Have you ever considered visiting Kaunas, Lithuania? My guess is “not really”. And I can definitely relate.
Before I got to visit Kaunas for the first time my knowledge of the city was limited to a few facts only. But very shortly after arriving, I fell for the city.
With so many great things to do in Kaunas, you should put this Lithuanian city on your bucket list too. You won’t be disappointed. Recently I spent two days in Kaunas again and I enjoyed it even more. The city has so much to offer!
Sure, you can spend one day in Kaunas only or visit the city as a day trip from Vilnius but I think with so many Kaunas attractions you need more time to discover them all.
While there are so many great things to do in Vilnius, you shouldn’t miss the second biggest city in Lithuania either!
Table of contents
- 1 Where is Kaunas?
- 2 Why visit Kaunas
- 3 A brief history of Kaunas, Lithuania
- 4 How to get to Kaunas
- 5 Where to stay in Kaunas
- 6 How to get around Kaunas
- 7 Kaunas tourist information
- 8 Things to do in Kaunas
- 8.1 Wander around the Old Town
- 8.2 Visit the town hall
- 8.3 See the remnants of the castle
- 8.4 Visit beautiful churches
- 8.5 Find the old shrine
- 8.6 Enjoy the riverside
- 8.7 Admire beautiful Lithuanian crosses
- 8.8 Buy amber souvenirs
- 8.9 Ride the funicular to Aleksotas Hill
- 8.10 Admire the best view of Kaunas Old Town
- 8.11 Visit the Folk Music Museum
- 8.12 Eat out at Vilniaus street
- 8.13 Find amazing murals
- 8.14 Admire the beautiful modernist architecture
- 8.15 Walk along the pedestrian Laisves avenue
- 8.16 Try the most famous donuts in Kaunas
- 8.17 Enjoy the local cafe scene
- 8.18 Pay respect to Romas Kalanta
- 8.19 See the beautiful Church of St Michael the Archangel
- 8.20 Discover the hidden yard gallery
- 8.21 Visit the fascinating Devils Museum
- 8.22 See the only remaining synagogue in Kaunas
- 8.23 Ride Žaliakalnis funicular
- 8.24 See the panorama from the rooftop of Church of the Resurrection
- 8.25 Find famous movies locations
- 8.26 Visit the Baroque masterpiece – Pažaislis Monastery
- 8.27 Visit the Ninth Fort
- 8.28 See the local mosque
- 8.29 See the sculpture transforming in the evening
- 9 Final thoughts on visiting Kaunas
- 10 Further reading
- 11 Travel Resources
Where is Kaunas?
Kaunas is the second-largest city in Lithuania, located in the central part of the country, where rivers Nemunas and Neris meet. Vilnius, the capital, is some 100 km away. Borders with Poland and Russia (Kaliningrad Region) are not too far away either.
Why visit Kaunas
If you think that visiting Vilnius is enough during your trip to Lithuania you are very wrong. Kaunas offers so many things to do and see and you should definitely include the city in your itinerary.
Not only the city has a beautiful old town, but there is also the so-called new town with impressive architecture from the interwar period. Kaunas has wonderful street art, some cool museums, and a very good food scene. There are just so many things to do in Kaunas that weekend in Kaunas might not be enough to do it all!
A brief history of Kaunas, Lithuania
The first traces in this area come from the 2d and 1st millennium BC and the first settlement was founded here around the 10th century.
Kaunas was first mentioned in 1361 when the brick castle was built near the confluence of Nemunas and Neris rivers. Already a year later the castle was captured by Teutonic Order who later on rebuilt the castle (it stands in that very place till today). Not long after Kaunas was returned to Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
At the beginning of the 15th century, Kaunas was granted Magdeburg rights, shortly after it joined the Hanseatic League as the important trade center. The town was developing rapidly but the 17th and 18the centuries brought numerous misfortunes to the place – attacks, plague, and fires.
