Climbing the Dunes of Lithuania’s Curonian Spit

Parnidis Dune Curonian Spit

Given that my last stop in Latvia was on the country’s southern stretch of coast, it made sense to stick to the Baltic coast for my first stop in Lithuania. This worked out well, as I had remembered reading an inflight magazine that talked about an interesting destination on Lithuania’s coast, the Curonian Spit.

The Curonian Spit is effectively a long, thin spit of sand that runs for almost 100km halfway across Lithuania’s coast and down into the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Simply looking at it on a map you realise – this place is unusual. As always, I like unusual places so I decided to stay in the nearby city of Klaipeda so I could venture to this uncanny landmass.

After spending the first day arriving in Klaipeda and taking a look around, I made it my plan to visit the Curonian Spit the following day. Only thing was, I knew very little about what there was to see and do there. By the time I got to the Tourist Information Centre in Klaipeda it was closed, so it was off to the Internet to try to figure out what I was going to spend my day doing.

I already knew that I had to take a short ferry ride over from the Klaipeda port to the northern tip of the spit, but that was effectively it. Little did I know, that it was in fact a UNESCO heritage-listed place, with its great natural and cultural importance landing it on the much coveted list. Beyond that, I learned that it was an intensely popular local beach destination, home to beautiful forests and last but not least, some epic sand dunes. It soon became clear,  that I wasn’t going to be able to see it all with my one day, but I tried!

 

Forest and Beach

After making the short ferry crossing over from Klaipeda, I followed the surprisingly large crowd of beachgoers from the Smiltynė dock and into the forest. Immediately I was swept up by the beautiful pine trees and the almost fairytale atmosphere they had. As everyone else marched on towards the beach, I stopped frequently to take photos or duck off onto the minor trails.

Pine Forest Curonian Spit

Trails Curonian Spit

Once I’d followed the path through the forest, I came up the top of the small dunes above the vast beach that stretches far along the western coast of the spit. With beautiful, soft white sand and plenty of space, I could see why so many people had come over for the day from Klaipeda to enjoy the beach. Definitely made me wish I had brought my swimming gear and didn’t have a plan of seeing more of the spit. Alas, there went my last opportunity for a day at the beach during my Baltic visit.

People at Beach Curonian Spit

Beach View Curonian Spit

 

Nida

The Lithuanian end of the spit is mostly uninhabited, with its largest town Nida being just shy of the Russian border. Once I’d seen enough of the beach, I made my way back to Smiltynė for the bus to Nida. The trip from the ferry dock at Smiltynė down to Nida understandably takes quite a while, given the distance. With the single lane road passing through the spit’s forest and a few stops, the trip takes a little over an hour.

The trip is worth it though, for Nida is a thoroughly quaint seaside resort. The town boasts plenty of colourful, traditional houses that are often rented out to holidaymakers. It seems like a popular spot with Russians, people from the Baltic States, not to mention a few Brits as well.

Nida Boat and House, Curonian Spit

Nida Garden Curonian State

Colourful House Curonian Spit

It won’t take too long to explore the small town, admiring the brightly painted houses as you go. When I visited there was some sort of fair going on, with a mock, inflatable theatre and even people dressed in armour and duelling. One of the more common reasons people seem to come to Nida is for their lunch break, as there are many restaurants to choose from, particularly serving local seafood.

Nida Fair Curonian Spit

Nida House Curonian Spit

What was also cool, was that while the gap between the spit and Klaipeda at the north was small, the mainland was nowhere to be seen down by Nida.

Curonian Spit Coast

 

Parnidis Dune

The big highlight of a visit to the Curonian Spit is the great drifting Parnidis Dune. Just south of Nida, this 67 metres high dune is part of the Great Dune Ridge and a remarkable sight. The name “Parnidis” is believed to possibly mean “having crossed Nida”, as the dunes are known to drift unbelievable distances. This drifting dune is believed to have swallowed forests and even settlements as it has spread over the spit.

From Nida, you must first walk through more gorgeous forest to reach the Parnidis Dune. Here the trees are even higher than up north and the forest even more engaging and beautiful.

