Lithuania was the first of the three Baltic States for us to visit. What did we know about the country before the trip? Vilnius is the capital! And that was about it. Although we could only visit Vilnius and the small village of Trakai nearby, we liked the place and the people immediately. A country we'd love to go again when we have the chance.
Most Europeans and North Americans do not need a visa - a valid passport (and for some nationalities even an ID card) is enough.
The Lithuanian currency is called Litas (plural: 2-5 Litai, >5: Litų), abbrevated Lt. One Litas is divided into 100 Centų (singular: Centas, 2-5: Centai).
Together with →Estonia and →Slovenia, Lithuania joined the so-called Exchange Rate Mechanism II. This means that the rate against the Euro shouldn't vary more than 15% from the fixed common exchange rate, which is at € 1 Euro = 3.45 Lt. The real exchange rate is indeed almost exactly the same. While Slovenia has already introduced the Euro in 2007, it seems to take a little bit longer then expected in Lithuania.
Coins come in 1 Centai (rare!), 2 and 5 Centai, 10, 20 und 50 Centų and in 1, 2 and 5 Litai. Bill denominations include 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 Litų.
As with money transfer and withdrawal, Lithuania doesn't make a difference to western and central European countries - there are plenty of ATM's, all of them accepting regular credit and bank cards, including the common Cirrus- and Maestro cards. The minimum fee for a transaction with a foreign card is mostly around 4 Euro. Cash can be exchanged at most bigger branches.
|20 Lithuanian Litu bill|
Lithuania belongs to the rather cheap destinations in Europe, but naturally it's substantially more expensive for travelers then the →Ukraine. As in most other places (though there are exceptions), it can be said that the more travelers are willing to pay the more they get. It's possible to find a place to stay in the capital for as little as 25 Lt (7 Euro) and to have a decent lunch for around 10 Lt. Spending a bit more means to get rather good quality.
Transportation fee isn't much expensive in small Lithuania, too. To give an example, a bus ride from →Vilnius in the very East to Klaipėda in the west will set you back some € 10 only. Active travelers who also enjoy a good diner here and then and don't want to sleep under a bridge should calculate with € 30 Euro per day and person - but it's no problem at all to spend much more.
It's possible to enter the country on a bus, train, plane or boat. There are numerous regular flights between Lithuania and most European major cities, but not many (if not zero) transcontinental flights. In 2004 however, cheap airlines such as www.easyjet.com had services to →Riga and →Tallinn, but not to Lithuania. But it's definitely worth checking again.
There are frequent connections by boat between the port town of Klaipėda and German as well as Swedish cities such as Rostock, Kiel and Stockholm. Timetables and fares can be found via the internet.
Another option when coming from the south or east is the train. Unfortunately, train service to the north, for example to →Riga, were stopped a few years ago. One popular connection is the train between →Warszawa (Warsaw) and →Vilnius. It's a so called hotel trains and consists of three carriages only - at least in winter. From capital to capital it takes 10 hrs ± 1 hr time difference. The train leaves Warsaw on odd-numbered days at 21:42 and arrives in the morning of the next day at 08:50 local time in Vilnius. Attention: This trains does not cross Belarusian territory, so there's no reason to worry about a visa.The fare is € 19.30 plus a € 16 surcharge for the place in the sleeper (there is no other option). The carriages are clean but rather old - in winter, each carriage is heated separately with a coal-burning stove. Halfway, the train stopps in Białystok and Kaunas.
There are more trains but some of them are not daily trains. There are several direct trains a day to →Minsk (around 5 hrs), Kaliningrad (Königsberg) in 6½ hrs, St. Petersburg (20½ hrs), Moscow (17 h) and Charkiv (24 hrs) in the →Ukraine.
Especially when going northwards it's hard to avoid the bus. The biggest bus company is called Eurolines (seems to change to TOKS) and offers countless connections to and from Vilnius. These include buses to →Riga (4 hrs, 40 Lt), →Tallinn (almost 10 hrs), →Minsk (4½ hrs), →Odessa, →Kiev, →Prague, →Warsaw, Kopenhagen, Kaliningrad, Hamburg, Aachen and many more. For more information on destinations, fares etc. check their website at www.eurolinijos.lt. Euroline's coaches are quite modern and as convenient as a bus can be on a long distance.
There are several border crossings to →Latvia in the north, →Poland in the south, the →Belarus in the east and the Russian exclave Kaliningrad in the west. Be aware that virtually everyone needs a visa for the last two destinations in advance!!!
The usual EU customs guidelines apply to Lithuania. Crossing the border is no problem at all and takes a few minutes only. There are no special rules or requirements.
Food and drinks
Bulvės (potatoes)! The staple diet of Lithuanians seems to be potatoes - in many varieties. For example Cepelinai (zeppelins). These are quite tasty potatoe dumplings looking like zeppelins and filled with bacon. Or Bulviniai Blynai - potatoe fritters - which can also be found in most countries near and around Lithuania (more to the east they are known as blynniki). Another typical dish is balandėliai - cabbage roulades filled with minced meat. Solid, tasty food so to say. A rather unusual dish which can probably only be found in Lithuania and Poland is Šaltibarščiai - a purple soup made of beetroots and served chilled. There are some famous local dishes, too, such as Kibinai (see →Trakai for more information).
Of course there are also more fish and meat dishes. At least in the capital, foreign cuisine is quite common, too, with countless restaurants specialising mainly in Pizza and Co. Most of the restaurants offer good quality for reasonable prices.
As with drinks, Alus (=Ale, beer) is very popular, too, and comes in many different types and brands. But as with the rest of the Baltic States, local beer is often quite strong and almost sweet. Švyturio Ekstra is an example for a good local lager. Needless to say that vodka and similar strong drinks are common in Lithuania as well.