True Lithuania

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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Entertainment in Vilnius

As the capital of Lithuania Vilnius is also its entertainment center.

Nightlife, theaters, and classical music

Most of bars and nightclubs are located in the Old Town and several streets of the New Town (Gedimino Avenue and environs).

Most theaters are located in the New Town (Gedimino Avenue, Basanavičiaus Street, and environs). The plays are in Lithuanian save for operas (presented in the original language) and the Russian drama theater production (Russian). Note that operettas, unlike operas, are presented in Lithuanian.

Operas are performed in the Opera and Ballet Theater. Nearby Congress Palace is now the home of the National Symphony Orchestra. Other classical music opportunities exist in the Old Town Filharmonija. Classical music is both cheaper and less exclusive than in the West.

There are some 7 permanent drama theaters in Vilnius in addition to the troupes that lack their own buildings. Most are state-funded, but the Domino theater (Savanorių Avenue) concentrates on light-hearted comedies. Old Town doll theater performs for kids.

Cinemas, bowling, ice skating, theme parks

Main shopping malls double as entertainment hubs. Akropolis includes the iconic ice skating rink at its center. Both Akropolis and Ozas house multiplex cinemas. Bowling alleys, pool tables, children zones are also present there. Both Akropolis and Ozas are located between Šeškinė and Žirmūnai.

Vilnius largest cinema is a non-mall Vingis with some 11 halls (New Town). Boutique cinemas Pasaka and Skalvija exist in the Old Town and New Town respectively.

Vingis cinema. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Vilnius lacks theme parks but indoor water park is available near the Ozas mall.

Sports (basketball, football) and popular music

Siemens arena (12 000 seats) near Ozas shopping mall is where the main indoor sport and musical events take place. "Lietuvos rytas" basketball team (the top sports franchise in Vilnius) plays its major home games here. Games against weaker Lithuanian teams are played in the small arena nearby. Euroleague games and the matches against arch-rivals Žalgiris from Kaunas are the most popular. Basketball season is autumn to spring.

Interestingly Žalgiris is also the name of Vilnius own football team. Famous in the 1980s it failed to qualify to the main tournaments in the recent decades. The home stadium is located in Southern Vilnius. Football season is spring to autumn.

In summer the main musical events relocate to the open air Vingis Park area where some 40 000 may be accommodated.

Active entertainment

There are some unique entertainment opportunities in Vilnius.

In Labas adventure park there is a possibility to zipline over Neris river from Antakalnis to Žirmūnai.

Unlike many capitals Vilnius does not restrict the hot air balloon flights. Every summer evening you may see many of the colorful balloons in the air and you may rent one yourself (with a professional pilot and ground support team).

Hot air balloons over Old Town in a typical summer afternoon. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In summer Vilnius downtown may also be enjoyed from a hired ship. The hire spot is near National museum.

For more natural forms of entertainment in Vilnius see the article Green Vilnius.

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Green Vilnius (Parks, Cemetaries, Beaches)

A 2009 survey recognized Vilnius as the greenest capital in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, Vilnius air is the cleanest among all European capital cities.

To achieve this Vilnius urban planners intentionally skipped many areas during the city expansion. These are named "parks" but with limited landscapping some of them are in fact urban forests. They are now popular for strolling, dogwalking or enjoying a picnic.

The oldest of these pristine zones of Vilnius is right next to Cathedral and the Castle. Known as Sereikiškių Park and the Hill Park (Kalnų parkas) it includes multiple hills with good city views, among them the Pilies (Castle) Hill, the Hill of Three Crosses (Trijų kryžių) and the Gedimino kapo (Gediminas Grave) Hill.

Larger and equally popular is the 162 ha Vingis (Bend) park to the west of New Town, hugged from 3 sides by Neris river. A former nobility hunting ground it is now a major location for summer song festivals and also hosts a rugby stadium and a WW1 German cemetary amidst its greenery. Today Vingis park forms a part of north-to-south chain of green zones which separates pre-1940 Vilnius boroughs to the east from Soviet boroughs to the west. While Vingis park is developed, much of this "Green belt" is not and there are places where one may feel to be teleported to a countryside forest after walking merely several hundred meters from high-rise residentials.

A bit further from downtown the two regional parks within Vilnius city limits (Pavilnis and Verkiai) are much better for recreation as they host some impressive scenery (Pūčkoriai rock exposure), interwar military installations and 17th-19th century manors (see Suburbs of Vilnius).

People enjoying the views from the top of Pūčkoriai rock exposure at Pavilnis regional park. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The old cemetaries of Vilnius may compete with parks in their greenness but have a different aura. To contemplate you may visit the early 19th century hilly Rasos cemetary (Southern Vilnius) or the smaller Bernardinai cemetary in Užupis (Old Town). Both include elaborate tombstones and famous burials. Antakalnis cemetary (Antakalnis borough) is the burial place for 20th century celebrities, heroes and villains. If you prefer religious minorities there is an Old Believer cemetary in Southern Vilnius, Muslim cemetaries near mosques in southern Suburbs and a Jewish zone in Sudervė cemetary (Viršuliškės borough). Sadly many famous minority graveyards were razed by the Soviets, among them two Protestant and the main Jewish one. Under the Soviet rule the tradition to bury the dead along religious lines also faded and the modern graveyards accomodate people of all communities.

