Kaunas is a city in south-central Lithuania. At the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas rivers, Kaunas Castle is a medieval fortress housing historical exhibitions. To the east, the old town is home to the Kaunas Cathedral Basilica, with its ornate interior, and the Gothic spires of the Hanseatic House of Perkūnas. Laisvės Alėja, a pedestrianized street lined with trees and cafes, crosses the city from west to east.
At the eastern end of Laisvės Alėja, the Church of St. Michael the Archangel has neo-Byzantine domes and the underground Museum for the Blind. The M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art displays many works by the namesake Lithuanian painter, plus European art from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Nearby, the quirky Devil’s Museum has a collection of devil-inspired statues and masks. East of the city, on the shores of the bird-rich Kaunas Reservoir, the baroque Pažaislis Monastery has frescoes and stucco decorations. West of the Neris River, the Ninth Fort museum explores the effects of World War I and II on the area.
Between the 4th and 5th century BC at the confluence of the two largest Lithuanian rivers the settlement was established. In the 14th century a castle was built here. Now it is considered to be the oldest in Lithuania. Kaunas was first mentioned in written Teutonic Knights sources in 1361, who captured the town and destroyed the Kaunas Castle in 1362. It was rebuilt at the beginning of the 15th century.
In 1408 Kaunas was granted Magdeburg Rights by Vytautas the Great. While being located at the intersection of trade routes and a river port Kaunas has become one of the major trade centers in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and joined the Hanseatic League in 1441. By the 15th century, Kaunas was one of the best-formed towns in the whole country.
In 17th and 18th centuries Kaunas was attacked by armies of Russia and Sweden several times, some parts of the city was destroyed by fires. After the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian state in 1795, the city was taken over by the Russian Empire. During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, the Grand Army of Napoleon passed through Kaunas twice, devastating the city both times.
At the period after Vilnius was occupied by the Russian Bolsheviks in 1919 and captured by Poland in 1920, the government of Lithuania established its main base in Kaunas. The city became the Temporary capital of Lithuania. Between the World Wars Kaunas grew rapidly and was extensively modernised, a lot of buildings were built, representing neoclassicism, functionalism, and art deco. Kaunas become the largest city in Lithuania.
Up to the Second World War Kaunas had a significant Jewish population, who constituted about one-fourth of the city's total population. Jews were concentrated in the city's commercial, artisan, and professional sectors. Kaunas was also a center of Jewish learning.
In 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union. Following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 Jun 1941, Soviet forces fled Kaunas. Immediately before and following the German occupation of the city, several thousand Jews were killed. The Nazis eventually established the Kaunas Ghetto, which by the end of the war would be nearly completely liquidated.
After World War II Kaunas became the main industrial city of Lithuania, at the same time citizenry of the city were under continuous oppression of Soviets. After the restoration of Independence in 1990, Kaunas has become a center of logistics, transport, computer technologies, sports, and tourism of Lithuania.
The Kaunas downtown area is compact so everyone is able to stroll around on foot and take some photos. Be prepared for great variety of sculptuary on display in the public areas of Kaunas. Kaunas Old Town ends at the remnants of the former Kaunas City wall near the garden of the Musical Theatre.
Old Town Sights:
- The Kaunas Castle - Papilio St 17; Kaunas castle was built in the middle of XIV century and is the oldest building in Kaunas. Today the round tower of Kaunas Castle houses an art gallery. The castle is open to tourism, and hosts occasional festivals. Nearby Kaunas castle a nice Santakos park is set at the confluence of the two largest rivers of Lithuania - the Nemunas and Neris.
- The Kaunas City Hall- Rotuses sq. 15, built in the middle of XVI century, at the time when Kaunas was flourishing city of merchants, City Hall is a nice example of renaissance architecture in Kaunas. It is unofficially among locals called The White Swan. In 1836 the City Hall was reconstructed and the residence for Russian czars was made there. The Wedding Hall (marriage registration office) was opened in the ground and first floor of City hall in 1973. The cellars are used by a Kaunas Ceramics museum. The museum collection consists of various archaeological findings from the Old Town and surroundings of Kaunas. The collection contains craftsmen-made crockery, tile stove ornaments as well as roof tiles of impressive size. The exposition also reflects the lifestyle of the townsmen of the time. Open: Tu-Su 11 AM- 5 PM.
