Lithuania Minor, the Long Lost Southwest | True Lithuania
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Lithuania Minor (Southwest Lithuania)

Lithuania Minor used to be the Lithuania's most distinct region. Save for a few brief periods it had been ruled by German states until the 20th century. Its peasantry, however, spoke Lithuanian and, in a sense, this region was the heartland of Lithuanian culture. First Lithuanian books were printed in Lithuania Minor (1547) and knygnešiai (book carriers) of the 19th century smuggled Lithuanian literature from there to the Russian-occupied Lithuania where Lithuanian language was banned. Even the flag and anthem of Lithuania Minor predate those of Lithuania.

Over the centuries the Lithuanians of Lithuania Minor adopted some German cultural practices, among them the Lutheran faith, and called themselves "lietuvininkai". Some campaigned for unification with Lithuania-proper and were partly successful after World War 1 when Klaipėda Region, the northernmost tip of Lithuania Minor, went to newly-independent Lithuania amidst German protests (to this day, Klaipėda Region is the only part of Lithuania Minor inside the Republic of Lithuania). Klaipėda region was ~55% Lithuanian at the time - as in the rest of Lithuania Minor its cities were primarily German.

A monument to the unification of Lithuania in Klaipėda. Klaipėda Region (brown pole) was unified with the rest of Lithuania (gray pole) in 1923. The broken off concrete symbolizes that most of Lithuania Minor remain separated. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuania Minor and both its communities were shattered by World War 2 and the subsequent Soviet Genocide of Lithuania Minor (1944-1949). Soviet army atrocities left 300 000 civilians dead, including 130 000 Lithuanians (most of the remaining locals fled or were expelled). In a sense, this killed the region itself. Most of Lithuania Minor was then ceded to Soviet Russia as Kaliningrad Oblast, new Russian placenames coined for its towns and Russian settlers came from the east. Klaipėda Region remained more authentic as it is still Lithuanian and uses the original placenames. However most people there are also post-WW2 settlers and their descendants as lietuvininkai communities were destroyed or displaced.

However, the buildings still remind of the past. The downtowns here are built of bricks. The barns are brick, the churches are built of red brick as well. Some wooden frame buildings exist.

A small red-brick Lutheran church in Juodkrantė village, Neringa (Curonian spit), built in 1885. Today Catholic masses are celebrated here as well. Wooden frame buildings are visible on the left. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Klaipėda is the area's most interesting city. Albeit severely damaged in the World War 2 and afterward with most of its imposing churches torn down by the Soviets its downtown with a rectangular street plan and German-built homes is still nice.

Curonian Spit, a peninsula reachable only by a ferry or some 200 km detour via Russia, is a popular resort and the most popular tourist attraction of Lithuania Minor. Its beautiful dunes and forests that were planted to tame these moving sands are inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage.

Curonian Lagoon looking from the top of Parnidis dune at the Curonian Spit. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Smaller towns of Lithuania Minor, such as Šilutė, are also of interest especially for their architectural difference from the similarly-sized towns in the rest of Lithuania.

The part of Lithuania Minor along Nemunas river delta is flooded every spring. Local people are well adapted to this. Many own boats whereas others rely on military amphibian transporters that help local people in these times. These are prime locations for angling and birdwatching. Rusnė island sometimes becomes inaccessible due to floods, but if it is accessible, it is worth a detour.

Šilutė-Rusnė road. Trees used to be planted alongside streets and roads by the German authorities to provide a shade for travelers of the horse-and-carriage era. Now a potential cause for car accidents they were partly destroyed by the modern powers-that-be and partly by time. However, many tree-lined roads still traverse the countryside of Lithuania Minor. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the Kaliningrad Oblast, a smaller share of historical buildings remains and out of the surviving ones many are ruined. The area was completely ethnically cleansed and not only the entire German and Lithuanian population replaced by Russians after 1945, but also every placename and even many river names changed into communist-themed Russian ones.