After the third partition of Poland Kaunas became part of the Russian Empire and was under its rule until 1915 when Germans started the occupation. In 1918 the city became the capital of Lithuania and that’s when the city developed greatly.
During World War Two the capital was moved back to Vilnius when Lithuania was incorporated into the Soviet Union. Lithuania declared its independence in 1990 with Kaunas as its second-largest city.
How to get to Kaunas
Obviously, these days getting to Kaunas is a bit complicated with all the restrictions so please check the official websites before planning your trip.
It’s actually very easy to get directly to Kaunas as the local airport is served by low-cost airlines Wizzair and Ryanair from numerous destinations around Europe. There are also connections from Warsaw with LOT Polish Airlines and from Oslo with Norwegian. You can also reach Kaunas by bus and train from Poland.
If you want to visit Kaunas from Vilnius it’s also very easy. There are plenty of bus and train connections, the journey takes around 1,5 hour which makes Kaunas one of the best day trips from Vilnius (although the city deserves more than just a few hours).
Where to stay in Kaunas
There are many accommodation options in Kaunas so you have enough places to choose from. I recommend staying somewhere in between the Old and New town so you will be within a walking distance to most of the Kaunas attractions.
Here are some of the recommended accommodations in Kaunas:
- HOF HOTEL (8,9/10 on Booking) – that’s where I stayed and I can definitely recommend it
- The Monk’s Bunk Kaunas (9,3/10 on Booking)
- Hotel Radharanė (8,6/10 on Booking)
- Theater guest house (9,4/10 on Booking)
How to get around Kaunas
Kaunas is best discovered on foot but you will be surprised how large area you will cover.
The center is divided into the old and new town and you will find most of the things to do in Kaunas in those places. You will also use funiculars (there are two of them in Kaunas, more about them later) when sightseeing in Kaunas.
There are also a few places that are located a bit away from the center, you can use either public transport or Bolt (the app just like Uber) to get there.
I recommend downloading Bolt to your phone before your trip to Kaunas. It’s also the best way to get from the airport the center.
Kaunas tourist information
When you visit Kaunas be sure to stop by the local tourist information center, located in the town hall. They also have a very good website that you can check before your trip to Kaunas.
Kaunas has one of the best maps I’ve ever seen, with different themes, such as street art, modernist architecture, contemporary Kaunas and more. You can find all the maps here.
Things to do in Kaunas
Wander around the Old Town
The Old Town of Kaunas is the oldest part of the city and such a charming place to visit! Winding cobbled streets are lined with colorful houses, some of them showing the old brick structure.
Many buildings in the Old Town still remember the grand times from the 15th and 16th centuries as that’s where the center of the town was back then. The most beautiful house is Perkunas’ House at Aleksoto g. 6 – a spectacular Gothic masterpiece.
The main pedestrian street, Vilniaus, is the oldest street in the city that in the past was part of the medieval road to Vilnius (hence the name). Today it is full of small shops, restaurants, bars and cafes. Most of them have outdoor seating making it a perfect place to rest after all the wandering around.
Visit the town hall
The central point of the Old Town is the market place, with houses from the 16th and 17th centuries and the impressive town hall right in the middle. The building is tall and sleek, no wonder it got the nickname “White Swan” as the resemblance to this elegant animal is very obvious.
The town hall was built in the mid-16th century as a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Classicist styles. You should visit the town hall inside too and I highly recommend it – the interior is beautiful and also designed in different styles.
The most stunning hall is used for ceremonies and if you visit on Saturday you will most likely see the line of wedding couples waiting to get married.
See the remnants of the castle
What we can see now are only the remnants of the castle from the 14th century but it’s still an interesting place to see, especially when you imagine how grand this building used to be. Today only the tower and part of the walls are left.
In the 16th century, the prison was located here and the legend says the place is still haunted by the souls of the inmates who lost their lives here. Inside you can visit the branch of the Kaunas city museum.
Visit beautiful churches
There are some beautiful churches in the Kaunas Old Town and you should definitely visit some of them, even if you are not religious.
