A place like Kaunas might not be on your immediate itinerary for travel. Many people don’t even know where Lithuania or the other Baltic countries are (north of Poland and south of Finland). If you do make it out to that neck of the world, I’d recommend a visit to the Lithuania Open Air Museum.
Located half an hour east of Kaunas (or an hour west of Vilnius of you’re coming from there) on the Kaunas Lagoon Regional Park, the Open Air Museum is open year round to visitors with an entrance fee of €4. During the summer, there are expositions throughout the park. Even on a rainy day, as it was when I went.
The concept of an Open Air Museum is not unique to Lithuania. All the northern countries in Europe have them. An Open Air Museum is basically a location where they have brought in buildings from all the regions and eras of the country to put on display.
In Lithuania’s Open Air Museum, there are five “regions,” corresponding to the five ethnographic regions of Lithuania. Each region has one or two villages set up to show the style of the buildings and farmland, way of living and daily life.
Many of the dwellings were the original buildings, transported from other parts of the country where they had been abandoned. Those who are familiar with Lithuania probably identify it with its Communist apartment blocks. Seeing what came before them gives a unique looking into the history of the country.
The first region you will enter is Miestelis, where all the buildings of a basic village have been reconstructed. Everything from the school and church to the forge and fire station are in place. You can go to the general store where an audio guide is provided. The guide will give you information on every product on display, what it was used for, how it was constructed, etc. That alone was a wealth of information.
One building holds different carriages and buggies used in this region of the country, while another shows different styles of sewing machines and crafts.
As you continue around the museum, visiting the different villages, you’ll see the diversity of building types. Some buildings are fancy log cabins, while others are little more than stick frames and thatch roofs.
A particularly enjoyable exhibition for me was the fully functioning wind mill where an old, retired farmer was on hand to demonstrate how the mill worked. Each of the five regions actually had their own designs of wind mills, all operating on slightly different principles and visible around the museum.
Many of the dwellings are fully established inside with everything that they would have had while being inhabited. Beds are made, tables are set and even some original decorations are in place.
Expect to spend a full day at the museum. If you’re not going in the summer, dress warmly and bring an umbrella. Lithuania is quite far north and not the warmest of countries. While you can drive into the park, bringing the car in costs much more, and there is really no reason to do so. At most you’ll be walking about 5 miles throughout the whole day between the different regions and villages.
On the west end of the park, near the lagoon (lake) is a restaurant serving sandwiches and drinks. Otherwise, you can always bring your own lunch. As the museum basically forests and fields, you can eat anywhere.
You might also want to bring an apple or carrot with you. There are horses all over the park. Some are friendlier than others, but all of them will run up if you hold out a morsel for them.
For further ideas of things to do in Kaunas, you can read about my week in Lithuania. It was my couchsurfing host who brought me to the museum, and she learned as much about her country that day as I did. I hope you will too.