Forest Trail, Curonian Spit

Dune Approach Curonian Spit

The Great Dune Ridge came about due to mass deforestation during the 16th century. As the deforestation was such a big factor, there was a concerted effort to stall the dune growth by the planting of much of the pine forest seen about the area. This has caused the dunes to decrease by 10 metres over 30 years and so, due to human and natural impact, the white dunes are slowly disappearing. While it will be a while before the dunes either disappear or are transformed, there are also other dunes on the spit like those further north at Nagliai.

Dunes Curonian Spit

Parnidis Dune Curonian Spit

View to Russia from Curonian Spit

At the summit of the dune is a panoramic viewpoint, as well as a modern Sundial sculpture. The sundial was created in 1995 and indicates the local time through shadows projected on a series of steps that surround it. It’s position atop the dune is an ideal spot for this type of sundial, as the sun both rises and sets over water, in the east over the lagoon and the west over the Baltic Sea.

From the panoramic viewpoint you’re able to spy the town of Nida to the north past the forest, but also can see over the border into Russia, not far away to the south. The sand in the distance in the bottom picture is over in Russia. The closest yet I’ve gotten to Russia, and made quite a last stop before making my way north to catch the ferry to Klaipeda.

Sundial Curonian Spit

View to Russia, Curonian Spit

 

Information

  • Nida and Klaipeda seem your best bets for accommodation suitable for visiting the Curonian Spit;
  • Buses running south from Smiltynė to Nida seemed to be lined up with the ferry times, with no information I could find online. Cost is 3.4€ one-way;
  • There are some small villages in between Smiltynė and Nida, with more dunes and other attractions but I simply ran out of time to explore them;
  • There are plenty of hiking trails and cycling routes, making the spit a perfect place for recreational exercise.

 


Have you been or even heard of the Curonian Spit before? What do you think was, or looks to be, the best part about visiting this curious place? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Climbing the Dunes of Lithuania's Curonian Spit, via @travelsewhere

 


This post is part of Weekend Travel Inspiration at Albom Adventures and Weekend Wanderlust linkup put together by A Brit and A Southerner. Please head on over for more great posts.

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30 Comment

  1. Love the look of the beach and the colorful houses! But I’m now under the impression, you should always carry a pair of swim shorts in your travel bag just in case such a beautiful beach should appear! I seem to remember you had a similar problem somewhere else in the Baltics! You should always travel prepared! 🙂 Pinned as usual! #Wkendtravelinspiration

    1. David says:

      Haha you may be right about having an emergency pair of swim shorts with me at all times!

  2. Very nice place. The views and architecture remind me landscapes of the Vistula Sandbar (Mierzeja Wiślana) in Poland.

  3. How fascinating you find these cool places to visit on your adventures. Did not know the Curonian Spit is a UNESCO site. To bad you didn’t bring your swim trunks to spend a day at the beach. Glad you didn’t since you showed me the quaint town of Nida. The sand dunes are amazing. Great photos and thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Garth says:

    That sand dune is huge! Must be impressive close up and those forest trees looks like something from a Harry Potter film .. thanks for showing us another unusual destination .. great pics of the homes and cottage style gardens too

    1. David says:

      The Dune really is quite a sight and you’re right about the forest, there was something really special about it. I think the word I was looking for the entire time I was writing about Nida was “cottage” haha.

  5. tracystravels10 says:

    I have never heard of ot David before reading your post! I love how every week through your blog I am discovering new places I never knew about ! I would love a stroll along the beach and through the forest! That sand dune is epic!I also love seeing pictures of UNESCO sites so thank-you for that too!

    1. David says:

      Happy to keep sharing new places with you Tracy! I had totally forgotten it was a UNESCO site until writing this post again.

  6. Love this post and the photos are amazing!

  7. Wherejogoes says:

    This post has it all! Beaches, beautiful buildings and forest. It looks like a wonderful place. Thanks for sharing with #WeekendTravelInspiration

  8. Michelle says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post . I also would like to visit places that aren’t really popular tourist destinations . I much prefer the ambience of a small town versus a big city . Your photos are really nice and I definitely felt like I was on a tour .

  9. Unusual, for sure! But also very cool. The dunes look pretty fun, but Nida seems so charming! I think we’d definitely like to spend some time enjoying the Spit from there. As always, thanks for sharing the unique places you find. We love ’em!

