Where: Druskininkai (or drunk and kinky as we called it), Lithuania.
When: February 2013.
Why? We went to Druskininkai when we travelled through the Baltic countries in February 2013.
Also on this trip we visited Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania; Trakai for Trakai Island Castle; Kaunas, the second city of Lithuania and Siauliai for the Hill of Crosses; Riga and Sigulda in Latvia; and Tallinn in Estonia.
Druskininkai is a Lithuanian town lost in the forest near to the Belorussian border. We went here solely for the spas and because I love (x a billion) spas and swimming pools. This was my birthday present from Jeffski.
Druskininkai in winter was a magical, fairy tale town – snowy and spot-lit by fairy lights. The snow literally glittered.
Druskininkai is a resort town based upon the Nemunas River, and there are lots of touristy things to do and see in town. Most tourists come here in summer to enjoy the beautiful nature, forest and scenery, although there was also enough to keep us occupied and happy for a few days in mid-February.
In summer you can ride your bike through the forest, horse ride, hike, play in the river, visit lots of natural places. In winter you can visit the ski slope, splash in the spa and water park and also visit some of the indoor attractions. They also have stages in town and put on concerts in both seasons, an outdoor ice rink and some nice restaurants.
I really liked Druskininkai. It was a friendly, relaxed, magical surprise and we had a good time here. I’d love to come back in the summer to explore further and to get a little lost in the forest.
We caught the bus from Vilnius bus station to Druskininkai bus station. It cost us 32LT each (about £7.50) and took about two hours. The journey was mostly through unrelenting snowy forests, down ruler straight roads – but we did pass through some interesting wooden villages with totem poles outside.
To find up to date bus times and ticket prices (in English), visit www.autobusubilietai.lt.
Our hotel was located at the crossroads in the centre of town, five minutes from the bus station (well, five minutes on a sunny day; fifteen minutes through the snow-drifts).
Within Druskininkai we walked everywhere. There are lots of paths and bike trails laid about the town and through the woods.
We wanted to catch a bus to Stalin Park (Gruto Parkas) but in mid-winter there was a limited service that didn’t fit our schedule, so we caught a taxi there (25LT/£5 – £6) and then we caught the bus back (2LT/50p each). Bus 2 runs to the park and you can get the bus times on the Gruto Parkas website.
There was quite a good bus schedule in Druskininkai that continued to run even in the deep snow. We know this because the main bus stop was opposite our bedroom window and I would spend hours sat in my armchair, drinking wine and watching the (five) commuters catching buses and the traffic going through the crossroads.
In summer Druskininkai would be a great place to hire bikes as it is pretty flat, very spread out, there’s lots of bike trails through the woods and the roads are quite quiet.
What we did on our holidays
Aquapark Hotel and Spa
I love swimming pools. It’s because I love swimming pools so much that Jeff and I are together, as I booked the only cave hostel in Cappadocia with a swimming pool and so too did Jeff.
Anyway – like I say, I love swimming pools x a billion and as it was my birthday Jeff said he would take me to the waterpark/spa in Druskininkai. In fact this was the whole reason we came here.
The Aquapark is located in a huge complex on the banks of the Nemunas River, with a hotel, restaurants and leisure facilities.
We popped in here the night we arrived to get information about costs etc and to scout it out. On the information booklet it said you could buy tickets for one hour, two hours, three hours, four hours or all day. We couldn’t imagine what we could possibly do in a water park for more than four hours – so we decided to go for that ticket – and even then, I was worried I would get bored.
How wrong I was. It wasn’t enough time …
We went to the waterpark in the low-light of a late, cold, snowy winter afternoon. Inside it was warm, it was steamy, it was snuggly and it was fun.
We bought a four hour ticket for the bath house space and the water entertainments.
The bathhouse space is the spa area which is for adults only. This is a three story area based around a waterfall pool, with many hidden jacuzzis and a swim up bar. There were many saunas and steam rooms (I think twelve of each), an inside/outside pool, outdoor jacuzzi, Turkish hammam, whirlpool jets, musical relaxation pools, sunbeds galore, a spa area for treatments, two outdoor saunas – and much, much more.
In the bath house space they offered regular special sessions and treatments that were free to take part in, though there were limited places. These included birch beating saunas, special spa treatments, and extreme sauna, where they cranked the heat up to max and played loud rock music at full volume (it was funny watching the people emerge from that one).
We went to the honey-salt steam where we went into a steam room and rubbed ourselves (and each other) down with honey and salt. It was funny and relaxing and it tasted nommy (though I don’t think we were supposed to eat it).
The water entertainments section was the water park section – where kids are allowed to go – and big kids such as Jeff and I. This is where there were waterslides, a lazy river, swimming pools, water spouts, fountains, massaging water jets, play areas and cafes etc. I think there were seven waterslides and you could go on half of them with inflatable rings. Some of them were quite gentle but some of them were a bit extreme and even scared Jeff (a little bit).
We had a wonderful time at the waterpark and we really could have stayed all day. We started in the spa but when we got a bit bored of relaxing we went to play in the waterpark and on the slides to get excited, and then back into the spa to relax some more. I think we could have done this all day and not have been bored.
