True Lithuania

Practical advice – Introduction

Lithuania is a country of balance. It is easy to get into - but still, it is not popular enough to make it overwhelmed by tourists. Prices (and salaries) are below those of the Western nations, but the quality of amenities is similar. The climate varies severely among seasons, offering a choice. It offers foods and goods from all over the world - but the local culture still prevails as immigration is relatively minor.

Here are the main issues one needs to know to spend time in Lithuania:

Visas: Most American and European nationalities may enter Lithuania visa-free, whereas most Asian and African nationalities need a visa. Lithuania is in Schengen area meaning there is no customs control with many other European countries and the same visa applies.

Getting in: Direct passenger flights connect Lithuanian airports to many major European cities but a transfer will be needed from other continents. Ferries leave for the opposite shore of Baltic sea. Train travel is only possible eastwards.

Getting around: Public transport network (buses) is extensive, although getting to off-the-beaten-path towns may be time-consuming. Roads are better than average in Northern/Eastern Europe.

Eating: Local Lithuanian cuisine is unpretentious and acceptable to many. Italian, Chinese and Caucasian cuisines have a major presence, while pizzas and kebabs are the favorite fast foods. International chains are limited in size but local chains are massive.

Communications: Lithuania is among the global leaders in cell phone prevalence, prices and internet speeds.

Accomodation: Hotels can be somewhat (but not extremely) cheap. Main cities and main resorts are the best locations to anchor your trip for their accomodation and eating opportunities.

Warnings and dangers: Natural disasters and terrorism are non-existant, while crime is on-par with US levels but egalitarian cities mean there are no unsafe "ghettos".

Languages: Lithuanian is the national language. Most young people also speak English while most older people also speak Russian. ~10-20% speak German and Polish. English and Russian tags are common in tourist areas.

Climate: Lithuanian climate is temperate with 4 distinct seasons. Winters are somwehat snowy, daylight is short. Summers are green and can get hot.

Shopping: New massive malls offer the best shopping opportunities. High-street shopping is limited to the major cities and resorts, while bazaar-like open-air morning markets offer a more exotic alternative.

Entertainment: The malls are also the prime entertainment hubs in cities but the traditional entertainment (e.g. theaters) is located in downtowns. Countryside (natural) tourism is a popular entertainment.

Healthcare: Public healthcare is well equipped and free in many cases, but marred by bureaucracy and corruption. Some private healthcare is cheaper than in the West and respects customer better than public healthcare.

Education: Education is state-funded thus cheap (especially for locals) but quality is good. Private education is rare.

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Shopping in Lithuania

Shopping opportunities in Lithuania are not of inferior quality than in the West and generally superior to the countries to Lithuania's east.

Shopping mall is a key institution in every Lithuanian city. Hundreds of shops within each mall sell all types of goods while eating out and entertainment opportunities are equally wide. It is common to spend an evening or Saturday at the malls which are typically gazetted as "shopping and entertainment centers". Many malls are centrally located and usually larger than one would expect from city size.

This "mall craze" started with Akropolis (Vilnius) in 2000, which by then was likely the largest in Eastern Europe. Now each of the 4 main cities has its own Akropolis mall but the brand has since been joined by multiple local competitors, among which Ozas (Vilnius) and Mega (Kaunas) are the largest.

Akropolis of Vilnius, the original Lithuanian megamall (over 100 000 sq. m in size). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuania also has a wide network of quality supermarkets, the larger of which also sell nearly everything under a single roof, even if the variety of goods is smaller than in shopping mall.

Shopping malls and supermarkets have very convenient opening times, working 7 days a week from early morning until some 22:00 or 23:00 in the evening. As such, there are no convenience stores in Lithuania. They are in part replaced by gas stations stores which stay open 24/7 (in the main cities and on the main roads) and charge ~50% inflated prices on drinks and food. Alcohol sales are forbidden at night and at September 1st.

The advance of shopping malls heavily hit the traditional city high streets, especially so in the smaller cities. Fewer shops and services are available there. Still however they are far from empty despite what a small business lobbyist would tell you. As a tourist, it might be more interesting to stroll around high street than a shopping center.

Archaic mostly-outdoor bazaars remain another popular way to shop. Small businessmen sell everything from berries and pirated CDs to wedding dresses and furniture there from their little shops, kiosks or even car trunks. It can be cheap, but one can also get overcharged - so shop around and haggle. Joining the crowds of Lithuanians shopping in the enormous "Wild East" bazaars like Gariūnai even during storms is an experience on its own.

A fragment of the massive Gariūnai bazaar near Vilnius. Many Lithuanians tried out capitalism here in the 1990s and at over 130 000 sq. m it is still the nation's largest trade area. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The bazaars have now been joined by new Western-style marketplaces that are mostly aimed at people who prefer organic food. Prices in such markets might be higher than in bazaars.

If you want to buy souvenirs you can buy them both in the streets frequented by tourists (main cities and resorts) or in the supermarkets. The supermarkets mainly offer mass-produced Lithuania-themed Chinese-made t-shirts, cups and fridge magnets. The street stalls additionally have a selection of traditional crafts, amber jewelry, and relatively cheap paintings. Haggle if you buy at street stalls and be prepared to severely overpay if you buy in downtown shops established for tourists.

Fairs are another good option for souvenirs. Typically coinciding with local religious and secular holidays they draw in many salesmen from surrounding cities and towns (including craftsmen) who transform the downtowns into large marketplaces for a weekend.