Map of Lithuania Minor (without the areas annexed by Russia in 1945). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Klaipėda City: An Introduction

Klaipėda Old Town (Turgaus street) during the annual Sea Festival. This traditional city holiday of Klaipėda that attracts hundreds of thousand people from all over Lithuania and abroad. You may find celebrations, concerts, shows and markets in almost every street. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Klaipėda is the only port in Lithuania and its heart is beating together with the sea, with annual summer Sea Festivals and biennial Tall Ships regattas, Sea museum, Sea faculty in the local University, numerous beaches, and major stevedoring companies.

Ever since its establishment by the Teutonic Knights (as Memelburg) in the year 1252 the city was distinct from the rest of Lithuania. It was ruled by Germans together with the rest of Lithuania Minor. Even its Lithuanian name “Klaipėda”, first mentioned in the 16th century, is believed to be a pejorative, meaning “Bread eater” (as the city dwellers used to eat bread grown by the Lithuanians of surrounding countryside).

On the eve of the World War 2 Klaipėda looked just as it did for centuries: 70% of its people were Germans, while in the surrounding Klaipėda County the situation was reverse with 70% of the population being ethnic Lithuanians. But the War changed everything and the advancing Soviet armies found only some 20 local human beings when they captured the city in 1945.

A German-styled yard in Klaipėda Old Town. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Klaipėda was swiftly repopulated by Russians (22%), Russophones (5%) and Lithuanians from elsewhere (72%). Some of its iconic German-style buildings that survived the war were torn down soon afterwards. Unfortunately, this included all the imposing churches (Saint John church used to have the tallest spire in Lithuania).

However, much more of its past remained visible in Klaipėda than in cities like Kaliningrad (formerly Koenigsberg) or Sovetsk (formerly Tilsit) in Russia, where the German history was wiped out almost entirely.

In the Klaipėda Old Town and New Town there are still many pre-war buildings, art nuoveau and wooden frame, even if they are frequently standing side-by-side with newer ones. Among the more interesting is the post building and various red brick port warehouses. Strolling on the straight narrow old town streets may be as rewarding as seeking specific landmarks.

In Smiltynė, the part of Klaipėda that could be reached by ferry alone, there is a former German 19th century sea fortress, currently housing the National Sea Museum, which covers both shipping, fishes and sea mammals, many of which live in large aquariums here.

A view backwards from the Klaipėda breakwater constrasts the mainland port (left) and the Smiltynė resort beaches. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Smiltynė together with Melnragė, Giruliai and Karklė (north of the city) are also popular for their beaches.

Most of Klaipėda residents live outside of these picturesque areas however, in the massive Soviet boroughs that adjoin the southern limits of Klaipėda downtown. Most shopping malls and some key entertainment venues are also located there.

The streets of downtown Klaipėda are adorned by numerous small playful statues built in 2006 and later. Among these is a bag of money, a canine "Guardian of the Old Town", a small mouse that supposedly makes wishes come true and a dragon climbing a building wall. They revitalize Klaipėda urban landscape and remind some aspects of the city past and folklore. You never know what you will encounter in that side-street and this makes your time in Klaipėda even more interesting.

More information:
Klaipėda by borough (district): An area-by-area guide to Klaipėda and its sights, with maps and pictures.
Klaipėda by topic: Shopping, Transportation and other topics of Klaipėda.

Map of Klaipėda boroughs.

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Neringa and the Curonian Spit (Lithuanian Sahara)

Neringa (population 2500), with its spectacular UNESCO-inscribed scenery, is the elite seaside resort of Lithuania. It spans a narrow peninsula called Curonian Spit, merely 2 km wide and 98 km long, with half of that length in Lithuania. The Curonian Lagoon separates the Spit from the mainland Lithuania.

The Curonian Spit for centuries has been an area of massive traveling dunes, the so-called “Lithuanian Sahara”. Its few fishing villages used to be ephemeral: over 10 of them are known to have been consumed by the moving dunes.

Some large swatches of breathtaking dunes remain. However, since the 19th century, the landscape is dominated by pine forests, a titanic successful attempt by the locals to tame the nature.

An evening view from the top of Parnidis dune (Nida) towards the Lithuanian Sahara. On the left, the Curonian Lagoon is visible whereas, on the right, the sun lands into the Baltic Sea. Endless sands are in the front, with the Russian border not far away. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The former fishing villages of Neringa are now authentic resorts. Their lagoon coasts are lined by numerous wooden vernacular style ex-fishermen homes, some still adorned by thatched roofs and many housing small family-owned guesthouses and restaurants.