The most important one is Kaunas Arch-cathedral Basilica, located just off the Market Square at Vilniaus g. 1. It was built at the beginning of the 15th century and is the largest Gothic church in Lithuania. The interior, rich in ornaments, is just stunning!
Other churches you should visit are St. George Church (near the castle) with beautiful old paintings, Church of Holy Trinity (near the town hall) and Vytautas’ Church (near Perkunas’ House).
Find the old shrine
In the park at the edge of the Old Town, near the place where the Nemunas and Neris rivers meet, you can find the old pagan shrine. In the past, paganism used to be very popular in Lithuania, and still today there are a few thousand pagans in the country.
Each Saturday at 10 in the morning they gather at the shrine to make a fire and give salt and bread to gods. I was just a few minutes late to witness the ceremony and no one was at the sight but the fire was still burning lightly.
Enjoy the riverside
Rivers play an important role in Kaunas and the place where they meet is such a pleasant green area in the city. That’s also where you can go for the hot-air balloon flight to see the city from the unique perspective (I was supposed to do it but the weather spoiled my plans).
When you are in the Old Town you should come here as well, even if to see the confluence of the two most important rivers in Lithuania.
Admire beautiful Lithuanian crosses
Most likely you haven’t heard about the Lithuanian art of crafting crosses before. I didn’t and I was in awe when I found those masterpieces in Kaunas.
The decorative crosses are part of Lithuanian tradition and today they are recognized by UNESCO and put on their Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Crosses are made of oak wood and richly decorated, also with pagan symbols.
In Kaunas, you can find one cross in the yard behind Holy Trinity Church near the Town Hall. There are also a few of them next to the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier, near the Vytautas the Great War Museum.
Buy amber souvenirs
Lithuania is famous for amber (known also as “Lithuanian gold”) and it is probably the best souvenir you can bring back home from your trip to this Baltic country.
You can do some amber shopping in Kaunas too, especially that prices are better than in Vilnius or at the seaside. You will find some souvenir shops with amber next to the Arch-cathedral. I bought a nice amber bracelet and it was only a few €.
Ride the funicular to Aleksotas Hill
Kaunas is the only city in Lithuania that has a funicular (actually two of them). The one that goes to Aleksotas Hill was built in 1934 to improve transportation in the city and make this area more accessible.
It costs only 1,20€ one-way (or 2€ for the return) to ride up the hill. The ride is short but pretty fun and it’s one of the coolest things to do in Kaunas.
Admire the best view of Kaunas Old Town
Even if the funicular is not operating you should still go up to Aleksotas Hill to enjoy the beautiful view from there. Right in front of you, there is Nemunas river with the Old Town just across the bridge. You can admire red rooftops and high spires with residential areas in the background.
Interesting fact: Vytautas the Great Bridge connecting the Old Town with Aleksotas was the border between the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Poland. The popular joke said that it took 13 days to cross from one side of the river to another, that’s because Russia used the Julian calendar and Poland used the Catholic calendar – the difference between those two was 13 days.
Visit the Folk Music Museum
This is the only museum in Lithuania dedicated to folk music only and it’s such an interesting place to visit.
There are over 7000 exhibits but the most important ones are kanklės (chordophone) – Lithuanian plucked string instruments. There are different types of them but each is beautifully decorated.
In the museum you can also learn more about Lithuanian multipart songs and how to sing them – another part of the local culture that was included in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Eat out at Vilniaus street
The main pedestrian street in the Old Town – Vilniaus – is full of restaurants and cafes. You can find there lunch or dinner option for each taste and budget but I especially recommend trying some Lithuanian dishes. It’s not so common to find them anywhere except for Lithuania so that can be a great opportunity for you to try some zeppelins – large potato dumpling or Šaltibarščiai (my favorite!) – cold beetroot soup.
In the warmer months, all the restaurants have tables outside so you can enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the street while eating out.