Haggling is possible only in bazaars, marketplaces, souvenir stands, and fairs. The price may be lowered by 10%-30% (even when official rate is written). Foreigners may, however, be quoted a higher initial price, therefore check multiple salesmen before buying.

Craftsman stall in Vilnius Gedimino Avenue during the Skamba skamba kankliai folk music festival. The part of the street near Cathedral effectively becomes a marketplace up to 10 weekends a year. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Accommodation in Lithuania

You will find the most options for accommodation in the Lithuania’s main cities (Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda). It may be wise to anchor your trip there as the selection is great: from youth hostels with shared bathrooms to five-star chain hotels. Take note that stars are awarded to the hotels based on them having certain amenities and not on the quality of such amenities.

Under the Soviet occupation, such functionalist hotels were built in every city and large town to become some of the largest local buildings (Lithuania's tallest building used to be a Soviet hotel in Vilnius). Most are now refurbished in varying quality. The picture shows Hotel Šiauliai. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Another good option for staying are the resort towns. There are the most hotels in Palanga, followed by Neringa and Druskininkai. Some of the hotels in the seaside resorts close in winter, but many remain open. In summer they are joined by hordes of local people renting out their apartments or rooms. In Palanga or Šventoji such people line up near entrances to the towns and also at the bus stations.

Resort towns also have a growing array of spa hotels that offer various supposedly healthy procedures, saunas, and pools, and are typically open year-round.

That said, there are hotels in many smaller non-resort towns as well, but there you might be limited to a single option or a choice of two places for spending the night. Motels are available on the major roads, such as Vilnius-Kaunas-Klaipėda or Panevėžys-Šiauliai-Palanga.

A motel at A1 highway. Lithuanian highway rest stops typically include just a single small cafe-motel like this. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Another option is the so-called countryside tourism sites. These ranges from basic farmstead accommodation to elaborate hotels built in the countryside rather than cities or towns. The possibilities there may include horseback riding, a traditional sauna and so on (but check this in advance). It is popular among Lithuanians to hire such farmsteads for celebrating various events.

B&B (Bend and Breakfast) is a term that even lacks Lithuanian translation, although you may find similar deals going by other names (usually "hotel", "villa" or something like that). Hostels are limited to main cities.

Campgrounds are scarce by European standards so it is better to check in advance the locality you plan to stop at if you need one.

The accommodation in Lithuania is less expensive than in the northern Europe but more expensive than in many eastern countries. VAT adds to this.

Kempinski hotel near Vilnius Cathedral square. After post-independence tourist surge many derelict city center buildings have been converted into hotels, some of them belonging to worldwide chains. This particular building used to house telegraph, discontinued in the 2000s. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Hospitality Club, Couch Surfing and similar institutions of exchanging free stays with locals are popular among Lithuanians.

Except for the resorts apartment rental is generally useful only for longer periods (i.e. months). Downtown rental tends to be 25%-40% more expensive than the Soviet districts rent and Vilnius rent is 25%-40% more expensive than Kaunas or Klaipėda rent. Free apartments may be hard to come by in the largest cities in August-October (when the university students move in). Lithuanian law is generally favorable to the tenants (e.g. allowing to cancel the deal easily), but you may find it hard to defend your rights if you won't sign a written contract.

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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.

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Get To and From Lithuania: Rail, Air, Bus, Car

Lithuania has three international airports. Vilnius International Airport is the largest one, accessed both by national carriers and low-cost carriers. Kaunas International Airport is a Ryanair base with little other services. Palanga International Airport offers several routes, but flying from there is generally more expensive due to lower competition.

All airports are connected to city centers by public transport and from there you can catch inter-city buses. In Kaunas and Vilnius, you can catch inter-city buses to major other cities directly at the airport, but the options are limited. Unfortunately, all public transport comes to halt during the nights and so it won’t help you in the case of early departures or late arrivals.

Kaunas airport only terminal as visible from departing airplane. All Lithuanian airports are small and hassle-free. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian airlines had been having a bad luck with five of its carriers (Lithuanian Airlines, Air Lithuania, Amber Air, Star 1 and Air Lituanica) went bankrupt and were liquidated.

Generally, Western Europe and Southern Europe are both well-served by air routes from Lithuania (the latter especially so in summer). A few Eastern European cities are also served but going anywhere beyond that (e.g. Balkans, America or Asia) you'll need a transfer.

A map of available air routes and frequencies from Lithuania and the most popular ways to transfer further on.

Lithuanian boasts an extensive network of open general aviation airfields, with 25 of them available across the country (flights from the Schengen area countries are permitted to land in any of them).

If you enter Lithuania by car it is trivial from other countries that signed Schengen treaty – Latvia and Poland. There will be no customs or passport checks. However, the waiting times on borders with Russia and Belarus may get long (several hours).

You can also reach Lithuania (Klaipėda port) by DFDS car ferries from Germany and Sweden. The duration of the journey is at least 15 hours. Cruise ships also dock in Klaipėda during Baltic cruises in summer.

Cruise ship 'Wind Surf' and a transbaltic ferry in Klaipėda. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The possibilities of entering Lithuania on rails from the West are rather limited due to Lithuania using broad-gauge instead of the common gauge. As such service to/from Bialystok (Poland) is the only train service going westwards. On the other hand, getting by rail to/from cities like Moscow, Kaliningrad, Saint Petersburg (Russia), Daugavpils (Latvia) or Minsk (Belarus) is easy (albeit slow). There is no passenger rail service between the three Baltic capitals.

