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Life in the Slow Lane: Cycling Through Lithuania

Ah, Lithuania. My first visit to the Baltic States took me through such a beautiful country full of lakes, birch tree forest, spa towns and castles. Join me as I spend four days cycling through Lithuania.

One of the three Baltic States, Lithuania has long been on my list of places to visit at some point in my life. I had been planning, quite comprehensively on Google Maps, a road trip from Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, through Riga in Latvia and on to Tallin in Estonia but due to some major life events over the last couple of years it had never made it to the booking stage.

In late July/early August 2023, I was very kindly invited to join other travel bloggers and journalists on a press trip to Lithuania. I mean, wow, as if 2023 wasn’t already my favourite travel blogging year yet (thanks Faro)! It’s not as though I could turn such an invite and when the trip was said to include cycling, I couldn’t wait to get on that flight. Prior to a hip operation in 2017, I had loved cycling. I’d managed to complete the UK Coast to Coast route in 2 days and, at one point, I’d ridden over 100 miles in one day. Having just bought my first road bike since the operation, this was the perfect way to both reignite my passion for cycling and explore a brand new country!

To make it clear, my trip to Lithuania was a press trip and everything was organised and funded by the Lithuanian Travel Board. All views expressed in this article however are entirely my own!


The Journey to Lithuania

I swear pre-Covid it used to be relatively straight forward to get to capital cities in Eastern Europe. I’ve spent many a day pricing up flights to various cities across Europe so I was a little shocked to learn that I had to get a 6:15am flight from Manchester to Frankfurt and then onto Vilnius. All being well, I should have arrived in Lithuania at 1:20pm ready for a day of exploring and eating.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go to plan do they? I woke up at about 1am, got myself ready and psyched up for the two and a half hour drive down to Manchester only to learn that the flight had been cancelled entirely and I would miss my connection. Lufthansa did re-book me on the next available flights but they were the 11:20am from Manchester to Frankfurt and then something like 8pm to Vilnius. Honestly, I’ve never been as tired in my life. Not even during the early days of parenthood.

After a six hour layover in Frankfurt (I even had a quick explore of the city and finally added Germany to my country list), I arrived at the ultra-cool Artagonist Art hotel in Vilnius at around 2am. Just the 13 hours delayed then. I could only just take in how good my room was before I crashed into a terrible night sleep ready for the cycling trip to begin the next morning.


I didn’t know too much about Vilnius before I arrived other than it was said to beautiful, the old town was relatively small but had a little ‘republic’ called Uzupis in the city and it would be the furthest east on mainland Europe I’d been. It didn’t help that none of my family nor friends had visited before so I turned up not knowing exactly what to expect other than what I’d read on various travel blogs and pinned on my Google Maps.

As I’d missed out on an informative 3-hour walking tour and a 10-course fine dining experience the day before, I made sure that I woke up early to see as much of the Old Town as possible before our plans took us into the Lithuania countryside. So, at 7am with my eyes barely open, I explored cobbled alleyways, admired gothic and baroque churches, wandered through the bohemian republic of Uzupis with its street art murals and captured as much of Vilnius on my camera as I could manage before breakfast! It would have been much better if I had been able to make the walking tour as I missed the context and the history of the places I was visiting. I’d highly recommend booking a walking tour if you do get chance to visit Vilnius.

I must say that whilst I saw plenty of Vilnius, I would love to return to delve a little deeper and experience the atmosphere of places that would no doubt be buzzing with a few more people around. I didn’t have chance to check out any of Vilnius’ craft beer offerings or its trendy coffee shops either and those are two things that, whilst I try to not let them define me, I could not live without when travelling.

Before we left Vilnius and the amazing Artagonist Art Hotel, I was able to enjoy, at least for a short while, my beautifully quirky room. I had a little balcony overlooking the atrium and I just wish I had time to try out the fancy drop coffee maker; maybe next time. Also, it might just have been me but I’m sure the artwork in my room was far dirtier than it needed to be. Maybe just me.

We met with the rest of the group in the lobby of the hotel and met our tour guide for the trip, Mindaugas, who had come all the way from Lithuania’s coast to join us. I was super nervous meeting everyone for the first time but I needn’t have worried, everyone was lovely and I felt at ease almost immediately! The bike tour was ran by Wind Bike Tours and I would recommend them with no hesitation if you were looking to experience Lithuania or even all of the Baltic States on two wheels.

Trakai Castle

One of the most spectacular and most popular places in all of Lithuania, Trakai Castle can be found on a small island on Lake Galve just 28km west of Vilnius. It’s popular for very good reason; it is stunning. Trakai Castle can be accessed via a wooden bridge for those that fancy exploring the museum or, and I highly recommend this, it can be admired from an hour long boat trip around the lake.

