Located between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea lies the most spectacular strip of moving sand dunes and a quaint fishing village called Nida. Amongst the architectural heritage, nature reserves and cuisine, there is something very special here that the lowlanders of Lithuania are proud of.
When you think of Lithuania, you might not instantly think of golden sand dunes and blue waters, and that’s ok. To tell the truth, the coast is a fair way away from the capital city, therefore it gets missed by visitor quite often. But if you make the effort, you might just find something unique and utterly beautiful in this part of the country.
As well as being a national treasure, the Curonian Spit is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an accolade which is unusually held by both Lithuania and Russia. Back in 13th century, the whole area was occupied by the Teutonic Knights and only in the 20th century was it annexed by Lithuania.
Therefore Nida is very much loved not only by the locals but also Germans in particular. The Nobel Prize award winning writer Thomas Mann used to vacation here. His summer residence now houses a memorial exhibition dedicated to the German artist.
Apart from the complex history of this western region, Nida is a unique place to visit due to its absolutely stunning, in places desert like, sand dunes. At 60 meters high in places, the sand bank is the highest collection of drifting dunes in Europe which is constantly threatened by the natural as well as manmade factors.
Visitors are always advised to be respectful and adhere to the ‘no climbing’ signs around some parts of the dunes. Any careless movement can greatly affect the natural state of the current sand ridge.
What’s on the Curonian Spit
The Curonian Spit is a 98 km long curved sandy strip of land that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea, 52 km of which belong to Lithuania and the rest to Kaliningrad in Russia. There are 5 settlements on the spit with Nida being the last in the territory of Lithuania.
The most visited out of the 5 are Smiltynė, Juodkrantė and Nida.
Smiltynė sits on the northern tip of the Curonian Spit, next to a narrow strait which connects the Curonian Lagoon to the Baltic Sea. The settlement is closest to the mainland and serves as a local beach to the residents of Klaipėda.
The broad beach is sandy and clean. The shallow waters make it good for swimming, but only if you can brave the chilly, nonetheless refreshing waters of the Baltic Sea.
Juodkrantė, the second largest settlement after Nida is well known for its atmospheric Hill of Witches, a fun outdoors sculpture park in the woods.
The village is worth checking out for its stunning 19th century French Riviera inspired villas. One of the surviving villas “Monbijou” now houses the local council.
If you are into nature and bird watching, stop off at the Garniu Hill as soon as you leave Juodkrantė heading towards Nida. You will easily spot a large colony of Cormorants nesting in the trees.
Due to their poo being deadly to the trees, the once green pine forest has transformed into spooky dead wood. It’s the biggest Cormorant colony in Europe, but no one really knows why they have chosen this particular area.
Why visit Nida
In my humble opinion, Nida is the most beautiful and characteristic town from all the settlements on the Spit. Easily recognised from its traditional wooden houses, the facades decorated with colourful ethnographic motives, the golden dunes, wonderful beach, lagoon and flying curonian pennants, it’s a little piece of heaven on earth.
How to get there
Klaipeda, the 3rd largest city and ice-free port in Lithuanian is the closest place to Nida. From here you can take a ferry across the lagoon.
Getting to Klaipeda
By bus. Klaipeda is around 300 km away from the capital city of Vilnius and can be reached directly by regular buses from the main bus station in the city. It takes approx 4 hours and costs around € 13.
You can also get a bus from Riga. The distance between Riga and Klaipeda is practically the same as Vilnius to Klaipeda.
From € 20 upwards you can take a direct bus from Vilnius to Nida. Look for the route Vilnius – Klaipeda – Nida. It’s a lengthy journey though at around 6 hours so pack some snacks and water.
Baltic Air (Riga, Latvia), Norwegian Airlines (Oslo, Norway), SAS (Copenhagen, Denmark), UIA (Kiev, Ukraine), LOT (Warsaw, Poland) operate direct flights to the nearby Palanga International Airport.
For € 1.10 take the bus Nr.100 outside the airport. It will take you to the main Klaipeda bus station.
It takes around 30 minutes to reach Klaipeda by car, taxis are available outside the airport.
Express mini bus from the airports
There is an express mini bus service from Ollex.lt that carries passengers to Klaipeda from the airports in Lithuania and Latvia. It’s an easy option if you are planning to go straight to Klaipeda from the airport. I’d recommend to book your trip in advance, through their website.
Return trip Vilnius Airport – Klaipeda costs € 15 and takes around 4 hours. Drop off point – supermarket ‘Akropolis.’
