Lithuania is a country I hadn’t even heard of before I started backpacking across Europe. While most people head to Vilnius – the capital, I ended up in Kaunas, the second biggest city in Lithuania. At first, I didn’t think there was a lot to do there; it was just on my route up to Helsinki where I planned to fly to Thailand from. But my several Couchsurfing hosts in Kaunas quickly showed me there were many things to see and do in the city and surrounding countryside.
Kaunas Old Town
Your first stop should be the Old Town. Many of the buildings date back over half a millennium. The central promenade is lined with centuries of different architectural styles, shops, restaurants and gardens. A highway divides the street into two sections: Liberty Avenue and Vilnius Street. Liberty Avenue has the more modern shops and ends at the Church of St. Michael the Archangel. On a hill overlooking the Old Town is the Kaunas Cathedral. Vilnius Street is paved with cobblestones and has old churches and restaurants to explore.
Confluence Park and Kaunas Castle
At the end of Vilnius Street is Confluence Park and Kaunas Castle, built during the 14th century in a Gothic style at the confluence of two rivers – thus the name of the park. The castle isn’t big but yet interesting to explore, and the park is a nice place to have a picnic if the weather is good.
If you have a bit more time, head about 20 miles south of the city to the resort town of Birštonas. Situated along the Neman River, this is where the locals go to relax. There are woodland walks, a “massage path” with different materials on the ground to walk barefoot over, water sports, and a famous mineral water spa. The water at the spa is said to have curative properties, but it’s not particularly nice to drink.
Open Air Museum
No trip to Kaunas would be complete without visiting the Open Air Museum. This type of museum is common throughout the Nordic and Baltic countries. They are recreations of towns and lifestyles throughout history. The one in Kaunas has several different “mini villages”, each representing a different period in Lithuanian history. Check out my full article on the Kaunas Open Air Museum.
Bike Ride in the Countryside
Finally, if you have a day to spare and are the athletic type, I’d highly recommend a long bike ride through the countryside around Kaunas. Lithuania is a very low country, i.e. not a lot of mountains. One of my Couchsurfing hosts brought me to Viešvilė, a village 60 miles west of Kaunas on the border of Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia. From there, we rode nearly the entire way back to Kaunas along the river. The scenery was stunning, and it still remains one of my favorite days in my travels…although it wasn’t the most comfortable bike to ride.
Kaunas isn’t a big city, and you could easily cover the highlights in just a day or two. But you could also spend a couple weeks there and not run out of activities to do. Lithuania is a really beautiful country, the locals are super friendly (all my wonderful Couchsurfing hosts went out of their way to make my stay truly memorable), and there’s some really good food there too. Next time I’m in the country, I’ll have to get out to Trakai Island Castle, although that’s closer to Vilnius.