The best things to do in Kaunas Lithuania
This post is about the best things to do in Kaunas, Lithuania. Kaunas is Lithuania’s second largest city. A true Baltic city with a medieval castle and a colorful old town, but also modernist architecture and fascinating museums.
What started as a fort on the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris rivers grew into a beloved merchant city for the German Hanseatic League. Further north were important cities like Riga and Tallinn, going South was Poland with Bialystok and Lublin and going East was Russia.
Jews took active part in the trade between Kaunas and other cities in the region. Like Vilnius, Kaunas had a large Jewish minority with a rich cultural life that virtually disappeared after WW2. Then Kaunas became a Soviet city, but few Russians came to live and work there.
Kaunas remained a true Lithuanian city throughout its history of occupation by Germans and Russians. Nowadays it is a young student city and there are plenty of things to do in Kaunas.
Why visit Kaunas Lithuania?
Kaunas is a great city to visit in Lithuania and a great place to learn more about Lithuanian culture. Although Vilnius is the capital, Kaunas is Lithuania’s cultural center. In fact it is one of the European capitals of culture in 2022.
It is not necessarily the sights, but the fact that there are always things to do in Kaunas that attracts people to the city. Every year there is a full program of events like concerts, theater performances, exhibitions or festivals. It is a young and dynamic city with an active street art scene and
Personally I didn’t find Kaunas to be the most beautiful city in the Baltics. There are far more charming cities in Lithuania. Yet, I felt that my two days in Kaunas were not enough. It is easy to see the castle and the old town in one day, but the museums and the architecture in the suburbs will easily keep you busy for another day or two.
Kaunas is also a great destination for food lovers with a delicious restaurant scene. In Kaunas you can try different Lithuanian dishes like the cepelinai potato dumplings or cold beetroot soup.
As you can read, there are plenty of things to do in Kaunas, Lithuania. What I also liked about Kaunas is that it is still relatively off the beaten path and that it doesn’t see the crowds of tourists that Vilnius does. Especially when I visited in winter, I was often the only foreigner around.
Things to do in Kaunas Lithuania
The castle has a scenic location at the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris rivers. This is where the city of Kaunas began as early as the tenth century when people settled at the elevated banks of the river.
In 1361 the first stone castle was built, but it took only one year for the castle to be destroyed by the Teutonic knights. The castle was eventually rebuilt, but for many years it was a place of conflict and conquest between the Lithuanians and the Teutonic knights. Later it was even used by the Swedes during the Polish Swedish wars in the 17th century.
After that the castle fell into Russian hands and was used as a prison and then slowly fell into disuse. The current castle is the result of major renovations and reconstruction in 2011.
Kaunas Old town
The Old town is small and compact, but packs a bunch of things to see and do. There are several old churches and lots of elegant architecture. Add in some great restaurants and cafes and you could easily spend your afternoon wandering around the old town of Kaunas with frequent breaks to drink a cup of tea.
Kaunas Town hall square
At the center of the old town in Kaunas is the town hall square. In my opinion, it is one of the most picturesque places in Kaunas. The town hall dates from the 16th century and is in Baroque and Classicist style.
Vilnius Gatve is the main street in the old town that runs from the castle to the more modern downtown area of Kaunas. There are several important sights along this road and it’s a great way to see more of Kaunas after exploring everything in the Old town.
Church of the holy trinity
The Church of the Holy Trinity is one of the most important catholic churches in Kaunas. The complex is also home to the old Bernardine monastery and a Priest Seminary. During Soviet times it was closed for a while and used as a book depot warehouse.
However, the priest seminary used their own funds to restore the church and masses resumed in 1982.
St. Peter and Paul basilica
The St Peter and Paul Basilica is the main Roman catholic cathedral in Kaunas and the largest Gothic church in Lithuania. With its beautiful interior this church is certainly worth a visit.
The Perkunas house is one of the oldest buildings in Kaunas. The name refers to a small statue of the pagan god Perkunas that was found hidden in the wall of the building. The house did not have anything to do with the old Lithuanian faith though, it was a merchant residence of the Hanseatic League for most of its time and is now a museum.
The 15th century building saw several renovations, but still has its original Gothic facade. It now belongs to the Jesuit Gymnasium and is home to the Memorial Museum of Adomas Mickevičius.
Vytautas the Great church
The Vytautas church, next to the Perkunas house, is the oldest church in Kaunas. Legend tells that the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas built the church around 1400 after he was saved from drowning in the river in a battle with the Tatars.
Aleksotas observation deck
Kaunas has several small hills with observation decks. The Aleksotas hill is on the opposite side of the river from the old town and has one of the best views over Kaunas. You can take the funicular up the hill and enjoy the river views and views over the Vytautas the great church and Perkunas house.