Return trip Kaunas Airport – Klaipeda costs € 17 and takes around 3.45 hours. Drop off point – supermarket ‘Akropolis.’
Return trip Riga Airport – Klaipeda costs € 15.90 and takes around 4 hours. Drop off point – the main bus station.
Getting to Nida
Once you are in Klaipeda, you’ll need to take a ferry to cross the lagoon. There are two ferry terminals in Klaipeda:
1. The Old Ferry Terminal – pedestrian passengers (including cyclists) only
You will need to head to the Old Ferry Terminal (Northern Horn, Danės st. 1, Klaipeda) which is around 10 minute walk from the Old Town.
Ferry leaves every 15 minutes with the first ferry leaving Klaipeda at 7am and cost € 0.80 per passenger. The ferry will take you across to Smiltyne. I wouldn’t advise you to walk to Nida from here tough, it’s 50 plus kilometers.
From Smiltyne You can easily catch a bus. The buses go at every hour, with the first bus leaving at 7.10 am on weekdays and from 9.10 am on weekends.
These are the bus stops: Smiltynė – Juodkrantė – Pervalka – Preila – Nida.
There is a scenic cycling route through the national park all the way to Nida if you fancy a little bit of exercise. The road is fairly flat and has a number of rest stations. A pretty great way to explore the park.
2. The New Ferry Terminal
If you are driving, which is probably the quickest and easiest way to reach Nida, you will need to head to the New Ferry Terminal, located further away from the old terminal (Nemuno st. 8, Klaipeda). The new terminal carries all, cars, trucks, cyclists, motorbikes as well as pedestrians.
The cost per car is € 11.05 plus the following seasonal ecological fee to enter the national park:
- € 5 per car in off peak season – 21st August – 19th June
- € 20 per car in peak season – 20th June – 20th August
Once you paid your fees, you’re free to have a pleasant drive and explore the spit. That’s my favourite part, the picturesque road is well maintained, framed by the pine trees with the Curonian Lagoon sparkling on your left hand side and the Baltic sea on the right.
Feel free to stop and explore the national park from one of the car parks along the way. The road to Nida is straightforward, but do stop at other settlements too for a quick look.
Sail to Nida
If you like a spot of luxury, for € 10.00 depending on the weather conditions, you can sail all the way to Nida. This could be a good option if you aren’t keen on buses and want to relax and enjoy lovely views.
The boarding station in Klaipeda is at the Old Ferry Terminal (Danės g. 1, Klaipėda) and the station in Nida is at the main docking station (Naglių g. 16, Nida). The service also offers an audio guide in Lithuanian, Russian, English and German.
It’s cheaper to order tickets online at keltas.lt, but you can also buy them onboard for an extra € 1 each.
What to see and do in Nida and around
The Hill of Witches
This is a fun outdoors sculpture park located in Juodkrante. A gigantic sign by the main road will lead into a wondrous world of witches and devils hiding in the woods. The walk through the forest is very pleasant with great photo opportunities.
There are around 80 wooden sculptures in the park some of them dating back to 1979. The carvings are based on the pagan traditions and the Midsummer Night’s Eve festivities on the hill, still widely celebrated in Lithuania.
Once you are in Nida, you are not far away from the most impressive 7km long golden sand dune stretching across into Russia. A slight challenge lies at the foot of the dune though. You will have to climb up 180 steep steps to reach the top.
At the top, please make sure you follow the wooden path and don’t stray away from it into the sand. The dunes are already affected by the natural elements and preservation of this landmark is absolutely crucial.
If you are an early riser head over to the dune for a spectacular sunrise.
As you ascend the dune, you will soon reach the Sundial – a calendar and a stunning monument built in 1995. The steps signify one hour and the light stone steps represent months. Come closer to see the crack in the middle of the 12 m high stele which was broken down by the Anatoliy hurricane in 1999.
Visit the spectacular Dead Dunes
To visit the most amazing natural element of the Curonian Spit, take the Nagliai Nature Reserve trail. The trail will take you on a peaceful journey through the dead dunes.
The dunes are a memorial to the villages hushed by the sand for eternity. The locals say that the speed of dunes back in 1600’s to 1800’s ranged from 0.5 to 15 meters per year and people simply could not fight them back.
The natural landscape of the dunes is one the biggest attractions on the spit. The wind is constantly moving the sand creating golden ridge across the dunes. Therefore, when enjoying the walk, make sure to stick to the marked trail. The reserve was created to protect the dunes and any careless activity can cause disruption of the natural landscape here.
