By Billy Read
(All photos by Billy unless otherwise indicated)
Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, has been the historical heart of Lithuanian economic, academic, and cultural life for centuries, and is today the country’s scientific and industrial hub. Kaunas is charming not only for its historical buildings, green parks, and host of museums but also its fashion and widespread cafe culture. Nestling at the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris rivers, Kaunas has plenty of things to do for authentic, curious travellers
And it’s little wonder Kaunas has been selected the European City of Culture for 2022. Hence, there’s a major renovation underway in the heart of the city as it prepares for a massive (and rightfully deserved) influx in tourism.
What I loved about Kaunas Lithuania
After two days of exploring Kaunas, I was surprised by how much there is to see and do here, and I didn’t expect to become so fond of this city. I loved how quiet and serene the city is, the friendliness of the locals and the laid back atmosphere. It has relics of World War Two and the Soviet era, which was an added bonus. It is very easy to get around on foot here, and it’s very green and clean too.
Photo credit: Kestas Venzlauskas
My Top 10 Things To See And Do In Kaunas Lithuania.
1. Kaunas-Avenue of Freedom (Laisves Aleja)
Right in the heart of the city is the Avenue of Freedom, also known as Laisves Aleja, which translates as ‘Liberty Boulevard’. Stretching 1.6 kilometres through the city centre, its one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe.
Two lines of trees run right through the centre of the wide boulevard that’s adorned with countless cafes, hotels, museums, and modern shops. At the top, is the enormous Saint Michael the Archangel Church.
I found myself strolling down the boulevard and dropping by a couple of cafes, stopping for a flat white at Knygu Ministerija, which translates as the ‘Book Ministry’, a sort of library in a cafe.
I also checked out a few bakeries to grab some traditional Lithuanian bites such as the delicious Angel Wings (Zagareliai), and a traditional doughnut (Spurgos) was a yummy snack.
At the end of the avenue is a memorial to the former city resident Romas Kalanta, a national hero, who died when he set himself on fire in a public protest against the Soviet occupation in 1972.
Did you know: Laisves Aleja has had multiple names over its 170 year history? Originally called Nicholas Prospect, after Tsar Nicholas I of the Russian Empire in 1842. It was then re-named Kaiser-Wilhelm-Strasse in 1918, when Lithuania was under German occupation. A year later it became Laisves Aleja, and changed yet again(!) to Stalin Prospect, during the Soviet occupation. It was finally re-named Laisves Aleja in 1961 (30 years before independence).
2. Wander the Old Town of Kaunas
The end of Laisves Street meets the entrance to the old town of the city. Like Vilnius and the other Baltic capitals, Kaunas has its own charming old town. Whilst not quite as large as the others, it still has a tranquil vibe and a unique identity.
Take a stroll down the main street, Vilniaus gatve, and you’ll find plenty of old-style architecture, cosy little cafes, restaurants that cater to authentic Lithuanian as well as familiar international cuisine, and small souvenir shops.
3. Kaunas Town Hall
At the end of Vilniaus gatve you’ll reach the large town square. In front of you is a statue of Jonas Vileišis, a highly prolific diplomat and former mayor. At the back, sits the towering white town hall building, and around the square are several restaurants and bars that put on live music in the evenings, which adds to the vibrancy and energy of Kaunas’ nightlife.
There are also a few churches and monasteries in this area, that form a central part of Kauna’s predominantly Catholic society, as the citizens of the city can book their wedding ceremonies in these church halls for free.
4. Kaunas Castle and Confluence Park
At the western edge of the city where the two rivers meet is the Confluence Park, where you’ll spot the bold, red-brick Kaunas Castle and the statue of a knight on a horse, Lithuania’s national symbol.
During the summer months, various festivals and concerts take place here, including the Kaunas Hanseatic Days Festival. The castle itself has been reconstructed several times over the centuries, as is evident in the various layers of stones and bricks. You can view exhibits inside the castle, and the grounds of the park is perfect for strolling around and relaxing on a sunny day.
