Located between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea lies the most spectacular strip of moving sand dunes and the quaint fishing village of Nida in Lithuania. A place that’s very special to the ‘lowlanders’ of the country.
When you think of Lithuania, you might not instantly think of golden sand dunes and blue waters, and that’s ok. The coast is a fair way away from the capital city, therefore it gets missed by visitors quite often.
But if you make the effort, you might just find something unique and utterly beautiful in this part of the country.
Why Visit The Curonian Spit?
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 the 13th century, the whole area was occupied by the Teutonic Knights and only in the 20th century was it annexed by Lithuania.
Therefore Nida in Lithuania 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 desert-like sand dunes.
At 60 meters high in places, the sandbank is the highest collection of drifting dunes in Europe which is constantly threatened by the natural as well as man-made 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.
Plus, Nida is now the starting point of an exciting long-distance hiking trail along the Baltic coast, which finishes 1,200 kilometres (746 miles) away in Tallinn.
Tip: Nida is a small town and gets booked up pretty much throughout the summer, therefore, we recommend booking well in advance. Both hotels (or B&Bs) and Airbnb stays are available in town and nearby. We can recommend Bed and Breakfast Prie Mariu – a lovely place on the shores of the Curonian Lagoon.
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 five settlements on the spit with Nida being the last in the territory of Lithuania. The most visited out of them 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 also worth checking out for its stunning 19th-century French Riviera-inspired villas. One of the surviving villas “Monbijou” now houses the local council.
Fun Things to See and Do in Nida and Around
In my humble opinion, Nida is the most beautiful and characteristic town from all the settlements on the Curonian 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.
Here’s is a list of what to see and do in Nida and around:
Take a Full-Day Tour Around Nida
One of the best ways to experience Nida and get to know it up close and personal is to take a tour with a local. You will enjoy your visit more after hearing the rich history and legends of this iconic part of Lithuania.
The good thing about these organised tours is that you don’t need to worry about ferry tickets or transportation. Sit back, relax and enjoy the fun-filled day.
Stop at the Spooky Dead Woods
If you are into nature and bird watching, stop off at Herons’ Hill (Garnių Kalnas) 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 a spooky dead wood. It’s the biggest Cormorant colony in Europe and no one knows why they have chosen this particular area.
Discover Thomas Mann Memorial Museum
A beautiful wooden house awaits your visit. Thomas Mann (1875–1955) came to Nida back in the 1930s and liked the place so much that he decided to build a summer house here for him and his family.
The museum now houses old photos, memoirs, books and documents mirroring the poet’s work.
Climb the Hill of Witches
This is a fun outdoors sculpture park located in Juodkrante. A gigantic sign by the main road will lead you into a wondrous world of witches and devils hiding in the woods.
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.
Take a Seat with the Maestro
Vytautas Kernagis was a Lithuanian singer, songwriter and TV personality and very much loved by the nation.
Now the memorial statue sits on one of the benches by the waterfront. Take a few minutes out of your schedule to rest with the maestro and take in the peaceful view of the Curonian Lagoon.
Visit the 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.
Snoop Around the Amber Gallery
Lithuanian amber is compared to gold in the country. You will see a lot of amber jewellery 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.
Climb the Gigantic Parnidis Dune
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.
Catch the Sunrise and the Sunset
To catch both spectacular sunrise and a soulful sunset, head to the viewing platform atop Parnidis dune.
Due to panoramic vistas, this is the only place in Lithuania where you can see the sun rising from the water and setting back into the water.
Check Out the Sundial
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 12m high stele which was broken down by the Anatoliy hurricane in 1999.
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.
Explore 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 the 1600s to 1800s 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 of the biggest attractions on the spit. The wind is constantly moving the sand creating a 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.
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, therefore the wide beaches are 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 sunsets here, they are terrific.
Get Active in Nida
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.
Buy Local Smoked Fish for Your Picnic
If you are heading to the beach or the gorgeous pine tree forest, take a little picnic with you to feast on while farewelling the sun into the sea. Be sure to pack some local smoked fish and a couple of beers for a tasty meal.
As you pass Juodkrantė on the way to Nida, you’ll see a row of houses by the main road with a sign ” zūkyta žuvis.” That’s locally caught and smoked fish. Grab some for your lunch or dinner – it’s very tasty.
Don’t forget to clean up after yourself and collect all the leftovers, especially glass and plastic.
Do Some Shopping in Nida
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-encrusted jewellery for a souvenir?
The newest addition to the town is the clothes shop Lighthauzas. It’s a sister shop of the original boutique in Klaipėda specialising in top quality clothing from Lithuanian designers.
Main Events in the Village and Around
From cultural events to regattas and aviation festivals, lots of lovely events take place in Nida throughout the summer.
For a spectacular summer’s treat, 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.
Visit market stalls lined with pretty clay crockery or try your luck at the archery or at boat gouging. And don’t forget to buy a pair of woolly socks to keep you warm in winter.
Where to Stay in Nida?
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 is the Best Time to Visit Nida?
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. No one wants trouble-casing guests.
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 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.
How to Get To the Curonian Spit
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. The journey takes approx 4 hours.
You can also get a bus from Riga. The distance between Riga and Klaipeda is practically the same as Vilnius to Klaipeda.
You can also take a direct bus from Vilnius to Nida. Look for the route Vilnius – Klaipeda – Nida. It’s a long journey – around 6 hours – so pack some snacks and water.
By Plane – 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 a small fee, 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.
By Express Minibus (from the Airports) – There is an express minibus 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 booking your trip in advance, through their website.
Return trip Vilnius Airport – Klaipeda takes around 4 hours. Drop off point – supermarket ‘Akropolis.’
Return trip Kaunas Airport – Klaipeda takes around 3.45 hours. Drop off point – supermarket ‘Akropolis.’
Return trip Riga Airport – Klaipeda takes around 4 hours. Drop off point – the main bus station.
Getting to Nida from Klaipeda
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.
The ferry leaves every 15 minutes with the first ferry leaving Klaipeda at 7am. It will take you across to Smiltyne and from here it’s 50 or so kilometres to Nida.
From Smiltyne you can easily catch a bus. Buses leave 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 €12.30 (as of 2019) plus the following seasonal ecological fee to enter the national park:
- €5 per car in the 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.
Alternatively – Sail to Nida in Lithuania
If you like a spot of luxury and 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.
Have a great time!