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Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania and previously served as the countries temporary capital during the interwar period.
To this day, Kaunas remains an important part of Lithuania’s social and cultural life, with such beautiful architecture and design that it became the first city in Central and Eastern Europe to be named as a UNESCO City of Design.
Kaunas has also been chosen to be one of the European Culture Capitals in 2022, and it only takes a weekend there to see why!
Wander Around Kiemo Galerija (The Courtyard Gallery)
The Courtyard Gallery, located on E. Ožeškienės street (21), is a free open-air gallery, open to the public 24/7.
The gallery was started when local artist Vytenis Jakas moved into one of the flats in the courtyard, which is located near the Jewish synagogue in an area where many Jewish families lived during the interwar period. He discovered that the courtyard was once full of life and a place where neighbours would come together to socialise regularly. Now, his neighbours barely knew each other and the courtyard was just a place for passing pleasantries.
So he decided to create the open-air gallery by painting residents’ portraits from old pictures and collecting the stories of residents past and present. The courtyard is now full of beautiful artwork, depicting stories of romance, family and of course memories of Lithuania’s tragic past.
The gallery is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, and in fact, I walked past it on two different occasions before being advised to visit. Just look for the sign and the Charlie Champlain mural.
Walk up Laisvės alėja to St. Michael the Archangel’s Church
At 1.6 kilometres (or 1 mile) in length, Laisvės alėja (Liberty Avenue) is the longest pedestrian street in Eastern Europe, meaning there’s plenty to see and do on the walk from Kaunas Old Town at one end to St. Michael’s Chruch at the other, including Kaunas State Music Theatre, sculptures of historic Lithuanians and plenty of shops and restaurants. Plus the beautiful tree-lined boulevard will make for some great photo ops.
Located at the very end of Laisvės alėja, St. Michael the Archangel’s Church is a beautiful Roman Catholic church built in the late 1800s when Kaunas was part of the Russian empire.
The interior of St. Michael’s, whilst maybe not quite as impressive as it’s roman-byzantine style exterior, is still worth visiting. St. Michael’s was built as a military church and was financed by the Military Ministry and donations from army servicemen. Many Lithuanians saw the Church as a symbol of the imperial authority of the Russian government rather than the presence of Orthodox Christians.
Climb Kaunas Castle
Originally built in the mid-14th century, there is only one-third of the Gothic style Kaunas Castle remaining today. However, with a little repair and reconstruction, the castle is still open for the public to visit, and the round tower is currently home to a small museum and art gallery.
Like many castles, Kaunas Castle was once home to a prison during the 16th century. It is rumoured that the souls of the prison’s inmates have not found peace to this very day and still haunt the castle by night.
Santaka Park surrounding the castle is also a lovely place for a gentle stroll after a visit to the castle. As well as being able to see several points of historical interest, you can watch the meeting point of the Nemunas river and Neris river. During my visit in February, there were even people sledging down the snowy slopes around the castle.
Explore Kaunas’s Street Art Scene
From the top of Kaunas Castle, you will also get a great view across the park to an iconic piece of Kaunas’s street art scene; the Wise Old Man. At 440m2 the impressive mural, which is painted onto the façade of an abandoned factory on Jonasvos Street (3), has been watching over Kaunas since 2013. Both the old man and the pipe, which is decorated with constellations, are symbols of wisdom.
And if you’re a fan of street art, Kaunas is definitely the place for you, with beautiful pieces all over the city. Check out this post for a guide to more of Kaunas’s street art.
Underneath the mural of the Wise Old Man, you will also sometimes find a small market selling locally made products such as meats, cheeses, vegetables and pastries.
Be on Your Best Behaviour at the Devil’s Museum
A rather bizarre collection of over 3,000 devil sculptures and carvings, the Devil’s Museum tells stories, legends and folktales of the devil from all over the world. Not as scary as you might think, the museum is about the perception of the devil in different cultures and is certainly a one of a kind place with many interesting facts for you to take home with you.
Take the Funicular Railway to the Top of Aleksotas Hill
The Aleksotas funicular railway was constructed on the right bank of the Nemunas River in the early 1930’s and the track has remained the same ever since. It is the oldest funicular in Lithuania and is among the oldest vehicles of such type in the world still operational today.
The track is just 142 metres (466 ft) long and therefore the journey is a short one. However, the panoramic views over Kaunas Old Town are more than worth the trip and the 50p ticket price.
Stop for a Coffee Break
During the interwar period, Kaunas was nicknamed Little Paris due to its rich cultural life, fashion, Art Deco architecture and widespread café culture, among other factors. To this day, there are still plenty of lovely cafes and coffee shops all over the city for you to stop for a mid-afternoon break. In the winter this is an ideal way to escape the cold, whilst in the summer you can grab an outside table and watch the world go by.
Try Vero Cafe, a lovely little chain of cafes in Lithuania with great coffee and plenty of delicious treats.
Grab a Smoothie and a Swing at Liuks Kebabai
Liuks Kebabai is a small restaurant on Jonavos Street (1), close to the Wise Old Man mural, which serves a wide menu of takeaway food from pizza to sushi. Now I didn’t actually try any of their food so I won’t give you any advice on that, but their freshly made fruit smoothies were delicious, and sitting on the outdoor swing tables was great fun for an afternoon pitstop!
Enjoy Traditional Lithuanian Food at Bernelių Užeiga
Try some traditional Lithuanian food made using ancient recipes at cosy Old Town restaurant Bernelių Užeiga. The menu is vast, with many different traditional Lithuanian dishes to choose from, whilst the portions are large and the prices are more than affordable. The staff even dress in traditional costumes to add to the atmosphere.
You’ll notice that potato is a particularly well-used ingredient in Lithuanian dishes, and come in a variety of different forms such as potato dumplings, duck-fat potato pancakes, fried potato with bacon and beef stuffed potatoes. So be prepared to load up with plenty of carbs (do you see why I visited in winter now?)!
Bernelių Užeiga is a small chain with a handful of restaurants around Kaunas and Lithuania, as well as some now outside (including one in London!). The Old Town branch is the easiest to reach for those staying in central Kaunas.
Go Classy at Uoksas Restaurantas
Serving a selection of modern dishes throughout the day, Uoksas pride themselves on preparing food that’s a feast for both the eyes and the taste buds. We only had time to pop by for brunch due to limited time (the first time I have ever brunched abroad), but if the standard of the eggs benedict was anything to go by, I’ll certainly be back for dinner on my next visit to Kaunas!
Where to Stay in Kaunas, Lithuania?
BEST WESTERN Santakos Hotel is a great option for a centrally located 4* hotel in Kaunas. For just £49 per night (for a double room in Feb 2018), we were pleasantly surprised at how bright and spacious the room was, with a large seating area, plus a separate bathroom and toilet room. The hotel is a short walk from all of the main sights, with helpful staff and a generous breakfast buffet included with the room. I couldn’t recommend this hotel any more highly, and at such an affordable price it’s a great option for a long weekend in Kaunas.