Trakai Castle was built back in the 14th century though it was soon turned into a noble residence followed by a prison! After extensive restoration work, the castle was opened to tourists in the 1960’s and now is one of the most popular attractions in Lithuania.

Our first introduction to cycling through Lithuania was the undulating 28km from the outskirts of Vilnius to Trakai Castle. Much harder than I thought it would be the but the journey was just as beautiful as the destination once we got off the main roads. We passed through rolling green hills and spotted stork nests on top of telephone poles all before that first joyous glimpse of Trakai Castle across the water.

The area of Trakai has become synonymous with the Karaim community; a small ethnic group originally from Crimea who resettled in the region in the late 1300’s. During the early 18th century only three Karaim families remained but thankfully this increased and there remains a strong community now. For lunch, we were introduced to the Kibinai, a tranditional Karaim pastry, which has become a local speciality and a must-try when in Trakai. I tried one filled with beef and the other filled with spinach and curd. Both equally delicious and their probably best described as being a bit like a Cornish pasty.

You’ll see from the photos just how lovely this area is, especially when taking in the scenery aboard a solar powered boat. In the winter, the lake freezes over entirely turning into a huge ice rink though I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to ice skate here.

Distance: 15 miles


After visiting Vilnius and Trakai Castle, we transferred across to Druskininkai, a beautiful spa town on the Nemunas River surrounded by forests full of pine trees. Luckily, we didn’t have to cycle as it took us well over an hour and a half in the van across some of the most corrugated gravel roads known to mankind. Perhaps even worse than some of the roads in outback Australia. Anyway, at least there were only a few times that I thought we might die as the van slid across the dirt on an angle seemingly so peacefully out of control. I never knew just how happy I could be to see a road made out of tarmac.

We based ourselves in Drusininkai at the 4* Spa Vilnius hotel for the remaining three nights of our Lithuanian adventure. The town itself was beautiful and, almost immediately, you could tell just how chilled it was here. Any stress that was still hanging on from the terrible travel day immediately disappeared.

The word ‘druska’ in Lithuanian means ‘salt’ and so the town was built on the back of its generous supply of this in-demand mineral. Initially, the salt was steamed during the fourteenth century to create table salt however it became apparent that the particular type of salt found here was more suited to ‘healing’. The wellness resort town of Druskininkai was established in 1794. It immediately became a popular holiday destination and has remained so ever since.

It would be remiss of me to not mention the proximity of Lithuania and in particular Druskininkai to the border with Belarus and therefore Russian influence but, for me, whilst the town was said to be quieter than usual at no point did we feel unsafe. At one point, we were probably less than 5km from the border with Belarus simply enjoying the beautiful scenery of this part of the world.

Thankfully, we had plenty of time after each day’s cycling activities to explore the town, enjoy the food and taste test the famous salt water.

Before we continue our adventure cycling through Lithuania, let’s deal with the salt water first shall we? My first experience tasting the water came quite naively within the Spa Vilnius hotel as I walked through to have a look at the spa facilities. There was a fancy looking fountain which several other spa-goers were happily drinking from so, feeling a little thirsty, I thought well why not. I was immediately presented with a choice; do I go for the 18°c or 30°c water? 18°c obviously was the choice I went for and almost immediately I regretted my decision – I hadn’t realised this wasn’t just plain drinking water so you can only imagine how screwed up my face became with other hotel guests clearly disappointed that I wasn’t happy with the magical water. We tried it again, twice for good measure, in the centre of Druskininkai. Once in a natural spring and again in a little building that offered four choices of minerality. Unfortunately I still couldn’t get away with drinking the water but I am sure it would be great to relax in for example in a bath or a shower with your mouth firmly closed.

Tea at Toli Toli more than made up for the poor water though – a huge meze style sharing platter to start followed by BBQ pork ribs that were literally melt in your mouth. At least I have a good reason to be enjoying my food!

Marcinkonys and Dzukija National Park

The second day of cycling was to be the furthest we would ride but also probably the most enjoyable too. The weather was terrible at breakfast with the rain absolutely pouring down but there was soon a break in the clouds and we were off. For about half a mile until we stumbled upon the Girios Echo Museum; an intricate wooden building like something you’d see in the Alps with towering pine trees encircling it. We had to stop for photos obviously but inside we found many animals preserved. It was fascinating to learn that there are moose (I’ve now learnt that that’s the plural!), wolves and wild boar wandering the forests.