- The City Hall Square - the main square of the Old Town is the place for Kaunas City Hall and the surrounding buildings with lots of restaurants, bars, coffee-houses, museums, art galleries, and, hotels nearby.
- Wax Melting Furnace - the unique exposure of XV century wax melting stove near the Tower entrance of the City Hall was opened in 2002. Recently renovated the furnace exposure shows wax melting process. Kaunas was an important center of wax trade in the Middle Ages. So called wax stones (each of which 16 kg/35 lb weight) were melt in 9 stoves of Kaunas and later stamped with a Coat of Arms of Kaunas for export to Western Europe.
- The Communications History Museum - Rotuses sq. 19; The museum houses the collection of unique and still working exhibits, and offers visitors to familiarize themselves with the history of development of post, as well as others means of communications. A visitor himself may test the operation of some telegraph devices or in the courtyard take a look at the remnants of an old bronze melting furnace. Museum is set in the XVI century two brick granaries to stack exported grain. In the XIX century buildings have been set up as horse postal station. Open: We-Su 10 AM - 6 PM. Tickets ~€2 adults, ~€1 for children.
- Maironis Museum of Lithuania Literature - Rotuses sq. 13; museum located in Baroque palace, has been arranged as a memorial home of famous Lithuanian poet and priest Maironis. The museum houses huge collection of books, manuscripts, art works, and memorial items. Working hours: Tu-Sa 9 AM - 5 PM. Tickets: ~€1.5.
- Kaunas Arch-cathedral Basilica - Vilniaus str. 1; being 84 m long and 34 m wide is the largest Gothic (with Renaissance and Baroque elements inside) church in Lithuania. It was first mentioned in writing sources in 1413. The tomb of poet Maironis was constructed in the southern wall of the cathedral in 1930s.
- Kaunas Medicine and Pharmacy Museum - Rotuses sq. 28. Houses a huge collection of skulls, herbs, medicine articles, and, other stuff of older times. Open 10 AM -7 PM daily. Mon. closed. Tickets: 3 LTL for adults, 1,5 LTL for childs. Excursions in English are available (price ~€10).
- St. Francis Xavier Church - Rotuses sq. 9. The construction of late baroque Jesuit church was begun in the second half of the XVII century but finished only in 1720. At the same time Jesuits' residence served as the central school of the Kaunas region. Famous Lithuanian and Polish poet Adomas Mickevičius (Adam Mickiewicz) worked as a teacher there between 1819 and 1823. The church was transferred to the Orthodox Alexander Nevsky’s Cathedral in 1843. The church and school were returned to Jesuits in 1923. The church was closed during the Soviet occupation and reopened in 1990. Sacral music concerts are organised in the church.
- Vytautas' Church - Aleksoto str.3; officially named The Church of Taking Holy Virgin Mary into the Heaven church is the oldest one in Kaunas and is one of the first Gothic brick buildings built in 1400 in Kaunas on the bank of the Nemunas river. The church belonged to Franciscan monks. During the Napoleonic Wars it was turned into a war ammunition warehouse.
- Vytautas' Bridge - connects the Old Town and Aleksotas district. The original bridge on wooden poles was built in 1812. It was used by Napoleon’s Army fleeing from Russia. At the beginning of XIX century, Aleksotas district belonged to Poland, while other parts of Kaunas on the right bank of Nemunas river was then part of the Russian Northwestern region where different calendars were used. Jokingly, the bridge was called the longest bridge in the world: the Slavic (Julian) calendar was used in the province of Kaunas, whereas Aleksotas region used the Catholic (Gregorian) calendar; therefore, it took 13 days to cross the bridge (the old calendar was 13 days behind the new one).
- Evangelic Luteran Church - Karaliaus Mindaugo av. 3; a small church located on the right bank of the Nemunas river in so called Germans quarter of the Old Town is in Baroque and Romanticism styles. The church was built in 1682 - 1683.
- St. Gertrude Church - Laisves aleja 101A; the church was built in the late XV century. It is a small sacral building in the outskirts of the Old Town in one of the courtyards, a national architectural monument of Gothic style.