5. Devils Museum
As the name states – this is literally a museum all about devils. If you have time, its worth including a visit to this peculiar museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting sculptures and carvings of devils from all over the world, documenting the history and usage of devils in different cultures.
The museum started out with a collection of just 260 sculptures in 1966, but then visitors began to leave their own gifts to the museum. Currently, the museum’s holdings has grown to over 3000 items.
How to get there: From Vilinaus gatve: 15 minutes walk, or 5 minutes by Bolt
Opening times: 11am-5pm
Admission: 5 Euros
6. Impressive Street Art
If you’re a fan of street art like me, there’s a couple of impressive murals in town not far from Kaunas Castle, that are worth checking out.
I particularly liked the rather strange one of an old man smoking an enormous pipe. I loved the way the design of the pipe was incorporated to fit into the shape of the building.
One of the highlights of my visit to Kaunas was the ‘Art Yard’ – a narrow alleyway that led round the back of the buildings to a courtyard full of street art, poetic writings, and contemporary art pieces. Head over to Kiemo Galerija on E. Ožeškienes gatve, just five minutes walk down the road from the Devil’s Museum, and you’ll spot the bright blue entrance to the alleyway with an image of Charlie Chaplin on the left side.
How to get there: From Vilnius gatve its about 10 minutes walk to Kiemo Galerija.
7. Ninth Fort Museum
Slightly further out of town, but an absolute must for anyone visiting Kaunas is the Ninth Fort Genocide Museum that pays homage to the thousands of Jews that were massacred at this site and in the nearby forests during World War Two.
The museum leads you through a highly visual and emotionally-charged tour of the so-called Ninth Fort. Over the years, the impenetrable fortress that was built in Kaunas in the late 19th Century was used by the Lithuanian government as the city prison. Then during WW2, it became a large death camp under Nazi occupation, in which thousands of Jews and captured Soviet soldiers from across Europe were brought to be imprisoned and executed. Then it was used by Soviet forces for interrogation and torture of political prisoners before it finally closed down and re-opened as a museum.
There’s an enormous memorial on the hills at the back of the fort, built in 1984, to commemorate the victims of the Kaunas massacre that occurred on the grass field beside it.
The museum preserved many of the prison cells which used to hold up to 200 inmates per cell in cramped and freezing conditions. Walking through the museum and fort, there are lots of visual elements – imagery, texts, art installations and photos of victims, all documenting the events and experiences of the victims, many of whom have never be identified. It was a very harrowing and emotional experience.
How to get there: From Vilinaus gatve: 12 minutes by Bolt. Alternatively, bus numbers 21, 23, 39 and 40 take you to the museum in 45 minutes.
Opening times: 10am-6pm
Admission: 3 Euros
8. Authentic Lithuanian Cuisine
A trip to Kaunas would be incomplete without experiencing traditional Lithuanian cuisine. Head over to Berneliu Uzeiga – a local Lithuanian restaurant that serves delicious and very affordable offerings of the finest local food in Lithuania. Although not the healthiest food – there’s a lot of fried food and potato-based dishes, and pork features heavily (as does sour cream), you’ll be impressed by the taste. It is definitely a must-try for those seeking to properly experience the authentic food and traditions of Lithuania.
I was surprised by how cheap the food is at this restaurant, considering its authentic and of a high standard. A typical meal costs between 4-6 Euros. But then there are mostly locals that eat here, so this might explain the pricing.
For the starter I recommend the cold beetroot soup with hot potatoes – a popular dish in Lithuania, this one exceeded my expectations, it was yummy!
Berneliu Uzeiga has two restaurants in Kaunas – one at M. Valanciaus gatve and the other at K. Donelaicio gatve.
Alternatively, Uoksas and Avilys are other recommendations of authentic Lithuanian restaurants, situated in the old town, though aimed at tourists, and thus much pricier.