After probably a little too long, we had to get the legs warmed up again and so off we went on our journey to Marcinkonys and the Dzukija National Park. The route was a lot less hilly today and took us down arrow straight roads cutting through the forest, through old Soviet holiday camps and dirt paths to a clearing in the forest where lunch had been freshly prepared for us.

Lunch was served courtesy of a lovely Lithuanian woman who had, let’s just say, a bit of a thing for mushrooms. We had heard repeatedly whilst on our journey in this region of a traditional Lithuanian saying essentially that “if it were not for the mushrooms and berries, the Dzukian girls would be naked.” Foraging remains popular as a means of food and income and we saw many locals selling their haul of mushrooms or berries by the roadside.

Back to lunch. The lovely Lithuanian woman was, thankfully truth be told, not naked but served up mushroom soup, mushroom doughnuts and a sort of potato/egg stodge topped with pork and, yes you guessed it, more mushrooms! All of those mushrooms could only have been washed down with one thing in this region; homemade cranberry vodka. The setting was so peaceful and it was a great way to refuel though I’d probably not have a mushroom doughnut again.

We headed back on the bikes for a very special visit to one of Lithuania’s natural wonders; the Cepkeliai Nature Reserve. The nature reserve contains the largest bog/marshland (almost 15,000 acres) right near the border with Belarus. Public trips have been closed for a while now so we were lucky to get a guided tour to the observation tower and around the edge of the bog. This area was stunning with the bog stretching almost as far as the eye could see. We foraged some of our own berries too; handpicking blueberries and cranberries to taste test.

After a further cycle back through the village itself, we were transferred back to our hotel to have a quick dip in the jacuzzi and freshen up followed by a very well deserved beer and a pizza at a place called Velvetti! The woodfired pizzas did get approval from Toti, originally from Naples, so they must have got something right!

Distance: 28 miles


The final day of cycling was to be a loop out to the small village of Liskiava and back however things quickly took a turn for the worst after one of our group, Becki, had a heavy fall over the front of her bike. Thankfully Becki was alright after a clean up and applying some bandages which meant we could continue to Liskiava and the most brutal steep climb up to its church. Liskiava is extremely small and the focus is all on the beautiful baroque church that towers over the Nemunas River.

There was a service underway in the church (those there had come from Poland) so we couldn’t stay too long but we were proudly taken down into the crypt to see where the priests were laid to rest. The remains of those priests can actually be seen thanks to the glass lids of their coffins; honestly this was so creepy and I was glad to get back earthside to breath some fresh air.

The buildings around the church house a small museum where we learnt about the rich history of Liskiava and, if you fancy it, you can actually stay over. With prices around £53 for two nights for one person, it would certainly be a very unique experience!

With the weather coming in fast, we were given a choice – either back to the hotel in the van and have a quick shower before lunch or ride the 8 miles back for lunch. I chose the ride back so that I could work up an appetite for quite possibly one of the best lunches I’ve had in a long time at Kolonada. Fried bread with cheesy mayo as a sharer followed by a spruced up chicken kiev. Oh, and another pint of a lovely local beer of course.

It wasn’t over yet though. Oh no. We were treated to a full body massage at the hotel’s spa facilities which was honestly so relaxing I nearly fell asleep. Thinking about it, it probably didn’t help that I had sipped cannabis tea (no Yorkshire tea on offer here) beforehand. Practically the perfect way to end a tough few days of cycling.

We finished the trip with a ceremonious feeling at dinner at the hotel where I couldn’t not order steak (there’s always one!). As we began our round of thank you and goodbyes, we were invited to watch a concert of our choosing in the hotels ‘musical therapy’ room. The pairing of loud music and heated amber at that moment in time somehow worked for the majority of us and so off we went to watch Elton John live! It’s physically impossible to describe just how good the sound was in that room but, and not wanting to swear here, I’ve never heard sound like it. The warmth of two separate valve amplifier circuits powering analog speakers shaped like gramophones was truly unreal. I thought I might have been able to replicate something similar on a smaller scale on my record player however it turned out the equipment in that room would probably cost more than my annual salary!

Distance: 15.5 miles

Total Distance: 58.5 miles / 94.1km


Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Just as I was really starting to switch off and relax, it was time to say goodbye and head home to my family (not after yet another delayed flight and a damaged suitcase). The less said about the thought of going back to work though the better!

Lithuania was far more beautiful than I could have imagined and I fully intend to return in the near future to properly explore Vilnius. What I would say is that you shouldn’t be afraid of stepping outside of the capital city and seeing more of what Lithuania has to offer!

If you’ve read this far, thank you as I know this one was a long one! If you need any tips at all or have any suggestions of your own for my return trip, just leave me a comment below!



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