True Lithuania Sights, cities, culture, history and more

Getting Around Lithuania: Buses, Railroads And More

The 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 inclues maps of some 50 cities and towns. GPS maps of Lithuania still lack many smaller roads and localities, but they are enough for visiting 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: 100 km/h winter and 110 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 alcohol level over 0,4‰ (0,04%).

Fuel prices are on par with Western Europe (and double than the US prices due to 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.

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.

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. Rather empty countryside roads and litte altitude differences mean that even without special paths bike travel may be enjoyable.

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. Not every railroad has passenger traffic as the railroads lost competition to buses in past 20 years. Where the rail services exist they are less frequent than bus counterparts.

599 m long and 42,5 high railroad bridge towering over Dubysa valley in Lyduvėnai, Samogitia is the largest in Lithuania. Comissioned in the rail era (1916) it is no longer served by local passenger trains. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Vilnius-Kaunas, Vilnius-Klaipėda, Šiauliai-Klaipėda, Šiauliai-Panevėžys and Vilnius-Šiauliai are among the pairs of cities that can be travelled on rail. 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 other routes the 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).

Although Lithuania has 3 passenger airports, there are no domestic flights. Good road connections and small size ensures 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).

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.

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.

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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 service. Palanga International Airport offers several routes, but flying from there is generally more expensive due to low 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 directy 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 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 three of its carriers (Lithuanian Airlines, Air Lithuania and Star 1) went bankrupt and were liquidated. Small municipal-owned "Air Lituanica" is the latest flag carrier.

Gererally 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 accross 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.

Transbaltic ferry awaits loading 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 Warsaw 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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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 in 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 trolleybus in Vilnius with a 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 on 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 inside them 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).

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 rivers simply refuse to drive non-locals for an official price. You should avoid them if possible.

Addresses in Lithuania use a system whereby every building (rather than an entrance) has its own number. One side of the street has all the odd numbers while the opposite side has even numbers. One of the sides may have more buildings - thus the even numbers may increase quicker than the odd ones (or vice-versa), thus e.g. building number 120 and number 121 may be actually far away from each other, but number 120 and 122 will always be nearby. In the downtowns its easy to understand but in the Soviet districts it might be difficult as many buildings are hidden in the yards. When a new building is constructed it get san address of the nearest building with additional letter (e.g. a new building between 120 and 122 would get a 120A address).

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Going to and from Vilnius

Vilnius airport is the largest airport in Lithuania, offering both low-cost and ordinary airlines. It is built within city limits and only 4 kilometers away from the old town. In fact, most Vilnius inhabittants live further from the city center than the Vilnius International Airport is located. As such, the airport is easily reachable by public buses and microbuses as well as a train. Unless there is traffic jams or you need to transfer at the train station it is better and cheaper to use buses.

Arrivals building at Vilnius airport

Vilnius train station and bus station are located next to each other in Naujamiestis borough. Buses travel from Vilnius to most of the cities and towns of Lithuania at least a couple times a day, with buses to main cities leaving over 10 times a day and every 15 minutes to Kaunas.

Trains are a quicker option on a route to Kaunas. On most other routes however they lag behind buses and are cheaper.

Many public bus routes of Vilnius start and/or end at the station square therefore it is easy to reach any district from this place.

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Getting around Vilnius

There is no subway or light rail in Vilnius (although there are talks on the construction of rapid transit).

Vilnius has extensive network of public buses. They reach even the most remote areas of the city as well as low rise suburbs. The timetables to some areas may be scarce, but they are never rarer than once in two hours and usually at least one bus an hour. On the most popular routes there is one bus every 10 or 15 minutes.

Trolleybuses generally travel on most busy routes and their timetables are more frequent. During the morning and evening rush hours there may be a trolleybus every couple minutes on certain routes.

Even if you don‘t know schedules it is fair to expect a trolleybus to come to a stop in next 10 minutes at the latest. This is not so with buses as many bus routes are thinly serve. Therefore if you have no interest in checking schedules in advance choose trolleybuses.

In 2013 fast buses were introduced, their routes marked with letter "G". They are as frequent as trolleybuses and somewhat faster than regular public transport as they stop only at some half of all stops en-route. Note that the same numbers are reused for bus, trolleybus and fast bus routes (i.e. bus no. 1, trolleybus no. 1 and fast bus no. 1G are not related at all).

Same one-time ticket (30 min or 1 hour with transfers possible) applies for all public transport. You can buy them at kiosks or from the driver. If you buy it from the driver it costs approximately 25% more (this money goes to the driver as a compensation for additional job).

As for monthly tickets there are both ones that apply to both types of transportation and ones that apply either to buses or trolleybuses alone. There are tickets valid for several days useful if you will us public transport extensively.

The final public buses and trolleybuses leave at around 23:00 and in some stops it can be as late as 23:40. There are no night buses but the downtown-airport bus operates between some 5:30AM and 2AM.

The timetables of Vilnius public buses, trolleybuses and some private buses are available here. A powerful journey planning tool is also included in this multilingual website.

Car parking is free in most of the city but has to be paid for in the Old Town, New Town and southern Šnipiškės (except for residential yards).

Travelling by taxi is not recommended as taxi drivers are known to cheat people, especially (but not only) foreigners. They inflate prices as much as 10 times.

Vilnius downtown has an automated bicycle rent system where a short rent is free. Look for orange bicycle racks.

