You may be wondering, is Kaunas worth visiting? Vilnius, Lithuania's first city, is a much loved UNESCO Heritage Site with tons to see and do. Kaunas on the other hand is an often overlooked weekend destination. I spoke to a colleague from Lithuania before our weekend city break to his country and mentioned that we would be splitting our time between Vilnius and Kaunas. He arched an eyebrow which seemed to say why would you go to Kaunas?
One of the reasons that we added Kaunas to our weekend itinerary was because the timing and travel logistics were better for the trip to fly from Dublin into Vilnius and then to fly out of Kaunas back to Dublin. Kaunas to Vilnius is only about 100 km. Despite my colleague seeming to imply that Kaunas was not worth visiting, we went ahead with our plan to visit Kaunas for the weekend anyway. We're so glad we did. Here are ten reasons why Kaunas is worth visiting for the weekend if you're in the neighborhood (e.g., planning a trip to Vilnius).
1. Kaunas' Chill Old Town
Kaunas features a smaller old town than Vilnius but it is just as picturesque and I would daresay more manageable to explore because of its size. The restaurants and bars in Kaunas are definitely worth visiting with seating spilling out onto the pavement contributing to a great vibe.
2. Stately Kaunas Town Hall
Is Kaunas nice? Kaunas is definitely worth visiting if you love photogenic places. Kaunas features a very picturesque Town Hall. We arrived just in time to see a wedding party approach. I can see how Kaunas' Town Hall and square would make a lovely backdrop to wedding photos.
3. Kaunas Riverwalk
Kaunas sits at the confluence of two rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris. Peaceful paths lead along the rapidly flowing water making for a lovely evening stroll and providing another great reason why Kaunas is worth visiting.
4. Kaunas' Street Art
Why visit Kaunas? If you enjoy street art, you'll love Kaunas. Some of Kaunas' street art is larger than life and covers the entire side of a building. Very impressive.
5. Kaunas Castle is my Playground
Kaunas Castle and the remains of the old town wall sit along the river. Below the bridge leading to the Kaunas Castle, we discovered a set of swings had been installed. We had an amazing time channeling our inner child getting as much height as we could while taking in the gorgeous backdrop of the Kaunas Castle.
6. Kaunas' Gothic Cathedral
Kaunas may not have as many churches as Vilnius, but the cathedral is impressive and is another great reason to visit Kaunas. The outside of Kaunas Cathedral looks fairly mundane, but inside...wow! What an amazing Gothic interior.
7. Old School Telephone Booths in Kaunas
Why visit Kaunas? I expect you'll love the slightly old school vibe floating about Kaunas as much as I did. The Kaunas Old Town was dotted with chocolate brown telephone booths. Paint them red and I might have thought I was in London instead of Lithuania.
8. Vilniaus Gatve for a Sunday Stroll in Kaunas
We took a wander down Vilniaus Gatve for a quiet Sunday stroll in Kaunas admiring the Art Deco architecture, sculpture, and green spaces. The stores in Kaunas weren't open when we passed through and it felt very zen to have the entire place to ourselves.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other great destinations in the Baltic States? Riga in Latvia is another great city break destination with a reputation for fantastic Art Nouveau architecture. Check out this post for ideas on how to spend 3 days in Riga.
9. Doughnuts with Soviet Ambiance at Kaunas' Spurgine
Kaunas is worth visiting for its spartan cafes alone. Lithuania was formerly part of the Soviet Union and Kaunas maintains some vestiges of this communist past. We stopped into Spurgine, a communist era cafe, that is still serving up no-nonsense cups of coffee and a small selection of hot doughnuts. This blast from the past was one of our favorite parts of our weekend visit to Kaunas.
10. Shop 'til you Drop in Kaunas at Urmas
Vilnius feels more like a tourist city and Kaunas feels more real. That's another reason that I think Kaunas is worth visiting. We could have easily spent our entire time in Kaunas in the Old Town but we decided to go a bit further afield and take the bus to Urmas. Urmas features 1500 shopping outlets and a flea market on weekends. This also gave us a chance to figure out Kaunas' public transportation system and get a bit more local flavor. It turns out that there are public buses in Kaunas but also private minibuses. We opted for the private mini-bus to Urmas. We managed to flag down the driver and were on our way. The van dropped us off right in front of the shopping extravaganza. Getting there was half the fun. We had limited time to explore because we needed to catch our flight from Kaunas back to Dublin but easily could have spent hours shopping for clothes, crafts, tchotchkes and more. I did manage to pick up a new pair of eyeglass frames at the market which will remind me of our weekend trip to Lithuania every day as I wear them.
Are you interested in exploring other often overlooked cities in Europe that are worth visiting? Why not check out Gdansk and Tricities Poland or Mons Belgium?