Klaipeda's history is far more interesting than the present-day town suggests. There has been a town and castle on this site since the 13th century. For 300 years Memel, as the city was previously named, was at the Eastern frontier of first Prussia and then Germany. Germany lost the region under the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War 1 and in the 1920s it was annexed by Lithuania and renamed Klaipeda. Hitler grabbed it back in 1939 and in 1945 much of the town was flattened in fighting between the German and Russian armies.
Today the city is Lithuania's largest port. Although almost entirely redeveloped after the war, when the Soviets destroyed all of the remaining old churches, a small and attractive Old Town remains. Klaipeda's main attraction is the amazing offshore Curonian Spit with it's beaches and nature reserves.
Klaipeda has a lively, friendly atmosphere with numerous excellent bars, and is well worth a visit.
Klaipeda is reasonably accessible by coach from every major town in Lithuania. Depending on the day of the week there are at least 7 or 8 daily coaches to Vilnius. Try and get on an express service if you can which goes more or less direct and takes about 3 hours. Other services will stop off at every town along the way more or less doubling the travel time. Tickets cost around £5 one-way, on some services you may have to pay more (but no more than £1) to store your luggage in the underneath luggage racks, but you will be given a ticket/receipt and someone will (theoretically) be keeping an eye out for it. Due to the number of daily services you should have no problems booking your ticket on the day you want to travel, although you may not get the exact service you want. For some of the more popular express services try to book in advance. I make no guarantees as to the vintage or facilities of coaches. Some are modern, state of the art. Others are slightly more moth-eaten. Some have air-conditioning, some have a sun-roof you may or may not be able to open. Most coaches do not have toilets, and on those that do no one ever seems to use them. Due to language shortages on my behalf I was not able to find out why but I suspect that you may not be allowed to use them. Maybe the driver sleeps in there or something. If you're really desperate or touching cloth you could always try. At the very least the driver will get the message and may pull over by the side of the road for you. Although the main motorway between Vilnius and Klaipeda is fairly smooth, the other roads you will use are not and so even with reasonable suspension you'll end up all shook up. Do not try a coach journey the morning after a heavy session, and if you have to, try and remember that if you sit right at the back of the coach you're going to get bounced around even more. I speak for from double, bitter, personal experience.
You can also get to Klaipeda from Vilnius by train. There are usually three daily services, arriving via Kaunas and taking about 5 to 6 hours. Far more fun is the night train, which takes a more round-about route via Kaunas and then Siauliai, taking about 8 hours. Book in advance to get a bunk in a sleeper compartment; these sleep 4 per compartment so unless you have 3 friends with you you may up sleeping with strangers, although you're likely only to encounter a higher class of person in what is the equivalent of First Class. You will have to pay a little more once you are on the train for clean blankets and pillows. The tickets will cost about £10 to £15. Lithuanian trains are fairly clean, spacious and seem reliable enough. They aren't particularly fast, but if you're on the over-nighter it doesn't really matter. A few hints and tips based on my experience of travel; if you are planning on indulging in a beverage or two, feel free to share with others on the train, and try to strike up conversations with total strangers, especially those that don't speak a word of English. And remember that all the compartments look alike; try and remember which number you're in (a related tip is to lock the compartment door to prevent disturbance from lost drunks).Try not to wake your travelling companions up every five minutes whilst staggering for the toilets as this can lead to violence. Oh yes, don't try and chat-up the guard by offering her a bottle of beer. My advice would definitely be to travel to Klaipeda on the night-train and to make a night of it, just remember that you'll come down to earth with a bump when you arrive in Klaipeda at 8AM still half-pissed and totally knackered....
If travelling from further afield, there are coach services to and from Kalinningrad, Liepaja and Riga (Latvia) and even Minsk. Nearby Palanga airport has services to Hamburg and Sweden. And remember that Klaipeda is a port; there are ferries to Kiel (Germany), Copenhagen and Arhus although on most services you'll have to book well in advance. There's also a hydrofoil along the Nemunas River to and from Kaunas (summer months only).
