LithuaniaLithuania is the largest and southernmost Baltic state, having close historic and religious ties with its neighbors, Poland. The population of 3.5 million speaks one of the most ancient languages in Europe, which is related remotely to Sanskrit. Unlike Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania never came under German influence—the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a major state in its own right, extending beyond modern Belarus into western Ukraine. When the Baltic states began to reassert their independence at the end of the 1980s, Lithuania was at the forefront, achieving its goal before the collapse of the Soviet Union in August 1991. Although Lithuania’s Baltic coastline is short, it includes areas of outstanding natural beauty, such as Kuršių nerija, with mile after mile of dunes and white sands; and a number of attractive seaside resorts. Inland, national parks and nature reserves cover a vast expanse of the country, from Aukštaitija in the north-east, a sparsely populated region of lakes and dense forests, to ¦uvintas, an important breeding ground for birds in the south-west. The capital, Vilnius, is situated in the south of the country, and despite a population of more than half a million it has a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere. Vilnius’s main attraction is its glorious inheritance of baroque church architecture. The second city, Kaunas, the capital of independent Lithuania between the two world wars, when Vilnius was part of Poland, is a lively industrial and cultural centre. The city also has an important legacy of Gothic and renaissance architecture.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTSMost nationals require a visa to enter Lithuania. All travelers should consult the Lithuanian embassy or consulate in their country of residence before departure for details of visa requirements.Before you leaveAlthough Lithuanian pharmacies increasingly stock international products, it is advisable to bring an adequate supply of any prescription drugs you are taking. Minor medications are readily obtainable. In Vilnius there is a 24-hour pharmacy at Gedimino prospect 27. Some visitors suffer from mild stomach complaints when drinking the ordinary mains water, and it is advisable to drink bottled water, which is widely available.On arrivalAll travelers are advised to take out comprehensive travel insurance. Make sure it covers all the countries you will be visiting and any sports in which you intend to participate. Foreign visitors are entitled to free emergency treatment, but have to pay for other medical services.EMERGENCY TELEPHONE NUMBERSAmbulance: 03 Police: 02 Fire brigade: 01TIME ZONESGreenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus two hours; GMT plus three hours from the last Sunday in March until the Saturday before the last Sunday in September.BORDER CROSSINGSLithuania can be reached by road from Poland, Belarus, Russia, and Latvia. The most congested crossing is at Lazdijai, in Poland, where motorists have been known to be kept waiting for several days. Ferry services connect Klaipėda with Germany, Sweden, and Denmark.Vehicle documentsTo drive in Lithuania, you will need an International Driving Permit, obtainable from the driver licensing authority, motoring organizations, or other designated authority in your country of residence. Ask your motor vehicle insurance companies to confirm what insurance documents are necessary and whether additional insurance is required.Road regulationsAlways carry your full valid driving license and International Driving Permit, vehicle registration documents, and insurance documents with you in the car at all times. Traffic drives on the right in Lithuania. The driver and front-seat passengers must wear seat belts. It is an offence to drive after drinking any alcohol.Road classification, tolls, and speed limitsMain roads are well maintained, and highways connect Vilnius with Klaipėda and Panevėžys. Country roads are often not surfaced. To drive in the older part of Vilnius you must pay an entry fee. Speed limits are 110 kilometers (68 miles) per hour on highways; 90 kilometers (55 miles) per hour on other roads outside built-up areas; and 60 kilometers (37 miles) per hour in built-up areas.Driving tipsPay particular attention to the movements of trams and trolley buses. On rural roads watch out for cyclists, horse-drawn carts, and potholes in the road. AssistanceFor assistance in the event of a breakdown, call the police on 02 (free phone). There is no national breakdown service; however, there are a number of garages in Vilnius that specialize in repairing foreign cars.FuelThere are many Western-run petrol stations in Lithuania, many open 24 hours that sell high-grade leaded and unleaded petrol. Local garages, except for those in Vilnius, generally sell lower-grade fuel only. In most petrol stations you have to pay before filling up.ParkingIn car parks, you buy a ticket from a booth or machine and display it behind the windscreen. For safety, use a guarded car park whenever possible (most large hotels have one).Car hireInternational firms such as Avis, Hertz, and Euro car are represented in Vilnius and Kaunas. Check carefully that you are fully insured against possible