Former Presidential palace
For a short period of time in the interwar years, Kaunas was home to the Presidential palace. When Vilnius became part of Poland in 1918, Kaunas became the capital of Lithuania till Soviet occupation in 1940. The 19th century Neo Baroque building is now home to M.K. Ciurlionis Art Museum.
Freedom Avenue or Liberty Boulevard is the main shopping street of Kaunas. It is 1.6 kilometers long and the longest pedestrian street in Lithuania. Where the old town was rather quiet and empty, Freedom Avenue was way more busy.
Saint Michael the archangel church
Freedom Avenue ends at the large St.Michael the archangel cathedral. It was originally built as a Russian orthodox church in Byzantine style, but when Lithuania became independent after WW1 it became a Roman Catholic church. Underneath the church you will find the Kaunas museum for the blind.
Outside the old town, the elegant architecture changes into gray modernist buildings. To bring a bit more color to the city, people living in the courtyard of Kiemo Galerija decorated their buildings with all kinds of art. It’s like a very small open air gallery that is worth a quick look if you are nearby.
Kiemo Galerija is only one of the many examples of street art in Kaunas. If you pay attention when you walk around the city you will find more works of art on the walls of the buildings. Some famous wall paintings include the wise old man, the star seeder and the pink elephant.
Kaunas has not one, but two furniculars. The Zaliakalnis funicular brings you to the top of the Zaliakalnis hill. The views aren’t as nice as the Aleksotas hill, but if you like funiculars you should not miss the oldest funicular in Lithuania.
Kaunas has lots of museums. One of the more unique museums is the Devils museum with more than 3000 devil statues from all over the world. The exhibition about the devil in Lithuania tells the stories of mysterious local legends, folk tales and superstitions.
Of all the museums in Kaunas I found the Sugihara house the most interesting one. It tells the story of the Japanese Ambassador Sugihara that saved thousands of jews during WW2 by giving them visas to Japan.
The Sugihara house is a bit outside of the center, but it is well worth the effort to get there.
Things to do near Kaunas
Ninth fort Museum
The ninth Fort Museum has a very dark history. The Soviets used it as a prison for political prisoners that were waiting to go to one of the Gulags in Siberia or Kazakhstan.
When Nazi Germany occupied the fort they used it as a place to murder Jews. Among them were the Jews from the Kaunas ghetto, but also Jews that were deported to Kaunas from other places in Europe. More than 50.000 Jews were killed at the Ninth fort.
After WW2 the Soviets first used the fort as a prison again, but soon opened a museum about the crimes of Nazi germany. In 1984 a large monumemt to the victims of Nazi Germany was built next to the fort.
Kaunas travel tips
Where to eat in Kaunas
Etno Dvaras: A bit touristy, but an excellent place for Lithuanian food. The picture menu makes it easier to choose what you want. Although the choice is enormous and everything looks very good. They also have branches in other cities in Lithuania such as Klaipeda and Vilnius so I ended up a couple of times in their restaurant and I was never disappointed.
Berneliu Uzeiga: Berneliu Uzeiga has a similar concept to Etno Dvaras. A large picture menu with Lithuanian delicacies like Cepeliniai and others. A bit touristy, but nevertheless delicious food for a great price. They have a restaurant in Vilnius too.
Moksha: a great place for vegetarians and lovers of Asian food. Probably one of the best Asian restaurants in Lithuania with great Indian and Thai inspired curries.
Where to sleep in Kaunas
Budget dormitory: The monk’s bunk has cheap dormitories near the old town of Kaunas. The location is very central and it is a great place to meet other travelers.
Budget rooms: Hotel Radharane is a good budget option not far from the old town. It’s a bit of a strange place with owners from India, but it has everything you need. Breakfast is included.
How to get to Kaunas
Kaunas has an airport, but only a few budget airlines fly into it. The new Rail Baltica is working on better train connections that makes it easier to reach Kaunas in a more sustainable way by train.
Rail Baltica plans to connect the Baltic capitals with Warsaw on new modern high speed trains. They should be up and running by 2026.
Until then, international train connections with Kaunas are limited. The train is still a great way to travel within Lithuania though with excellent connections to Vilnius, Klaipeda and Ignalina for Aukstaitija Narional Park.
If you want to travel to Latvia I can recommend Lux express that has comfortable buses to Riga and Tallinn. To check other bus companies and bus routes within Lithuania you can use autobusbilietai.
How to get around Kaunas
Most sights are within walking distance of each other. I only used the bus to visit the ninth fort and to travel to and from the train station. There is a good network of public buses and you can download the Trafi app to buy tickets and get travel information.
When to visit Kaunas
Kaunas is an all year round destination, although most people prefer the warm summer days. The downside of visiting in summer is that it will be busy and prices for accommodation are slightly high. I visited in winter and although it was cold it had its charms as well.
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