My favourite parts were sitting in the outdoor jacuzzi in the snow; sampling all the massage jets in the waterpark and lying on the hot slab in the Turkish hamman, thinking ‘I never want to move ever again I am so relaxed’.
There were one or two points where I felt a bit cold (it was mid-winter) and I would have liked some fresh-dry towels, but otherwise this was a perfect day out and so much fun.
We visited mid-week in February and though the waterpark was nicely busy, it wasn’t crowded. I suspect on weekends and holidays it could get too busy.
We paid 60LT (£15ish) each for the bathhouse space and water entertainment. This was for four hours. The waterpark is more expensive on the weekends and holidays. We hired towels inside the waterpark. You can also hire lots of other supplies and equipment too.
There were other spas in town that we could have visited but they seemed to be more sanitorium like with specific treatments, whereas the waterpark was fun!
Stalin Park (Gruto Parkas)
The other thing we wanted to see whilst in Druskininkai was Stalin Park (Gruto Parkas). After the fall of communism in Lithuania one man travelled the country and slowly collected all of the communist statues together. These now sit in an area of woodland on his estate, just outside Druskininkai. The park has won an ignoble award – which is a prize for ideas so silly that it makes people laugh but then makes them think.
I’m not sure whether the idea of Gruto Parkas is in bad taste or not. The park is apparently set up like a former Soviet concentration camp – with the statues dotted around the woodland. I’m not sure whether we should be laughing at these statues and this park, treating this crazy period of history with humour, or whether we should be more respectful and pay due reverence to those who suffered under the Soviet system.
Whatever the moral right or wrongs Gruto Parkas is an interesting and unique place to visit – and I’m glad that we went to see it. Not only was it fun but it was also interesting and I learnt a lot about Lithuania under Soviet rule.
We visited the park in mid-winter so most of the statues and paths were buried under deep snow drifts and thick layers of ice. It was very cold and we had to be really careful not to slip on our bums, but we did have a lot of fun walking through the snowy forests, looking at all of the statues. It was so peaceful out in the woods with the snow falling softly around us.
The route around the statues seemed to go in two big loops. It took us about an hour and a half to walk the whole route. We had fun posing with the statues and taking photos and reading about these former communist heroes and how they had been involved in the Soviet state.
Towards the end of the second loop we came to a number of small huts which contained additional propaganda materials and relics from the Soviet era. They had films and displays and guides and a nice warm fire to help warm us up after our tromp through the snow.
There were also some old trains and cars at the park, a large play area for kids and some animals and birds that we could visit (including a wild boar).
We ended our visit in the Soviet café, which was in a fire-warmed wooden chalet, where we had soup, dumplings and hot chocolate.
Entrance to the park was 20LT/£5 each (18LT/£4 with a voucher). In Vilnius, we had picked up a tourist pass booklet containing discount coupons and this was the only place that we tried to use it – though they did get very confused and we had to wait about half an hour whilst they confirmed with various people that our voucher was valid (I thought communists would be pro-voucher?). It took so long I wish we had just paid the extra 2LT/50p. The vouchers were from www.vilniuscitytour.com.
Stared out the window and watched the traffic and the snow
Our hotel was located on the main cross roads and our bedroom overlooked them – so I spent a lot of time curled up in the armchair, just watching people running around in the snow – because that’s what you do on holiday. It was very relaxing.
I also spent a lot of time just watching the snow fall in the forest.
Where we ate
Kavine Senasis Nemunas
The Senasis Nemunas cabin was a restaurant close to our hotel. It was a little cabin with a log fire etc. We went here for some heart-warming food. I seem to remember there were some singing Russians in here. Jeff had the potato platter.
We went into this pizza place because every time we walked past it looked to be full of happy people and it looked as if it had a warm, friendly atmosphere.
We had to wait ten minutes for a table when we did go but we had a good meal here. It was £10 for two pizzas and drinks. The staff were really friendly and it was a nice, relaxed place to eat.
There were two supermarkets on the high street which we visited to buy drinks and snacks. One of these was a mini-Maxima. There was an ATM outside the mini-Maxima.
Where we stayed
To me, the Senasis Pastas had the best location in Druskininkai. It was on the main crossroad in town, next to a little lake, at the end of the main high street. It was a five minute walk from the bus station and fifteen minutes from the Aquapark.
The room we had was really nice and it had all the facilities we could need in a hotel like this, such as a fridge, drinking utensils, TV etc. We had two big comfy armchairs where we could sit and watch the snow fall outside, or Glee on TV in Lithuanian. Our room overlooked the main bus stop in town and the crossroads, so I spent a lot of time just sitting watching people go by.
The staff were lovely and there was a great café downstairs.
The only thing about the hotel was that the bed was one of the most uncomfortable beds I have ever slept in (and I’ve lived in Korea), and the curtains didn’t quite fit the windows and were so thin that they were slightly see through – which is not great when your room is next to the main bus stop and crossroads in town.
However, they were lovely and if they could fix these two things I would definitely stay here again.
€35/£30 per room per night. We booked it through booking.com.
If you have trouble finding the hotel, it’s above the bank. The entrance is in the car park at the back.
In this nice Guardian article, Catherine Nelson visits Lithuania in summer time with her two children, and they spend time in Druskaninkai. The poor things don’t make it to the Aqua Park though: www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/jan/10/lithuania-activity-family-holiday-children.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.