Find amazing murals
One of the most surprising things about Kaunas is exceptional street art. The city is full of amazing murals, stencils and more forms of art. However, the main character of the local street art scene is a funky cat – you can see him all over the city.
Street art is such an important part of the city’s scenery that some of the souvenirs were inspired by it and a few months ago local trolleybuses were painted in the best street art works (and the cat).
I wrote the whole article about Kaunas street art – you can read it here.
Admire the beautiful modernist architecture
When Kaunas became the capital of Lithuania in the interwar period the city had to develop to its important new function. At that time the modernist architecture was popular in Europe and therefore all the new trends in design were introduced in Kaunas too. Over 12.000 buildings were built in Kaunas in that period and most of them are great examples of modernism.
Still today Kaunas is one of the best cities in Europe to admire modernism as you will see lots of spectacular buildings in this style all over the city, but especially in the New Town.
You can read more about modernism in Kaunas here.
Walk along the pedestrian Laisves avenue
Laisves avenue is the main place in the New Town and one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe (1,7 km). That’s where you will find some of the best examples of modernism in Kaunas, such as the central post office, the municipality, or former “Pazanga House”.
Laisves avenue is full of restaurants, cafes, and shops and it’s always busy with people. The central part of the street is lined with trees, giving the much-needed shadow in the warm days.
Try the most famous donuts in Kaunas
Spurginė is the Kaunas legend. Located at Laisvės 84 this bakery, specializing in old-style donuts, has been in business for almost forty years. The place looks like the time has stopped there but the donuts are super delicious, based on the same recipe for years. You don’t want to miss them!
Enjoy the local cafe scene
Kaunas has some great cafes and they can be a nice addition to your itinerary, especially when you need to relax after all the sightseeing. You can find a lot of them in both the old and the new town.
My favorite was Knygų ministerija, filled with books. Other places worth checking out include Caif Cafe, Vero Cafe, Green Cafe and Cremiu Cake Studio.
Pay respect to Romas Kalanta
Romas Kalanta was the 19 years old student who self-immolated himself as the protest against the Soviet regime in Lithuania. This tragic event took place on May 14th, 1972 and was the beginning of the largest post-war riots in the country.
When walking along Laisvės avenue you should stop at the memorial site where Romas Kalanta burnt himself. The wall next to it looks like the flames and in the park behind you can find 19 stones, the symbol of his age.
See the beautiful Church of St Michael the Archangel
The Church of St Michael the Archangel was built at the end of the 19th century at the end of Laisves avenue to serve as the garrison church. It catches an eye right away, not only because it is dominating the square it is located at, but also because of its beautiful neo-Byzantine style.
Unfortunately, today the church needs the renovation but it is still a great building to admire.
The Yard Gallery is one of the coolest places to visit in Kaunas and a true hidden gem of the city. You need to enter the gate at Ožeškienės 21A to be transformed into a magical world.
Over ten years ago a local artist Vytenis Jakas moved into one of the flats in this complex and realized there is no community there. He wanted to change that and so slowly, step by step, he changed the yard into a wonderland.
At first, he put on the walls photos of Jewish families that used to live in those houses to remember the past. It was just one of many projects that happened here, bringing together the neighborhood community.
You are invited to enter the yard and admire all the great works there but keep in mind that there are people living in those houses so visit the place with respect.
Visit the fascinating Devils Museum
When visiting Kaunas you can’t miss the only Devils Museum in the world.
The famous Lithuanian figure Antanas Žmuidzinavičius has collected over 3.000 devils from around 70 countries – there are sculptures, figures, masks, souvenirs and more. You can see the whole collection in the museum – some of the devils are scary, others are funny but altogether they make such a cool exhibition to admire.
See the only remaining synagogue in Kaunas
Before World War 2 Kaunas has a fairly big Jewish population with four synagogues. Today only one remained in the city and is open for prayers (there is one more open in Lithuania).
This neo-baroque synagogue was built in 1872 and many consider it has the most beautiful arks in the Jewish world. If you are lucky and find it open – be sure to step inside and see the interior yourself.
