The Curonian Spit is a sandy peninsula in the Baltic Sea, 99 km long but only 0.5 to 4 km wide. Its northern part is in Lithuania Minor and its south in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast: both countries regard it as a national park and it's a bi-national UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 1 Klaipėda – Lithuania's third largest city, is the usual access point, from where you take a short ferry ride across the channel to Smiltynė. This page describes the northern third of the spit, down as far as Juodkrantė.
- 2 Juodkrantė – Meaning Black Shore, it is a small resort village. The dunes have been stabilised by woodland, but from time to time in history they've engulfed the village.
- 3 Nida – The Lithuanian village on the spit close to the border. This page describes the middle third of the spit and the border crossing.
- 4 Zelenogradsk (Зеленоградск) – The Russian city at the foot of the spit, and this page describes its southern third up as far as the border.
About 4,000 years ago, the Baltic Sea's connection with the Atlantic was constricted, so it shrank and became brackish rather than saline, and its waves were less powerful. A line of sandbanks and spits developed along its south coast, enclosing lagoons. The largest of these is the Curonian Spit, 99 km of sandhills, some of them over 60 m high. It is still growing, as the lagoon to its east is silting up, but the forces are finely balanced and a small rise in sea level or more powerful storms through climate change could soon erode it.
The region has long been German-speaking, conquered by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century, becoming part of Prussia from 1700, and remaining predominantly German until 1945. The little fishing villages along the spit also had their own languages, of which little is known. They were remote but not totally isolated, as a road ran along the spit between Königsberg and Memel, now known as Kaliningrad and Klaipėda, and travellers could get also about by boat. But from the 17th century the forests were stripped for timber, which de-stabilised the sand. Huge windblown dunes marched across the peninsula, engulfing farms and villages. This was halted by systematic re-planting from the 19th century, which saved the villages, but led to an artificial conifer mono-culture. Some dunes have deliberately been left bare, and boardwalks protect fragile areas.
After 1945 the Germans were deported and the region came under Soviet communist control. The north of the spit was allocated to the Lithuanian SSR, which after the break-up of the USSR became a western-looking member of the European Union. The south was allocated to Russian Kaliningrad. This means a "hard" border on the spit, but it is possible to cross.
For access see the three main settlements.
It's easy to explore either end of the spit by car or bicycle, and each country has a bus service.
Crossing the border requires you and your vehicle to have the correct documentation for Russia and for Lithuania, which is part of the EU Schengen Zone. How readily this is granted depends on the state of relations between those countries. There is no public transport across the border, and you may cycle but not walk across.
See, do, etc.
- 1 Hill of Witches (Raganų kalnas). The main sight of Juodkrantė is this sculpture park depicting malign characters from folklore. Each statue has its story—find and read them.
For other sights, accommodation, and other practicalities see the three main settlements.