9. Pažaislis Monastery
If you’re a fan of Baroque architecture and grand churches, the Pažaislis Monastery is worth a visit. Built in 1664, the Pažaislis Monastery and the Church of the Visitation form the largest monastery complex in Lithuania, and the most magnificent example of Italian Baroque architecture in the country. It is situated on the Petrašiūnai elderate of Kaunas, on a peninsula in the Kaunas Reservoir near the Kaunas Yacht Club.
How to get there: From Laisves aleja, 15 minutes by Bolt ride, 50 minutes by trolleybus (no. 5 to Petrasiunai)
10. The Hill Of Crosses
One of the highlights of my trip to Lithuania was the surreal Hill Of Crosses on the outskirts of Siauliai – a small town situated two hours north of Kaunas. Though a bit further out, this unique attraction draws tourists from all over the world, and it’s definitely worth including in your itinerary.
The Hill Of Crosses is a unique place in terms of both its scale and history. Established over 200 years ago, it began as a small collection of crosses. Currently, over 200,000 crosses of various sizes now adorn the hill. The site is a reflection of the unfaltering faith of Lithuania’s Catholic majority citizens, and a sign of resistance against the Russian Empire and then the Soviet totalitarian regime.
How to get there: From Kaunas bus station, its 2 hours to Siauliai by bus. From Siauliai bus station, take the bus to Joniskis (get off at the 3rd stop: ‘Domantai’), then its 20 minutes walk to the Hill Of Crosses.
If you’re considering a trip to Eastern Europe and the Baltics, Kaunas is an absolute must on your itinerary. Suitable for travellers of all types – families, couples and solo travellers – there is something for everyone here.
I hope you enjoyed my post, thanks for reading!
Below Billy has put together some useful travel tips, plus you can learn more about this talented, deaf travel blogger.
Kaunas Lithuania Travel Tips
Budget: For the ultimate budget backpacker: Kaunas can be explored on €20 a day. Additionally, guesthouse/dorm is a little as €10 per night.
For the not-so-tight budget traveller: Kaunas can be done on €30-50 per day. Additional decent private room on Airbnb costs around €20 a night
How to get there: The nearest airport is Kaunas Airport, and there are flights from all over the UK from as little as £12 direct return, served by the main budget airlines Ryanair and Wizz Air. Alternatively, there is Vilnius Airport for around the same prices. There are also coaches from Siauliai and Riga, Latvia.
Best time to visit: We went in late July when it was warm and daylight hours were long, however, it’s also the tourist high season (though Kaunas has yet to draw the massive crowds of iconic European cities).
Top tip: Be sure to check out the spectacular Hill Of Crosses in Siauliai, two hours away by bus.
Best way to get around:
Rideshare apps – Bolt is commonly used in the Baltics and is super cheap, you can get around the city on €2-4 a fare.
The trolleybus – hitch a ride across town on one of the old Soviet-era trams that still serve the city routes. Tickets cost 70 cents
Citybee – rent your own car at reasonable prices, starting at €5 for 30 mins.
Where To Stay:
There are numerous accommodation options available on Booking and Airbnb at very affordable prices. I would recommend staying at least one night to fully experience Kaunas (especially if you’re including the Hill Of Crosses in your trip).
Travel Blogger & Performing Artist
Billy is a travel blogger and a performing artist from Birmingham, UK.
Born profoundly deaf, Billy has had a love of geography and travel since a young age, but communication barriers and challenges meant a lack of confidence to go out and see the world.
At the age of twenty-one, he was given the opportunity to teach dance workshops to deaf and hearing people in Hong Kong, and finally developed the confidence to travel all over the globe by himself.
With a love of street art, natural wonder, hidden gems and great coffee, Billy enjoys epic adventures on a budget – from European city breaks to backpacking tours around the Far East.
Through his travel blog, Billy aims to show that no matter your situation, difficulties or your budget, it is possible for anyone to travel to wherever they have always dreamed of.