The Dane River neatly divides the old and new towns. The main road running through the town in Manto Gatve, which changes its name to Tiltu Gatve after it crosses the Dane, and finally becomes Taikos Prospectas. Basically, most of the historic sites are south of the Dane, most of the facilities (hotels, bars, transportation) are to the north. Convenient landmarks to help you work out where you are are the Theatre Square in the old town and the Klaipeda Hotel in the new town. Most shops are on or just off Manto Gatve. The train station and bus station are opposite each other on Priestocio Gatve a 15-minute or so walk to the north of the city centre. To get over to the Curonian Spit you'll need to take the 10 minute ferry ride across the harbour and the mouth of the lagoon; the ferry runs from the old castle port at the mouth of the Dane, 5 minutes from the Theatre Square.
Although the city suburbs sprawl out for some distance, I can't imagine any reason for visiting them. The city centre itself is very compact and flat and so you'll be able to walk almost everywhere. If you're going a little further afield, or perhaps can't be bothered carrying your bags to or from the coach or train stations, or you're fat and lazy, taxis are metered, reasonably cheap and readily available. You'll almost always find at least one by the coach station, and there's a large taxi-rank outside the Klaipeda Hotel.Most of the suburbs are served by bus but there's no reason for you to want to go out there. There is a bus service from the city centre to the train station which might come in useful though (minibus number 8), and you might also want to take a local bus to some of the near-by towns, including Palanga or the villages further down the Curonian Spit. The ferry crossing to Smiltyne on the Curonian Spit costs less than 50p. The return journey is free so you could always swim over and take the ferry back. Actually, judging by the state of the water in the lagoon I imagine you could probably walk across...
Klaipeda has a pretty reasonable range of hotels, ranging from small, exclusive family-run establishments, through modern high-rises, to what you could frankly class as doss-houses. Most tourist guides advise you to book in advance, especially if you plan on staying somewhere in the middle of summer, but I didn't have any problem just turning up at the desk and asking for a room.
I have direct experience of two hotels in Klaipeda. Klaipeda's biggest hotel is the imaginatively named Klaipeda Hotel on Naujoji Sodo, right in the heart of the new town. It's the tallest building in Klaipeda so you really can't miss it. This is the former "Intourist" (official Soviet Union travel agency) hotel, where all the foreign tourists used to stay, and today it is usually frequented by coach-parties of German or Japanese tourists. The main advantage of the hotel is the facilities it offers such as shops (including foreign-language newspapers, tourist maps and guides), currency exchange, bars and apparently a sauna/gymn, although needless to say the latter were wasted on me and so I have no idea whether they exist or not. The rooms are fairly basic but clean and spacious. The en-suite bathroom even has a bath. And a plug. My room was boiling hot as for some reason the central-heating was on at full blast, even in the middle of August. There's probably a way to turn it off or down, but I was too stupid to find it. Rooms start at £30 per night for a single, and this includes breakfast although I was never awake in time to take advantage of it. The view from the top of the hotel must be amazing but for some reason while I was there the roof was off-limits, perhaps to deter would-be suicides or maybe wandering piss-heads?
The other place I can recommend is the Klaipeda Travellers' Guesthouse, which is basically a youth hostel, at Turgaus 3-4, an unbeatable location in the old town. For less than a fiver you get a bed and not much privacy. There are two small bedrooms, each with 2 or 3 sets of bunk-beds and there is no segregation, no lockers or wardrobes; it's a good way to make new friends! Be sure to get up early in the morning as there is only one bathroom/toilet so if the place is full there can be a hell of a queue. The place is very popular so if you want to stay here I'd advise you to book in advance (the staff are very friendly and speak English) - the phone number is (00 370 6) 214935, e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
Let's start by looking at some places to eat so you'll have something to soak-up all that excellent Lithuanian beer you'll be downing later. There are a couple of excellent if contrasting pizza-places in the tow centre. Firstly there's Bambola, opposite the Klaipeda Hotel. This is always busy and attracts a younger crowd, perhaps attracted by some of the possible combinations on offer, ranging from the bog-standard (ham & pineapple) through to the more esoteric (curry & bernaise sauce? banana?). They also have a small selection of Mexican dishes. If Bambola is too busy, try San Marcos which is in the old town, just off Theatre Square. When I was there it was almost empty (but then I tend to have that effect in most places I enter), and with all the windows open it has a relaxing, airy, spacious atmosphere. The selection is fairly conventional but all the pizzas are cooked in a brick-oven and taste great, and there is a wide selection of "Italian" ice cream for the salad-dodger. Both of Klaipeda's pizza places are good value for money; you'll eat and have a couple of beers for less than £10.
