Kaunas, the avant-garde second city of Lithuania lies a mere 100 km west of Vilnius at the confluence of the Neris and Nemunis rivers. Unfortunately, we missed Kaunas during our first visit to Lithuania. What a miss, because Kaunas has so much more to offer than we had thought! Here’s our lowdown on the best things to do in Kaunas and it includes a free map that highlights these places.
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Why You Should Visit Kaunas
Kaunas is one of Lithuania’s best-kept secrets since most travelers just end up seeing Vilnius or Lithuania’s pristine coast. Kaunas certainly deserves its place among the country’s best sightseeing spots. There’s plenty to see in Kaunas including its beautiful Old Town, churches, cozy parks and a wide range of great architecture. Kaunas is also famous for its unique museums. There are more than 30 museums and galleries in Kaunas showcasing vast collections of art, antiquities, and oddities. Kaunas is best explored in a day or two making it the perfect weekend break.
Kaunas is also a pioneer in design becoming the first city in Central and Eastern Europe to be designated a City of Design by UNESCO. It has also been chosen as one of the two European Capitals of Culture in 2022.
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15 Best Things to Do in Kaunas
Kaunas is best explored on foot as most of the attractions lie in the Old Town and the center, and are within close proximity of one another. You can check public transport connections here. The cost of a single ride is 1 EUR and tickets can be bought from the driver.
1. Kaunas Old Town
The Kaunas Old Town is the oldest part of the city and covers an area of nearly 1.5 km². Meander through the maze of cobbled alleys of the Old Town and be enchanted with the small boutiques, inviting cafes and lovely architecture. Due to Kaunas’ rich mercantile history as a member of the Hanseatic League, many buildings in the Old Town have Gothic and Renaissance influences.
Vilnius Street (Vilnius gatvė) is the main street in the Old Town which also happens to be the oldest street in Kaunas and was part of the former medieval road to Vilnius. Some buildings here date as far back as the 16th century. This wonderful cobblestone street is exclusively pedestrianized and regularly hosts fairs and events. Many lively cafes and bars line Vilnius Street along with numerous souvenir shops. We really enjoyed the vibrancy and the blithe atmosphere here.
2. Kaunas Town Hall
The majestic Town Hall of Kaunas casts an imposing shadow over the Town Hall Square in the Old Town. The building dates back to the 16th century and is laced with Gothic, Baroque and Classicism influences. The Kaunas Town Hall is fondly called ‘White Swan’ due to the color and design of its main facade which is reminiscent of a swan’s neck. During its long existence, it has functioned as an orthodox church, a Russian theater, and even a Czar residence. Nowadays it is used for marriage ceremonies and official city events.
3. House of Perkunas
The House of Perkunas (House of Thunder) is one of the most spectacular archaic Gothic buildings in Lithuania. It was originally built by Hanseatic merchants in the late 15th century and is said to be the oldest brick house in Kaunas. The rich architecture symbolizes the might of the Hanseatic League. The house is named after a brass statue of the Lithuanian pagan god of Thunder found in one of the many niches in the walls of the building. Today, the House of Thunder belongs to the Jesuit High School. Don’t miss this gem if you’re a fan of Gothic architecture!
4. Historic Presidential Palace
During the interwar years (1918-1940) Kaunas acted as the temporary capital of Lithuania. The former governor’s residence became the Presidential Palace and was home to the first three Presidents of Lithuania. The building is of Neo-Baroque design and also features a cute little park within its premises with sculptures immortalizing the memory of the presidents. The Historical Presidential Palace is now a small museum and hosts temporary exhibitions to commemorate this period.
5. Kaunas Castle
Kaunas Castle has stood by the banks of the Neris river since the city’s founding in the 14th century and is the oldest masonry building in Lithuania. The castle played a vital role in the defense system of the city, suppressing the attacks of the Crusaders. It was ultimately razed by the Crusaders in 1362 and was rebuilt and fortified. All that remains of the castle is the reconstructed tower, and sections of the wall and moat. The castle now houses a museum where you can witness a diverse collection of paintings, ceramics, and sculptures. Information about tickets and opening hours can be found here.
6. Laisves aleja (Freedom Avenue)
Laisves aleja (Freedom Avenue) is Kaunas’ main boulevard. It is fully pedestrianized and runs from the Old Town for a distance of almost 2 km to the Church of St. Michael the Archangel. The boulevard is split into two by a strip lined with linden trees, flower beds, and benches. There is a large assortment of cafes, bars, restaurants, boutique stores and nightclubs on Laisves aleja. It’s the perfect place to sit down and watch the world go by.
7. Pazaislis Monastery
Pažaislis monastery and church form the largest monastery complex in Lithuania and is one of the most exquisite examples of Italian Baroque architecture in Eastern Europe. The church and abbey were built for Camaldolese monks in the 17th century, under the guidance of Italian masters from Florence. The church is distinctive for its hexagonal layout and concave facade. The monastery has a remarkable history, spanning more than 300 years, and was even used as a mental facility under the Soviet rule!