There are international buses leaving for Western cities, but with the advent of low-cost airlines, the number of them severely dwindled. Buses remain a popular option for shorter distances, however, such as Vilnius-Riga, Vilnius-Warsaw or Vilnius-Minsk.

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Climate in Lithuania

The climate in Lithuania is temperate continental. The population density is lower than in the Western Europe and large parts of Lithuania are covered by forests and agricultural pastures. While wild animals are not an everyday sight you may be lucky enough to see rabbits, deer, wild boars or other animals beside the roads.

The climate (continental humid) is comparable to cities such as Moscow and Toronto. In Vilnius the average highest daily temperature in July is 22,1 C, average lowest daily temperature in July is 12,3 C. Average highest daily temperature in January is -3,5 C whereas lowest average daily temperature in January is -8,7 C.

Typically there are several very hot weeks in summers (with daytime temperatures surpassing 30 C) and one or two very cold weeks in winter (with nighttime temperatures going under -20 C).

Close to the sea in Klaipėda the winters are milder and the summers are cooler, but the difference does not exceed a couple of degrees.

Temperature charts for Vilnius and Klaipėda (°C). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Water temperature in the Baltic Sea is around 18 C in summer and considered especially warm if 20 C. In lakes and rivers ir gets significantly hotter.

Lithuanian terrain is extremely flat (all country under 300 m), meaning there are no altitude-induced climate differences.

The precipitation is never a major issue and varies little. July is the wettest month with 77 millimeters of rain. In winter it snows but the snow cover rarely stays for more than a couple of days before melting (however, there are many such "snow periods" every winter).

If you come from outside Europe it may surprise you that Lithuania is quite far to the north: further north than any US, Canadian, Japanese or Chinese major city. While the warm Gulf Stream supports its temperate climate and never allows Klaipėda port to freeze, it could not change day/night cycle. High latitudes mean that in the deep winter the days are quite short (7 hours) whereas in mid-summer they are very long (17 hours), with nautical twilight lasting the whole night. Daylight savings time mean that winter sunset is even earlier, getting dark ~4PM.

That said every season in Lithuania has its own beauty as nature paints itself in different colors. Contrary to popular belief winters are not perpetually white, but you have high chances of encountering heavy snow if you visit in January or February. The autumns are universally yellow as the leafs of every tree prepare to fall down. The springs and summers are green, although during the droughts everything may start gaining a yellow shade earlier.

The time zone for Lithuania is UCT+2 in summer and UTC+3 in winter (due to daylight savings time).

There are no natural disasters like volcanoes, earthquakes or tornadoes. Forest fires do happen, but they are minor compared to the ones raging in Australia or Southern Europe. The cold in winter takes its toll sometimes but this is limited to the homeless. Heavy rains and strong winds do some damage, but usually only to the property and crops and this damage is minor compared to places like the United States.

Four seasons in Vilnius Castle Hill and National Museum: autumn, winter, spring and summer. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Get Around Lithuanian Cities: Public Transport And More

Larger Lithuanian cities have an extensive public transport system. Buses and trolleybuses are available in Vilnius and Kaunas. In smaller cities (Klaipėda, Šiauliai, Panevėžys) only buses are available. There is no subway or local railroad anywhere which means that public transportation is relatively slow. In most cities, the routes and schedules of local buses are available online. The timetables are also available at every bus stop and in some cities the buses soon to arrive are shown on special screens located at the major stops. The tickets for buses and trolleybuses may be bought both in the kiosks and in the bus or trolleybus itself, but if you buy them from the driver they are somewhat more expensive. There are monthly tickets in every city and there are day, three days, and week offers in many as well. They are worth it only if you plan to use public transport extensively.

A bus in Vilnius with a small national flag for July 6th national holiday. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Many public transport routes are available at http://www.marsrutai.lt or equivalent city websites.

A quicker option to get around some cities are the private vans (12 to 18 seats). They stop not only at the bus stops but anywhere a person flags them down like taxis but unlike taxis they go on pre-defined routes. Unfortunately, they have no timetables and their routes are hard to find online. The tickets of private vans can only be bought from a driver. All tickets are one-time only: there are no day, week or month tickets.

In smaller towns, the public transport is less convenient because even if there are a few bus routes the schedules are usually limited to a very low frequency aimed at locals. Given the small size of such localities, it is often wiser to walk the distance.

Using your own (or rented) car is generally easy. Rush hours are short (7:00 to 8:30 and 17:00 to 18:30) and limited to the centerwards streets of the largest cities. Parking is abundant and free of charge everywhere except for the compact city downtowns (where it is paid but available).

Some thoroughfares of Vilnius look like this in rush hours but this is easy to avoid by altering your schedule a bit. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Taxis are not recommended, as Lithuanian taxi drivers (perhaps just like taxi drivers in many other places) are known to rip-off foreign tourists (and Lithuanians from other cities) by charging amounts up to 10 times the real price. In many cases even negotiating will not help as the drivers simply refuse to drive non-locals for an official price. You should avoid them if possible.

Bicycles are gaining popularity, but comprehensive rental services and bike routes are limited to Vilnius and the resorts.