Few people fish for subsistence today. However, fishing and other boat-based activities, as well as the fish-heavy cuisine, are now well enjoyed by the tourists. Nevertheless, Neringa's main drag is its glorious sandy beach that spans the entire seashore of the peninsula. A 2 km healthy hike is necessary to get there as the accommodation is limited to lagoon side. Natural beauty, a laid back feel, cleanness, bicycle paths, and boat trips also draw people to Neringa. If you need nightclubs, loud music, shopping malls or funfairs, opt for Palanga instead.

The landscapes of Neringa attract vacationers since the 19th century when the Curonian Spit (then part of Germany) was “discovered” by German artists and politicians. While the Soviet era (1945-1990) brought in concrete hotels, they have not entirely obscured neither nature nor history and the National Park status largely bans any new construction.

The lagoon coast promenade of Juodkrantė in Autumn. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the Curonian Spit, one gets soaked in that First World atmosphere of a much richer country. Benches line every forest path, roads are well-lit, tourist information screens and pretty landscaping are available. This comes at a price, however: getting into the Spit is costly (due to the ferry service and car entrance fees) while prices there are among the steepest in Lithuania (although average by the Western standards).

In summer, Neringa's unique atmosphere and fishing history are capitalized on by multiple weekend-long celebrations/festivals.

Nida resort village

Nida (pop. 1200) is the municipal center of Neringa and its largest resort. "Large" is on the Curonian Spit scale though so most restaurants are still one-family affairs with a few tables. Likewise, the shops are compact.

Pedestrianized Central Nida boasts the Curonian Spit's best collection of dark red vernacular former fishermen homes. A few offer accommodation, some are owned by urban rich and one serves as a modest Fishermen Farmstead museum.

A row of vernacular fishermen homes in Nida. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The nearby port is still the village's heart but pleasure vessels, many available for hire or excursions, have by now replaced the traditional kurėnas fishing boats.

Further away from the lagoon, old buildings give way to Soviet hotels. Luckily, they are not as monstrous as outside Neringa.

New construction is now nearly banned in Nida but an exception was made for the Roman Catholic church (2003). Its design tastefully incorporates vernacular architecture combining wood and thatch with modern forms.

Prior to the World War 2, Neringa was overwhelmingly Lutheran. The red-brick Nida Lutheran church (1888) still offers German Sunday mass in addition to Lithuanian. Its nearby restored cemetery is famous for krikštai, a type of wooden “gravestones” ubiquitous to seaside Lithuania.

The original Curonian Spit inhabitants (a unique blend of Lithuanian, Latvian and German cultures) largely fled the Soviet Genocide but their traditions are still cherished. The weather vanes that once crowned their boat masts (identifying the village of origin and thus helping to prevent overfishing) have now became village emblems and an art form. They are common in landscaping, asserting the local identity.

The symbols of Curonian Spit culture (from left to right): krikštai gravestones, traditional fishing boats, and elaborate freestanding weather vanes. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In summers, you may hear so much German language in Nida that you may feel it is still ruled from Berlin. These Germans are nearly all tourists, however, tracing the paths of pre-WW2 luminaries. They visit Thomas Mann house, built by the legendary German writer in 1930 for summer vacations. They also glimpse at the one-room H. Blode museum located in the sole remaining building of the Blode’s hotel where he accommodated Sigmund Freud, Albert Speer and, most famously, held symposiums for some 200 artists. Most original artworks created by them were burned by the Soviets but reproductions are available. More info on area's history is available at the Neringa history museum on the opposite side of the road. The museums are small and meant to augment rather than replace sunbathing and nature-loving.

The most famous sight in Nida (and, likely, the entire Curonian Spit) is undoubtedly the Parnidis dune. From its sundial-crowned 52 m high top, you can see the vastness of Neringa sands the Sea, the Lagoon, as well as the town of Nida, drowned among the greenery. At Nida, the lagoon is wide enough to put the mainland beyond the horizon, making it romantically appear that the sun both rises from and sets into the Sea. Parnidis may be accessed by car or a calm lagoon-side footpath.

