Lithuania must be one of the least known countries in Europe. And when someone eventually visits it most likely it is Vilnius – the beautiful capital (that’s especially the case of Polish people). But how many of you have actually heard of Kaunas, second biggest and probably the coolest city in Lithuania?
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My first visit to Kaunas
While I’ve been to Vilnius many times that’s where my knowledge of Lithuania ends. Technically I did visit Kaunas before too but I was only at the New Year’s Eve party at my friend’s brother’s place in the suburbs and we went for a quick walk around the Town Hall Square the next day. I only remember an original Christmas tree made of plastic from back then.
I felt that Kaunas have a big potential and I wanted to return ever since. Years have passed when I finally found a really good offer on buses, with the timing perfect for a weekend trip! Needless to say, I’ve bought the ticket right away! I thought that the end of March will be already a good moment to visit Kaunas, with the spring knocking on the door but well, I was so very wrong!
Tricky March weather
As soon as I arrived in Kaunas it started snowing. Like, really snowing! The center was full of people attending some sort of market – kudos to them for enjoying being outside in such terrible weather.
There was no way I could look around to see what Kaunas is about as the snow was all over my face. I quickly headed to my accommodation and after small troubles with finding it I finally checked in and called it a day.
It was snowing all evening long, I didn’t even go out to get some food and just stayed inside catching up on tv shows. I was slightly angry and disappointed but that’s the risk you take when traveling in March.
Kaunas castle – the oldest in the city
Fortunately the next morning the weather was much better, even if grayish, and I was ready to have the most of the rest of my visit to Kaunas. As it quickly turned out Kaunas is so much more interesting than I’ve ever expected and I was even afraid the day I have might not be enough to see all that Kaunas has to offer!
Most of the tourist attractions are located within a walking distance which makes Kaunas sightseeing so much easier.
I started in the Old Town, as that’s where my accommodation was located anyway and it was just convenient to move onwards from the confluence of Nemunas and Neris – two largest rivers in Lithuania that happen to meet in the heart of Kaunas. That’s also where the castle is located – the oldest building in the city and the first stone castle in Lithuania. It dates back to the 14th century and at some point, it could have been an impressive structure but not anymore. Only a small part remained to our times, now it hosts the city gallery and is often the venue for cultural events.
The heart of Old Town Kaunas
From the castle, it’s only a few steps to the City Hall Square with the City Hall itself standing proudly in the middle. Locals call it The White Swan for its tall and slim structure and it really is a gem of the renaissance architecture.
The square is surrounded by small pastel houses and – on the contrary – massive churches. Altogether the place looks really nice and I can only imagine how great it must be there in the spring or summer time when you can chill out at the outdoor cafes during long, warm evenings.
Best view of Kaunas
The best view of the Old Town and its numerous church towers can be seen from the Aleksotas Hill. You just have to cross the bridge over Nemunas river and you are at the lower station of the funicular, opened in 1935 (Kaunas is the only city in Lithuania that has funiculars, even two of them!).
Unfortunately, during my visit, this railway was not operating but the hill isn’t that high so going up there wasn’t so much of the deal. And the view from there was really amazing, worth all the effort. Everything was covered with a thin layer of snow which even added up to the atmosphere.
The interesting fact is that until the year 1918 Kaunas was a border city and this very part already belonged to the Kingdom of Poland!
The edgy side of the Kaunas Old Town
I returned to the Old Town and joined the crowds on Vilniaus – the main pedestrian street. It got the name after the capital of Lithuania as it used to be the beginning of the long way from Kaunas to Vilnius.
The street is packed with interesting architecture but since it was also packed with people very quickly I started just wandering in the backstreets. They were often not so pretty anymore but they definitely had this cool, edgy vibe around. The layer of paint was often scratched to unveil bare bricks. The place was also full of street art in the most unexpected places! This was when I started really falling for Kaunas and the more I explored, the stronger my affection was!
Cool, alternative Kaunas
The Old Town very smoothly changes into the Center. That’s where you can see one of the greatest murals I’ve ever seen – a girl on the pony that looks like it’s painted with crayons! So beautiful!
But the center of Kaunas hides numerous cool, alternative and quirky spots, I was over the moon when I was trying to chase them all and randomly kept finding even more hidden attractions. Like the courtyard on Ozeskienes street, close to the synagogue. At first there you see just a Charlie Chaplin painted on the wall but when you go further you find so many little quirks you don’t know where to look!
But the weirdest of all must be the Devils’ Museum. Unfortunately, it was closed on Sunday but just the sound of it seems crazy enough for me and the museum itself is the reason why I know I will return to Kaunas soon!
Did you know that Kaunas has one of the greatest collection of interwar architecture – modernism?
After the WW1 Kaunas was temporary the capital of Lithuania, that’s when the city grew and the new buildings appeared especially in the center. It was a way to create a new look of the place, the architecture was based on the national identity, emphasizing the importance of Kaunas.
The Zaliakalnis Funicular, even older than Aleksotas one, can take you to the Christ’s Resurrection Church – the most spectacular modernism building in the whole Lithuania if not all of the Baltic countries. And it really is impressive, you can see it from more or less everywhere in the city and well, taking a picture of this church isn’t such an easy task.
It is very likely that Kaunas modernism will be rewarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site title and I support these efforts as the place definitely deserves this award!
Laisvės alėja – the salon of Kaunas
The core of the center is 2kms long Laisvės alėja running from the Old Town all the way to the Church of St. Michael the Archangel and the nearby park (with the small mosque!). It’s all pedestrian, very neat and some of the fancy shops, cafes, restaurants, and most important institutions.
Laisvės alėja is like the runway of the city, it’s worth to be seen there and you go there to see others. It’s the best to do some people watching from one of the cozy cafes here, that’s what I did when I was done with exploring Kaunas. And it was the perfect ending of my weekend there!
Is it worth to visit Kaunas?
I went to visit Kaunas totally unprepared, I literally knew nothing about the city. Even if the weather wasn’t really on my side on this weekend Kaunas still managed to intrigue me and made me itch for more. I thought that 2 days will be more than enough there yet I’ve left with a feeling there are still so many places I need to see in Kaunas!
I’ve been a huge fan of Vilnius as it is this alternative, quirky capital but now I can see it has strong competition. I can’t decide which city is actually cooler and I slightly lean towards Kaunas, to be honest. So whenever I have a chance I will head back to visit Kaunas to fall for it even more!
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