Addresses in Lithuania consist of a street name and building number. Every building (rather than an entrance) has its own number. They are numbered from lowest to highest, however, one streetside receives all the odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9...) while the opposite side has even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8, 10...) and they are not dependent on each other. Therefore, for example, building number 120 and number 121 may be actually far away from each other, but numbers 120 and 122 will always be nearby. In the downtowns, this is easy to understand but in the Soviet districts, it might be difficult as many buildings are further away from streets they officially belong to. When a new building is constructed it gets an address of the nearest building with additional letter (e.g. a new building between 120 and 122 would get a 120A address).

The southern side of Vokiečių st., Vilnius, has narrower medieval buildings while the northern side was rebuilt after World War 2 with wider buildings. That's why while numbering starts at 1 and 2 it reaches only 15 on the northern side but gets to 28 on the southern side. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Entertainment and Recreation in Lithuania

Entertainment in Lithuania is diverse and quality, but relatively cheap. Regular spectator events are especially cheap: major league sports and opera prices start at ~3 EUR, but you may expect good deals elsewhere too. Lithuania excels in some particular types of entertainment: basketball spectating, countryside tourism (with various traditional activities), indoor alpine skiing, scenic hot air balloon flights, sandy beaches. Foraging (berries/mushrooms) in summer/autumn and under-ice angling in winter are other local traditions you may try.

Urban entertainment: Culture, Nightlife, Sport

Traditional culture (theaters, opera, concert halls) is concentrated in the city downtowns. Theater plays are mostly Lithuanian while the music is more international.

Best nightlife is in the downtowns of Vilnius and (less so) Kaunas/Klaipėda. In sunny summers Palanga resort outcompetes urban clubbing, with its Basanavičiaus street becoming one large crowded multi-stage gig area every evening.

"Modern entertainment", such as cinemas, bowling, and pool, are most easily found at the largest shopping malls of the main cities. Each Akropolis mall also includes a public ice rink. Some casinos are also in the malls, but many are in the downtowns.

Top spectator sport in Lithuania is basketball, the modern city arenas (constructed for Eurobasket 2011) providing local team's home games. Main city teams play world-class international games while small town teams are limited to the local major leagues. Football stadiums are smaller and the game itself of worse quality.

The arenas also host irregular major concerts, although in summer they move to open air (parks and stadiums). Moreover, out-of-city music festivals are especially popular in summer.

There are no permanent theme parks but temporary funfairs visit in summers. Two large indoor water parks exist in Vilnius and Druskininkai (Druskininkai one a bit larger and famous for many saunas). Year-round indoor alpine ski slope in Druskininkai is among the world's largest.

Developments such as Druskininkai Indoor Water Park help to enjoy otherwise seasonal events at any month. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Mind-based activities have been gaining popularity in recent years. Quizzing became a serious issue with a sport-style team participation and all-Lithuania final games of key "leagues"; some paid Vilnius quizzes offer English translations. A smaller craze is the escape rooms (where a team has to get out as quickly as possible, solving puzzles), all accessible to non-Lithuanians.

Lithuanian cities are known for their greenery and many parks, many pristine and unlandscaped.

Recreation: Nature, Parks, and Active Tourism

Merely 1-2 generations ago most Lithuanians lived in the countryside. Perhaps this is why urban Lithuanians are fond of natural recreation to this day. Foraging (mushroom and berries), angling and hunting are traditional entertainment (the last two require permits). Recently it was done for subsistence and if you wouldn't eat the fish you caught you would still raise quite a glimpse. Many Lithuanian city-dwellers even own suburban agricultural land plots where they enjoy growing food, but this is something a foreigner wouldn't experience.

Rivers (such as Neris in the picture), lakes and the Curonian Lagoon are popular locations for recreational fishing. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The five National parks are the best introduction to Lithuanian nature. Roaming is generally free of "private property" signs as they are limited by law. Some rivers are popular for kayaking, while lakes offer swimming opportunities.

In 2000s new forms of recreation were imported from the west. Numerous adventure parks sprung up all across the country to offer easy-to-difficult tracks and ziplining. By 2006 the first 18-hole golf course has been laid (now there are five near Vilnius, Klaipėda, and Druskininkai).

Lithuania is a lowland country, so some forms of recreation such as alpine skiing and hiking are limited, although possible (unimpressive ski facilities are available in Ignalina, Anykščiai, Vilnius, but only some days are cold enough for them to operate).

Extreme sports have also been rapidly growing in popularity since the 2000s. Lithuania received multiple wakeboard cable parks while its coastline attracts kiteboarders on the windy days. Small waves are not good for surfing, however.

A trick at a wakeboard cable park in Klaipėda. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Countryside tourism is a popular form accommodation among locals as well as a location for various feasts (family, student and corporate). It means converted or purpose-built farmsteads that offer traditional countryside life (saunas, outdoor hot water baths, lakeside beaches, farm animal contact), while some also have more elaborate entertainment (horse riding, ponds for angling, boat rental, etc.). The fact that Lithuania was urbanized relatively recently gives both authenticity and local popularity to countryside tourism.

Flying is a hobby for relatively many Lithuanians, with a network of "aeroclubs" offering airplane and balloon scenic flights and parachute jumps. Lithuania is among the world leaders in per capita hot air balloon numbers, their flights largely unrestricted.

In the seaside resorts there are opportunities for boat trips to the sea or the Curonian Lagoon and one may also rent water bikes. Sunbathing is however the main activity for tens of thousands resort visitors as the beaches are all sandy, wide and free-to-use.