On another 52 m high hill (Urbas) the views are obstructed by trees but the lighthouse there is among the symbols of Nida, its nightly light surrealistically racing across the dunes and the lagoon.

Juodkrantė resort village

Juodkrantė (pop. 700) is centered around a 19th century Villa district. These elaborate wooden contraptions, still housing hotels and restaurants, almost seem too large for the village. A port is nearby while a 2 km long lagoon-side promenade adorned by stone statues goes both northwards and southwards from there.

Juodkrantė villa district. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Southern Juodkrantė hosts a small Lutheran church (1885) and a Museum of Miniature Paintings (these artworks feel much more in place at the scaled-down Juodkrantė than at bustling Vilnius). Another attraction there is the Hill of Witches, its numerous scary wooden statues popular with kids.

Beyond the southern town limit, the Europe‘s largest cormorant colony is undoubtedly an eerie sight. The birds‘ feces destroyed a large chunk of pine forest. ~4000 cormorants and ~1000 gray herons live on top of these trees, causing calls to “protect nature from nature” by culling them.

The cormorants of Juodkrantė. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Northern Juodkrantė has the Amber Bay. Today‘s laid-back small gulf was a massive amber mine in between 1860 and 1890, annually excavating 75 tons on Lithuanian national mineral, including the famous stone age Juodkrantė treasure. Thatch sculptures are now built there regularly and burned every Autumn solstice.

Preila and Pervalka resort villages

For the most pristine Neringa experience, one should head to Preila (pop. 200) and Pervalka (pop. 20) one-street villages with nothing more but a couple of small restaurants, shops, and some accommodation opportunities. Entertainment there is largely limited to the usual seaside beach, forest hikes, and a few lagoon activities.

Pervalka is also merely 3 km from the Nagliai dune reserve where a footpath offers spectacular views of the gray dunes and their surroundings. Four villages and two cemeteries lie buried under the Nagliai sands.

Dunes at Nagliai reserve as visible from the lagoon. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Getting to and around Neringa

Neringa is the closest thing to a remote island you can find in Lithuania with storms sometimes cutting it off (with the advent of better ferries in the mid-2000s, the disruption of service became rare, however).

Klaipėda ferries are the only option to bring your car in (red tape largely precludes the route through Russia). Curonian Spit is spanned by a single road with its only gas station in Nida.

The costs may make you think twice before driving into Neringa. As an alternative, you may also sail there by the passenger vessels (Klaipėda-Juodkrantė-Nida; Mingė-Nida). This is at a premium but offers sights. A cheaper alternative is to simply cross into the Curonian Spit by a local ferry in Klaipėda, and the use the local Neirnga bus to get anywhere within the peninsula.

Inside Neringa, an hourly bus service connects all the villages but with so many bicycle paths you may cycle instead (renting a bike is easy). Only a couple buses a day go outside Neringa (to Vilnius, Kaunas, and Kaliningrad) so a ferry ride and transfer at Klaipėda is usually the most convenient way to travel onwards.

See also: Smiltynė, the northernmost tip of the Curonian Spit which is part of Klaipėda.

English tourist map of Neringa (Curonian Spit). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Šilutė Town

Šilutė (pop. 20 000) is likely the most intact town of Lithuania Minor and therefore northern East Prussia. Its 2,5 km long tree-lined main avenue was largely spared from the mass Soviet demolitions that ravaged the Kaliningrad Oblast and the churches of Klaipėda.

Šilutė is now regarded to be the unofficial capital of Lithuania Minor since the pro-Lithuanian Klaipėda Revolt captured it but not Tilsit/Tilžė in 1923. While the 1918 declaration calling for the unification of Lithuania Minor and Lithuania Major was signed in Tilsit the later 1923 act of actual unification was signed in Šilutė.