damage to the car. You may need to pay extra for a collision damage waiver.CLIMATELithuania has mild winters and moderately warm summers. Temperatures range from around –7° C (19° F) in February to 20° C (68° F) in July. In June the days are longest; later in the summer there is usually more rain. Heavy snowfall is common in winter.Electrical appliancesThe electrical current is 220 volts AC. Round, two-pin plugs are used. An adapter is necessary for UK and Ireland appliances.Useful itemsInternational brands of film are available, but expensive. Bring insect repellent in summer, and an umbrella and rainwear all year round. For summer evenings, pack a lightweight sweater.Notes and coinsThe official monetary unit is the litas (L). There are 100 cents in a litas. Notes are issued in denominations of 100L, 50, 20, 10, and 5. Coins are issued in denominations of 2L and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, and 1 cents.How to payTravelers cheques are the safest way to carry money, and you should buy these in your own country before you leave. However, they are not generally accepted in restaurants and shops. Although the major credit cards are widely accepted in large hotels and tourist shops and restaurants, cash is often preferred.Currency exchangeCurrent foreign exchange rates are listed in most major newspapers. Bureaux de change can be found in the larger towns and cities, but many will only change cash. Most banks will cash travelers cheques and give cash advances on major credit cards, though commission rates are high. Banks are open 09.00 to 17.00 Monday to Friday; some also open from 09.00 to 12.30 on Saturday.TOURIST OFFICESIt is worthwhile contacting the Lithuanian embassy or consulate in your own country before you leave, as they can supply a range of useful literature. Within Lithuania, most tourist destinations have local information offices; travel agents are also useful sources of information; the central office for tourist information is the Lithuanian Tourist Board, Ukmergės 20, 2,600 Vilnius, tel: (2) 62 26 10, fax: 22 68 19.Business and Opening HoursOffice hours are generally 09.00 or 10.00 to 17.00 Monday to Friday. Shops are generally open from 10.00 or 11.00 to 18.00 or 20.00 Monday to Friday, and from 10.00 to 16.00 on Saturday. Many shops and offices close at lunchtime. Most museums are generally open from 11.00 to 18.00 and are closed on Monday and/or Tuesday.PUBLIC HOLIDAYS1 January: New Year 16 February: Independence Day 11 March: Restoration of Lithuania’s Statehood Easter Sunday Easter Monday 1 May: Labour Day 6 July: Day of Statehood 1 November: All Saints’ Day 25 and 26 December: ChristmasLanguageThe official language is Lithuanian; Russian is widely understood. In cities and tourist resorts English is increasingly understood, though this is less often the case in the more remote areas.Greetings and gesturesHandshakes are usual when being introduced or when meeting someone for the first time in the course of a day.TippingIn restaurants and bars, if a service charge has not been included, add a tip of 10 percent. A tip is increasingly expected by taxi drivers and porters, and for room service. POST AND TELECOMMUNICATIONSMain post offices (pastas) are generally open 08.00 to 20.00 Monday to Friday. The central post office in Vilnius, at Gedimino pr. 7, is also open from 11.00 to 19.00 on Saturday and Sunday. Stamps are also sold in large hotels.TRAVELERS WITH DISABILITIESFor information on facilities for travelers with disabilities, contact the Lithuanian Tourist Board, Ukmergės 20, 2,600 Vilnius, tel (2) 62 26 10, fax (2) 22 68 19.ACCOMMODATIONA wide range of accommodation is available, ranging from large hotels to small guest-houses and rooms in private houses and former sanatoriums. It is advisable to book accommodation in advance, especially in summer. Agencies such as Litinterp, which has branches in Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipėda, can arrange accommodation in private homes. Campsites are only open in the summer and offer basic facilities.EATING OUTA variety of eating establishments are available, ranging from traditional restaurants and cafés, which offer drinks and light meals.Buses and tramsBuses and trolley buses operate from 05.30 to 00.30. Tickets can be bought at newspaper kiosks or from the driver, and should be cancelled after boarding. Public transport doesn’t run through the old centre of Vilnius.TaxisState-owned cabs can be hailed on the street, found at ranks, or summoned by dialing (2) 22 88 88. Be sure to agree on a price beforehand, and insist on paying in local currency.FerriesIn summer there are ferry services on River Nemunas from Kaunas to the Courtland Lagoon, Nida, and Klaipėda.SAFETYIt is important to take the usual safety precautions, especially in towns and cities. It is best to leave passports and large sums of money in your hotel safe. Deposit your luggage at the hotel first, if you are likely to be away from your car for long. If this is not possible, keep valuable items out of sight. Always lock your car, even when away from it for a short period. It is a good idea to keep photocopies of passports and other important documents, and to make a separate record of the numbers of your travelers cheques.