People sunbathing at Palanga resort. Baltic beaches are the best but there are many beaches on lakes and rivers, some even within city limits. They fill up in hot summer days. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Summer bike rentals are available in Vilnius and the resorts, which also have a great network of bicycle paths and footpaths.

Many companies offering active recreation lack English websites. It is possible to order through a travel agency but this may increase prices several times. It may be the best to come up without reservation in such cases, although this is possible only in some places (cities/resorts). Some shopping malls sell "present cards" which you could then exchange into entertainment.

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Restaurants in Lithuania

Most non-chain restaurants in Lithuania serve Lithuanian cuisine.

Every city and many towns have these traditional restaurants. They are also pretty much the only option for a roadside meal (save for buying up at gas stations). City center restaurants are generally more expensive and have outdoor seating in summer; further from the center the prices are lower but the restaurants are harder to locate. In smaller towns, there are fewer options so in weekends all the local restaurants might be booked up for weddings.

Another cheap Lithuanian cuisine option in cities is to use canteens available at factories and other large non-downtown businesses. Most of them welcome outsiders, although opening hours are limited (~10:00-17:00 weekdays only); look for words "kavinė" and "valgykla" written on windows of uninspiring Soviet buildings.

An authentic canteen at a former Soviet factory. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In theory valgykla is self-service, kavinė is either a cafeteria or a casual restaurant, restoranas is a more prestigious affair while baras is a drink-oriented edifice (but meals are also available).

Lithuanians eat their main dish in mid-day and some also have an evening out, leading to the common restaurant opening times at ~11:00 and closing times at ~22:00. There are few eating out possibilities after 23:00 and even fewer before 10:00 (as Lithuanians have their breakfast and morning tea/coffee at home).

A restaurant at a modern office tower empty 'between the meals' ~17:30. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Fast food in Lithuania (pizzas and burgers)

If you prefer international fast food to culinary adventures you may use McDonald's and its Finnish competitor Hesburger. There are a few Pizza Hut and KFC parlors. In general, the worldwide chain presence is low-key in Lithuania with none having more than 10 outlets (with the exception of Hesburger, but Hesburger is regional rather than a worldwide chain).

Certain local chains have been more successful. Pizzerias are extremely popular with at least 8 large local chains (Čili Pica, Pizza Jazz, CanCan Pizza, Mambo Pizza, Submarine Pizza, Pizza Express, Fokus Pica and Charlie Pizza) and many smaller ones that usually concentrate on cheaper and less tasty pizzas. You can order food home (or to hotel) from each of them. The main chains serve other food besides pizzas but usually, this is less tasty. Čili is the most popular; queues for a table are not uncommon there despite it being more expensive than many competitors. In some of the pizzerias, you may also get Italian pasta, but this is not always the case.

Even though Lithuanians love shopping malls food courts are rare (fast food chains commonly have their own tables). Most restaurants (even fast food ones) tend to offer a rather long menu.

International cuisines in Lithuania

Chinese cuisine is very popular in Lithuania with numerous non-chain restaurants in every city and some towns. While most restaurants are owned by ethnic Chinese the waiters are usually Lithuanians (unlike in the West where they are also Chinese).

Kebab parlors are even more popular and while this type of food was brought in by Turkish immigrants now this business is developed by Lithuanians as well (even the small towns now have kebab stalls). Usually bought at kiosks kebabs are meant to be eaten quickly.

This continues the tradition of great acceptance of Turkic fast foods into the mainstream society which began by the Tatar and Karaim cuisines. Their pasties with meat inside (kibins and čeburekai) have long been the sole fast food in Lithuania and may even be considered a part of the Lithuanian cuisine.

Caucasian cuisine (Georgian, Armenian, Azeri) was among the first foreign cuisines to establish itself in Lithuania as both Lithuania and the Caucasus were ruled by the Soviet Union until 1990. Now available in all the cities and some towns the Caucassian restaurants are more oriented towards an evening out.

Other international cuisines are less common, although you may find sushi parlors and Indian restaurants in the major cities.

Lebanese, Morrocan or other Arabic restaurants are hard to come by.

Vegetarian, vegan, halal and kosher meals

If you are a vegetarian you won't encounter problems. Bread and potatoes are widely used in the national cuisine with certain dishes, such as the Potato pancakes, lacking any meat. Moreover, vegetarianism became somewhat popular in Lithuania in the 2000s together with certain Asian religious practices. There are now specialized vegetarian and vegan restaurants as well in the main cities. A new main-city fad is the raw (uncooked) food.

Given small Muslim and Jewish communities dedicated halal and kosher restaurants are very hard to come by and limited to Vilnius and Kaunas.

Practical issues

Chain restaurants are more common in major cities although some of them, such as Čili or Hesburger, are available in some minor towns as well. They are most easily found at or near shopping malls although some are at city centers. While most chain restaurants serve foreign cuisine some (such as "Forto dvaras") specialize in Lithuanian cuisine.

There are some expensive fine dining restaurants in Lithuania mainly located at major city downtowns (especially Vilnius) and resorts.

The restaurant prices are significantly lower than in the Western Europe (for comparable offers). Drinks are cheaper by an order of magnitude. This includes drinks in shops, not only at restaurants.

Tipping has been introduced by first Lithuanian travelers to the West in the 1990s and now is very common in cities and resorts but rare in smaller towns. There is no customary rate: some will leave 10%, others believe 20 euro cents is always enough.