- Napoleon's House - Muitines str. 8; the brick building of the XVI century is famous for a fact that in June of 1812, the Emperor of France Napoleon resided there. Later the building was named after its distinguished guest. The restored eastern annexe of the Napoleon house has a beautiful staircase, an example of an rare in Lithuania architectural style, Fachverk. It is thought that this rare staircase is the heritage of the Germans who significantly contributed to the formation of the area. Nowadays Napoleon‘s house, as well as a former Renaissance consistory of a Luteran church, and other buildings of the area near the Nemunas river, houses Vilnius University Kaunas Faculty of Humanities.
- Church of Holy Trinity - Rotuses sq. 22; the Bernardine convent's church was built in 1624-1634. It is of late Renaissance style with a Gothic tradition. At the moment, it is used for needs of Kaunas Priest Seminary.
- St. George Church and Bernardine Monastery - Papilio str. 7; located near Kaunas Castle, church's Gothic walls have survived despite frequent fires. The church and a monastery built in XV century are a Gothic monument with unique façades. The interior features a number of valuable Renaissance and Gothic elements. Complex is under renovation at the moment.
- Perkunas' House - Aleksoto str. 6; one of the most beautiful secular so called "flaming" Gothic building (House of Thunder) in Lithuania. At the moment, the building belongs to the Jesuits order, and a small museum of Lithuanian and Polish poet Adomas Mickevicius (Adam Mickewicz) is opened inside.
- St. Michael Church and Benedictine Convent - Benediktiniu str. 8; the church is a fine example of 15th century Gothic sacral building that is only with asymmetric layout in Lithuania. The church and convent complex are on Benediktiniu str. at the north-east part of Kaunas Old Town. It is reachable on foot by crossing busy Saukliu str. from Kaunas castle side.
- Jewellery (Gemmology) Museum - L. Zamenhofo str./Kurpių str. 13; located between the Nemunas river and the main - Vilniaus street of the Old Town, small private museum attracts visitors with rare minerals, preciuos stones exposition from different locations of the world. Quality certificates of precious stones and gems are issued there. Open: Mo-Fr 10AM-6PM; Sa 10AM-4PM. Entrance free.
- Historical Presidential Palace - Vilniaus str. 33; Former Palace houses objects, which relate to presidential institution of the First Republic of Lithuania (1918–1940). Representational portraits, art works from the interiors of Presidential Palace are exhibited here, also – the presents received by presidents, authentic furniture. In the garden of the Palace, 3 the Interbellum period Presidents of Lithuania face to the visitors. Working hours: Tu–Su 11AM–5PM. Tickets around €1.
Central Kaunas Sights:
- Laisvės alėja - Kaunas' most famous walking street is fully pedestrianised and runs from the Old Town for a distance of almost 2 km to the Church of St. Michael the Archangel. Two lines of Linden trees, seating and flower beds run the length of the avenue. There is a good assortment of shops, banks, supermarkets, restaurants, a cinema, casinos, nightclubs, museums, tourist information office, places to stay and a central post office. It would be possible to spend your entire stay on Laisves Aleja and not get bored. It is kept clean and snow free (in the winter) with great efficiency and is a great place to spend time. In the late morning and afternoon various stalls selling foods, souvenirs hats etc. appear and are worth a look.
- Romas Kalanta A high school student, Romas Kalanta is well known for his public first self-immolation protesting Soviet occupation of Lithuania. He was religious, and at the same time attended an evening school while working at the factory. His sympathies with the hippie movement were later exploited by the Soviets to discredit R. Kalanta among the population. On May 14, 1972, he poured 3 liters of gasoline on himself and set himself on fire in the square adjoining the Laisvės Alėja in front of the Kaunas Musical Theatre. R. Kalanta' death provoked the largest post-war riots in Lithuania. On May 18 and 19, 1972 the gathered high school students and young workers broke into a politically-charged riot and marched along the Laisvės Alėja, which was forcibly dispersed by the KGB. Demonstrations spread to other cities reacted as well. R. Kalanta became a symbol of the Lithuanian resistance throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
- The Field of Victims - the memorial in Laisvės alėja near the garden of the Musical theatre was unveiled on 14 May, 2002. It was dedicated to Romas Kalanta, who self-immolated himself protesting the Soviet oppresion on 14 May, 1972.
