Founded in the 13th century, Klaipėda is the third biggest city in Lithuania. It is located where the Curonian Lagoon and River Danė meet the Baltic Sea, 311km northwest of the capital, Vilnius. It has a city population of 158,000, with a further 40,000 people living in the surrounding areas. The city is a major national transport hub, connecting sea, land and railway routes from east to west. It has motorway links with Vilnius and the country’s second city, Kaunas.
However, its major transport strength is the fact that Klaipėda’s deep-water harbour provides the main ice-free port on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Some 7,000 ships visited in 2013, when the port handled 33.4 million metric tons of cargo—primarily fertilisers, oil products, roll-on roll-off cargo, container goods and agricultural products. Though the main focus is on cargo traffic, there is also an international ferry terminal with routes to Germany and Sweden. Meanwhile, a liquefied natural gas terminal is being built in the port, one of the most important energy projects in Lithuania and due for operation in 2015. Along with improving energy security situation, it will create the conditions for a natural gas market in Lithuania and provide a boost for the local economy.
Tourism is a growing sector for the city, helped by the opening of a terminal for cruise ships in 2003. Total numbers of visitors rose from 31,000 in 2004 to 71,000 in 2011, with the largest group being from Germany. Klaipėda has a well-preserved old town, along with a number of museums and other places of interest.