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Lithuania's Gateway to the Curonian Spit




Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Klaipeda is a Lithuanian port city that attracts both locals and tourists, especially in the summer. Some use it as a gateway to the legendary town of Nida, located on the Curonian Spit and accessible via ferry. Others keep their costs lower and simply enjoy mainland Klaipeda’s attractions, which include seaside strolls and leisure time in the city’s small historic center.

Klaipeda has a small old town that grew around its Teutonic Castle (which no longer stands but is commemorated by the Castle Museum) and boasts the title of Lithuania’s oldest city—it dates from the middle of the 13th century and is still sometimes referred to by its German name, Memel. The oldest buildings in old town date from the 18th century and are now home to souvenir shops, artists’ studios, cafes, and galleries. Sights and attractions in Old Town Klaipeda include:

  • Theater Square: Theater Square is Old Town Klaipeda’s main square. It features a sculpture of Anne from Tharau, the subject of a poem by German poet Simon Dach, and the 18th century Drama Theater building.
  • Craft Yard: Located among Klaipeda’s old warehouses, the Craft Yard enables visitors to learn about historical production of goods. Demonstrations and events are held here that are both education and interesting.
  • Meridianas: This sailing ship, formerly used as training vessel, was built in 1948. It is now home a restaurant and is a symbol of Klaipeda.
  • Sculptures: A number of sculptures can be found around Klaipeda, including a magical mouse, a ghostly specter, and a whimsical cat.
  • Maritime Museum and Aquarium: This museum and aquarium provides a home for both land and sea-dwelling creatures and explains maritime traditions through the centuries. It is located in Smiltynė, across the lagoon and accessible by ferry.
  • Castle Museum: Though the castle itself is no longer standing, descend into its underground passageways to learn about life in the castle, how it looked, and the development of Klaipeda as a city.
  • Clocks Museum: All forms of clocks from different eras can be found in this interesting museum.
  • Lithuania Minor Historical Museum: Learn about the culture and history of the region of Lithuania Minor, the ethnographic and geographical region in which Klaipeda is located. Important aspects of traditional life are also described at this museum.
  • Švyturys (Lighthouse) Brewery: Take a tour of Lithuania’s oldest brewery. Tours are available in English and can be booked through the Tourist Information Center.

Beaches in Klaipeda

Klaipeda’s coastline is dominated by industrial activities, but a walk on the beach is still possible. Smiltynė beach is located across the lagoon on the Curonian Spit and is accessible by ferry; if you want to travel deeper into the Curonian Spit, you will have to pay an entry fee. This beach, however, is clean and requires a refreshing walk through the pine forests that are characteristic of the area. The two Melnragė beaches are located north of Klaipeda’s center on the mainland with Giruliai beach even farther up the coast. Smiltynė and Giruliai beaches are the widest, with the more northern of the Melnragė beaches offering the best facilities. During the high season, beaches are well populated with people, but the northern beaches may offer more privacy.

Getting to Klaipeda

Klaipeda can be reached from Vilnius and other Lithuanian cities via train or bus. The train journey from Vilnius to Klaipeda is just under 5 hours, and a bus ride from Vilnius to Klaipeda takes around 6 hours. If you choose to drive to Klaipeda, which will also allow you to take the car ferry to the Curonian Spit, the drive will take 3 to 4 hours from Vilnius.
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