The orange rental bicycles in Vilnius Old Town. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Get To And From Kaunas

Being the main city closest to the center of Lithuania Kaunas is easily accessible by car and bus. Major four-lane highways directly connect it to Vilnius and Klaipėda. Via Baltica road (mostly two-lane) go southwards to Poland and northwards to Latvia via Panevėžys.

Direct rail connections to the west of Lithuania have never been built however, therefore rail is only convenient to go from Kaunas to Vilnius and certain towns in Sudovia region (Marijampolė, Kybartai).

Kaunas International Airport is the 4th largest in the Baltic States after the three capital airports. It has been chosen as the first Ryanair hub in the Eastern Europe in year 2010. Ryanair dominates its passenger flights offering high frequency flights to United Kingdom and Ireland as well as scarcer routes to places like Germany or certain Southern European resorts. Unlike its Vilnius counterpart the Kaunas airport is outside the city limits but it is still frequented both by city buses and more expensive private micro-buses. Direct intercity buses links the Kaunas airport to Vilnius and Klaipėda but it is cheaper although time-intensive to transfer in Kaunas city.

Kaunas Airport is located next to Karmėlava suburb north of the city. The suburb is best known for its extra-large cepelinai national meal eagerly gouged by emigrants returning for holidays. These are served at multiple restaurants; authentic cepelinai are smaller however.

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Getting around Kaunas

Kaunas public transport consists of buses, trolleybuses and micro-buses. Trolleybuses and buses are municipal-owned. They use the same ticket. Trolleybuses serve the trunk routes and are more frequent (typically one every 10-20 minutes). Trolleybus network is limited to the districts north of Nemunas river. Buses serve the less popular routes, including suburban (some go once in 2 hours so better check the timetables). Micro-buses (shared taxis) are private and they are both the most frequent and fastest form of transportation.

The public transport system works from 5:30-6:00 to some 22:00-23:00. At nights there are only very limited services of special bus routes marked with letter N. The airport bus is synchronized with flight times and operates longer. There is a modern information system at the main stops where special screens show the upcoming transport and waiting times. Destination of every bus and trolleybus is written on the vehicles themselves, but take note that the Lithuanian dative case is used. Therefore ending of the word is different than you would expect; e.g. a bus going to Šilainiai borough would be marked "Į Šilainius".

The timetables and routes of Kaunas public transport are available here.

There are no public underground parkings, but parking at the sides of the streets is both abundant and cheap by western standarts. Furthermore the downtown is relatively compact (3,5x1,5 km) and parking in the surrounding low-rise districts (Žaliakalnis, Aleksotas, southern Vilijampolė) is both free and easier.

Leaving your car in the multi-storey parking of "Akropolis" shopping mall in the New Town district (Karaliaus Mindaugo avenue) is another alternative if you don't mind exploring the downtown on foot (Old Town is 2 km away from there).

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Getting To and From Klaipėda

Klaipėda can be reached by car from Vilnius in 3 hours and 4 hours by express bus. Four-lane highway connects the city to Kaunas and Vilnius as well as Palanga. Another option of travelling to/from Kaunas is by the scenic Panemunė road via Šilutė.

Interesting locations around Klaipėda include Neringa and Palanga resorts.

The passenger trains leave Klaipėda station for Vilnius and Radviliškis. Both of these routes have intermediate stops in various towns, among them Kretinga, Telšiai and Plungė. Route to Vilnius also stops at Kėdaniai. Route to Šiauliai is more or less direct whereas route to Vilnius is 100 km longer than the highway route and thus it takes 5 hours to go there by train.

Klaipėda has no passenger airport but Palanga airport some 30 kilometers to the noth effectively serves Klaipėda as well and is branded in timetables of some airlines as "Palanga/Klaipeda". Service from Palanga is limited however and includes only several destinations. The rest of European cities might be reached with transfers. Still however such flights may be ~40% more expensive than similar flights from Vilnius or Kaunas, (some 3 and 2 hour away by car, respectively).

Being Lithuania's only seaport Klaipėda may also be reached by ferries from Germany and Sweden. The ferries are overnight and transport cars as well as passengers without them. Cruise ships visit Klaipėda in summer as part of a longer Baltic cruise.

Container vessel in the port of Klaipėda. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Get To and From Šiauliai

Like every Lithuanian city Šiauliai is well accessible by bus but unlike many Šiauliai also enjoys good connections by rail. Trains go both to Klaipėda (via Telšiai, Plungė, Kretinga) and Vilnius (via Jonava, Kėdainiai, Kaišiadorys) as well as to Panevėžys.

Road connections to Šiauliai are less adequate as they are limited to 2 lane roads if you want to go anywhere further than several neighboring towns.

Šiauliai Airport has an international status but is actually operating as a NATO airbase with its civilian flights limited to cargo. The passenger airport most people of Šiauliai use is Riga International. Being only 100 km away it is closer than any of the major Lithuanian airports. If you arrive to Riga then Šiauliai (and the Hill of Crosses) are possible to visit en-route to either Vilnius or the Lithuanian seaside with a detour.

If you are not too fond of independent travel the Hill of Crosses is included in many tourism agency itineraries of Lithuania.

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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, Brunei, Hong Kong, Israel, Macau, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada and a significant part 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 visa to Lithuania.
Citizens of the red countries need a Lithuanian visa.
Citizens of light green countries do not need visa if they have biometric passports.
2013. ©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 travelling inside all Schengen area. If you are just transfering at the airport you need no visa unless you come from a migration-sensitive country (some Asian and African countries).