- Vytautas' Monument - located on Laisvės alėja, near the Kaunas city municipality building. The monument to Vytautas the Great - the most famous ruler of medieval Lithuania was erected in 1930. It was demolished by the Soviets and then re-erected in 1990.
- The Synagogue - E. Ožeskienes str. 13. Kaunas Choral Synagogue, located near the western end of Laisvės aleja, is one of two remaining Jewish houses of prayer in Lihuania. It was built in 1872 in reformist decorative style of synagogues of that time. The facade of the synagogue is reminiscent of a neobaroque church. It's dome was rebuilt some years ago. There is an exposition of rabbis' paintings on the second floor of the Synagogue.
- Tadas Ivanauskas Zoological Museum - Laisves aleja, 106. Houses a collection of thousands of stuffed and preserved animals. In winter make use of the cloakroom to the left of the main hall on the ground floor as the museum is well heated. Arranged over several floors the collection ranges from full grown giraffes and wisents to butterflies and is well worth an hour or two of your time. Open 11 AM-7 PM daily. Mon. closed. Tickets: ~€2 for adults, ~€1 for childs.
- The Catacombs - enter the Church of St. Michael the Archangel (the beautiful domed building at the eastern end of Laisves Aleja) sand the entrance to the catacombs (katakombos) is on your right. Ask at the sacristy (right of the main altar) and they will let you in for free. You descend a spiral staircase into total darkness then begin a journey using your remaining senses which takes you through an underground assault course. When you make it through you ascend a similar spiral staircase on the opposite side of the church entrance. Not for the fainthearted, small children or anyone with difficulty moving around. They appreciate a donation to the church afterwards in one of the boxes scattered around.
- Kaunas Officers' Club - A. Mickevičiaus str. 19. One of the finest examples of Kaunas Interbellum architecture (Karininkų Ramovė in Lithuanian), especially from the inside, built in 1937. The main facade is adorned by the granite sculpture Three Giants that became a symbol of the Club. On the main - second floor of the building the Grand Hall, as well as Hall of Vytautas, so called Hall of Dukes, and Hall of the President are located. Each hall is decorated in different styles (gothic, classic, and national style respectively) with uniques chandeliers, paintings, frescoes, furniture, and stained-glasses. Good quality cuisine pizzeria is situated on the first floor of the club.
- Vytautas the Great War Museum - K. Donelaicio str. 64. An interactive exposition of history of Kaunas from prehistoric times to the present day. It houses an immense collection of weapons through the ages from medieval arbalests and suits of armor to guns of World War II. The highlight is the complete, but tragic, remains of the plane Lituanica in which S. Darius and S. Girenas crossed the Atlantic in 1933 (see the 10 Litas note) are displayed. The crypt For Those Who Dyed for the Freedom of Lithuania is available to visit beneath the floor of the Museum. Open Tu-Su 11 AM- 5:30 PM. Admission - adult 2 LTL, child 1 LTL.
- The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Eternal flame - both in the square in front of Vytautas the Great Museum with the statues of Lithuanian national renaissance figures and the are located. It was the main square where Lithuanian national holidays were celebrated during the period when Kaunas had been the Temporary capital of Lithuania.
The Carillion - Kaunas 35 bell Carillon in the tower of Vytautas the Great War Museum was completed in Belgium in 1935. The bell music from the tower started to ring in 1937. Kaunas carillon was restored by Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry in Netherlands in 2006. After the restoration, Kaunas carillon now has 49 bells and a new keyboard. Everyday the Lithuanian folk melody of wartime is being played automatically in the middle of the day. Carillon concerts are performed every Saturday and Sunday at 4 PM in the Garden of Vytautas the Great Military Museum.
- The Bank of Lithuania - Maironio str.25; the branch of Lithuania National bank in Kaunas. It was built in 1928 as a new Central Bank building. There is a small exhibition of Lithuanian banknotes and coins of the First Republic time inside. Very impressive architecture of neoclassicism style. One may purchase Lithuanian collector coins there.
