Lithuania's only seaport (and third-largest city) is also one of the few ports in the eastern Baltic area to remain ice-free year-round. That quirk of nature has always kept Klaipėda's economy humming since the city was founded in 1252, though for most of that period it was known by its German name, Memel. The Livonian Order of Teutonic Knights first settled the area, completing a fortress and christening it and the town Memelburg, later shortened to Memel. For most of its history, Memel was an important eastern Prussian and later German outpost (and for a brief period during the Napoleonic wars it was even the capital of Prussia). The city became part of Lithuania in 1923 and, after a period of further German occupation before and during World War II, it once again returned to Lithuania. The architecture of the city may appear more German than anything else, especially if you walk in the Old Town, where many of the buildings are in the Fachwerk style where the walls are framed with small squares. Over the river Danė, across the wooden bridge, you will find moats and fortifications of a 17th-century bastion, today used mostly by fishermen. The city's proximity to the Curonian Spit makes nature just a short trip away.
Although many buildings in Klaipėda were damaged during World War II (and most of the damaged churches demolished by the Soviets afterward), many good examples of historical half-timbered architecture remain in the Old Town, which begins at Theatre Square, not far from the cruise terminal. The center is fairly small and very walkable, so it's easy to get around to see most of the sights.
Blacksmith's Museum. In addition to having exhibits that include iron cross, gates, weathervanes, and fences from all over Lithuania Minor, this museum has a real working blacksmith's forge. Included in its exhibits are the salvaged crosses from the city cemetery that is now Mažvydas Scultpure Park. Šaltkalviu 2.
Clock Museum. This museum shows the development of time-keeping devices since the Renaissance, with examples of many different kinds of clocks and other kinds of timepieces, including sundials and even water clocks and calendars. Liepu 12. Admission charged.
History Museum of Lithuania Minor. This museum is housed in one of Klaipėda's oldest surviving 18th-century structures and includes exhibits on the history and culture of the inhabitants of the almost 12,000 square km area around Klaipėda. Archaeological finds, old photographs, maps, city models, and ethnographic displays document the culture and history of the people who lived here both before and after the Germans settled the region. 6 Didǎioji Str. Admission charged.
Klaipėda Castle Museum. This museum is housed in the remnants of Memelburg Castle, from which the city got its original name. The castle was founded in the late 13th century. When Lithuania was absorbed into the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century, the castle lost some of its importance but still retained its charm. The museum opened in 2002 and displays furnishings and other objects dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries, including the original diamond ring that has been copied as an annual award to Klaipėda residents who have given particularly useful service to the city. Pilies 4. Admission charged.
Klaipėda University Botanical Park. Klaipėda's botanic gardens are along the Danės River, east of the city center. The university maintains the park primarily as protected gene pool of regional flora, with more than 1,600 varieties represented. Kretingos 92. Admission charged.
Lithuanian Maritime Museum. Across the Curonion Lagoon from Klaipėda's Old Town in Smiltynė, this place is worth the trip if you have kids, who can entertain themselves by observing animals like penguins, seals, and sea lions. In addition to the aquarium, there are shows featuring dolphins and other animals. You can take the ferry from the first ferry terminal in the center of town to the Curonian Spit, and a train service takes you to the museum. Smiltynės 3, Smiltynės. Admission charged.
Mažvydas Sculpture Park. Mažvydas Sculpture Park was, until 1977, the city's central cemetery. Destroyed by the Soviets, it is now dotted with imaginative sculptures and is a pleasant place to stroll. Many of the crosses from the old cemetery found a new home at the Blacksmith Museum. Between Liepu and Daukanto str..
Extending from Klaipėda to the Sambian Peninsula in Russia, the spit is a series of forested barrier islands across the mouth of the Curonian Lagoon. Ninety-eight meters long and very narrow-4 kilometers at its widest point, and only 400 meters at its thinnest-the spit contains Europe's highest moving sand dunes, protected by national park status. Some of the dunes reach heights of 60 meters, and they can be a force to be reckoned with; over the last 150 years, 10 villages have been wiped away by the dunes. The small towns along the spit make up the Neringa municipality. Having once been the site of a large amber mine (north of present-day Jodokrantė), it is now mostly a protected national park with several seaside resorts.
Juodkorantė is a small seaside resort town that turned to tourism after nearby amber mines were gradually closed in the late 19th century. In addition to nearby nesting sites for grey herons and great cormorants, the town has one noteworthy sight. Built in 1979, Witches Hill has 70-some wooden sculptures by a variety of artists, most of various witches, goblins, and other creatures from Lithuanian folk tales. The sculptures are connected by a walking trail.
Nida, the most popular beach resort on the Curonian Spit has, nevertheless, managed to maintain some of its original character from the time when it was a simple fishing village. German novelist Thomas Mann had his summerhouse built here in 1930 and today it's a modest museum. Some of the largest dunes on the Curonian Spit can be found just on the outskirts of Nida. From the viewpoint atop the Hill of Urbas, you can get a sense of the landscape.
Fisherman's Ethnographic Homestead. Nida's museum village is a well-preserved remnant that shows how fishermen lived in the 19th century. 50 km south of Klaipeda, 4 Nagliu Str., Nida.
This popular resort some 25 km (16 miles) north of Klaipėda has more than 24 km (16 miles) of sandy coastline. It's been a popular seaside resort since the early 19th century, developed by the family of Count Michal Tyszkiewicz, who purchased the town in 1824. Today the mansion of Count Tyszkiewicz houses the Museum of Amber, the pride of the region (some of the ambers featured there are the size of a human head). In the palace grounds, the gorgeous Botanical Gardens were planted 110 years ago by the chief City Gardener of Paris, Edouard André.
Dr. Jonas Šliüpas Memorial House. This house was originally the home of Palanga's first mayor and an important man of letters in Lithuania in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It now houses a museum dedicated to the life of the doctor and the history of Palanga. 23 km from Klaipeda, 23 Vytauto Str., Palanga. Admission charged.
Palanga Amber Museum. This is one of the city's best-known sights. More than 4,500 pieces of amber are housed in galleries inside the mansion of Count Feliksas Tiökevičius, one of the founders of Palanga. 17 Vytauto Str. Admission charged.
Palangos Botanikos Parkas. Adjoining the Palanga Amber museum is the Botanical Park, which was founded on the palace grounds by Count Tyszkiewicz in 1895. 15 Vytauto Str..
The one thing that the Klaipėda area is known for is amber (fossilized tree resin which may contain small insects), and it is abundant in the shops here, though never cheap. You may also find some good linen, which is often locally handwoven, though also fairly expensive. Be sure to shop at legitimate stores for amber to better ensure that what you are buying is not cheap plastic resin.