you’re not far off. One of the world’s smallest “republics”, it’s essentially an artsy, alternative neighbourhood definitely worth exploring during your stay in Vilnius. 

It all started as an April Fool’s joke, declaring independence from Lithuania in 1997. And while obviously not recognised, Uzupis has a distinct, more relaxed vibes as well as a plethora of artistic installations that will take you by surprise. Including swings in the middle of the river and its own mermaid. Oh, and you can even get your passport stamped here.

Be sure to check out the Constitution, translated into a number of languages and featured along a wall situated on Paupio Street.

How to get to Uzupis: It’s just across the river Vilnia from Vilnius Old Town, thus easily reachable by foot. You can always hire a city bike to get around more of the district.

Visit Former KGB Headquarters

Museum of Oppression KGB Corridor, Vilnius

Being a small country in the heart of Europe, Lithuania tended to get invaded by the trending big power at the time – Poles, Germans and Russians all had their moment. The latter left a more recent Soviet imprint in the better part of 20th century, and the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights largely focuses on Lithuanian’s struggles in this period. Set in the former KGB HQ and the basement prison, the museum is a great (if chilling) context into the crazy repression Lithuanians and in fact most people under Soviet leadership went through especially in the brutal Stalin era. 

Row a boat around the fairy-tale Trakai Castle

Trakai Castle Island from the Lake, Lithuania

Probably Lithuania’s most popular day trip destination, Trakai Castle and the Lake Galve surrounding it are a “must” if you’re visiting Vilnius. The fairytale red brick castle has seen it all. Once the capital of Lithuania in Medieval days, the Castle served as home to royalty. Since then it disintegrated into ruins and eventually reconstructed in the Soviet era. This certainly doesn’t take away from its fairytale-like charm. 

I won’t lie, the place tends to get very busy especially in the summer so it’s worth coming early and or on a weekday. Surrounded by water from all sides, a great option to enjoy Trakai Castle and the surrounding lake is to rent one of the many catamarans or rowing boats and get the best views that way, without the crowds.

Boats and catamarans can be easily rented in a few spots, especially near the bridge to the castle island.

How to get to Trakai Castle: It’s 30 mins’ drive from Vilnius, or a 40-minute journey to Trakai Station by regular bus and train connections from the capital. The latter does involve a hefty walk to the actual castle from the station.

Visit Zverynas, a village inside a city

Žvėrynas House, Vilnius

For those that dreamt of living in the city but feeling like you’re in proper countryside, be sure to pay Zverynas a visit. This very distinct neighbourhood of Vilnius is characterised by tree-lined streets of colourful old wooden houses, giving it a genuine rural feel despite being so close to the city centre. Once a private hunting reserve (Zverynas translates as animals), it’s now one of the most sought-after neighbourhoods with the wooden houses protected from ever being replaced by modern housing.

Zverynas is one of the prettiest places to just wander around by foot. Or better still, hire a bike in the city centre (using CycloCity) and explore the neighbourhood on two wheels. It’s only about 15-20 minutes’ cycle from the Old Town.

Indulge in everything potato

Etno Dvaras Menu

In Lithuania, just about everything involves potatoes one way or another, in what is a simple and hearty cuisine. More than merely a side dish, this includes the national dish Cepelinai (stuffed potato dumplings), potato pancakes, potato casserole and even potato sausages. Yes, a sausage stuffed with potato.

While these dishes are available widely across local restaurants and bars, a great place to try indulge in this potato bonanza is the chain Etno Dvaras. With 10+ restaurants across the country, there is even a dedicated “Potato dishes” section. So as they say, when in Rome…

P.S. We did get potato-exhausted by the end of our Lithuania trip and ordered sushi.

Lithuanian Seaside: Klaipeda & Curonian Spit

The UNESCO-designated Curonian Spit is a long, narrow stretch of protected land separated from Lithuania’s mainland and shared with Russia to its Southwest. From miles of pristine white sand beaches and moving sand dunes to pine tree forests and cute fishing villages, it’s a real hidden gem and probably the highlight of not only Lithuania but the entire Baltic region. 

If you’re coming in the warmer months I really recommend making it a part of your Lithuania itinerary. You can easily base yourself in the main seaside city of Klaipeda and visit Curonian Spit that way, or more conveniently stay in Nida or one of the other villages although prices for accommodation tend to be higher.

Getting to Curonian Spit: The Curonian Spit is accessible via a frequent & cheap 20-minute ferryboat from Klaipeda to Smiltyne. To see most of the peninsula, there is a €30 entry fee for vehicles in the summer (and €5 otherwise). Public transport is also an option here, although renting bicycles would be my recommendation if you have time and aren’t driving.

