True Lithuania

10 great roads of Lithuania for car travel

Lithuania may be a small country, but as its sights are evenly divided across its territory it offers some great road itineraries for travelling by car.

All roads mentioned here are 100-300 km in length with interesting sights and towns with amenities every 20-50 km. They are all tarred and begin/end at the key entry points of Lithuania (Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Latvian and Polish borders). The end points of the roads meet up, allowing return by a different scenic route.

1.Panemunė (Nemunas Valley) Road (no. 141) is arguably the most scenic route in Lithuania, offering a longer alternative for a voyage between Kaunas and Klaipėda. Its Nemunas Valley section near Kaunas offers the top landscapes of Lithuania's largest river, dotted by castle-inspired palaces of 17th-19th-century nobility (Raudondvaris, Raudonė, Panemunė). Further to the west, the road enters Lithuania Minor region with its orderly once-Lutheran once-German-ruled townships (Šilutė is considered the region's capital). A brief detour will let you visit Nemunas Delta where the mighty river empties into the Curonian lagoon; the area is famous for annual floods, bird migration, and fishermen culture. Distance: 237 km, Kaunas-Klaipėda

2.Vilnius-Kaunas (Four capitals route) allows one to visit all four capitals of Lithuania, each breathing in different eras. Trakai with its castles are Medieval, Kernavė archeological site dates to prehistoric era while Kaunas served as capital in interwar period, getting an enviable selection of art deco, bauhaus and early modern architecture. Vilnius, the long-term Lithuanian capital, combines all the eras. Vilnius-Kaunas route is also the most popular car road in Lithuania. Distance: 100 km + ~60 km detours, Vilnius-Kaunas.

3.Neringa road (Smiltynė-Nida) is a scenic National Park forest road in Lithuania's Curonian Spit peninsula, accessible only by ferry (or via Russia). You may stop at numerous resort villages, hike paths on spectacular dunes as well as one of the Europe's largest cormorant colony. Distance: 50 km, Klaipėda-Nida (but return by the same road is required unless continuing to Russia - making it 100 km two-ways)

4.Samogitians Road (no. 196) linked Kaunas to Klaipėda in 1933, making the internal Samogitia and the seaside easily accessible. Once known as a fierce forested land that abandoned paganism as late as 1413, Samogitia is now famous for its Christian heritage. With detours one may visit Šiluva Virgin Mary Shrine (the top pilgrimage site in Lithuania) and pretty Tytuvėnai monastery. Further on Kražiai and Varniai (the historical capitals of Samogitia) stand, with their fading glory still visible in churches and other buildings larger and older than common in other Lithuanian towns of ~1000 inhabitants. Rietavas even further westwards was famous as the location of Lithuania's first power plant built by its enlightened dukes. Due to massive numbers of cars flocking to the seaside the Samogitian road was doubled by A1 highway in 1987 - both follow nearly the same route and offer the same detours (but A1 bypasses towns). A monument for Samogitian road stands at the exit from Kaunas, offering views of Vilijampolė district. Distance: 219 km + detours, Kaunas-Klaipėda

5.Aukštaitian Road (northern Via Baltica) (Kaunas-Biržai, A8/A10). Constructed in 1937-1940, Aukštaitian road was one of the two key road infrastructure projects of interwar Lithuania that connected temporary capital Kaunas with the hinterland by tarred roads (the other was Samogitian road). The Aukštaitian road is rich in a heritage of famous Radvila family which some 200-400 years ago literally owned some of the local towns and fought other noble families for dominance over Lithuania. Two of their key strongholds are Kėdainiai (famous for its pretty old town) and Biržai (famous for a 17th century Radvila fortress). Both areas have many churches of different denominations and Radvilas were known to support religious freedom. Lithuania's 5th largest city Panevėžys may lack comparable sights, but provides great opportunities for shopping, eating and accommodation. Nearly the whole Aukštaitian road has been designated a part of Via Baltica after the 1990s (the primary route between Warsaw, Kaunas, Riga, and Tallinn). Distance: 179 km, Kaunas-Biržai (Latvian border)

6.E272 route (Vilnius-Panevėžys-Šiauliai-Palanga) is the longer alternative to go from Vilnius to Lithuania's seaside. It passes by Lithuania's 4th and 5th largest cities (Šiauliai and Panevėžys), pretty towns of Ukmergė and Telšiai, the towns of Plungė and Kretinga (famous for their manors) before reaching the Lithuania's top seaside resort Palanga. Easy detours may be done to the Hill of Crosses and Samogitian National Park (with its Soviet nuclear missile lanch site). Distance: 361 km (of them 128 km four-lane highway), Vilnius-Palanga (near Latvian border).

7. 102 road (Vilnius-Zarasai-Daugavpils) traverses the multi-ethnic Eastern Lithuania, passing by Polish, Russian Old believer and Lithuanian villages. Key sights en-route are the Aukštatija National Park with its lakes and villages that changed little for centuries as well as Visaginas, a Russian-dominated Soviet-constructed nuclear power plant workers town. Minority heritage includes Old Believer church at Jurgėliškė and birthplace of Polish president Pilsudski. Distance: 164 km, Vilnius-Zarasai (Latvian border).

8.Old postal tract (Kaunas-Daugavpils, A6) was constructed as part of the all-important Saint Petersburg-Warsaw link. In 1836 it became the first Lithuania's road to be surfaced. As such, the road has considerable 19th-century heritage. Massive Russian fortresses adorn Kaunas and Daugavpils. Ukmergė has a lovely 19th century downtown while Zarasai has a fan-form town plan dating to the era (when it was named Novoaleksandrovsk after a czar). There are surviving horse change stations and other 19th-century road infrastructure along the route. Distance: 211 km, Kaunas-Daugavpils (Latvian border)

9. A4 road (Vilnius-Druskininkai) is the main Access to the Dzūkian forests. The old capital Trakai, Dzūkija national park with its forests and monasteries are visitable en-route. The route ends at Druskininkai, the recently revitalised 19th century spa resort. Distance: 128 km, Vilnius-Druskininkai.

10. Southern Via Baltica (Kaunas-Poland, A7) is the southern Lithuanian section of massive Warsaw-Kaunas-Riga-Tallinn route and the prime entrance to Lithuania from Poland. It passes by calm Sudovian towns (such as Marijampolė) which were the heartlands of Lithuanian national revival. They have little in particular to offer, but the atmosphere of agricultural Sudovia may be nice. Some of the area's loveliest places are located beyond the Polish border where the majority of people are still Lithuanian. For example, the Prussian-Yotvingian settlement. Distance: 123 km (Kaunas to Suwalki in Poland).

Map of top 10 tourist roads in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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