If you eat together with locals it will be the best if everyone pays for his own meals/drinks (ask for separate bills before ordering food). However, if the other party provided you free services (e.g. drove you around) it is polite to pay for their meals/drinks. The locals may offer to cover your bill as hosts, but you should decline once or twice. Local men may offer to pay for visiting women's meals/drinks but accepting may make them believe this was a date.

Smoking is not allowed inside restaurants.

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Warnings and dangers

Lithuania is generally a safe country. The crime levels are on par with those in the USA. However, unlike the USA and many other countries Lithuania has no unsafe districts or ghettos and the crime is spread fairly evenly. Districts with many bars (e.g. Vilnius Old Town) may be less safe at night due to drunk people but common sense helps.

Lithuania is sheltered from natural disasters. There are no deadly earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis, hurricanes or floods. Massive evacuation due to natural disasters is never required. Winter cold and summer heat takes some tall but mostly among the homeless.

However, history has proven that aggressive neighbors can be deadlier than any natural disasters. Lithuania stands between East and West and in 1795-1991 suffered long occupations and genocides by the great powers, primarily Russia (a third of Lithuanians lost under 1940-1941, 1944-1990 Soviet occupations alone). While a foreign invasion may still be more likely in Lithuania than in the USA or Western Europe, the chances are slim (last act of aggression took place in June 1991 when Russian soldiers massacred six Lithuanian customs officers).

On the positive side, no people have been killed or injured in terrorist bombings in the entire Lithuanian history.

While a decade ago more drivers would disobey rules and become a danger to others, campaigns against so-called "war in the roads" have curbed this (the accident rate is now similar to other European countries).

Given all of the above, the most likely nuisances for a foreigner in Lithuania are not outright crime or disasters but falling into some sort of tourist traps. Don't worry: Lithuanians are quite introverted and won't come to solicit.

That said, the group of people most notorious for cheating is the taxi drivers. A foreign tourist may be overpriced 10 times and more and some drivers are not even negotiating; out-of-town Lithuanians are also overpriced although less. Therefore it is suggested not to use taxi services in Lithuania.

In the unlikely event one gets into trouble in Lithuania and would seek outsiders' help, he/she should clearly indicate so (by asking / screaming). Lithuanians tend to be libertarian-minded and stay out of other persons' business as long as nobody gets harmed. So, for example, a streetfight is relatively unlikely to be reported to authorities (as it would be assumed that both parties want to fight).

There are some beggars in the main tourist areas (Vilnius and Klaipėda old towns) who may approach you. Never give them anything: the ones approaching tourists are not poor but rather use this as a lucrative job. They earn sums larger than an average salary as foreigners frequently hand out sums of money based on the prices in their own homeland while in Lithuania they are lower. These beggars have invented stories which they could tell in multiple languages. Take note that Lithuania is richer than most of the world; there is an effective social security system and malnutrition is unheard of.

Should you encounter problems 112 is the emergency phone number (as in the rest of the European Union).

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Services in Lithuania

In recent decades the quality of services in Lithuania has improved greatly.

Three tiers of services in Lithuania

Services in Lithuania generally fall into these three types:

1.Modern private services that have the same marketing gimmicks, locations and amenities you could expect in Western Europe or the USA. The prices are also often comparable or somewhat lower. They are usually owned by foreigners or Lithuanian mega-businessmen. Main cities have modern private services of all types, while modern shopping, cell phone, and internet services are available all over Lithuania.

2.Private 1990s-styled services, which may be harder to find, lack advertising and may lack some other common features (e.g. a 1990s-styled accommodation may lack online booking opportunities and credit card readers). But they can be much cheaper, far more authentic and more "humane", with money not "the king". They are usually owned by some self-made (wo)men who discovered how to do business by trial-and-error in the 1990s and did almost everything with their own hands. The services of this type predominate in smaller towns but are available in cities as well (especially out of downtowns and shopping malls).

3.Public services, which are owned by the government and often plagued by Soviet attitudes that client is a nuisance. Inconvenient opening times, inefficiency, queues and corruption are common. Public services predominate in healthcare, education and cultural activities (e.g. theaters, museums). Railways and many buses are also government-owned. The prices of public services are usually somewhat arbitrary (two services demanding the same amount of work may have very different prices).

List of services

Hotels and restaurants are all private. While a few Soviet-style institutions remain in smaller towns, generally they have been all built or renovated after 1990, offering a good service quality.

Lithuania has some of the world's most competitive cell phone, internet provider, and food retail markets, offering considerable quality even at the lowest end of price range.

Lithuanian media is all-private, but it has lost much of credibility recently due to perceived political and business meddling in its articles and reporting.

Lithuanian utilities are usually a state monopoly administered by private companies. These tend to have a dubious reputation as the monopoly fails to encourage them to respect clients. Ceasing to buy utilities (such as public heating) is often banned, completely destroying clients' market power.

Transportation in Lithuania is provided by public companies (railways, municipal buses) and private companies (some intercity buses, taxis, airlines, ships). While public companies are noticeably worse at management, they have improved their vehicles and may offer services at times when there are no private services. Private taxis are infamous for scams.

One remaining case where Soviet attitudes are well-entrenched is the healthcare. While Lithuania has great doctors, public hospitals tend to view clients as a nuisance, even expecting bribes for non-substandard treatment. Private hospitals, on the other hand, respect clients and perform much better.

In education private schools and universities tend to be better equipped and managed. However, key public institutions still trump them in size and faculty. In the case of universities, public ones attract the best students too, arguably contributing to better prospects there.