  10. There is some very interesting geography in this area. The length of the spit is huge. I like the abundance of pine forests and beaches. The water between the spit and mainland only has one inlet by Klaipeda. The towns along the spit are interesting as well.

  11. I have never heard of this before but it does looks amazing. The white beach is gorgeous, too bad you didn’t had the swimming gear with you. Nida looks amazing with the colorful little houses, would love to visit one day. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I love that all of the places you explore seem so quiet and peaceful. The dunes and forests look amazing to hike around. Love this one 🙂

  13. Nida is gorgeous! I’m not much of beach person, but those wide, sandy beaches do look inviting. Thanks for linking in this week at #wkendtravelinspiration!

  14. Really cool stuff – walking through the forest, enjoying the beach and climbing the dune all in one day! Loved the town of Nida and its quaint houses. Really tempted to follow in your footsteps and head to the Baltic soon!

  15. I haven’t heard of Curonian Spit before now, but he best part for me would be walking through a gorgeous forest to get to that amazing beach! I would have absolutely loved that! It’s a shame you never took your swimming gear though 🙁 You are right about Nida, it really is a quaint seaside resort, so pretty! Pinned this for the future so thanks for providing all this information and introducing me to this area. #feetdotravel

  16. I’ve been to Lithuania a few times, yet never made it out of the cities. I had no idea about the sand dunes, but it does make sence as I remember Latvia to have a similar coastline. Heck, even Estonia shares some of it. Next time just go in naked ha! That’s what I would do!

  17. Nida’s gorgeous, such pretty architecture. Love a forest walk and if it has a beach at the end of it, I’m in. Great post, David.

  18. Grace says:

    Hi! May I ask how long did it take for you to walk to Parnidis Dune from Nida? I am planning a day trip there as well! Thanks in advance

    1. David says:

      Hi Grace, thanks for commenting. On the way there I took the path closest to the water and it was between 20-30 minutes without rush. On the way back, I took a forest trail that went in land a bit so it took a little longer. There is a tourist information centre in Nida if you’d like more local advice too 🙂

      1. Grace says:

        Thanks for getting back to me so quick, David! I will be travelling by myself – based on your experience walking through the forest etc, would you recommend taking the path closest to the water? Also, was the wait long for the bus going back to the ferry from Nida? I will be staying in Klaipeda and hope that I can stroll though the Spit in a day (arrive early morning and back before 4-5pm). Sorry for so many questions, I really appreciate it as I haven’t found that much info about it and your post came at the perfect timing!

        1. David says:

          Happy to help! Firstly, I would say look to take the ferry from the “Old Ferry Terminal – North Horn” as it is closer to the city centre. First ferry it says is at 7am – Timetable: https://www.keltas.lt/en/time-tables/the-old-ferry-terminalnorth-horn/

          In both directions, I think the buses are roughly every hour, would suggest checking as soon as you arrive in Nida.

          Between Nida and the Dune, the most straightforward way is along the water as you will soon see the dune and know where you are going from there.

          You should have enough time to explore the northern end a bit, take a bus down to Nida, see the town, go to the dune, come back to Nida, bus back up and ferry back to Klaipeda if you head over by 9am and come back by 5pm or so.

          Let me know if there’s anything more you need to know

          1. Grace says:

            I can’t thank you enough for such useful info! I will be travelling from Canada in May and can’t wait to see what Europe has to offer. Thank you again!

  19. paulandcarolelovetotravel says:

    What a great combination, forest and beach, looks a great place to visit. #feetdotravel

  20. Lisa (Simple Sojourner) says:

    Love those house and buildings. I’m not much of a beach person, but I could go for this combo. Would definitely love a hike through that forest. Looks like a nice place to kick back and leisurely explore.

  21. siddharthandshruti says:

    Love your photography. Beach, Forest, beautiful houses – we’re game! It’s all that we want. #feetdotravel

  22. Barry says:

    Great stuff David! I’m a big fan of exploring these interesting places also. I haven’t been to the Curonian Spit before but it looks worthy of a visit. The houses look very colorful. Nice forests as well – although I bet you would walk through them in the dark!

  23. Next time we are in Lithuania we are heading for the the coast. It was nice to visit in the low-season, but these photos are calling me back for some warmer weather exploration of Lithuania.

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