Following the trend set by Paris Vilnius establishes a "beach" yearly on the bank of Neris in the New City Center where various public sport activities take place. Swimming is however not allowed in the river there. But you may swim in Neris within city limits at the beaches of Valakupiai suburb north of Antakalnis. Other beaches are available at Balsiai suburb lakes. All of these are possible to access by Vinius public buses.

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Entertainment and Recreation in Kaunas

Classical forms of entertainment are concentrated in the New Town. All the theaters are near Laisvės alėja (Freedom Avenue). As the plays of Drama theater are in Lithuanian the Musical theater and Pantomime theater may be more interesting to foreigners.

Romuva, the traditional gala cinema of Kaunas (est. 1939) is also in Laisvės alėja.

Recently the New Town hub of entertainment has moved southwards to Nemunas coast. Enormous Akropolis mall there includes a multiplex cinema, ice rink, and bowling facilities while the nearby 17 000-seat Kaunas arena is the largest in the Baltics and thus the location of gigs by world-famous stars. Žalgiris basketball team (the prime sports franchise in Lithuania) plays its home games there.

A group of Žalgiris fans marches across Kaunas Old Town towards the Kaunas arena where a 2012 Lithuanian basketball final against the arch-rival Lietuvos rytas is to be played.

The hub of outdoor entertainment and nightlife has moved from New Town to Old Town (mainly to Vilniaus street and Rotušės (City Hall) square). These locations now have many bars and nightclubs while Laisvės alėja empties in the evenings with many of its historic restaurants closed for good.

Kaunas is known for many calm parks popular for strolls. Every borough has its own, each with a unique location. Santakos park (Old Town) is at the confluence of two major rivers, Nemunas island park (New Town) is, well, an island, Ąžuolynas (Žaliakalnis) is the largest urban oak forest in Europe (770 oaks in 84,42 ha), Mickevičius valley (Žaliakalnis) has a mountain creek valley feel and poet Mickevičius connections, Basanavičius park (Panemunė) at the Nemunas bend is known for its sheer size (280 ha - comparable to that of New York Central Park) and nice vistas of its Trijų mergelių (Three girls) pedestrian bridge, Botanic park (Freda) hosts multitude of exotic plants while Pažaislis forest (Petrašiūnai) borders historical Pažaislis monastery and Petrašiūnai cemetery.

Three girls bridge crosses Nemunas river to the massive Basanavičius park. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Non-downtown parks on the banks of Nemunas also include beaches. Kaunas Reservoir is the favorite place for water recreation (swimming, sunbathing, yachting) but swimming is also possible in Nemunas itself at Basanavičiaus park or in western Kaunas in Lampėdis billabong.

The Soviet boroughs also have some parks, entertainment and nightlife catering the local residents but they are known as "sleeping districts" for a reason. The only exception may be "Mega" shopping mall near Vilnius-Klaipėda highway which is a northern alternative to Akropolis and hosts some entertainment, including cinema.

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Entertainment and Recreation in Klaipėda

As a seaside city, Klaipėda has much of its entertainment related to the sea. Beaches are popular in summer, with the best ones in Smiltynė. Angling and other water activities are also popular at the Curonian Lagoon.

That said, being the Western Lithuania's largest city Klaipėda also offers many other types of fun. Nightlife is mostly located in or around Klaipėda Old Town.

Pleasure ships moored at castle anchorage in summer. Like every summer, travelling funfairs come to Lithuanian seaside ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Klaipėda Old Town and its immediate surroundings also host the city's two theaters: musical theater and drama theater. Both perform in Lithuanian but the musical performances should be easier to understand for foreigners.

New entertainment buildings have been largely constructed in Southern Klaipėda and require a long walk, a drive or a bus ride from downtown. They include Akropolis mall (which hosts the Klaipėda's only modern cinema and ice rink) and Švyturys arena (the main venue for gala concerts and basketball games of local "Neptūnas" team).

Football games (team "Atlantas") are played at a stadium north of New Town.

For those preferring a calm stroll to active entertainment Seaside Klaipėda has the most to offer. Consisting of massive pine forests and shorelines with just a few buildings here and there it is among the best locations for walking and bike-riding in the entire urban Lithuania. Smiltynė neighborhood (accessible by ferry) also offers Dolphinarium shows, best enjoyed by kids.

A dolphin show in Klaipėda dolphinarium. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

All the Lithuanian seaside resorts are located less than 50 km from downtown Klaipėda. As such, in summer it may advisable to seek entertainment and recreation there. Palanga excels in its nightlife (at Basanavičiaus street), gigs and fun but it can get crowded. Neringa offers a much calmer, cleaner and somewhat more expensive fare of pretty landscapes, forests, and emptier beaches. Additionally, many weekends are festival weekends somewhere on the Lithuanian seaside.

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