Kaunas is one of those cities that takes a little while to get to know the authentic face of. The city is brimming with all kinds of hidden attractions, historic buildings, gastronomic gems and quirky events.
You could also fill your entire day with things to do in Kaunas of which a lot of the activities and places to visit are for free or on the less pricey side.
Here’s the trick though—a lot of these places are unknown to visitors and are almost sacredly kept among locals. Ok, I’m not being totally serious, but you get my point. After all, there’s only so much you can find on websites like TripAdvisors that are truly genuine recommendations.
That’s why we invited Džiugas from Perėja, who was born and raised in Kaunas, and as a bonus is a professional guide. He introduced us to some of his favourite and most notable places in town.
So if you’re heading to Kaunas this summer or it’s on your to-visit list, all recommendations below will keep you busy and show off some of the best sights the city has to offer.
VP: What are some of the highlights of Kaunas?
Džiugas: Kaunas is the second biggest city in Lithuania with a cosy old town situated at the confluence of the two most significant rivers in the country.
It is a student city with particularly strong technical and medical universities that attract many international students. It’s also a convenient city to live in, with a diverse range of activities for the proactive folks.
I believe the city is mostly unique because of its 20th-century history. Back then, Kaunas served as the interwar capital and the centre of the national rebirth of Lithuania.
Later, during the Soviet occupation, it was a stronghold of national identity. The city has been searching for its identity since the 90s, but there has been a significant revival during the last decade.
In a broad sense, the people in Kaunas embrace authenticity and the city itself reflects that—it has a strong underdog attitude.
VP: What has been your relationship like with the former capital?
Džiugas: I was born in Kaunas and spent most of my early life in a house, built by my great grandmother in the 1930s, on a street where the modernist city centre collides with Žaliakalnis. Žaliakalnis neighbourhood is located on a mountainous area known for its slow pace, untamed greenery and wooden architecture.
A considerable part of the way I see and perceive Kaunas is formed by the stories of interwar and post-war times told by my grandparents. Some branches of my family have been living in Kaunas since the 19th century.
After school, I spent eight years working and studying abroad. Then once, after a long trip to Southeast Asia, I came back to Kaunas to rest and visit my family.
It didn’t take long for me to understand that it is an undervalued city, which was ready for something new. My intuition told me to stay, and that is what I did. In return, life rewarded me with some memorable experiences here.
Currently, I work in the IT field. Sometimes I also take on small groups on walking tours, and I run a photoblog about Kaunas on the side.
VP: If you could describe Kaunas in just three words—what would they be?
Džiugas: Raw, distinct, and independent.
VP: As an insider, what are your top 5 favourite places to eat, hang out, explore and party?
Džiugas: O Kodėl Ne? and Kultūra—they have great outside terraces, and usually are crowded with people during warm summer evenings. It’s only a 10-minute walk between these two spots, so you can easily check out both.
Moksha — a small yet incredibly cosy Indian restaurant with a very pleasant host from Kerala.
Lemmy — is a place to go if you’re into alternative music. Lemmy offers many events and maintains quite high standards when selecting who will play live. The venue is named after the late Motörhead’s frontman, Lemmy Kilmister.
Ridikas — an eatery offering vegan food and snacks, located at the train station. They also have another spot open on Mickevičiaus street.
Spurginė — if you have a sweet tooth, this place is known for its delicious doughnuts. It resides in Laisvės alėja, at an authentic café that hasn’t changed for at least 30 years.
VP: For a first-time visitor, what are some must-sees best conveying the identity of Kaunas?
Džiugas: During the season, if you’re lucky to get tickets, I would suggest going to a Euroleague game in Žalgirio arena to see a crowd of 15k white-green basketball fans going crazy. This is a truly unique experience if you’re into the sport as the attendance of Žalgiris Euroleague games sometimes even surpasses those of some NBA teams.
If you’re out of luck with the tickets, or not into sports, the arena is located on a river island, which is a nice place for a walk. Also, it’s just 5 minutes away from Laisvės alley, the main street of Kaunas.
For those who like walks and being outdoors, Kaunas has quite a few routes for that. You can take a long and tranquil walk throughout Žaliakalnis and admire some of the old wooden houses.
While there, take sets of stairs as there are so many of them, and when you reach the top, you often get a stunning view. You can observe the city centre from the slopes of Green Hill—this is what Žaliakalnis literally stands for.
Another worthy activity to add on your to-do list—exploring Modernist architecture and Art Deco interiors. Kaunas is a unique Art Deco city with more than 10,000 houses built during the interwar epoch.
Lastly, get some coffee and enjoy the atmosphere and people watching who stroll along Laisvės alley.
This is especially nice during spring or autumn when most people are out on the streets. During summer and winter, the city becomes more still. I usually get my coffee at one of the two Green Cafes on Laisvės alley, but there are plenty of other options to choose from.
VP: What are some underrated places and neighbourhoods?
Džiugas: Žemieji Šančiai—a neighbourhood filled with wooden houses, narrow streets, and its original and quirky locals. It also has raw beaches with small pine trees and fishermen on the riverfront. All this makes this district attractive and romantic, especially if you’re an adventure seeker and enjoy exploring off-the-beaten-path. However, as a general safety precaution and some common sense, avoid strolling around at night time.
Senosios Miesto Kapinės—the old and now inactive city cemetery, which has been turned into a park on Vytauto street. The place has narrow and short streets and stairs taking you into the city centre behind it, including Trakų, Vaižganto, and Fryko streets as well as Perkūno alley.
The area on the hill is also sometimes called Radio District because the first radio station in Lithuania was located there. The area is full of interwar architecture, gardens on the slope of the hill as well as enchanting panoramic views.
From there, two lush green spots—Vytauto Parkas and Ąžuolynas—are just a short walk away. You can rest and then head to a café or get something to eat at Perkūno Namai, which is a terrace at a hotel, or grab a drink and some snacks at O Kodėl Ne? situated in Vytautas park. This tour is highly recommended during the warm season.
VP: Lastly, any tips or advice for those who are planning a longer stay in the city?
Džiugas: Something I would like to try myself is to live for a couple of days in different Art Deco interior apartments built in the 20s or 30s. They have beautiful lofty ceilings, balconies and large windows, as well as lots of light and space.
VP: Thank you, Džiugas, for sharing your version of Kaunas with us!