Šilutė became a single entity only in 1910 with the unification of the four villages (Šilokarčema, Žibai, Verdainė, and Cintijoniškės, or Heydekrug, Szibben, Werden, and Cynthionischken if you prefer the Germanized names). As such, the town has multiple centers. In the east, the main street begins at the former market square of Šilokarčema, still an extensive rectangular open area surrounded by pre-war buildings. 1911 yellow truss bridge over the Šyša river and the late 18th-century Šiultė manor are nearby. A new addition in the area is the Wall of Šilutė history (Klaipėdos street), where the history of the town is displayed as a series of public artworks.

Large buildings at the former Šilokarčema main square. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Main Lietuvininkų street goes eastwards from there, connecting Šilokarčema main square to the main square of Žibai. Laid in the 19th century the thoroughfare still reminds of those days. Large 3-floored detached art nouveau buildings are partly hidden by its linden and chestnut trees. Among these buildings stands the Lutheran church dedicated to Martin Luther, completed in 1926, known for its interior murals depicting 104 famous historical personalities, among them Biblical figures Noah and Moses, Šilutė's local luminaries H. Scheu and T. Eicke, Roman Emperors Justinian and Constantine, founders of the reformation M. Luther and J. Calvin, and secular people such as S. Kierkegaard and Dante Alighieri. Unfortunately, the church is closed outside of mass.

Žibai main square is of irregular layout and a national romantic red-brick building now housing a vocational school (1909) is arguably its most impressive one.

The main square of the former Žibai village. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Going further east you will reach the railroad, before World War 1 a trunk route from Karaliaučius/Koenigsberg to Klaipėda/Memel, both still part of Germany at the time. Modest 19th-century station building still exists north of the main street but in 2011 the last passenger services to Klaipėda have been canceled.

Beside the railroad, south of the main street stands a red-brick Holy Cross Roman Catholic church (1854). Built in a romantic style more typical to the Lutheran architecture of the area it is much smaller than its local Lutheran counterpart. This indicates the relative size of the two communities in the pre-WW2 era. Like the rest of Lithuania, Minor Šilutė used to be overwhelmingly Lutheran, both Lithuanians and Germans adhering to that faith.

Lutheran communities were largely destroyed by the advancing Soviet armies, this genocide barely mentioned in the history books even today. The extensive Lutheran cemetery in a forest beyond the railroad serves as a powerful compensation for the never-built memorials. Overgrown and eerie, it has no single grave left undamaged and unransacked by the Soviets. Their metal fences are bent, most inscriptions hardly legible, crosses swaying and never visited as most relatives of the deceased have been murdered or exiled decades ago, leaving nobody to care for what was once a nicely landscaped area of an East Prussian provincial town. And yet unlike most other Lutheran cemeteries in Lithuania's cities and towns this one was not demolished (except for the graves of German soldiers), its hundreds of interesting gravestones and a funeral chapel still available for all to see.

A grave with a cross in Šilutė Lutheran cemetery left between existence and destruction, like hundreds of its neighbors. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

While the main street is interesting and worth a stroll, the districts north and south of it are largely dating to the Soviet occupation.

Šilutė is the hub of the Nemunas Delta region, known for its annually submerged floodplains, bird migration paths and the prime location for boat related activities in Lithuania.

Šilutė wall of history near Šilokarčema main square. This particular scene says that in 1944, merely seven locals remained alive and in Šilutė after the Soviet forces occupied the city. The current inhabitants of Šilutė are largely descendants of those who populated it after the war and have no relations with the pre-war Lutheran inhabitants of Šilutė. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

English tourist map of Šilutė.

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Nemunas Delta Regional Park

The Delta of the Lithuania's largest river with its many flumes, Nemunas branches and lakes is the prime spot for boat tourism, angling, and birdwatching in Lithuania. It has extensive annually flooded plains, a major bird migration path, a beach full of seashells (Ventė) and a fishermen village where a river serves as a street (Mingė). The Nemunas Delta area is located next to the Šilutė town.

Pleasure boats moored at Mingė anchorage. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The floodplains of Nemunas delta are submerged every spring, transforming the small hills crowned by farmsteads into islands (yes, these homes are inhabited despite all the odds). Rusnė island town (pop. 1 600) 11 km west of Šilutė is also annually cut off by high water, the transportation organized by amphibious vehicles and high-clearance tractors in such days. Rusnė is known for its 1809 Lutheran church with a fortress-like tower and Uostadvaris where 1907 polder and 1873 lighthouse (possible to ascend) are located. It is possible to sunbathe and swim in Atmata, a branch of Nemunas, near Rusnė.

