If you’re looking for somewhere different for a short Europe break, I think it’s definitely worth visiting Kaunas – Lithuania’s often overlooked second city.
As it’s still under the radar for many tourists, you’ll find that many of the city’s attractions are yours alone to explore, and it’s a great place for lovers of history and all things quirky. Here’s my guide to the essential things to do in Kaunas…
Things to do in Kaunas, Lithuania
Kaunas Old Town
The prettiest part of the city, Kaunas’ old town is dotted with many small local museums and churches to explore.Through its heart runs the cobbled pedestrian street of Vilniaus gatvė, where you’ll find a great range of restaurants and cafes.
Follow the road to the west and you’ll end up at the old town square, definitely a great spot to visit in the evenings after a day of sightseeing, as you’ll find some of the city’s top rated restaurants here.
The square is also home to the old town hall, which dates back to 1542. Over the years it’s been used as everything from an ammunition dump and prison through to a palace, Russian theatre and a ‘club of ill repute’. Today it’s used to host weddings and is also home to Kaunas’ ceramics museum.
Laisvės alėja, also known as Liberty or Freedom Avenue, is a total contrast to the old town’s Vilniaus gatvė. This is a 1.7km long pedestrian street, which is everything you’d expect from eastern block design: ie lots of grey concrete. Even so, when the sun shines it’s beauty comes through, as the long street has a line of lush green trees running down its centre, making it a pretty spot for a stroll.
The heart of the modern city, this is the place to come for some shopping, or a shot of strong Lithuanian coffee. (I also found a café that made the best hot chocolate – sadly I can’t for the life of me remember the name though!).
Green Hill Funicular
Ride this cute Swiss funicular, originally built in 1931, up to the top of Green Hill in order to save a steep climb.
It may only be 50m long, but your legs will thank you for it, I promise.
Christ’s Resurrection Basilica
My highlight of Kaunas was visiting Christ’s Resurrection Basilica, which towers high over the city.
Just a short walk from the top of the funicular, this building is like nothing I’d seen before – a giant art-deco masterpiece with a crazy history. The basilica was actually only consecrated back in 2004, and in the past it has been used as a soviet radio factory and even a Nazi paper warehouse.
This is also the best place to see Kaunas in all its glory – take the stairs or lift up onto the flat roof for an amazing view of the Nemunas and Neris rivers as well as the entire city. It’s the perfect spot for a panoramic shot and definitely one of the best things to do in Kaunas.
Museum of Devils
One of the strangest museums I’ve visited to date, this is full of exactly what you’d expect – a collection of over 2,000 devils from around in the world.
Here you’ll find devil woodcarvings, cuddly toys and even Hitler and Stalin devils doing a ‘dance of death’ over Lithuania. Definitely a unique experience!
The Presidential Palace of Lithuania
The old town is also home to the former Presidential Palace of Lithuania. This has now been turned into a beautiful museum telling the city’s history as well as talking about Lithuania past and present presidents.
During our visit we had the entire building to ourselves – to the point where a member of staff followed us around, turning on the lights to each room as we walked through the building. We had a fun little adventure!
National M K Čiurlionis State Art Museum
This one’s for the art lovers. The nation’s favourite artist, M. K. Čiurlionis was a painter and composer. This museum features many of his original paintings as well as giving you the chance to sit in a small lecture theatre and listen to his music.
The Ninth Fort Museum
Building of the defensive Ninth Fort began in 1902 and was completed on the eve of WWI. In 1924 it was turned into a prison and was also used as an extermination camp.
Opened as a museum in 1958, it’s home to a number of exhibitions documenting its dark history. Although not an uplifting topic, it’s well worth a visit.
The Ninth Fort Monument
This giant soviet-era concrete memorial stands on the site of a mass grave where Nazi victims were buried. It was unveiled in 1984 in memory of the 30,000 people who were murdered here.
Sadly not a lot of the Kaunas Castle is left standing as many of its walls and towers have been destroyed or decayed over the years it was left abandoned.
Still it’s enjoyable to explore the ruins and the sturdiest standing tower now houses an art gallery.
Has this whetted your appetite for a trip to Kaunas, or perhaps you’ve been before and have some recommendations of your own to add to our list? Please do share your thoughts in the comments below!