True Lithuania

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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Shopping in Vilnius

The oldest and largest shopping mall is Akropolis (Šeškinė borough), well known not only to people all over Lithuania but also in Belarus. In weekends it might get heavily overcrowded which leads to lack of parking.

Other large shopping malls are not far away. Ozas, with its extensive food court, suffers from having opened during the financial crisis of 2009 but is more spacious and convenient. Panorama near Žvėrynas is lagging behind Akropolis and Ozas, while mid-sized Europa in Šnipiškės caters to the upscale market.

Ozas mall (Vilnius), a new competitor to the successful Akropolis chain. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

High streets of Vilnius emptied out to some extent with the advent of the supermarkets but there are still many upmarket shops in Gedimino Avenue (New Town), especially in its Gedimino 9 shopping mall. Unfortunately, parking is expensive there (by Lithuanian standards).

If you want to shop the "old style" there are several bazaar-like open markets. In the suburban Gariūnai next to Vilnius many of today's businessmen started their business in the early 1990s. Just don't forget to negotiate. Smaller market closer to the city center is the very old Kalvarijų market in Šnipiškės. Today there are also a few modern markets mostly aimed at ecological food.

Main supermarkets have working hours until 22:00 or 23:00 and are open 7 days a week. Other shops may close down earlier. Marketplaces are only open in the first half of the day.

For souvenir shopping, there is the ordinary selection of t-shirts, cups, and magnets at the places most popular among tourists: Pilies street and Aušros Vartų street in the Old Town. A viable alternative is to buy your souvenirs at a supermarket - the larger among them have a dedicated shelf.

If you prefer regional souvenirs there is amber (likely to be imported from Kaliningrad but turned into jewelry by local artisans). In Pilies street you can also buy paintings by local artists. Don't expect Michelangelo there, but the prices will be much lower than in the West (if you negotiate well enough).

Arts and crafts are also available there but if you want some real shopping come during one of the fairs (St. Casimir, St. Baltrameaus). Many Old Town streets become large outdoor craft markets at these days.

Paintings for sale in Pilies street. Some of them depict the medieval streets of Vilnius but other topics are popular as well. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Given the stories of miracles in Vilnius, you may want to buy yourself religious goods. Christian religious paintings, including replicas of the famous Divine Mercy painting, are sold on the southern side of the Gate of Dawn.

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Shopping in Kaunas

Shopping scene of Kaunas is dominated by three large shopping centers. Each of them has shops of every kind, while the first two also has great entertainment and eating opportunities.

"Akropolis" mall (80 000 m2) is located in downtown. It doubles as an entertainment zone offering ice rink and cinema.

Massive parking of Akropolis mall, covering the street and (according to critics) the Carmelite church. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

"Mega" mall (72 000 m2) is located on Vilnius-Kaunas-Klaipėda highway and thus is the easiest to access if you are just passing by Kaunas.

"Urmas" (70 000 m2) is a kind of shopping park with most shops accessible directly from outside. Developed from a marketplace it has a distinctively different feel from the other two Kaunas malls as it is oriented mainly at shopping.

Beyond those, every district has smaller stores available. Big malls have effectively killed Kaunas high street (Laisvės alėja) however, with little shopping available there (after all, Akropolis is just 500 m away).

Urmas base shopping street in Kaunas. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Lithuanian traditional crafts

Much of the Lithuanian ethnic crafts are useful products for day-to-day needs. These are woven textiles (blankets, tablecloths) of colorful geometric designs, wickerwork baskets and furniture, wooden crafts (such as spoons, plates and furniture decorated in cut-through patterns) and patterned metal crafts. Today, however, all these have been largely outcompeted by manufactured goods yet the original ethnic ones are still acquired for symbolic or art value during the many craftsmen fairs.

Lithuanian wooden religious art and crafts are arguably the most famous. It includes elaborate UNESCO-inscribed crosses and chapel-posts (roofed religious sculpture on a pole).

Jewelry has been traditionally made of metal, wood or amber. Amber jewelry is now considered "the most Lithuanian one" due to Baltic amber being a local material that has few counterparts elsewhere.

Some of the unique Lithuanian crafts are reserved for particular holidays. These include
Verbos - bouquets of dried plants used on the Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter). They represent the palm branches that were laid in Christ's path when he triumphantly entered Jerusalem. Many Verbos are crafted and sold by vendors in streets that day.

Verbos at the museum of Verbos in Čekonikškės (Vilnius suburbs). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Masks for Užgavėnės carnival (made of Papier Mâché and representing animals or stereotyped ethnic/social groups).

Margučiai - artfully dyed/decorated Easter eggs which are then used for various contests (e.g. "whose egg is stronger" or "whose egg goes further when pushed"). Most families still dye their eggs at home rather than buying them at a shop.

Among the unique crafts are the sodai ("gardens") that were usually reserved for weddings. These 3D contraptions of dried grass are extremely fragile and thus are not sold as souvenirs.

Sodai at Vilkaviškis regional museum (as one of the symbols of Lituanity, they are common in many locations related to ethnic heritage). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

See also: Visual arts in Lithuania , Top 10 Lithuanian folk arts.

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Money and Bank Cards in Lithuania

In 2015, Lithuania adopted Euro (Lithuanian: Euras (singular), Eurai (plural)), symbol €, as its currency. Euro is divided into 100 Eurocents (eurocentas, eurocentai). There are banknotes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 Eurocents and 1, 2 Euro. Euro is used in many European countries and the banknotes are similar everywhere, lacking any Lithuanian details. Some coins have Lithuanian coat of arms (Vytis) on them, but the coins with details of other European countries also circulate within Lithuania.

The original Lithuanian currency Litas (plural forms: Litai, Litų), abbreviation Lt, is no longer accepted but may be exchanged or added to the collection. It was subdivided into 100 Centas (Centai, Centų). Banknotes of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 Litas existed, with 100 being the most common and 500 the rarest. 1, 2 and 5 Litas banknotes had been replaced by coins in 2000s meaning that they are also scarce. Additionally, there were coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 centai. There were many special editions for 1 Litas coins commemorating various historical events.

Other currencies are not used but are possible to exchange at every bank (there are few other currency exchange offices). Bank wards in the major shopping malls are open longer and do not close on Sundays. It is easy to exchange US Dollars and British Pounds. Currencies of neighboring countries (Polish Zloty, Russian and Belarussian Roubles) are also exchanged.

Credit/debit cards are widely but not universally accepted in Lithuania. They are less popular in smaller towns and are never used in traditional marketplaces. Chain stores and restaurants are more likely to accept cards than independent alternatives. ATM machines are readily available, especially near main supermarkets. Visa and Master Card are the most common cards; acceptance of American Express is more limited.

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