The flooded Šilutė-Rusnė road in February with a military all-terrain vehicle which helps move people and cars accross the flooded section. The roads to nearby villages are likewise flooded - however, as no transport is organized there, people have to leave their cars outside the flooded area and walk to their homes. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Mingė (also known as Minija) village is known as the "Venice of Lithuania". This place is a far call from the Serenissima, but it shares with it the importance of water passages. In Mingė the river Minija is the "main street" faced by all the building facades. The time-battered boats of Lietuvinink fishermen have been largely displaced by modern yachts moored in its anchorage (Nemunas delta is the prime spot for boat-related tourism in Lithuania). A regular some 4x daily ship connects Mingė to Uostadvaris and Nida in summer. Up to this day, there is no bridge, so a 13 km detour is needed to go from one bank of the village to another by non-water means. The western side has more buildings, although both sides are authentic and devoid of modern buildings.

West of Mingė you may reach the Ventė Horn peninsula (25 km from Šilutė), famous for its bird ringing (ornithology) station with the world's largest bird trap (69m x 113m, 25m pillars). Established by naturalist Tadas Ivanauskas in 1929 it is also among the oldest such institutions. The station is a major bird migration routes convergence spot, as many as 3 000 000 birds passing over it daily during the migration season and some 1 000 - 6 000 ringed. In the breeding season (spring) the area boasts some 200 local bird species. 1863 lighthouse, 11 m tall, is nearby, while the Curonian Lagoon coasts at Ventė are known for thousands of seashells washed away.

Horn of Ventė ornithology station. Lighthouse (left) and one of the bird catchers (right). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Kaliningrad (Karaliaučius) Oblast, Russia

Kaliningrad Oblast is now an exclave of Russia but it is populated by Russians only after it was conquered by the Soviet Union in the year 1945. Prior to that, the area was ruled by Germans. Ethnic Lithuanians made a significant portion of inhabitants. The area was part of Lithuania Minor and it is in Kaliningrad (then known as Koenigsberg in German and Karaliaučius in Lithuanian) where the first Lithuanian language books were printed.

History, however, is nearly swept away in the Oblast. All the placenames were changed. Even many river names were changed from German and Lithuanian ones to Russian (a rare practice after conquests). Instead of Bareiškiemis there is now Pervomaiskoe (literally "May 1st town"), in place of Koenigsberg - Kaliningrad (named after a famous communist Kalinin who never visited the city), Tilsit/Tilžė is now Sovetsk (after the Soviet Union).

In Kaliningrad, little remains of Koenigsberg as entire downtown was obliterated and only the long-abandoned cathedral is now restored by German donations. The massive medieval castle has been torn down and its place is now occupied by the Soviet Palace (actually a dull white tower block).

Some other towns were luckier, however, it is well understandable why German exiles used to weep when they saw their former hometowns after finally being allowed to visit them once the Soviet Union collapsed. Even those stately German buildings and churches that were not obliterated now lay in ruins. Not a single old town is intact. The few remaining old buildings dissonate heavily with the modern poverty surrounding them. They are joined by countless plain Soviet ones and ones rebuilt after 1945.

Chenekhovskoe (Insterburg / Įsrūtis), Sovetsk (Tilsit / Tilžė), Zelenogradsk (Cranz / Krantas) are among the more interesting towns.

In the times of Soviet Union travel to the heavily militarized Oblast was forbidden. Now this ban on foreigners still applies only to the town of Baltijsk (Pillau / Piliava). Still however, a Russian visa is needed and the waiting times on the borders may be long. They tend to be shorter in Neringa (Curonian Spit), but there you will have to pay a local tax for entering the national park on both sides. It may be quicker to get in by train from Vilnius. Oblast being an exclave every train from Moscow to Kaliningrad stops at Vilnius station.

