Kaunas Travel Guide
Kaunas is the second city of Lithuania. However, it doesn’t feel like a place that plays second fiddle to a massive capital. Part of that was due to its past as provisional capital. However, this city has always been a historically significant place in Lithuania.
From churches to war history, museums to old quarters, you’ll find plenty to see and do here.
Come check out our Kaunus travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Kaunas, Lithuania.
Start your time in the Kaunas area with a trip to the Lithuanian Folk Museum. This picturesque attraction boasts over a hundred authentic buildings transported from across the Lithuanian countryside. One was even moved here from Siberia, in honour of Lithuanians who spent time in Soviet-era gulags.
That particular structure is an earthen dwelling. However, the others show off the wood-frame buildings Lithuania is famous for. Arranged to resemble a centuries-old Lithuanian village, visitors will get a sense for what life was like then.
Do try to time your visit so you arrive during one of several festivals. While it might not be the most comfortable to witness, Uzgavenes is by far the most famous. Held before Ash Wednesday, attendees celebrate the beginning of winter’s end by burning it in effigy.
When planning your visit, remember that this site is enormous. It spans over 175 hectares – it is entirely possible to spend the entire day. At a minimum, give yourself three hours to appreciate this historic site.
Lovers of visual art will not want to miss a visit to M. K. Ciurlionis National Art Museum. It boasts pieces from the namesake artist, and from international, making it a highlight of Kaunas. Upon arriving, its exterior will command attention, as it boasts Art Deco features.
Inside, the focus, apart from M. K. Ciurlionis’ collection, is on Lithuanian art. As you walk through its galleries, you’ll find examples of folk, applied, and fine art from Lithuanian artists. To fill out its collection (355,000 pieces in all), you’ll find items from other cultures around the world.
Upon check-in, pick up the accompanying audio guide. Not only will it aid comprehension, but you’ll also get to hear the music that M. K. Ciurlionis composed.
While Kaunas escaped the widespread damage suffered elsewhere during WWII, it did not emerge unscathed. Learn about the horrors of that conflict and life under Soviet occupation at the Ninth Fort. It was initially part of a massive fortress built by the Russian Empire in the late 19th century. However, the notorious history of this complex unfolded in the 20th century.
After the Red Revolution of 1918, it went from defending the frontier to housing political prisoners. Dissidents spent a short time here before being sent off to forced labour camps in Siberia. As horrible as that was, the Ninth Fort became a cog in Nazi Germany’s death machine during WWII.
While Auschwitz was their most notorious death camp, the Ninth Fort was home to horrors of its own. On one day alone (October 29, 1941), Nazis executed as many as 50,000 Lithuanian Jews. On top of this, thousands of Jews and other prisoners were brought here to meet their end.
In 1984, a Lithuanian sculptor completed a poignant memorial to those killed. It is a chilling reminder of the damage hate can do when it is left unopposed. You’ll find this attraction on the outskirts of Kaunas. If you don’t have a car, take bus route 23 from the central bus station in town.
Not all of the local Jewish population met an ugly end during the Second World War. Before the Nazi occupation, scores lined up outside Sugihara House, looking for a way out of Europe. This residence served as the Japanese consulate at the time.
Thanks to the local consul general, thousands of Jews were able to transit through Russia. For his actions, Chiune Sugihara attained recognition from Yad Vashem, or the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre. Be sure to check out the short film, which explains his story in further detail.
Kaunas is bursting with culture – if you have time, make a trip out to the Pazaislis Monastery. A Lithuanian noble founded this Catholic institution in the 17th century. It was the largest of its kind in Lithuania and became known for its Italian Baroque architecture.
Its colourful history will astound you. Over the centuries, it didn’t just serve as a religious institution. It was a horse stable for Napoleon’s army, a WWI war hospital, and an art gallery under the Soviets. In addition to being an attraction in its own right, it also hosts music events. Everything from orchestras to ABBA has played here – don’t miss this place.
If you’re looking for a kooky museum to hit up, check out the Devils’ Museum. As the name suggests, it shows off artistic interpretations of the devil from around the globe. In all, you’ll find 3,000 pieces featuring Satan and other occult objects.
End your visit to Kaunas by spending a lively day exploring Old Town Kaunas. Unlike Vilnius, its old core escaped bombardment. Spend hours admiring its centuries-old building as you walk along cobblestone streets. Then, grab a meal, coffee, or beer at a sidewalk restaurant, and watch the world go by!