Lithuania is a country you see popping up more and more in the travel industry, boasting an off-beat and affordable option for a European escape. However, most people venturing into this southernmost Baltic nation tend only to set their sites on the baroque charms of its capital Vilnius or for the pristine white sand and nature of the Curonian Spit. While both places are very much worth adding to any Lithuania itinerary, one city that seems to fall short on the tourism spectrum is the second-largest city of Kaunas.
Edgy and artistic, Kaunas manages to pack a significant amount of charm into its “rough-around-the-edges” exterior and its selection as the European Capital of Culture for 2022 has prompted massive improvements in the city’s tourism infrastructure. So, if you’re keen to get a bit off the beaten path in Lithuania and explore more of this beautiful country, read on to find out what to do in Kaunas!
How to Get Around Kaunas
Kaunas is located about 100 kilometres west of Lithuania’s capital city of Vilnius and is easily accessible from most major cities nearby. There are multiple daily bus connections from Vilnius and other Lithuanian cities, as well as Warsaw, Riga, Tallinn, and Minsk.
Kaunas is also home to a small international airport which serves both Ryanair, Wizzair, and LOT Polish Airlines from many destinations across Europe. Because of this, the Kaunas has become a popular option for a low-cost city break destination.
Kaunas is a small city and most everything that is of interest to visitors is within walking distance of the compact Old Town. However, if a site lies a bit out of reach, there is an extensive and easy-to-use public transport system.
Taxis are also quite affordable and can be accessed through the Taxify app which functions almost exactly like Uber. It is worth noting that in Lithuania, along with the rest of the Baltic States, it is not commonplace to hail a taxi off of the street. Locals generally call a taxi company or use the Taxify app and if you do this as well, you will almost certainly get a better rate.
What to do in Kaunas
While many visitors to Kaunas treat the city as a quick stopover en route to the Baltic coast or as a day trip from Vilnius, Kaunas is best explored over at least two days. Despite its diminutive size, there are many places of interest and things to do in Kaunas that can easily fill a weekend.
Kaunas Itinerary: Day One
On your first day in Kaunas, take some time to explore the Old Town and enjoy the laid-back and artistic vibe of the city. All of the places listed on this first day are within walking distance of each other.
The most iconic and impressive site in Kaunas would undoubtedly be its imposing castle situated at the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris rivers. Originally constructed in the 14th century, this red brick castle is reminiscent of others in the region. Surrounded by a large park on the banks of the rivers, it is the perfect place to visit if the weather is warm and sunny.
It is free to walk the grounds and park outside of the castle, but there is a €2.50 entry fee for adults and €1.20 for students and seniors. It can be worth touring the castle as it offers a fascinating history of the city throughout time and there is also an art gallery in the largest tower, making it a great option if the weather isn’t cooperating with a stroll in the park!
While Vilnius is certainly no stranger to the artistic, alternative scene, it fails in comparison to Kaunas. Due to a creative population, there is an absolutely thriving street art scene in Kaunas and you can barely walk more than a few hundred metres without discovering some beautiful piece of urban art. Much of the street art is commissioned through the city and there is even the annual Nykoka Street Art Festival which adds many beautiful pieces to Kaunas each year.
If you’re interested to find all of the amazing murals and stencil work that scatter the streets of Kaunas, be sure to stop by the tourist information centre and pick up a map. The basic city map from the tourism board actually has points with all of the most famous works of street art marked so you can curate your own art tour of the city.
Museum of the History of Lithuanian Medicine and Pharmacy
Located in the Town Hall Square in the centre of the Old Town, this museum is a great option if you’re wondering what to do in Kaunas. Though it might seem like a dull subject matter, the museum is packed to the brims with interesting artefacts and gives a fascinating insight into the history of medicine in Lithuania. Plan to spend at least an hour here as there is a surprising amount to see.
The museum is open from Tuesday – Saturday and includes a guided tour (available in English) in the entry fee. Admission costs €2 for adults and €1 for students and seniors.
The Kaunas Old Town is fairly small and compact and it is impossible to miss the main pedestrian street, Vilniaus Gatve. Though this isn’t the longest pedestrian street in the city, it is a perfect place to stroll down or grab a drink or bite to eat and observe the locals on their evenings out.