Klaipeda's, if not Lithuania's, most distinctive restaurant is Skandalas at Kanto 44. This is a bit of a hike from the town centre but is well worth it. This American-style restaurant is a massively OTT shrine to Americana, with it's statues, photos of film-stars, flags, assorted bric-a-brac, and most obviously the telephone installed in a black caddy (as in car, not golf, obviously) installed in the lobby. The food is great, and although the prices are slightly high by Klaipeda's standards, by Western standards it is cheap. I can recommend without reservation the huge steaks; I had one of these and 4 or 6 beers and it all came to less than £15. Skandalas stays open until the early hours but it can get very busy; if you get there before 7pm the food is cheaper too. Try and get a seat on one of the swings suspended from the ceiling. You can also get imported beers here, including Guinness, but with the quality of Lithuanian beer, why bother?
If none of the above takes your fancy, there are a couple of Chinese restaurants in the old town (on Sukileliu), an expensive Polish-German place with a dress-code and crystal chandeliers (Luja at Manto 20), and plenty of boring-looking cafes serving the usual burgers, etc. For the truly damned there's even a McDonalds but if you're the kind of person who would travel to Lithuania to eat in McDonalds you can bloody well find it yourself, if you can haul your lardy-arse the mile or so out of town to it's (classified) location.
For those wise souls who prefer to eat whilst simultaneously engaged in the noble pursuit of inebriation most of Klaipeda's bars offer reasonable bar-snacks, ranging from pigs' ears (never tried them), through to the more-ish fried black bread with garlic. I liked the selection at Kurpiai (Kurpiu 1 in the old town) where I had this big plate of cold cheese, fish and meat (could have been pigs' ears now I think about it), although obviously I left once the jazz band started up. Nice.
As I mentioned previously, Klaipeda has many excellent bars, and I seem to recall sampling them extensively. Unfortunately, the fact that I did sample them extensively means that I am not really in a position to remember much in the way of specific details. Generally speaking, there are lots of bars throughout the old town and along the banks of the Dane River, with more "upmarket" establishments along and just off Manto Gatve in the new town. One place that I definitely remember being in was Kitas Krantas (11a Manto Gatve) a stylish cocktail bar, not my usual type of haunt but it was nice of them to let me in. The cocktail list was fairly extensive, although there were a few notable omissions (no daiquiris?), and I tried my best to sample as many as possible. I can recommend the White Russians. Most guides describe it as an exclusive establishment but as I said, they let me in. One I didn't try was the Meridianas, which is actually a converted sailing ship moored on the Dane River; makes it easy to go to the bog, I suppose.
All bars offer a reasonable selection of Lithuanian beers, as well as a variety of imported stuff (which seems to me like going to Paris and eating at McDonalds); if you really must have a Budweiser (the American stuff, not the superior Czech brew) or Guinness, Skandalas probably has the widest range, whereas Europa (15 Tiltu) the widest of Lithuanian beers .Some bars also offer live music; as previously mentioned Kurpiai has jazz music, Skandalas occasionally offers Country & Western (I didn't witness it, so don't know if it's sung in Lithuanian or not).
Bars tend to close any time between 11pm and 3am. For those wishing to extend their drinking into the early hours there are several nightclubs that will be happy to oblige. Most are a taxi ride from the city centre, an exception being Allegro (Sukileliu) which is just off Theatre Square but which is fairly crap (think 1970s/Youth Group-type disco), and which was almost empty when I went (empty before I got there!). Indigo (which has a club in Vilnius) have just opened a club in Klaipeda; I can't remember where it is. Any taxi-driver will know. If they won't let you in Discovery and Nese II are along the same road, Taikos prospektas. A bit further out of town is the strangely-named Sodzius on Silutes. Most of the places stay open until at least 4am.
Allow me to recommend an establishment a little further out of town. The Juozo brewery is a 20 minute taxi ride from the town centre, on the way to Palanga. The following detailed map, taken from the back of a beer-mat gives directions, though most taxi drivers should know how to get there.