As Lithuanian salaries are lower than those in the West, the prices of services are also significantly lower than in the Western Europe. They are more expensive than in Asia however.

A list of ways to send money to Lithuania is provided by the IMT website.

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Internet, Cell Phones, and Post in Lithuania

Communicating to the world is easy while in Lithuania as the country's internet and cell phone facilities are among the world's best.

The expansion of the internet has been especially massive. So much so that Lithuania now firmly holds the 1st place in Europe according to high-speed internet users as the percentage of total population. With nearly every city dweller having internet at home internet cafes became rare. PCs are available at some libraries, however. Wireless internet (Wifi) access is possible (free) in the major shopping malls, libraries, restaurants and hotels (ask in advance). A few streets and squares in the main cities and resorts have free municipal wireless internet coverage.

Moreover, nearly every location in Lithuania is covered by a 3G GSM cellphone network. Roaming charges are significant but fierce GSM network competition ensures that for local clients the charges are the lowest in Europe. A foreigner may easily buy a cheap pre-paid SIM card such as "Ežys", "Pildyk" or "Labas" and thus pay the negligible local rates. These are sold at every kiosk and at specialized provider shops at the malls. At the latter, one may inquire about the specific plans depending on your needs (international calls/internet/local calls/SMS). The subscription plans (paid for monthly) are useful only for residents.

Some public payphones still exist in cities (as required by law) but barely anybody uses them today. Payphone cards may be acquired at kiosks.

An international phone prefix for Lithuania is +370. When calling from another Lithuanian phone it is replaced by 8. This is followed by either a city prefix or a cell phone provider prefix (1-3 digits) and then the number itself (5-7 digits). The prefix(es) may be missing from phone number listings.

If you prefer sending postcards the old way post offices are now available at many of the largest shopping malls (open 7 days a week until late evenings). The traditional post office locations at the ground floors of some residentials have been recently downsized and may be hard to find as they are not well-advertised - ask a local to show them and hope that the office will be open (unlike in the malls the opening times are limited to working week). Stamps, envelopes, and some postcards are sold at the post offices.

A first floor post office with its logos visible in Vilnius Old Town. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Healthcare in Lithuania

Healthcare of Lithuania is of a formidable standard with numbers of doctors per 1000 people larger than in most Western societies. Hospitals are well-equipped to perform even the most difficult surgeries. The doctors are well-trained and sought-after by Western hospitals.

For Lithuanians and people of the European Union, most medical services are free of charge. However, corruption is rampant, meaning that a person with relationships among doctors (or a bribe) may get a preferential treatment bypassing the queues (which may get long, depending on location and procedure). This used to be the norm in the Soviet Union when all goods and services were in theory equal-to-all but in reality depended on bribes and relationships; today it declines.

This, as well as Soviet "patient-is-always-wrong" attitudes in some public hospitals (also declining), makes a part of the population to pay full price at the private clinics (even though they are still subjected to massive compulsory public healthcare taxes). This heavily depends on a specialist: nearly everybody visits a private dentist or gynecologist just as nearly everybody uses the public hospitals for major surgeries. For a foreigner private hospitals may be less of a hassle in all cases especially if one has an insurance coverage for them. Even without it, many procedures may be cheaper in Lithuania than the West (dentistry, plastic surgery). Lithuanian emigrants come back home to perform them.

If you choose public hospitals the best ones (and the largest) are in Vilnius and Kaunas.

Lithuania has a wide range of health resorts and spas, especially in Druskininkai resort.

There is generally no need to get any vaccination before going to Lithuania. Major infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or HIV are extremely rare.

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Education in Lithuania

In Lithuania, the education is mostly public (taxpayer-funded) with private or religious facilities being an exception. The school life is especially long with university education being a norm for modern youth. Literacy is at 99,8%.

Schools and pre-school education

Most children attend state (public) schools where the education is free (taxpayer-funded). These have three tiers: for ages 7-10 ("primary schools") a single teacher teaches most subjects, for ages 11-14 ("progymnasiums") there are separate teachers for each subject but still no choice on what to learn (save for religious education and 2nd foreign language), while at ages 15-18 ("gymnasiums") students have a limited choice of their lectures. While there are prestigious gymnasiums, at the earlier tiers most pupils are enrolled at schools closest to their homes as the quality varies little.

The official language is Lithuanian but there are minority-oriented public schools that use their languages for instruction. The network of Russian schools covers the main cities while the Polish schools are concentrated in the southeast.

Private schools tend to be expensive (by Lithuanian standards) and not very popular. Few schools cover the entire school life with private schooling more popular for younger kids. For English medium-of-instruction education, however, "private" is the only option and largely limited to Vilnius.

There are also a few Roman Catholic schools in the cities.

Pre-school education (kindergartens) is not compulsory. With more women than ever working (the female share of the workforce is larger in Lithuania than in every single Western society), there is a shortage of public kindergartens in the main cities. It is common to write your child into a queue immediately at birth. Akin to schools the private kindergartens are expensive although the shortages make them somewhat popular. Some families rely on (great) grandparents to rear their toddlers instead of kindergartens.

Lithuania has a wide range of paid informal education, most of it in the Lithuanian language. Lithuanian basketball academies are especially famous.

