Kaunas may be Lithuania’s second city in terms of population, but many argue it is the ‘most Lithuanian’ city. Whatever that means. It is undoubtedly true that Kaunas is not as much an international city as the capital Vilnius and therefore has preserved something more purely Lithuanian.
Let’s be honest, though. Kaunas is to Vilnius what Robin is to Batman. It’s BarnicleBoy to SpongeBob, Dannii to Kylie, Rocky to Bullwinkle, Weasley to Potter, and David Hasselhoff to a black car, some silicone balloons, or just about any inanimate object.
It’s sidekick city. It’s less famous, grabs fewer headlines, has a lower makeup budget, isn’t as pretty, and always seems to be mentioned second.
As with so many second-comers, Kaunas is keen, snappy, scrappy, a little bit scruffy and ruffled, and quite interesting in its own special way. Oh, and when the star finds itself in a pickle, the sidekick is there to save the day and, in the case of Kaunas, step in as Lithuania’s capital.
Keep an open mind and let Kaunas weave its quirky, crusty charm on you. It’s something that I happily to do every year.
And here’s the list of my favorite spots in Kaunas:
The Town Hall square can be a quiet and peaceful place during the week. Drop by on a Saturday, however, and you’ll see a procession of weddings. There will be fancy cars, fancy dress, flowers, and the amusing spectacle of small children and photographers getting under everyone’s feet.
Laisvės alėja – also known as Liberty Avenue – is the main drag or the world’s longest catwalk we have. It is home to all varieties of life, now including some interesting still life in the form of statues and sculptures. The 130m pedestrian promenade was declared a non-smoking zone in 1993, although that restriction now seems to be forgotten and is unenforced. Not only is Laisvės the leading center for shopping and business, but it is also home to some important cultural institutions. It will undoubtedly be a central part of your stay in Kaunas.
Vytautas the Great Military Museum Garden (Vienybes sq.). Monumental busts of famous Lithuanian politicians and writers line the alley leading to the Eternal Flame, and wooden crosses commemorate those who died for Lithuania’s Independence. Next to it is a plaque and several sculptures commemorating ‘knygnesiai’ (individuals who smuggled Lithuanian books printed in the Latin alphabet into Lithuania and distributed them during Tsarist oppression from 1866 to 1904).
Carrilon – a specific musical instrument played outdoors, consisting of a set of chromatically tuned bells. The carillon bells are fixed onto special bars arranged in rows. The bells are played using a keyboard and pedals. The number of bells varies from 23 to 80. Carillons are installed in specially constructed towers or tall historical buildings. The 35 bells for the Kaunas carillon were cast in the Michiels Jr. Tornau Foundry of Belgium in 1935. Gen. Vladas Nagevičius and composer Juozas Tallat-Kelpsa secured the installation of the carillon in the Tower of the Vytautas the Great Military Museum. Regular concerts of the Kaunas carillon began in 1956. The first Carillon players were Viktoras Kuprevičius and Giedrius Kuprevičius. Currently, the instrument has 49 bells, and carillon concerts are performed every Saturday and Sunday in the Garden of Vytautas the Great Military Museum (K.Donelaičio St. 64).
A. Mickevičius Valley. The stone, where poet A. Mickevičius loved to sit and create poems, lies in the valley surrounding the Girstupis stream.
Zoological Garden – the only Zoo in Lithuania was established in an old oak grove. You can see approximately 270 animal species from different continents here. More information: zoosodas.lt.
Botanical Garden. Visitors can find different medicinal herbs and decorative plants in this oasis of parks, small bridges, and natural beauty. For more information: botanika.vdu.lt.
Pažaislis Monastery ranks among the most beautiful Baroque-style buildings in Lithuania. The church and monastery were built for Camaldolese or Benedictine monks in the 17th century under the supervision of Michelangelo Palloni, Joan Merli, and Petro Pertli – three Italian masters from Florence. Pazaislis music festivals are held here in summer. For more information: pazaislis.lt.
Kaunas Funiculars. Kaunas is the only city in Lithuania with this type of transportation. In the residential districts of Zaliakalnis and Aleksotas, these climbing cars serve as entertainment and a mean of transport. The Žaliakalnis funicular helps to reach the Resurrection Church from the city center easily. The Aleksotas funicular links the slopes of Aleksotas Hill with the old part of the city, offering a marvelous panoramic view.
Kauno Marios Regional Park covers an area of 63.5sq.km. It was formed in 1959 after the Kaunas Hydroelectric Power Plant was constructed. The shores of Kauno Marios have appeared beautiful landscape. An open-air Folk Museum and Pažaislis Monastery are located nearby, and the Yachting Club welcomes visitors. For more information: kaunomarios.lt.
Kaunas Monumental Christ’s Resurrection Church – is the biggest basilica-type church in all three Baltic states. It was built in 1932-1940. After Lithuania proclaimed independence in 1918, Kaunas residents decided to build a church as a ‘thank you’ for God. However, construction was stopped by the Soviet occupation, and during that period – the building was used as premises for the Radio factory. In 1990 the church was returned to worshippers. The church has 70 meters high tower. Visitors can go to the observation deck on the roof to enjoy panoramic views. More information: prisikelimas.lt.