True Lithuania

Getting Around Lithuania: Buses, Railroads And More

Roads and driving conditions

Lithuanian roads are among the best in the Eastern Europe. It has a network of four-lane highways connecting Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Panevėžys and Palanga. Smaller towns are accessible by well-kept asphalt roads. Some villages can be reached only by gravel roads. All the roads are free to use. Car rental is readily available in airports.

Vilnius-Kaunas-Klaipėda four-lane highway (A1) with a typical rest stop consisting of a single Lithuanian restaurant and a small motel. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Should you drive yourself and prefer to visit out of the beaten path locations a good map is essential. We suggest the 1:200 000 "Lietuvos autokelių atlasas" published by Jana seta which also includes maps of some 50 cities and towns. GPS maps of Lithuania may still lack smaller roads and localities, but they are enough for visiting the main cities and towns. Car speed limits are 50 km/h (cities/settlements), 70 km/h (dirt/gravel roads) and 90 km/h (most tarred roads). On the four lane highways, the speed limits are seasonal: 110 km/h winter and 120 km/h summer for some of them and 110 km/h winter, 130 km/h summer for the best ones. It is illegal to drive with an alcohol level over 0,4‰ (0,04%).

In winter (especially January-February) icing makes it more difficult to stop and make turns. Those unused to such conditions should be careful. While some minor roads may temporarily become unusable after heavy snowstorms, Lithuania has a massive fleet of road cleaning machines that quickly push the snow away. Moreover, cars are required to use winter tires.

Fuel prices are on par with Western Europe (and double than the US prices due to a higher excise tax). Public transport and parking is generally cheaper than in Western Europe.

Lithuanian road network scheme with distances in kilometers marked. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Intercity buses and railroads

The intercity public transportation system is dominated by buses. Each Lithuanian city has a single bus station where the most buses leave from. Some towns that are beside major roads have two bus stations: one in the middle of the city for buses terminating there and another on the road for passing-by express buses.

Buses between the main cities are very frequent, with Vilnius-Kaunas buses leaving each terminal station every 15 minutes. Bus routes connecting the main cities to regional towns are usually at least several a day. If you go from one small town to another it might be wise to connect through a larger city. You can buy bus tickets in advance in the bus station but it is also possible to acquire them from the bus driver. The bus stations are organized into quays based on general directions, that way e.g. all buses going towards Vilnius will stop at "Vilniaus kryptis" quay but not every one of them will actually go all the way to Vilnius.

599 m long and 42,5 high railroad bridge towering over Dubysa valley in Lyduvėnai, Samogitia is the largest in Lithuania. Commissioned in the rail era (1916) it is no longer served by local passenger trains. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian railroads are not on par with those in Western Europe. Before planning to go by rail you should check the map of Lithuanian railroads if both your origin and destination have a rail connection and whether there is a relatively straight route. Moreover, not every rail line has passenger traffic as the railroads lost the competition to buses in past 20 years. Where the rail services exist they are less frequent than bus counterparts.

Vilnius-Kaunas, Vilnius-Klaipėda, Šiauliai-Klaipėda, Šiauliai-Panevėžys, and Vilnius-Šiauliai are among the pairs of cities that can be traveled by railway. Additionally, three national parks have direct train access to Vilnius: Trakai NP, Aukštaitija NP and Dzūkija NP. Vilnius-Kaunas route is operated by modern double-decker trains that are significantly faster than buses. On all the other routes trains are lagging behind the buses somewhat. However, the passenger railways are subsidized by state and the tickets are almost always cheaper. Moreover, the trains (unlike most buses) could carry bicycles (good for those national park routes). The comfort in buses and trains is about the same. There are no truly different rail classes, but Vilnius-Klaipėda train seats are better than those at shorter routes.

Lithuanian passenger railway services scheme with times necessary to get between stations marked. The times are approximate but fast and slow trains in Lithuania do not deviate that much from each other, so you shouldn't expect the real travel time to be more than 20% longer or shorter than specified here. The train routes are normally quite long (100-400 km) so you would not need to change trains if going in one direction. This map is extensive, however, a few less-than-daily and suburban routes are not marked. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Hitchhiking and long-distance bicycle travel

Hitchhiking is possible and practiced by local youth, although waiting times can be unpredictable.

Bicycle paths are prevalent in the seaside, resorts, and national parks but may be sporadic elsewhere. Somewhat empty countryside roads and little altitude differences mean that even without special paths bike travel may be enjoyable.

Domestic flights and shipping

Although Lithuania has 3 passenger airports, there are no domestic flights. Good road connections and small country size ensure that it would always be quicker to go by car than by plane (if you take into account the times of going to and from the airport and passing the security).

The only local shipping lines connect Curonian Spit to Klaipėda and Nemunas Delta. There are attempts to re-introduce passenger ship service between Kaunas and Nida but these are more like a cruise than a form of transportation.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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