- M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum - V. Putvinskio str. 55. Museum collects, keeps, investigates and popularizes Lithuanian most famuous artist and composer's M. K. Čiurlionis' (1875–1911) creative works, cultural heritage of Lithuania and the world. Some art critics call M. K. Ciurlionis the pioneer of abstract art. His creations combine symbolism, secessio, abstractionsism and romanticism. Working hours: October – May: Tu – Su 11AM–5PM. June – September: Tu–Su 10AM–5PM. Tickets: 6 LTL (€1,7) for adults, 3 LTL (€0,9) for pupils.
- Devils' Museum, - V. Putvinskio str.64. Contains the Lithuanian artist' A. Zmuidzinavicius collection of sculptures and carvings of devils, and a unique collection of devils from the whole world. Tel: + 370 37 221 587' Open Tu-Su 11AM-6PM.
- Kaunas Picture Gallery - K. Donelaicio str.16. Gallery houses XX century Lithuanian and Lithuanian émigrés art, and a collection of North American Indian art donated by Juozas Kaributas (the USA). There is also Jurgis Mačiūnas FLUXUS cabinet and Art Collection of prof. Algimantas Miskinis. Open Tu-Su 11AM-5PM. Ticket price 4 LTL (€1,2).
- Funicular railways - There are two still functioning funiculars in Kaunas. The Žaliakalnis Funicular on V. Putvinskio street is an electrically operated funicular railway. The oldest funicular in Lithuania and one of the oldest in Europe. It was constructed by AEG and began operating on 5 August 1931. The funicular has wood panelled coachwork and is serviced by an English speaking operator in uniform. It climbs the 75 m up from behind the Vytautas the Great War Museum to the Church of the Resurrection for some of the best views in Kaunas. The ticket costs 1 LTL (0.50 LTL for children). Another - Aleksotas Funicular, built in 1935, near Aleksotas (or Vytautas) bridge, that connects the Old Town with Aleksotas district, takes people up to Aleksotas hill. From here is probably the best view of Kaunas downtown.
- The Nemunas Island Park (Nemunos salos parkas), accessed across a footbridge at the southern end of S. Daukanto pedestrian street. A huge open space minutes from the bustle of Laisvės Alėja. A great place to sledge when there is snow and of course the place to leave your padlocks. The largest indoor multifunctional arena in the Baltic states on eastern part of the island Žalgiris Arena is used to host sports games as well as concerts. It was completed in August 2011.
- Kaunas M. Žilinskas Picture Gallery - Nepriklausomybes sq.12; Contemporay building at the eastern end of Laisves Aleja, near the Church of St. Michael the Archangel. Gallery houses collection of fine and applied art from around the globe. One exposition is dedicated to Man and Woman. There are Ancient Egyptian amulets, Roman glassware, Ming vases, old tapestries, XVII-XX century European Works of Applied Art donated by collector Mykolas Žilinskas. The gallery houses the Contemporary Art Information Center, and the best movies are shown on a large screen at the Galerijos Kinas. Right outside the gallery stands a statue of naked man - a place for youth meetings and artistic performances. Open June-September Tu-Su 10AM-5PM, October-May 11AM-5PM. Ticket price - 6 LTL (€1,8).
- Kaunas Orthodox Cathedral - Vytauto av. 38. Orthodox the Annunciation Cathedral, as well as smaller Orthodox church located nearby, forms unanimous complex in the southern part of Ramybes park near Vytauto avenue. The new Orthodox Cathedral was built in 1935 and represents the variety of consequences of traditional forms of Russian Orthodox churches. Smaller - Holy Resurrection Orthodox church was constructed in 1862 on the area of the local Orthodox cemetery and since 1923 till 1935 acted as Lithuanian Orthodox Cathedral. Entrance free.
- .The Mosque - Totorių St 3. The only in Lithuania Eastern style building and mosque of bricks located in the northern corner of the Ramybė Park of Kaunas downtown. It was rebuilt in bricks in 1930 by Kaunas Tatar Society, in commemoration of Vytautas the Great 500th anniversary of his death.
- Museum of Deportation and Resistance - Vytauto av. 46. One of five divisions of Kaunas City Museum. Resistance and Deportation Exhibition is sacred to the memory of victims of Soviet regime and Forest Brothers who fought for Freedom of Lithuania. Museum is set on the western part of Ramybes park. Entrance and excursion guide are free of charge. Tel.: + 370 37 323-179. Open Tu-Fr 10AM-4PM.