I was completely blown over by the magnificent interior with its marble trim pieces and the 140 odd frescoes, including the famous painting of the Mother of Fair Love.
The monastery is open Tue-Fri from 10:00-17:00 and 10:00-16:00 on the weekend. Entrance is 4 EUR.
8. Kaunas Cathedral Basilica
Kaunas Cathedral Basilica or Cathedral Basilica of apostles St. Peter and St. Paul is the largest Gothic structure in Lithuania. Dating as far back as the early 15th century the basilica has witnessed several reconstructions and has amassed Baroque, Classicism and Renaissance features. The basilica is rather austere from the outside but its interior is spectacular. The outstanding colors of the gilding and the paintings are well worth seeing. The basilica is open daily from 7:00-21:00 and is free to enter.
9. Vytautas’ the Great Church
Vytautas’ the Great Church or the Church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary is the oldest church in Kaunas. Franciscan monks built it in 1400 as one of the first Gothic brick buildings of a cross-shaped layout in Kaunas. It was used as a warehouse of weapons during the Napoleonic Wars. This impressive landmark church has been subjected to various floods in the past and has a scale by its side to commemorate those harsh times. Entrance is free.
10. Ninth Fort Museum and Memorial Complex
The Ninth Fort Museum and Memorial Complex is the most significant monument in Lithuania to the memory of those who died due to genocide. This fort was built in 1913 and has been used for various types of occupation over the years, most of them downright horrific. In 1940, the Ninth Fort was used by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, to lock up political prisoners. Later, the Nazis used it to slaughter 30,000 Jews from Lithuania and other European countries. After World War II, the Soviets again used it as a prison for several years.
The monument is a large gray structure with jagged edges and dour faces. The museum has an archive of old photos and documents related to various historical events related to war and brutal slaughter. The whole experience is very moving.
Ninth Fort is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10:00-18:00 and the price of admission is 3 EUR.
11. M.K. Ciurlionis National Art Museum
The main wing of National M. K. Ciurlionis Art Museum boasts a fine collection of works dedicated to Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, Lithuania’s most famous artist and composer. Čiurlionis’ paintings highlight his fascination with music, philosophy, cosmology, life, and death. The bottom level is devoted to a music theater where you can listen to a selection of Čiurlionis’ works.
Entrance is 4 EUR. It is open from Tuesday-Sunday, visiting hours are from 11:00-19:00 on Thursday and 11:00-17:00 on all other days.
12. Devil’s Museum
Yes, you’re reading it right, there’s actually a whole museum dedicated to devils in Kaunas! The Devil’s Museum began as a small collection in the private home of Lithuanian artist Antanas Žmuidzinavičius and has now gradually evolved into a three story structure dedicated to the Prince of Darkness. Naturally, it is the only such museum in the world. Today, the museum is home to over 3,000 works depicting the devil. The majority of the objects are sculptures, made from an assortment of mediums including wood, glass, and paper. There are also soft toys and tons of references to music and alcohol. There’s a pretty good description of the objects in English. The Devil’s Museum is a must-see if you want to experience something unconventional.
Entrance is 3 EUR. It is open from Tuesday-Sunday, visiting hours are from 11:00-19:00 on Thursday and 11:00-17:00 on all other days.
13. Interwar Architecture
Kaunas is home to some marvelous examples of interwar architecture, in particular, the Art Deco style. In fact, Kaunas has one of the largest collections of modernist buildings in Europe. These modernist structures were built during a construction boom when Kaunas served as the temporary capital of Lithuania from 1918-1940. The architectural style of buildings represents a trend towards the evolution from Eclecticism to Modernism.
Some of the most famous examples of interwar architecture are Kaunas’ Central Post Office, the headquarters of the dairy company Pienocentras, the Lithuanian National Bank Museum and the M.K. Ciurlionis National Art Museum. The best one for me was the massive Christ Resurrection Basilica, that is as close to a skyscraper as a church can get.
14. Admire the Street Art
Kaunas is known as being the epicenter of Lithuanian arts so it’s not surprising that this city of creative minded people is home to some funky street art. You can find plenty of street art in the old town as well as the city center. If you’re a hardcore street art aficionado you can even download the street art guide here.
15. Eat Lithuanian Cuisine
Seize the opportunity to feast on some great Lithuanian grub such as the insanely delectable fried bread with cheese, cold beet soup or zeppelins. They all go down well with the popular Lithuanian beer Švyturys. We had a great feast at the restaurant Berneliu Uzeiga.
Where to Stay in Kaunas
Both the Old Town and the city center are good options to stay in Kaunas as they are in close proximity to most attractions.
Hostel: Monk’s Bunk Hostel. Excellent option in the city center.
Budget: Hotel Radharanė. Good low key option in the Old Town.
Mid Range: Best Western Santakos Hotel. A good option just outside the Old Town.
Now, what do you think? Would you like to visit Kaunas? What are the best things to do in Kaunas? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!