Kaliningrad city itself may be reached by bus or train from Vilnius, and by bus from other main cities. Still, if you want to explore smaller and more interesting locations it will be better to drive a car.

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Festivals and Celebrations in Lithuanian Seaside

In summer the spotlight of all Lithuanian life moves to the Seaside. Klaipėda, Palanga, and the Curonian spit become the stages for many major events, celebrations and gigs.

Many summer weekends have a weekend-long annual celebration going on somewhere in the Seaside, with tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) inland dwellers attending and participating. Many events are sea-related (dedicated to shipping, fishing) but there are also modern musical festivals. Seeking to become a year-round resort Palanga has successfully established some festival weekends outside season.

Sea festival regatta in Klaipėda, one of many sea-related events. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A drawback is that many of these annual events lack a specified date meaning that every year they move in time a little. There are approximate dates however and you may Google up the exact weekend the year you visit. Moreover, pre-booking a hotel may be essential in some celebration weekends.

List of annual celebrations and events

These are just the more famous events. Additionally, every resort has a "Season opening" (May) and a "Season closure" (September) weekend. There are also many non-annual fests at the main venues or right on the beach. Among the more interesting venues is the Klaipėda Musical Ferry that offers concerts while sailing in the Lagoon.

Name Date Location Event
Palanga smelt holiday Mid-February weekend Palanga Entire Basanavičiaus high street is turned into a large open-air restaurant for smelts in this culinary/fishing holiday. If you prefer catching a smelt yourself, you may do so at the Sea Bridge where there are angling contests. Or you may swim in the cold sea yourself with a group of “health fanatics”.

The smelt holiday brings shards of summer lifestyle into deep winter with Palanga resort getting crowded, its visitors eating outdoors and some swimming in the sea. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Name Date Location Event
Ship parade and regatta Third Saturday of May Klaipėda The start of summer is marked by a parade of ships in the Curonian Lagoon and a massive firework. A regatta takes place the same day.
Benai, plaukiam į Nidą Final weekend of May Nida (Curonian Spit) The oldest summertime seaside musical festival in Lithuania (est. 1994) offers open-air concerts of different musical styles.
Lagoon region fisherman’s holiday (Pamario krašto žvejo šventė) Mid-July weekend Juodkrantė (Curonian Spit) Fishermen from all over the lagoon meet up in Juodkrantė showing off their livelihood/art to thousands of tourists and letting them taste traditional fish recipes. Now they may be a minority but before the 20th century, everybody in Juodkrantė used fishing for subsistence.
Thomas Mann festival Third week of July Nida (Curonian Spit) The Curonian Spit was ruled by Germany prior to World War 1 and even after becoming Lithuanian it used to be favored by German artists and writers. Thomas Mann spent a couple of summers there and the art festival named after him includes concerts and fairs held all over Nida.
1000 km race Late July weekend Palanga Lithuania’s prime road race attracts many international teams. There are few limitations: old stock cars, Lamborghinis, buggies, and formulas all drive the same circuit. Trackside events include concerts a line-up of racecars in central Palanga prior to the race. The circuit is established by secluding a part of a highway.

The cars line up next to Palanga main square for the annual 1000 km race (July). Spyker car is in the foreground. The race is followed by many publicity events and is well reported by the Lithuanian media. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Name Date Location Event
Nida Jazz marathon Final weekend of July Nida (Curonian Spit) A festival that brings international jazz to atmospheric spaces of Nida (old Lutheran church to a pier).
Sea Festival Late July-Early August (one weekend) Klaipėda The main festival of Klaipėda with its roots in 1934 when it was started to promote Lithuania as a naval country. Currently, it attracts hundreds of thousand people from all over Lithuania. There are concerts, parades, fireworks and other events typically located near the sea or the lagoon, while some key ceremonies are directly related to the sea.
Palanga Table (Palangos stalas) Late September weekend Palanga A long table spans across Basanavičiaus street full of various meals. A great emphasis is put on healthy foods in this culinary festival.
Autumn equinox September 20th-22nd Juodkrantė (Curonian Spit) In this ceremony hay sculptures (crafted by artists that Spring) are set on fire in Juodkrantė Bay, symbolizing the defeat of Pagan gods.