Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania and a place where culture and industry are on top of heap, with a lovely, coquettish old town. Whatever local you’ll ask, they all know the same story – Kaunas was the son of two passionate lovers, maiden Milda and her sweetheart Daugerutis. Both sentenced to death because of her carelessness of leaving the Holy Eternal Flame go out, they didn’t get to see their child grow up. The more historically accurate side of the story is that the city dates from the 13th century, while the first consistent archaeological proof of its existence goes back to the 15th century, when it blossomed as a river-trading town.
But Milda’s child grew up just fine. It’s not going to impress you unless you let yourself be part of it, sinking it in. The first tip would be not to see it as a tourist, but as a traveler – try to discover its every mystery all along with the endless walks and you’ll love it. There’s nothing striking about this place, but its subtlety talks of the heartfelt cultural experience. So there are some places to help you assimilate the cultural magnificence.
1. Church of St. Gertrude
It’s most probably the oldest surviving building of Kaunas and one of the oldest in Lithuania, dating from the 15th century. The reason why most of the tourists don’t get to visit the church is because it’s being shielded by the other building around and the courtyard. Today the mystical place is known as a site of shrine because of its resistance in time. Indeed, the monument is supposed to be resistant, being one of the oldest brick Gothic churches in Lithuania, but having survived the Russo-Polish war and the fire in 1812 makes it the protector of the city. What’s really shocking about this basilica is its raw, simple style taking you back in time hundreds of years with a glimpse of an eye.
2. The Devil’s Museum
It is the only such culturally allocated space in the entire world. Antanas Žmuidzinavičius was Lithuania’s greatest collector of all times, impressing the entire local community with his creepy passion – collecting statuettes of the devil in distinct shapes and representations. The museum doesn’t only represent a vaste collection of artworsk, but an impressing way of illustrating the devil from cultural differences to semantic ones, including criticism towards modern political ideologies and their representants. The most stunning exhibits are, by far, Hitler and Stalin portrayed as devils from tree roots, dancing over the country’s fate.
Kaunas isn’t really the most popular place for good food; in fact rumor has it that it’s terrible. But on the basement of the museum there’s a very popular restaurant where you’d feel like traveling towards the end of the Soviet influence, while having all the modern facilities.
3. National Čiurlionis Art Museum
The leading museum of Kaunas gathers the work of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, the boldest Lithuanian painter and composer of all time. Aside from this, all kinds of 16th to 20th century applied art exhibits can be found here, marking the most important cultural moments of the national history. Another reason for which this artist’s figure is so representative for the national spirit is the never-ending optimism, the enthusiasm he spread all around during some of the most austere times in their history.
4. Green Hill Funicular
In case you’re not really familiar with this term this is one of the few remaining such means of transportation in the world. The vechicles, looking like mini trams, are linked on a cable railway. The ride costs 1 Lt. (0.33 €)and it’s totally worth it, especially because of the beautiful trails you’ll be seeing. You should also take the camera with you because you’d really regret not having photographed the beautiful panoramic views of Kaunas.
5. Laisves Aleja
The longest pedestrian street of the entire Eastern European, the ‘Liberty Boulevard’ is the place where you can spend a whole day. Linking the new side of the city with the old town, there are many attractions to be visited. Let’s say you’ll start from the end of the boulevard. Besides the shops and beautiful surroundings you’ll pass by, you’ll find yourself in front of St. Michael the Archangel, one of the must-see churches in Kaunas. Another monument is Vytautas the Great, a monument dedicated to the most important rulers of Lithuania.
If you’re an art lover, you can’t miss the Kaunas Drama Theater. After you’re done visiting the city and getting to know what stories the buildings have to share, it’s time to look at the human face of the city. You’ll love it at least as much. And if you just feel like wandering all day long, there’s going to be absolutely fine. There’s nothing to be worried about – plenty of places where you can eat or drink some coffee or a glass of wine. And the best bonus is that the whole street’s got free Wi-Fi.
6. Ninth Fort
At the beginning of the 20th century, the fort was built as a defensive fortress. Later on, during the Nazi occupation, thousands of people were killed here as part of the Holocaust. The approximate number of murders is estimated around 50, 000 among which 30, 000 are believed to have been Jews and over 10, 000 were foreigners. All kinds of historically relevant exhibits can be found here, as well as materials from the strong hold and the 9th fort. Before having been occupied by the Nazi, the fort was also used as a prison and way-station for the prisoners being sent to labor.