This amazing place is a brewery with a pub attached in a clearing in the middle of a forest. The beer is excellent, and they also brew a strong, dark beer that will make you weep in appreciation. I had several and can recommend it highly and I seem to recall the more you drink the better it gets, although I cannot be entirely sure about this. The piece de resistance however is the adventure playground outside; swings, slides, climbing-frames, the lot. I think that this is probably aimed at children but it presents an irresistible attraction for the adventurous drunkard. I had hours of fun although I'm afraid that the photo of me hanging upside-down on the climbing frame didn't come out well enough for me to put on this site. This place is a bit off the beaten-track but is definitely worth the taxi fare.
The most interesting part of Klaipeda is the old town; although it's fairly small and there's nothing here that you won't find in other European cities it's more than worth spending an afternoon wandering around. At the heart of the old town is the cobbled Theatre Square; the 19th century theatre was restored after being damaged in WWII. It was from the Theatre balcony that Hitler made one of his speeches after Klaipeda was re-absorbed into Germany in 1939.
In front of the Theatre stands the attractive Simon Dach Fountain, Dach being a local 17th century poet; the statue depicts one Annchen von Tharau, the subject of a folk-song by Dach. The statue that stands today is a modern replica, the original having disappeared sometime during WWII. According to legend the Germans removed the statue for standing with her back to Hitler while he ranted from the balcony; I doubt this would have bothered him unduly as from what I've read old Adolf wasn't keen on it face-to-face in any event. Nearby is the History Museum of Lithuania Minor with local historical finds (captioned in Lithuanian and German), including photos of Hitler's "visit".
The old town still follows the street patterns set out 300 years ago, although since then many of the buildings have been destroyed by disasters both man-made (WWII) and natural (numerous fires). The fighting at the end of the war damaged Klaipeda's old churches, and the Soviets finished the job by pulling them down, rather than repairing them. Consequently there are few specific places of interest in the old town, but it's still well worth strolling around. There are several curious little open squares and definitely worth keeping an eye out for are the traditional Fachwerk (exposed timber- like all of those mock Tudor mansions you get in posh parts of England only infinitely more attractive) buildings.
This building style is distinctive to the Klaipeda; most of the newer buildings in the old town have adopted it but for authenticity the buildings at Aukstoji 3 and Sukileliu 18 are among the few buildings to have survived Klaipeda's last big fire.
Also in the old town is the outdoor market, one of Lithuania's biggest and a good place to buy anything from fresh fruit to cheap, counterfeit CDs.
What is now the market place was once the heart of Jewish Klaipeda, most traces of which were destroyed when the Nazis arrived, with the active and enthusiastic participation of many of the local population. All that now remains is what was once the Jewish school on Sinagogu gatve; this sits in a peaceful, enclosed garden which was once the site of the graveyard and which has fragments of desecrated gravestones embedded in the walls. This is a tranquil, moving place; when I visited the front gate was locked and somebody had painted swastikas on the outside wall.
The Dane River marks the boundary between the old and new towns and it's worth exploring the river's banks. Starting at the old castle port you can marvel at the docks, once one of the major ports of the Soviet Union and which extend for miles in each direction; the bit around the mouth of the Dane however seems to be a refuge for gradually disintegrating rust-buckets.
Funnily enough, near the old castle port is the old castle. Actually, today nothing remains of the castle itself but you can still make out where it once stood, and it's moat is still there.
A little further along the north bank of the river is the Old Town Hall, which is currently part of the university but was, in 1807, pressed into service as the Court of Frederick William III when Klaipeda was (briefly) the effective capitol of Prussia after Napoleon Boneparte had helped himself to much of the rest of the country. Thus the most glorious and the most shameful moments in Klaipeda's history both came about courtesy of invasions by short-arsed foreign dictators. Who said that this web-site is uninformative?
The iron bridge where Manto Gatve passes over the Dane is extremely photogenic. Technically it can be lifted or swung aside to allow boats to pass, but judging by the state of it this hasn't happened in some time. Besides, the only ship upriver of the bridge at the moment is the Meridianas which looks about as sea-worthy as a Filipino ferry and is, generally speaking, packed to the gills with beer-swilling piss-heads. It'd certainly make an interesting spectacle though.