Lined with numerous restaurants and cafes, this is a fantastic place to people watch and enjoy the feel of Kaunas.
Kaunas Itinerary: Day Two
If you’re wondering what to do in Kaunas on your second day in the city, it is time to head outside of the Old Town and explore the more modern city centre. This is where the charms of the centuries-old city of Kaunas collides with beautiful modernist architecture and more contemporary amenities.
This museum, located in the Žaliakalnis neighbourhood just outside of the city centre, is best reached by either public transit or personal vehicle, but it is well worth the journey.
Located in the former residence of the Japanese ambassador for Lithuania, the Sugihara House explores the life and work of Chiune Sugihara. While serving as a diplomat in Kaunas during the Second World War, Sugihara is often hailed as the “Japanese Schindler” due to the fact that he issued thousands of transit visas for Lithuanian and Polish Jews fleeing Nazi occupation and saved more than 6,000 people from a horrible fate.
At the time, the only way to escape of that area of Europe was to travel overland through Russia before transiting through Japan before fleeing to the Caribbean and onwards. Sugihara recognised the desperate situation these people were in and ended up signing hundreds of visas each day to help as many people as he could.
The museum gives an excellent insight into his life, as well as some personal stories from people whom he personally saved. It also includes a brief film — there are English subtitles. It takes about an hour to see the museum and entry costs €4 for adults and €2 for students and seniors. This is absolutely one of the best museums to visit in Kaunas.
Connecting the Old Town to the outskirts of the city and running directly through the centre of Kaunas, Laisvės alėja is one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe. Stretching for nearly two kilometres, it is under significant construction as of the summer of 2018. However, all of the shops and restaurants along this lovely street are still open, so it can be very worthwhile to spend some time walking up one side and down the other, popping into places of interest as you go.
Like most every other major city in Lithuania (and the Baltics in general), there is a thriving food scene in Kaunas. Whatever preconceived notions you may have had about heavy and flavourless Eastern European food should be cast away, because the restaurant quality in Kaunas is both bold and affordable. Here are some of our top suggestions for places to eat in Kaunas:
Voted one of the top restaurants in Lithuania and in the top thirty in all of the Baltic States, Uoaksas offers a brilliant local and seasonal menu in a hip and casual setting. There is both a tasting menu and a la carte options available along with an impressive wine list. If you are looking for a special place to eat or are keen for a romantic and inventive meal while in Kaunas, then Uoaksas is the place to go.
Located in the heart of the Old Town, Avilys is another great option if you’re looking for modern Lithuanian cuisine in a casual setting. They serve a number of local dishes that are excellently prepared and have a large outside seating area, perfect for warm summer evenings. They also brew their own craft beer, which is incredibly tasty.
Casa Della Pasta
An Italian restaurant also located in the Old Town, Casa Della Pasta is an excellent option for a satisfying meal at affordable prices. They serve fantastic, thin crust pizzas and a number of other Italian dishes as well. They also have a huge outdoor seating area.
A great option for vegetarians and those who are craving a little bit of spice, Radharanė is a fantastic Indian restaurant which serves all of the old favourites at a great price.
Where to Stay in Kaunas
Because of its growing popularity as a tourist destination, there are a number of accommodation options to choose from in Kaunas that will suit any budget. Here are some of our top picks:
Located in Central Kaunas, this small and cosy hostel is an excellent option if you are travelling on a budget, solo, or just want to meet some cool people. They have both dorm and private rooms available, have great reviews, and excellent staff. Click here to see their latest prices on Hostelworld or Booking.com
Situated right in the heart of Kaunas, this boutique hotel is one of the best places to stay in the city. They have a number of rooms on offer, come very highly reviewed, and even have free breakfast included in the room rate. Click here to see their latest prices
If a traditional hostel or hotel isn’t quite your style, consider renting an apartment or room through Airbnb! There are myriad options available in Kaunas such as this cosy central apartment and it can be a great way to see how locals live in this Lithuanian city. Click here to browse the best Airbnbs in Kaunas!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Kaunas!
Kaunas is a fascinating, cool, and artistic city with many interesting things to do. Though it is often overlooked, it is well worth visiting the thriving Lithuanian city.
Are you planning to visit Kaunas? Have you been? Let us know in the comments!