Universities and colleges

In Lithuania, most young people attend public universities of which there are many. Vilnius University is the oldest and the most prestigious but some others successfully compete at specific fields (Mykolas Romeris University in social sciences, the Kaunas University of Technology in technological sciences, Lithuanian University of Health Sciences in medical sciences). Public university tuition is state-subsidized for Lithuanian citizens; to many better local students the education there is free.

Yet other public universities are however widely known to be "second-choice" and some politicians doubt their need. The few private universities (limited to social sciences) are somewhat infamous for being a choice of "rich-yet-incapable" as they accept nearly everyone whoever pays a large tuition. Even the largest tuitions are small by the US standards however with a 3000 USD annual fee considered expensive.

University education takes 4 years (Bachelor's degree), 6 years (Master's degree, the most sought-after) or 10 years (PhD). Some universities offer English medium-of-instruction studies and attract a sizeable foreign student population (up to 10% in Lithuanian University of Health Sciences).

Numbers of Lithuanian people with varying levels of education in different decades. In the 2000s the numbers of higher-educated people in Lithuania increased rapidly as it became the social norm for anybody of mediocre capabilities or above.

Alternatively, there are colleges with 3-year education and more practice-oriented studies - but they all are regarded as less prestigious.

Even less prestigious is the vocational education opted mainly by those seriously incapable of doing anything "more". However, even some of those people attempt to seek a Master's degree regardless (at some obscure humanity they dislike but were able to successfully apply to). The government would prefer to popularize vocational training as many of the less capable university graduates ends up in blue-collar jobs anyway.

Enrollment into Lithuanian universities and colleges is largely based on the annual Lithuanian National Exams (May-June) taken by those graduating gymnasiums that year. Each potential student may choose which of 14 subject exams to sit, while each study program has a pre-decided set of National Exam results taken into account when admitting. A student then drafts a National Application (one for all Lithuanian universities and most colleges), listing up to 20 study programs by priority. In July-August, he/she is automatically admitted to the highest-priority one where National Exams results have been enough. The National Exams are hyped as making-or-breaking a person as they decide both the career path and scholarships/tuition discounts. To prepare for National Exams many students hire tutors one or two years in advance. Foreign students may pay the full price and enroll into universities without sitting at National Exams.

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Lithuanian Visas and Entry Requirements

After Lithuania joined the European Union (2004) it also ascended to its Schengen Treaty. This treaty establishes a single Schengen visa to enter all the member states. Within the Schengen area, there are no customs nor border control meaning that you could easily combine a trip to Lithuania with some neighboring countries (Latvia, Poland).

One may apply for a Schengen visa at any Lithuanian embassy or consulate. Furthermore, if there is no Lithuanian embassy or consulate at your country, Lithuania is represented by an embassy or consulate of some other EU-member state; a visa could be applied for there.

While Lithuania would be willing to extend visa-free regime to more countries the Schengen regime means that Lithuanian visa regime has to be similar to that of Western Europe (which is plagued by illegal immigration and therefore is reluctant to grant visa-free regime to most countries except for the richest ones). Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, UAE, Brunei, Hong Kong, Israel, Macau, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada and most of Latin America are the only areas outside Europe whose citizens could travel visa-free to Lithuania. On the other hand, nearly all Europeans can do this with the exception of Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Turkish citizens.

Citizens of the green countries do not need a visa to Lithuania.
Citizens of the red countries need a Lithuanian visa.
Citizens of light green countries do not need a visa if they have biometric passports.
2016. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Schengen visas are short-term only; a longer visa is called "national" (and must be applied at Lithuanian embassies/consulates) but still allows traveling inside all Schengen area. If you are just transferring at the airport you need no visa unless you come from a migration-sensitive country (some Asian and African countries).

Photography and video in Lithuania

In general, any public places in Lithuania may be pictured and taped for private use, while in private areas the owner decides what could be pictured.

Under the Soviet occupation, photography was heavily restricted even to the few that owned cameras. Most of these limitations were abolished, but it remains forbidden to take pictures at the international airports. When taking pictures of other key infrastructure (especially the railways) one may still get some interest from the security, although it is no longer that restricted.

Private shopping malls, marketplaces, casinos and nightclubs usually ban taking images - while this policy may be not explicitly stated anywhere, the security enforces it. While it may be possible to take a quick selfie or picture your friends without generating attention, any longer "photo shoot" will surely attract it. Chain stores tend to especially hate when their price tags are pictured, even if on the background.

Most museums allow photography but some forbid, while an even smaller minority levy a fee on every camera. Usually this is specified near the entrance (otherwise, you may ask).

In the case of live events (concerts and professional sports), the rule of the thumb is that only the most expensive, important and popular ones ban taking images. E.g. it will likely be forbidden to take pictures during official international basketball games but allowed during friendly matches or national league games.

Lithuanians usually don't care that they are photographed in public and they don't expect anything in return for it. Photography of private areas (even if visible from public zones), such as yards, may cause concern - but it is not very likely. The overall rule of the thumb is simply not to be too intrusive and take pictures from a distance or, if a close-up is needed, then ask the person.

It is not advisable to take pictures of drunk people (especially in the evenings) as they may be looking for a fight.

In case you want to publish pictures more stringent rules may sometimes apply. Some museums that allow free private photography impose a fee on those who want to publish images. Additionally, it is forbidden to publish pictures of people without their permission (even if taken in public) if those pictures show them in compromising situations or are used for advertisement.

Specialized photo stores became rare after digital imagery displaced the analog one. However, memory cards, batteries, and other photo materials may be easily acquired at electronics stores, common at shopping malls.

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