Ride Žaliakalnis funicular
When you are in the new town be sure to ride the second of Kaunas funiculars – Žaliakalnis. The whole ride takes less than 2 minutes and is such a fun experience! Just like Aleksotas funicular, this one also comes from the interwar period and still uses the original equipment.
See the panorama from the rooftop of Church of the Resurrection
Next to the upper station of Žaliakalnis funicular, you will find the modernist Church of the Resurrection. The building is enormous (it’s really difficult to take a proper picture of it) and the interior is very modest.
But the biggest attraction is the rooftop that you can visit – you can either walk up the stairs or use the elevator. From up there you can admire the panorama of the city (especially the New Town) and beyond and it is one of the best Kaunas vistas you can find.
Find famous movies locations
You might not know that but Kaunas is a popular destination for film-makers. Some of the well-known movies were filmed here and when you know that you can actually recognize some corners from the screen.
Recently the popular tv-series “Chernobyl” was filmed in the city. You can see Kaunas in one of the opening scenes, the hospital in Moscow was, in fact, the former building of Kaunas Technical University and the iconic bridge from the moving scene when Prypiat residents watch the fire is located on the outskirts of the city.
If you would like to find more movie locations get the dedicated map of Kaunas and go for a hunt.
Visit the Baroque masterpiece – Pažaislis Monastery
Even if you need to do a little detour from the center, Pažaislis Monastery is worth the trip.
Located on the outskirts of the city, at the peninsula of Kaunas Reservoir, it is one of the best examples of Italian Baroque not only in Lithuania but in Eastern Europe. The monastery was built at the end of the 17th century and it’s beautiful both outside and inside, however the stunning frescoes are why you need to visit this place.
There is also a popular restaurant at the site (Monte Pacis), one of the best in Kaunas – I definitely recommend having lunch there but it’s better to have a reservation.
Visit the Ninth Fort
Kaunas is surrounded by the defense system from the end of the 19th century. Today the most important part of it is the 9th fort.
In the interwar period, the prison was located there. During World War 2 the place was used by Nazis to mass murder local Jewish community, some sources say about even 50.000 people who lost their lives in the 9th fort.
Today you can visit here the museum where you can learn more about the tragic history of the place.
The Ninth Fort is located a bit away from the center, near Kaunas – Klajpeda highway.
See the local mosque
On the edge of Ramybės parkas in the New Town, you will find a small mosque, built in 1930 in the mix of modernist and neo-Moorish styles. It is one of the four mosques in Lithuania and the only brick mosques in the Baltic countries.
See the sculpture transforming in the evening
I’ve already mentioned that street art in Kaunas is pretty amazing but this one trick deserves a separate mention.
One of the sculptures near the War Museum looks completely normal in the daylight. But once the evening comes it changes completely. On the wall behind the statue someone painted stars and when the streetlights are on the shadow of the sculpture looks like the man is throwing stars. This is such a simple yet so creative idea!
Final thoughts on visiting Kaunas
Kaunas is one of my favorite cities in Europe and I’m surprised it’s still not as popular among tourists as it should be. With so many things to do in Kaunas, everyone will find something interesting for himself, whether it’s history, culture, architecture or the culinary scene.
I’m already looking forward to my next trip there and I hope that with this guide I encouraged you to visit Kaunas too.
If you would like to read more about Kaunas and Vilnius you should check those articles I wrote too:
- Kaunas – the coolest city in Lithuania
- Discover amazing street art in Kaunas, Lithuania
- Guide to Impressive Modernist Architecture in Kaunas, Lithuania
- A mini guide to things to do in Vilnius, Lithuania
- Guide to quirky, alternative Vilnius
- Bohemian Vilnius – The Republic of Uzupis
- Vilnius street art
- Guide to Soviet Architecture in Vilnius, Lithuania
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Disclaimer: during my third trip to Kaunas I was hosted by Visit Kaunas. As always all opinions and experiences described above remain my own.
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