On the north bank of the river just beyond the bridge is an intriguing little park, dotted with sculptures and fountains; it's a very pleasant place to eat your lunch or sit and watch the world go by.
Just upriver from the Meridianas (and therefore, up the current from its toilets) you can hire row and paddle boats and piss about on the river, although the signs say you can't go any further down than the Manto Gatve bridge (presumably to stop you trying to paddle your way across the harbour to the Spit, thus depriving the ferry operator of his livelihood). Also at this point there's strange inlet off the river, surrounding what appears to be a man-made island; it seems to be a popular swimming and diving area for the local youths, but haven't got a clue what it really is (maybe a kind of disused harbour/marina?); if anyone knows or finds out, e-mail me.
There are a few things worth visiting north of the Dane too. Have a look at the Mazvydas Sculpture Park just off Liepu. This was once Klaipeda's main cemetery until it was flattened by the Soviets. It is now full of strange little sculptures (although a few graves still remain). The cemetery was famed for its ornate iron crosses, some of which were rescued by the locals before they could be destroyed and are now on display in the Blacksmith's Museum on Saltkalviu in the Old Town. Near the sculpture park, and also on Liepu in the Clock and Watch Museum, the subject of which you may be able to guess, and Klaipeda's Picture Gallery, no van Goughs or anything but this is the place to go if Lithuanian art is your bag. Finally on Liepu is the post office; as well as posting your postcards you can have a look at the painted interior and stained-glass windows and listen to the bells in the bell tower.
To the north of the city is a large park, which sometimes attracts travelling fairs (including, when I was there, an act featuring a woman getting into a tank with a shark! I didn't witness it however so I don't know how big it was or if she survived, but the fact that the show ran every 15 minutes suggests that she did); there's also a rather run-down stadium, where I was privillaged to witness a "performance" (badly mimed) by what was apparently one of Russia's top dance-acts, Shura, a dancing freak backed by a pair of transvestites. Still it must have had some effect on me as I bought a counterfeit CD of his on Riga market.
The reason most people visit Klaipeda is the nearby Curonian spit. This long, offshore sand bar stretches down into the Kaliningard region. The lagoon it has created opens into the Baltic at Klaipeda so to get to the spit from Klaipeda you need to get a ferry across the harbour and the mouth of the lagoon. The lagoon freezes over in winter (though not around the harbour) but I really wouldn't recommend trying to walk across. Most of the spit is part of a national park and there are various by-laws in force to prevent erosion, so for example you should stick to marked paths, not start any fires, and not pick any flowers. Amazing as the spit is, with it's towering sand dunes and extensive pine-forests the reason most people come over is for the beaches. The long, pine forrest-backed, beaches are very popular and can get extremely busy. The sand is very fine and the beaches are kept reasonably clean but I can make no guarantees as to the water quality; I would definitely recommend that you use the beaches on the Baltic side of the spit rather than those on the lagoon side. I didn't see any "brown trouts" there, and the cool Baltic Sea is unbelievably refreshing on a hot day (happily there are numerous small shops and cabins able to sell you essentials such as sun lotion and cold beer). Be warned that there are three different types of beach; mixed, women-only, and men-only and sunbathing in the nuddy is only permitted on the segregated beaches (although judging by the skimpiness of some of the bikinis on the mixed beach this is only a technicality). As a foreigner you may be excused "accidentally" going to one of the segregated beaches, but not if you're doing it every 15 minutes. Also out on the spit is the aquarium, housed in an old Prussian-built fort; this includes a somewhat politically-incorrect dolphin-show, and the wreck of a small boat that was used by the first Lithuanian to row across the Baltic (he only did it in 1994; it doesn't look very far on a map); he made it safely to Sweden then managed to attempt the return journey in the same storm that sank the ferry Estonia and was himself sunk and drowned.
Not actually part of Kalipeda but certainly worth a visit is the nearby town of Palanga, only a half-hour minibus ride away. This seaside resort is considered the Blackpool of Lithuania but don't let that put you off. Have a look at the pier, a great place to watch the sunset, tapdance, sing Elvis Presley songs and threaten to do an Acapulco Dive off the end. Even when the tide is out.