Food and Drink in LithuaniaSince the 18th century, when the Germans introduced the potato, the Lithuanian diet has relied on them for its carbohydrates. Potatoes are eaten with yoghurt or with bacon fat; they are also turned into bulviniai blynai (potato pancakes), occasionally served with caviar. The other staple of Lithuanian cuisine is meat. The best restaurants serve šerniena (wild boar), briediena (elk), and other game, but you are more likely to find kotletas (meat balls), karbonadas (pork cutlets), and virtinukai (minced-meat dumplings) on the menu—you’ll see many Lithuanians eating these for breakfast. There are some excellent soups, including šaltibarščiai, a variety of borscht made from beetroot, cucumber, and sour cream and flavored with sorrel, which is eaten cold. Lithuanian beer is passable, but midus (mead) is the most typical alcoholic drink; there are also some sweet fruit liqueurs. Outside the main towns, good eating places are still something of a rarity, but there are some excellent markets and bakeries.
VilniusVilnius, the capital of Lithuania, has magnificent baroque churches, cobbled streets, bright flower stalls, and traditional restaurants. The best example of the flamboyant baroque style, imported by Jesuits at the end of the 16th century, is the Church of St Peter and St Paul. Vilnius also has a neoclassical cathedral and the splendid Aušros Vartų (gates of dawn) with a 17th-century Roman Catholic chapel. Other attractions include the Vilnius University, the castle ruins, the former KGB headquarters (now the KGB Museum), and the Jewish Museum—before World War II more than 40 percent of the population of Vilnius were Jews. A short distance from Vilnius is Trakai, the former capital of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy. Here you can find a restored castle, housing the Trakai Historical Museum, in a picturesque lakeside setting.
KaunasA wealth of historic sights and a vibrant atmosphere make Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, a popular stopoff for tourists. Near the town hall, built in 1542, and the baroque Jesuit monastery, is a square lined with late Gothic and renaissance houses, including the gabled Perkūnas House and the church of Vytautas. Overlooking River Nemunas are the remains of Kaunas Castle, dating from the 14th century. The stunning neo-Byzantine church of St Michael the Archangel was built to serve the Russian military garrison in Tsarist times. A funicular railway takes visitors up to Žaliakalnis (green hill), which offers a wonderful panorama of the city.
KlaipėdaKlaipėda is a popular seaside resort on the west coast of Lithuania. Formerly known as Memel, it was once part of Germany, and it still draws large numbers of German tourists today. Parts of the old town survive intact, notably the elegant theatre—a favorite of Wagner’s—and the 18th-century artisans’ quarter. The chief attraction, however, is Smiltynė with its windswept dunes and sandy beaches, a short boat ride across the Kursių Lagoon. Also there is a maritime museum and aquarium.
ŠiauliaiŠiauliai is the centre of the lowlands region of north-western Lithuania. There’s little to see in the town itself—the real tourist attraction is the Hill of Crosses about 11 kilometers (7 miles) away on the A2116. The origins of the crosses are obscure, but for centuries the hill has been a national as well as a religious shrine. More recently crosses were put up in defiance of the Soviet authorities who periodically tore them down only to find them reappearing again and again.