Catch the sunrise and the sunset
To catch both, a spectacular sunrise and a soulful sunset, head to the viewing platform atop Parnidis dune. Due to panoramic vista, this is the only place in Lithuania where you can see the sun rising from the water and setting back into the water.
Take a seat with Maestro
The memorial statue of the Lithuanian Maestro Vytautas Kernagis sits on the bench by the waterfront. Vytautas Kernagis was a Lithuanian singer, songwriter and a TV personality and very much loved by the nation. It’s a very pretty statue and is sometimes moved from one bench to another.
Ethnographic Fishermen’s Museum
The original house was sadly flooded and damaged, but the restored building you see now is a great representation of the 19th century traditional fisherman’s home. The museum exhibits relics and artefacts about the life and trade of fisherman in the area.
Lithuanian amber is compared to gold in the country. You will see a lot of amber jewelry for sale in Nida and around Lithuania. The gallery is based in a traditional fisherman’s house, showcasing a number of wonderful and unique Baltic amber pieces.
Thomas Mann Memorial Museum
Another beautiful wooden house awaits your visit. Thomas Mann (1875–1955) came to Nida back in 1930 and liked the place so much that he decided to built a summer house here for him and his family. The museum now houses old photos, memoirs, books and documents mirroring the poet’s work.
Hit the Baltic beach
The Baltic Sea is within an easy reach through the beautiful forest. You can either drive there on the main road, cycle or walk through the woods. Lithuanians love and respect their nearly 100 km stretch of golden sandy coast, the beaches are wide and kept clean at all times by the locals.
You might even be lucky to collect some sparkly amber pieces on a rougher day as the waves chuck them out onto the beach. Stick around to watch sunset here, they are usually pretty terrific.
If you are an experienced sailor, you can rent a yacht at the Yacht Club in Nida who can also organise a tour around the Curonian Lagoon.
Apart from water sports, there are lots of other outdoor activities available, such as nordic walks in the national park, orienteering, cycling, hiking tours at sunrise or canoeing.
For more information check out the nerija.lt or pop into the Nida Culture & Tourism Information Centre opposite the bus station in the centre of the town.
Have a picnic
If you are heading to the beach or the gorgeous pine tree forest, why not take a little picnic with you or feast while farewelling the sun into the sea? Get some local smoked fish and a couple of beers in the town for an easy option. Just don’t forget to clean up after yourself and collect all the leftovers, especially glass and plastic.
Events in the village and around
Lovely events take place in Nida throughout the summer. From cultural events to regattas and aviation festivals. Why not time your visit with the International Curonian Lagoon Regatta taking place in July – August.
Get involved with locals by attending Žolinė, the festival of handicrafts taking place in August. It’s a fun two day festival showcasing the arts and handicrafts of old Lithuania. Try your luck at the archery or at boat gouging. At the market stalls you can buy pretty clay crockery or a pair of wooly socks to keep you warm in winter.
Don’t expect shopping malls in Nida, but rather tiny shops selling souvenirs or traditional good quality linen clothing. Amber is the symbol of the Baltic Coast, why not pick up a nice piece of amber jewellery for a souvenir?
The newest addition to the town is the boutique clothes shop Lighthauzas. It’s a sister shop of the Lighthauzas in Klaipėda specialising in top quality clothing from Lithuanian designers.
Where to stay
There are plenty of nice places to stay in Nida, but again, it’s a small town and gets booked up pretty much throughout the summer. Booking well in advance is recommended.
Bed and Breakfast Prie Mariu (Purvynes 9-1, Nida) is a great place to stay if you want to be away from the town centre and right by the Curonian Lagoon. It’s around 10-15 minute pleasant walk from all the hustle and bustle.
The simple wooden interior is very pleasant and the rooms are clean. During our visit the continental breakfast was included in the room rate. The owner of the hotel is lovely and can communicate in English, Russian and German.
When to visit
Even though it’s a peak time, summer is the best time to visit Nida. A slightly elevated cost of food, accommodation and entrance fees naturally sieves the number and type of visitors in the area.
While you can visit the place at any time of year, some of the restaurants close after summer season and winters here can be pretty harsh. However, if you still fancy a trip over to Nida in winter, the spit can be equality beautiful covered in snow. Just be careful on the road and wrap up warm.
If you are looking for a peaceful yet active rest, Nida is a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of a city life. This remarkable strip separating the Baltic Sea and Curonian Spit is highly suitable for those who can appreciate the unique and breathtaking landscape and tranquillity.