There are many reasons visit Kaunas, Lithuania's second largest city. One of the newest reasons is that Kaunas has just been voted to be one of the two European Capitals of Culture for 2022. Kaunas uses the slogan the (Con)temporary Capital, a play on words based on its time as Lithuania's temporary capital and its goal of making art, food and culture more accessible to all communities. I don’t think you have to postpone your visit until 2022, there’s a lot to see there now. Surrounded by a stunning landscape at the confluence of the two largest Lithuanian rivers – the Neman and the Neris – the city is a delight for Kaunas residents and guests. It’s a pleasure to the eyes with its cultural monuments, Gothic and Renaissance style buildings, and offers of breaks in beautiful parks. Here is my selection of 7 things to do in Kaunas. Enjoy!
1) Walk around the old town
The maze of streets of the Old Town of Kaunas is great for walking because the city boasts the longest pedestrian zone in Eastern Europe. It includes Laisvės Alley and Vilnius Street. Vilnius Street is the main street of the Old Town. Life here is very vibrant: cosy outdoor cafes, many shops and museums attract the attention of tourists. Another favourite stroll for Kaunas residents and guests is Laisvės Alley. It is the longest pedestrian street in Europe – 1.7 km long! The alley connects Vilnius Street and magnificent Kaunas Cathedral visible from a distance.You can’t miss the eye-catching Kaunas Town Hall, one of the symbols of Kaunas often referred to as the “White Swan”. This magnificent building is filled with late Baroque, Classical and Gothic spirit. The main facade features a tall, graceful tower that looks like a swan’s neck. Here one often hears a wedding march and sees receptions of honourable guests; moreover, you can visit a museum in the basement and explore the ceramics exhibition.
Make sure to find the house of Thunder at Aleksoto Street 6. It is a Gothic gem, one of the most original buildings of this era in Lithuania. The house was named after a brass statue of the pagan god of Thunder. It was also believed that the house was built on the old temple for the God of Thunder. It is said that this is the first brick house in Kaunas.
2) Admire Kaunas Castle
Kaunas Castle is the oldest stone castle in Lithuania built in the 14th century to resist crusaders’ attacks. The chosen place was strategically good for watching nearby cities and trade routes. For some time in the 18th century, it was used as a prison. At present, a branch of Kaunas City Museum operates in Kaunas Castle and every year cultural events take place in its vicinity.
3) Visit Kaunas Cathedral Basilica
Kaunas Cathedral Basilica of Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul is the largest sacral Gothic building in Lithuania. It’s located very close to the Town Hall Square. Its construction was completed in early 17th century. The most important Basilica highlights: a crystal dome covering the two-tier sacristy ceiling in the Late Gothic style and the largest organ in Lithuania, constructed in 1882. Pilgrims are drawn to a 16th century painting of Our Lady of Sorrows.
4) See the flood level meter at Vytautas Church
This church is considered to be the oldest in Kaunas. It was built on the north bank of the Neman River in early 15th century for Franciscan monks. The construction was ordered and funded by Vytautas the Great as a commendation to the Blessed Virgin Mary for saving his life after a major defeat in the Battle of the Vorskla River. It is the only church in Lithuania that has the Gothic shape of a Latin cross and three naves. The church was damaged by floods and renovated a number of times. In the middle of the 19th century, the church was converted into Russian Orthodox St. Nicolas Church. The building was returned to the Catholic Church in 1919 and underwent major renovation works twice. It is interesting that over the years the ground level around the church has been raised significantly and the façades sank; to compensate for this, the windows were shortened and the side portals were removed.
5) Watch street art in the city
The Old Town of Kaunas is a free art gallery in itself if you take some time to explore and step outside the main street (Vilnius Street). The narrow streets of the Old Town are full of amazing street art – from tiny hidden messages that make you smile when you find them and reflect on their meaning to huge pieces that take the whole wall. Take your time to explore and you’ll be surprised by how many unique works of art you can find here. If you are a real fan of street art, you can look for a Kaunas street art guide book with integrated Kaunas street art map.
The last pictured is a work by Ramune Barkauskaite.
6) Ride the funicular railway
Try the funicular railway, the oldest in the Baltic States, operating since 1931. You even have two options to choose from Žaliakalnis and Aleksotas funicular railways. These “hill-climbing cabins” are now used as a means of communication and also as a form of entertainment. My choice was the Aleksotas funicular. You can find it after crossing the Neman River by Vytauto Didžiojo Bridge from the city centre. The funicular station is next to the bridge, a bit to the left of it. Aleksotas Funicular Railway was built in 1935 by a Swiss company. It’s 133 meters long. Old style carriages without a driver can accommodate about 25 people. The funicular connects the city with Aleksoto Hill that opens to the centre of Kaunas and the Old City, offering stunning views.By the other Žaliakalnis funicular railway, one can reach the monumental Resurrection Church.
7) Visit Pazaislis Monastery
For me, it was a completely unknown gem, really stunning. The fact that it was not destroyed during World War II just adds more uniqueness to this place. The monastery is one of the most impressive architectural complexes across the entire North-East Europe, a masterpiece of late baroque architecture. Pažaislis Monastery was founded in the late 17th century by a nobleman of Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Great Chancellor of Lithuania, Kristup Zygmunt Pac, for the Order of the Camaldolese Hermits. The main construction work was resumed in early 18th century. The monastery was designed by Carlo and Pietro Puttini, and Giovanni Battista Frediani. Exclusive architectural solutions were used for the first time in Europe: a hexagonal church plan, and a concave facade. The interior stucco work is ascribed to Joan Merli and the frescos to Michelangelo Palloni. I found the church just awesome in its beauty.
The cloister is currently occupied by the Sisters of St. Casimir congregation. If you have the time, you can stay in the monastery guesthouse, now turned into a four star hotel called “Monte Pacis”.If you haven’t got so much time, I strongly recommend trying some delicious dishes from the hotel’s restaurant.
How to get to Kaunas?
You can go by plane. Kaunas International Airport is the 4th largest in the Baltic States after the three capital airports. You can travel from the capital of Lithuania Vilnius to Kaunas by public bus or train or just go by car. It's less than 1,5 hour drive from Vilnius.Have you been to Kaunas? What are your favourite sights of the city? Share in the comments section!
- Published by Anita on July 22, 2017
Author: Anita Sāne
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveler, passionate photographer and a mature career woman from Latvia, traveling mostly solo for more than 10 years. She is a skilled travel planner planning and executing her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her also on Instagram and Pinterest.