True Lithuania

Sport travel top 10 in Lithuania

Lithuanians love the professional sports. The major sportsmen are widely seen as warriors fighting for their national honor. Basketball teams are especially loved but there are other ways to experience the spirit of Lithuanian sport while in Lithuania.

1.Spectate a basketball match of Žalgiris Kaunas, the basketball team that is the top Lithuanian sports franchise. Choose a game versus the major Western European teams or the local arch-opponent Lietuvos rytas from Vilnius. The season is autumn-to-spring with major matches in spring. In summer the national team makes use of the Lithuania's largest Kaunas Arena for friendly matches.

2.Go all the way to Joniškis to a unique basketball museum there created by an enthusiast owner. Activities include watching the final 3 seconds of Munich Olympics finals and trying on a shoe of Arvydas Sabonis, the most famous Lithuanian basketball player and the first European drafted by NBA.

3.For a truly Lithuanian sport seek for a game of Ritinis (a.k.a. Ripka), once played by medieval shepherds. The amateur-only ritinis league holds a single "tournament weekend" per month (May to September) when all the teams convene at some town to play numerous games. There are no tickets and you won't find many fellow spectators there but you'll likely find the sport unexpectedly interesting [video presentation of Ritinis rules]. Ritinis may also be seen at some cultural festivals.

4.Try to arrange your time in Lithuania so it would coincide with some major International basketball event (World cup, Eurobasket, Olympic games), then watch that game at a bar and celebrate together at streets should there be a playoff victory. The time before these international events is also interesting for numerous friendly matches played by the national team, while immediately after the tournament a "welcome back ceremony" takes place.

5.If you prefer football (soccer) go to a game of Žalgiris Vilnius, the most decorated and followed club in Lithuania (although this following is far behind that which Western European football clubs enjoy).

6.Spectate a match of motoball in Kretinga, which is a kind of football played on motorcycles. The season is spring-to-autumn.

7.Check some of the awards and medals Lithuanian sportsmen won over the entire 20th-century Lithuanian sports museum in Kaunas Old Town.

8.For a modern sports entertainment watch the 1000 km endurance race held annually in a makeshift circuit near Palanga resort. Attracting everything from "beaten up clunkers" to buggies and Lamborghinis (driven by hobbyists, professional drivers and millionaire businessmen alike) it also gets a lot of media attention.

9.See the Basketball monument in front of Vilnius Siemens arena which serves as a symbol for Lithuania's national sport, preferably combining this with a basketball match there by the local Lietuvos rytas team, one of the two top basketball clubs of Lithuania. A nearby street has lampposts decorated with pictures of Lithuania's sports hall of famers.

10.If you are into traditions watch the annual Lake Sartai horse race - although it was moved from the traditional lake ice to a hippodrome and is more of an event than a sport.

P.S.:
For ice hockey fans the team of choice is Elektrėnų energija, its past successes having turned Elektrėnai into a true hockey town that even gave two NHL players despite its population of ~15 000. It is Lithuania's sole professional ice hockey team.

For a local rugby union experience, visit Šiauliai which has most top league teams. Rugby union is amateur-only in Lithuania.

Map of the top 10 locations and experiences for sport travel in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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