Loved by many and hated by many others Palanga leaves few Lithuanians undecided. This is the country’s largest seaside resort town and its nickname “Summer capital” describes it well enough. In hot weather this small town of 16 000 locals becomes a metropolis with hundreds of thousands people flocking in.
When people remember Palanga they frequently think of the Basanavičiaus pedestrian street with loud outdoor concerts in its restaurants and cafeterias every evening, with its lights, fountains, funfairs, lotteries, a fair share of kitsch as well as enormous crowds of people that sometimes remind Asian metropolis.
Basanavičiaus street is indeed a love-or-hate affair but Palanga is far more than that. Its long beach tends to be crowded in summer weekends, but you can always search for a place outside city center. Palanga beach is unique in that there is a range of dunes beside it. These sand dunes are an ideal place for sunbathing in cooler days as there you can get all of the sun and none of the wind. For nudists there are two gender-segregated beaches north of town center. These pre-date Western naturism by far: in 1920s Western diplomats used to be horrified by the naked swimmers here.
Palanga’s so-called 470 m long “Sea bridge” (at the end of Basanavičiaus street) is a great place to watch the fury of the storms or the spectacular sunsets into the sea.
Unlike the Meditteranean resorts Palanga has no large hotels built on the beach. Instead a pine forest is hugging the dunes. Its paths and the Love Avenue (Meilės alėja) are ideal for strolling and cycling (cars are not permitted there and must be left further from the sea).
Palanga became a resort in late 19th century on the initiative of count Feliksas Tiškevčius who owned vast lands around what was then a sleepy fishing village. Tikevičius era left many architectural gems such as the large wooden villas that once were the summer homes of the rich, each having a romantic name like Romeo, Džuljeta (Juliet) and Ramybė (Calmness). Arguably the prettiest one is named Anapilis (World of the dead). Some of the villas are better visible, but many others are away from the main streets.
The main heritage of Tiškevičiai family however is their manor surrounded by a large Birutė park with so many exotic plants that it is now styled a botanical garden. The palace (1897) itself houses the largest amber museum in the Baltic States. Birutė hill, once a location of a major pagan shrine and crowned by a gothic revival Christian chapel since 1869, is also within the park limits. Birutė was a semi-legendary wife of grand duke Kęstutis, a former vaidilutė (pagan virgin priestess) in Palanga. A century-old tradition to provide free weekend wind instrument concerts in a park bandstand lives on.
All the villas, the manor and the Basanavičiaus street are to the south of a small stream variously spelled as either Rąžė or Ronžė. This is what was once the Resort zone built on Tiškevičius family grounds. Basanavičiaus/Vytauto intersection with the Palanga's first hotel (1877) is the Resort's heart.
The area north of Rąžė have traditionally been the domain of the locals. A tall gothic revival church tower dominates the skyline there (1907) and no building is allowed to surpass it in height. The surroundings of the church, however, date to the Soviet occupation era, as this area succumbed to the great fire of Palanga in 1938 that left some 1500 people homeless.
A small park with a controversial Soviet-built monument praising the occupational army is in front of the church. Unlike some other Soviet propaganda statues this one has withstood calls to demolish it but has been somewhat balanced by a more modest memorial of Lithuanian partisan leader Jonas Žemaitis constructed in the same park.
Palanga has several museums, including that of a modernist sculptor Antanas Mončys (1921-1999) whose complex sculptures are each built from a single slab of wood (exhibit-touching permitted as per sculptor's wish). He had to spend his life away from Lithuania due to the Soviet occupation but donated his works to Palanga after independence.
Entertainment, Accomodation, Shopping and Eating in Palanga
Outside the high season (June – August) some of the restaurants and clubs close down yet many others remain open. Therefore even in the depths of winter there are far more opportunities for accomodation, eating and entertainment in Palanga than in any other Lithuanian town of comparable size.
The area between the sea and Vytauto street has the most options for hotels, restaurants and entertainment. Each of the sea-access streets is different. Over-the-top Basanavičiaus is counterweighted by a calmer Jūratės and a tree-shaded Dariaus ir Girėno where classical music is played on the loudspeakers, as well as a cheaper and emptier Žvejų further north.
In summer the hotels and B&Bs of Palanga are joined by a great number of Palanga inhabitants who offer accomodation in their homes. These “part-year businessmen” line up on all entrances to the town. The municipal efforts to replace this by Western-style rental agencies have failed so far.
Celebrations and Holidays in Palanga
Palanga is known for many local celebrations, usually spanning the entire weekend. Every year there is season opening (in May) and season closure (in September). In between those two dates there is the 1000 km endurance race weekend in July when a wide array of cars ranging from old Volkswagens to Porsches and Ferraris strive to win in a strip of highway that becomes a racetrack for a couple of days. Palanga seeks to become a year-round resort, therefore winter also has its fair share of celebrations, the most famous among which is the smelt holiday when Basanavičiaus street gets crowded with stalls selling these fishes. All these events tend to (over)fill Palanga with tourists, as does every summer weekend that comes next to a public holiday and Christmas/New Year time.
Transportation in Palanga
Palanga boasts great infrastructure with is own international airport and a direct four-lane highway link to the Lithuania’s three largest cities (Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda). Frequent (every 15 - 30 min) buses connect it to Klaipėda (26 km south), Šventoji (12 km north) and Kretinga (11 km east). There are at least several daily buses and vans leaving for every larger city of Lithuania in summer, and rare services to many smaller ones, as well as various locations in Latvia. The nearest train station is in Kretinga.