Kaunas tends to get overlooked by visitors to Lithuania in favor of larger Vilnius — but it’s no less important as a historical destination.
Jerulita Travel offers a full-day tour of Kaunas from Vilnius with transportation, or a shorter day tour that starts and ends in Kaunas.
At 325,000 people, Kaunas is Lithuania’s second largest city. The town’s medieval center is one of the best-preserved in all of Lithuania. Some of the more notable structures are the churches at the City Hall, restored Kaunas castle, Vilnius street and the Ninth Fort Memorial.
There are dozens of historical sights, from the 19th-century Russian fortress complex to the baroque Pažaislis Monastery. When Poland captured Vilnius in 1920, Kaunas became the de-facto capital for a time. Due to the fact that it hasn’t suffered much war damage, the old buildings and streets are remarkably intact and definitely worth an afternoon of exploration.
Plus: Kaunas has been nominated as the European Capital of Culture in 2022 — so you can be sure there’s loads to see and do.
What are the best sights in Kaunas?
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1. Old Town of Kaunas & Town Hall Square
The stunning Town Hall’s tower stands above Kaunas at a height of 53 meters. Dubbed “the white swan” by locals, the Town Hall was first built in 1542 and later renovated in 1780 by architect Jan Mattekier.
2. Kaunas Cathedral
When the first part of the Roman Catholic basilica was built is unknown, but it’s first mentioned in literature in 1413. Over the centuries, it’s suffered a lot of damage from war and fire.
3. A. Mapu and L. Zamenhof Street
These streets bear remnants of the Jewish presence in Kaunas. You can still see a Synagogue and Talmud Torah. The Neo-Baroque synagogue, known for its exquisite altar, was built in 1872. Fun fact: Zamenhof street is named after the creator of Esperanto, the most successful constructed language in the world.
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4. Pažaislis Monastery
The beautiful late Baroque Pažaislis Monastery dates to the 17th-18th centuries, a magnificent complex with a domed church and closed in courtyards. A short walk away (2km) lies Petrašiūnai cemetery, the final resting place for famous people of Kaunas: scientists, priests, artists, etc. World-famous burials include archeologist Marija Gimbutienė (Gimbutas) and semiotic Algirdas Greimas.
5. Laisvės alėja
The pedestrian boulevard Laisvės alėja stretches from Holy Archangel Michael’s Church to Kaunas Old Town. At 1.6km, it’s the longest pedestrian street in Eastern Europe. Visitors can perambulate on the street, admire the many historical buildings, and enjoy some traditional Lithuanian food.
6. The Art Gallery of M. K. Čiurlionis
An exhibition of Lithuanian’s most famous painter and composer. Known for his abstract style, Čiurlionis amassed around 400 musical compositions and 300 paintings. It’s housed in the former Presidential Palace, a Neo-Baroque building in the Old Town.
7. Slobodka Jewish neighborhood
During WWII, the Germans concentrated local Jews, around 29,000 people in a ghetto in Slobodka. Stop by to check out the building of the famous Slobodka Yeshiva, the gate to the Ghetto, Butcher street and other places in Jewish memory.
8. Russian Fortress
The remains of the Kaunas fortress complex are nothing but impressive, built by the Russian Empire and used as a point of defense during WWI. During WWII, the fortress a detention and execution site — see No. 12, the Ninth Fort, farther down this list.
9. Plaque of Leah Goldberg
Goldberg was a Jewish poet and Laureate of the Israel Prize, who studied at the Hebrew Gymnasium in Kaunas.
10. Devil Museum
Kaunas is home to the world’s only devil museum. Amassed over decades by Professor Antanas Žmuidzinavičius, the museum covers 3 floors and more than 3,000 devils from all around the world.
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11. Kaunas Castle
The beautiful Kaunas Castle was built around mid-14th century, and now houses an art gallery and the occasional festival.
12. Memorial of the Ninth Fort.
Last, but certainly not least, is the often overwhelming History Museum and Memorial at the Ninth Fort. At this location, Nazis and their collaborators murdered over 50,000 people, mostly Jewish Lithuanians. The memorial that exists there now is an abstract collection of sculptures, designed by A. Ambraziunas and erected in 1984.