Klaipeda itself is 300km from Vilnius, which makes for a (rather boring) 3-hour drive on the country’s main motorway. Otherwise buses and trains will get you there in 4 hours. 

Map of Curonian Spit Itinerary

Lithuania Itinerary Map - Curonian Spit

 

Enjoy Miles of white sand beaches

Smiltyne Beach, Curonian Spit

Lithuania is no classic seaside destination and Baltic Sea is no Mediterranean. But if you like the sound of pristine, often entirely empty soft white sand beaches, Curonian Spit is a fantastic destination. 

With the entire sea-facing coastline a stretch of wide sandy beaches, even during the peak summer months they hardly look overrun. The beaches are as clean as you get and infrastructure (toilets, bins etc) is surprisingly well-established. Probably those €30 car entrance fees, eh.. 

On the warm summer days, swimming is certainly doable in the same way that swimming in the English Channel is refreshingly pleasant during heatwaves.

 

Cycle through colourful fishing villages

Nida Curonian Spit, Lithuania

In the summer, Curonian Spit draws cyclists in for its miles of cycling paths stretching across the shores. So if you like the idea of an easy, relaxing cycle along promenades and beaches, come to the picturesque village of Nida where bike rental is widely available (you can also rent in the other villages further North).

As you make your way past colourful wooden fisherman’s houses, pine tree forests, waterfront promenades and beaches, stop over for some local snacks. The most famous here is fresh-smoked fish, accompanied perfectly by local beer and some rye bread.

You can make the ride as short or long as you like, keeping in mind that most of the route follows the flat coastline. The path is clearly sign-posted and well-maintained, so you won’t get lost or run over.

Getting there: Once on the Spit, Nida is 50km South of the ferry landing so a little under an hour. Bike rentals are available widely including one by the marina.

Walk on Europe’s highest sand dunes

Parnidis Sand Dunes, Lithuania

At the end of Lithuania’s part of Curonian Spit near the village of Nida you will find yourself in Parnidis Dunes, reminiscent of somewhere far more exotic and warm than on the Baltic coast. Surrounded by pine forests, some of the dunes here are as tall as a 15-story building and offer a perfect view of the surroundings.

Parnidis Dune makes for some great walks, just make sure you don’t accidentally cross the border with Russia (chances are the big neighbour will let you know before you do!). If you’re staying overnight, climb one of the taller dunes and enjoy a fantastic sunrise or sunset view.

Meanwhile, between the villages of Pervalka and Juodkrante, Dead Dunes (also Naglis Dunes) are most known for once swallowing entire villages centuries ago as they steadily migrated along the peninsula. Please don’t veer off the paths to not cause damage to the sand dunes.

Climb the Pagan Hill of Witches

Hill of Witches, Curonian Spit, Lithuania

Lithuania is known as the last Pagan stronghold and the Hill of Witches in the village of Juodkrante nods to this heritage.

The “hill” is actually a series of paths in a hilly forest featuring around 70 carved wooden sculptures along the way. Each artwork depicts Lithuanian folk tales, including carvings of witches, Baltic gods, devils and other made-up creepy Pagan things.

The Hill of Witches is as much about trying to interpret the stories that the sculptures depict as enjoying a quaint walk in nature accompanied by the scent of pine trees. Once you reach the top, another path leads to the nearby seaside if you feel like continuing the adventure.


 

What about the Hill of Crosses?

You may have heard about the Hill of Crosses as a popular tourist sight in the North of the country. While I don’t discourage you from visiting, its location near Siauliai means it’s isolated from the 2 main areas of interest in this itinerary (designed for a 4-7 day holiday) and extra driving time on pretty indistinct roads to visit literally a hill with hundreds of crosses. Certainly do add it to your itinerary if you have the time!

When to visit Lithuania

While Vilnius is an all-year destination, if you want to see Lithuania and especially Curonian Sea at their finest, come between mid-May and September. Great weather isn’t guaranteed here even in August, but on the Spit some hotels and restaurants will shut between October and May. Winters, meanwhile, can get cold, windy and grim.

Driving in Lithuania

Lithuania is a straight-forward country for driving. Road infrastructure is well-developed with straight (but boring) motorways connecting the 3 biggest cities. Drivers are generally well-behaved, more so than in Balkan countries, Russia or the South of Italy.

While you could certainly get by with public transport, I would recommend a car if you’re getting beyond Vilnius region.

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