The curious case of Curonian Spit – moving sand dunes on the Baltic Sea

Detailed guide on how to visit this fascinating place on the Baltic Sea lying in both Lithuania and Russia.

Parnidis Dune on the Curonian Spit from a distance
Parnidis Dune from a distance

If you have been planning to visit countries along the Baltic Sea (or specifically Lithuania), chances are you have heard of Curonian Spit (or Nida) but not found enough information to nail down a plan.

While it is mostly because the Baltic Sea is still emerging on the travel scene and using weekend party culture as a starting point (and mainly in capital cities), it is partially also because of the effort involved in getting to this place.

Having gone through the process of figuring it out myself, I realised how much more information can still be added on this.

Below is a step by step breakdown of how to get to this fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site along the Baltic Sea coast – lying in both Lithuania and Russia (Kaliningrad)!

And, in my opinion, it is an absolute must even if you are only spending 3 days in Lithuania. So, let’s get you there!

Start by asking ‘Nida’ and not ‘Curonian Spit’

If you are in the phase of gathering information from people (including locals), ask about Nida and NOT Curonian Spit! For starters, the Spit is technically referred to as the entire patch of land surrounded by the Baltic Sea on one side and (Curonian) lagoon on the other. This term is mostly used by tourists but doesn’t work with locals.

There are multiple small towns and villages lying on this stretch of land (Spit) – including National Park and the famous moving sand dunes of Parnidis. The famous dune is about 53 metres high and is notorious for having gobbled up certain villages in the past.

However, when you chat with people, you’d notice most only know about Nida or Juodkrante at best. I recommend always enquiring for Nida or Nida village as that is where you hike up the famous moving sand dunes (lying at the southern tip of the part lying in Lithuania). 

Google Map showing the location of the Curonian Spit, National Park and Parnidis Dune
The Curonian Spit as almost a straight patch of land on Maps with Parnidis Dune at the southern tip of area lying Lithuania

Get to Klaipeda!

This is essentially a prerequisite for getting to this pristine place if you are visiting from the Lithuania side. Klaipeda is the closest city and there is a ferry from this side that helps you cross over to the side of the Spit.

If you are coming from Vilnius, you can take a train that takes about 4.5 hours and costs around EUR 17.

Find the Ferry Station

After getting to Klaipeda, check Maps for Old Ferry Station if you are planning to travel to Spit with a bike or just yourself. If you are close enough to the terminal, you can walk. Otherwise, Bolt (taxi app similar to Uber) is a great option for cars or rental e-bikes. The ferry station is about 7-10 minutes from the bus / railway station (they are next to each other).

If you plan to explore the Spit on a car, look for the New Ferry Terminal. Your car will go along on the ferry.

Buy a ticket at the Ferry Terminal (self-ticketing)

There is a self-ticketing kiosk at the terminal where you can buy a ticket (which will take you to Smiltyne on the other side) – instructions are also available in English so make sure to choose your language.

Keep in mind that the ticketing machine will dispense two receipts – one confirming your payment and the other with a QR. Make sure to collect both as many people only collected the first one (without the QR) and were, of course, unable to go through the entrance gate to the ferry. Consequently, many had to rush back to the kiosk to collect their QR receipt and in some cases, buy again! I was amongst the ones that rushed back but thankfully found one with the QR lying in the dispensed slips.

Also, there is no need to buy a return ticket as the ride on the ferry from the Smiltyne side is free! The cost of the ticket was EUR 1.5 and the ferry ride was 5-10 minutes. 

The ferry will drop you to a place called Smiltyne and it is the Northern tip of the Curonian Spit.

Welcome! 🙂

Walk to the bus

When you get off the ferry, there will be a bus waiting (reading Smiltyne – Nida via …..) for you at a short distance of about 50 metres from the ferry drop-off. If it is a sunny day, you might notice a few ice-cream stands close to the bus and want to put some gelato in your body before boarding.

Keep in mind though that the ferry leaves every half an hour and the bus every one hour (for a large part of the day). So you might have some time on your hands when you get off the ferry. Make sure to enquire for the next bus departure from the driver and use your time accordingly.

Enjoy the ride – get down at any town or ride along till Nida

The Curonian Spit is a National Park and hence you’d notice greens on both sides or water (the Curonian Lagoon) on your left depending upon the width of the area the bus is passing by. The bus stops at multiple small towns including Juodkrante and most of them have a nice restaurant or two for you to sit down at and savour the incredibly beautiful views.

I continued directly to Nida to see the dunes and hence cannot add much on how its like in the other towns. Smiltyne to Nida was about an hour in the bus full of stunning views.

Views along the Curonian Spit while on bus - Curonian Lagoon on one side and Baltic Sea on the other
Serene views along the ride

Once you reach Nida

You can choose to get down at Nida Bus Station or a stop before. Put Parnidis Dune (the tallest of the dunes at 53 metres) on Maps and start to walk (it will be to your right or behind you when you get off). I highly recommend you make the walk along the water while going towards the dunes. You can always walk back through the village (colourful houses) and take pictures if you want.

Harbour at the Nida village
The harbour at a short distance to the bus stop

When you get closer to the base of Parnidis Dune, you will notice a huge chair shaped monument in the middle of sand to your left (at a distance of around 50 metres) and wooden steps leading up in front of you.

Chair monument just before the hike to the top of Parnidis Dune
See this to your left and keep walking straight to hike up

Take the steps and it will set you off to the summit. Honestly, it is not the most difficult or the longest hike you’d have done. The hike was only about 15 mins and the steps make things a lot easier (imagine doing that on sand). But the views and the sheer opportunity to experience the phenomenon of seeing dunes that are known to move and gobble up villages over years is breathtaking. When on top, you will also notice a map highlighting the line that separates Lithuania from Russia (Kaliningrad) and the Baltic Sea, of course!

You can choose to take pictures, spend some time, soak in the views or roam around in other directions.

View from the top of Parnidis Dune
View from the top of Parnidis Dune

On the way back

Keep walking straight when you get off the wooden stairs and you’ll enter the small but beautiful village of Nida. You’ll immediately notice the distinct houses with blue coated outline of the truss. 

Continue walking straight and you’ll end up back at the Nida Bus Station next to which there are plenty of restaurants serving delicious Lithuanian cuisine. Although, I must admit that I found the prices to be much higher than in Klaipeda. But, of course, you are paying for the place.

Beautiful houses in Nida village
The beautiful houses of Nida village

Last Bus

The last bus from Nida for Smiltyne leaves at around 2000. Accordingly, the last ferry from Smiltyne leaves around 2100. So, make sure you do not get too lost in the scrumptious Lithuanian cuisines. If you do (and I don’t blame you), you can always book a place to stay in Nida 🙂

Way back

Once you get down at Smiltyne, you basically have to repeat the same steps in the other direction – get on the ferry (NO Ticket required this time), get off at the ferry terminal after a 5-10 minute ride. Get on a Bolt or use your legs to get to your hotel / hostel. Maybe, grab a beer after a rather satisfying but long day of travel.

When you look back on your day and how less frequented this place is compared to how much it should be, you’d definitely have a smile on your face : )

Hope this guide was helpful. If there is anything else you’d like me to add to make it better, please feel free to drop in your comments.

I’d love to hear your experience!

Interested in road trips? Here is one for the States.

Cheers.

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