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Trip report - Latvia and Lithuania

Since there have been a few posts recently about the Baltic countries, I thought I would post a brief report about our 16 night trip to Latvia and Lithuania last summer. We had a wonderful time. I would encourage anyone traveling to these countries to visit the capital cities but to also try to spend time in other towns or cities.

In planning our trips, deciding on public transportation or renting a car is one of the early decisions. We traveled by bus and were able to go everywhere we wanted to go. You can look up schedules and prices on line. I bought tickets on line before our trip. I’m a planner so we did not regret our loss in flexibility in buying out tickets in advance. You also know that you are paying the correct price when you purchase on line. If you buy the ticket on the bus, be prepared to pay a small “tourist tax” and count your change carefully. You should get a receipt when you buy the ticket on the bus. In a few cases, the bus was full.

Between the capital cities, bus service is frequent. If you want to go from a town in Latvia to a town in Lithuania, you may find limited service. Within each country, the service is more frequent. For very small towns or villages, the service may be less frequent. Schedules are all on line so with done persistence, you should be able to figure it out.

In Latvia, we spent 3 nights in Riga and 3 nights in Sigulda. I was uncertain when we would travel between Riga and Sigulda. This was one place where we decided when to go on the day of travel. We chose the train based on schedule. Two nights in Sigulda would have been sufficient (we used the cable car to get to the other side and spent the day walking to the sites. It was a lot of walking and very hilly. You could take a bus from Sigulda to see the sights as well). We spent our second day hiking. Sigulda was very restful.

We visited Rundale from Riga. You have to transfer to a local bus to get to Rundale. Our first bus was late so we missed the connection. Another local bus came in 45 minutes. If the connections don’t work, there were taxis waiting. This day trip took most of the day.

In Lithuania, we did a number of day trips from Vilnius. We also stayed in Nida for 2 nights (my favorite stop). When we visited Nida, there were two direct buses from Vilnius to Nida, both leaving pretty early in the morning. Definitely buy tickets in advance as our bus sold out. If you don’t take a bus, you have to take a bus (or possibly train), then walk/taxi/local bus to passenger ferry, then bus to Nida. The direct bus is definitely easier. We walked a lot in Nida, spent much of a day walking along the beach. Again, a relaxing spot where Lithuanians (and others) were vacationing.

The Hill of Crosses was definitely worth a visit. It doesn’t take long to visit. It takes some effort to get there by public transportation but it is difficult to get there. We came from Nida which made things a little more complicated. You can check your bags at the bus station in Siauliai. The bus driver will show you where to get off. We did not stay in Siauliai. We stayed in Panevezys which has a very nice hotel.

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We really enjoyed Vilnius. We did several day trips. The trip to Trakai is on the beaten path, very easy trip by bus. You could also take the train. The bus station in Trakai is a little closer.

We also visited the open air museum in Rumsiskes. This was a nice day, not on the main tourist track. The open air museum is quite large so there is a lot of walking. There are 3 bus stops in Rumsiskes. If you are coming from Vilnius, the bus will stop just off the highway and you will need to walk about 2 km to the museum. If you come from Kaunas, you may have more options. I don’t remember there being any signs to show you how to get there. I had looked it up before we went. It’s not hard, but have a smart phone ready, or look it up before you go. We were the only ones to get off the bus here.

We also visited Kernave by bus from Vilnius. This was also a great day trip off the beaten path. Kernave has an excellent archeological museum. You can also walk around the hill forts, although there isn’t much to see other than the topography. This seemed like it was going to be hard before we went but it wasn’t. Look up the bus schedule because it is rather limited. We had a little extra time, so we enjoyed a beer at a little place across from the museum. The owner was very kind and shared a few books with us to pass the time. His English was better than our Lithuanian (!) but we really couldn’t hold a conversation but we enjoyed looking at the books.

If you arrive by plane in Vilnius, the airport is close to town. If your timing is right, the train is great! I think it takes 7 minutes and it costs less than a Euro. You buy the ticket on board. The train is not frequent. You could also take a bus or cab.

We used the Lonely Planets guidebook.

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To be honest, I don’t really remember what things cost. I think .5 liter beer in a tourist restaurant was about 4 EUR, but I’m not sure.

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Eef: Thanks for your trip report. We will be in some of those towns in May and appreciate your descriptions and your information about buying bus tickets in advance on line. Is there a ticket window at the station where we might buy tickets one day before our travel date?

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Yes, there are ticket windows where you can buy tickets one day in advance (or for the next bus, if you want). The people behind the windows may not speak much English, but you can write down the day and the time that you want to avoid confusion.

The weekly schedule is usually posted in the station and, in the bigger stations, you’ll see an electronic board listing the next bus (destination, and possibly intermediate stops and departure time ) next to each bus platform. In the bigger stations, it’s clear where to go. You may need to ask if you are off the beaten track. If you say your destination, they will show you where to go, even if they don’t speak much English. Bus drivers will generally speak a little English. It all seems to work.

One more thing, if you buy your ticket in advance for longer distance buses, you will get a seat assignment. These are done numerically (1,2,3 etc), so you might not get seats together, but people were generally pretty relaxed about changing seats so you can sit together.

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Thanks for your trip report. I sat down this morning thinking about extending a trip to Poland into Lithuania (I have already been to Latvia and Estonia). I've found so much in Lithuania that looks interesting, though, I feel like I could easily spend 3 weeks in that country alone. I started searching for trip reports about Lithuania on the Forum -- there is not a lot here!

Nida looks like a particularly restful spot. Did you find it very crowded during the summer? Did you find yourself wanting more than 2 nights there to explore the Curonian Spit or were you satisfied with the time you spent there?

If I'm doing my math right, you did about a week in Vilnius? Were you happy with that?

Thanks in advance for your response.

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Dave, Nida did not seem crowded, but I would want to have reservations for a place to stay in summer. There is plenty of room to spread out, so even if accommodations are full, you don’t feel crowded. There are several other small towns along the peninsula. We only saw them from the bus. With more time you could visit them. We felt like we had enough time. Nida is on the lagoon side. We spent our first half day on the lagoon side, climbing the big dune and walking from one end of town to the other. For our full day, we visited the lighthouse and then spent much of the day walking along the Baltic coast.

I think your estimate of 3 weeks in Lithuania is probably pretty good. We were fixed with our dates and were happy with the time we allocated, but there was more to see.

We really liked Vilnius. It was quieter than Riga. Your counting is correct. We were there about a week, split into 2 parts. I think this timing was about right. We weren’t tired of Vilnius. It’s a good base.

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Thanks for your response! It was very helpful.