I’ve just returned from a spontaneous trip to Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania. Why Kaunas? Quite simply, a) because there were cheap flights, b) they worked for a long weekend for which I had one day’s holiday left to take at work, and c) I’ve never been to Lithuania before!
Truthfully, I’d never even really heard of Kaunas before I booked the flights a couple of weeks ago. In my limited research, I discovered it was the European Capital of Culture in 2022, and that there’s a museum about the devil, which I was keen to visit. (Disappointing spoiler: it was closed for renovations! Waaahhh.)
Normally I write about everything on the blog in chronological order, but I’m skipping a couple of months ahead to write about my trip to Kaunas, because it was such an unexpected Christmas destination, and it makes more sense to write about it now than in, say, January or February.
(I’ve still got posts to come on Budapest, Belgium, London AND Krakow, so I have lots of catching up to do on my European travels!)
I have to admit, this was more a “why not?” trip than somewhere I specifically wanted to visit – which is why my new-found love for Kaunas came as such a massive surprise! I’ve often heard that Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, is an underrated city, but having never really heard a peep about Kaunas, I thought it would be somewhere a bit off-beat, perhaps with not with a lot to do, but somewhere I could go with no pressure and to just take in the surroundings.
Instead, I stumbled across a winter wonderland with a beautiful old town and even more magical town square just in time for Christmas!
If you’re looking for somewhere a bit different in Europe to get in the festive spirit, read on for why Kaunas might just be for you.
First of all – Laisves Alley. This is the main street of the city centre in Kaunas, and it’s a long walk down an avenue lined with pretty lights and snow. This was my introduction to Kaunas, having got off the airport bus at the end of it, to walk all the way down the other end to my hostel, near the church.
Already, I was feeling Christmassy. I checked in at the hostel with zero plans, and the friendly guy at reception told me I should check out the old town for all the festive goings-on. He didn’t give much away, although he did mention Christmas trees.
He also gave me a really handy map listing all sorts of things, including a whopping twenty seven museums (“we have far more museums here than we should,” he said, possibly explaining why Kaunas was chosen as a city of culture) and lots of street art, which of course is right up my, er, street.
With the Devil’s Museum being closed, I also found out about the Museum For The Blind, which is in the catacombs of St Michael the Archangel’s Church. When they say a museum for the blind, it is literally in darkness and you have to explore it using touch, sound and smell! Sounds awesome, right? Naturally, it’s closed at weekends, so I didn’t get to visit that either!
A Christmas evening in Kaunas
After a quick recharge, I headed out into the -5 degree evening… and it was lovely. I was imagining taking one photo and posting “it is absolutely fecking baltic” on social media in a hilarious pun because I was in the Baltics. Instead, it was refreshing but enjoyable, and I took a walk back down the avenue and on to the old town.
I soon saw what he had meant by Christmas trees. They were everywhere. All covered in lights and lining the streets all the way through the old town, twinkling in the winter evening air.
I didn’t really get a great photo of them, but this honestly went on for about half a mile with these groups of Christmas trees every few feet.
There were also loads of really cute displays outside shops and bars just to add to the festive atmosphere.
And then I turned a corner and was faced with the town square.
I took my phone out to take a photo to send to Ash, along with the message “holy f*ck”.
I spent most of the evening here, even though there wasn’t actually a lot going on. It was just nice. Christmas music was playing, kids were out (even at 10pm when I left?!), the tree was sparkling, and light projections were dancing on the town hall. There wasn’t much of a Christmas market, but the ten or so stalls were inside these glass igloo type pods, which were really picturesque. I grabbed a mulled wine, which at 4€ wasn’t quite as cheap as our 3€ish ones in Krakow, but far cheaper than the astonishingly overpriced £8 ones in Edinburgh, and went to sit on an icy bench with it.
I also couldn’t resist getting a silly photo as soon as I saw these!
When I sent this to Ash, he went, “oh god, did you ask an unsuspecting tourist to take this?” – well Ash, she was doing exactly the same thing, so yes, yes I did!
Want some more Christmas markets? Check out my post on our day out in Munich for the German Christmas markets!
Eventually, the crowds started to disperse and I decided to head back for an early-ish night to make the most of my one full day in the city. Kaunas has a lot of nightlife, and I passed so many restaurants (not even bars!) blaring very loud music, so I could have easily made a night of it.
Lithuania is two hours ahead of the UK, so the next day I wasn’t up until 9.30am (which felt to me like 7.30am) and didn’t leave the hostel until 10.30. The bonus of being somewhere like this is it didn’t even matter – I didn’t have a massive itinerary laid out, so I had plenty of time to do the things I wanted to do. Namely, walking a lot.
St Michael the Archangel’s Church
First up, I wanted to check out St Michael the Archangel’s Church during the day.
It’s a huge church, although one of those that probably looks prettier if you don’t look too closely. It’s very, very impressive though.
I took a selfie with it which warranted my joke about it being baltic.
I then re-traced my steps from the night before, making one quick pitstop and a detour on the way.
The pitstop was Spurgine on Laisves Alley, one of the oldest bakeries in Kaunas. This had just been recommended to me the night before by a fellow blogger on Twitter, Leta. I would have totally missed it otherwise, especially as there’s no menu, labels or prices so even if I had gone in, I would have had no idea what I was really looking at other than some general baked goodness. She had recommended a “curd” doughnut which is their speciality, so I followed her advice and got one of those with a cup of tea. It was delicious, and very cheap – it came to 2.25€ altogether! I considered getting a second one, but at this point I wasn’t too far from lunch, so I held off.
Around the corner was my first real street art stop. This deserves its own section!
Kiemo Galerija – Courtyard Gallery
I actually only found out about this last minute, but then the guy in the hostel also recommended it.
The courtyard gallery is an outdoor art installation on the walls of some residential flats – and it is so cool!
I loved the sign in the entrance to the courtyard – “here neighbours live who have the right to peace”.
There are lots of small pictures and murals depicting life in the courtyard and the people who have lived here in the past, and then the courtyard itself is full of art and quirky decorations like this sewing machine.
Obviously you are encouraged not to stand in people’s doorways and to generally be respectful as it is a residential area, but visitors are welcome to pop by to see all the art.
Round the corner is my favourite part – a huge pink elephant, and a rubber duck in a bath!
Such an interesting and unique place!
From here, I would have gone to the Devil’s Museum just around the corner, but as mentioned before, it was shut. I’m so blimming annoyed, as you all probably know I’m a sucker for a quirky museum, and it might well have been the highlight of my day.
Kaunas Old Town
Instead, I headed back into the old town and eventually made it back to the town square. It wasn’t quite as magical in the day time, but it’s still a very pretty square.
I made sure to get a photo of Gulliver, but there wasn’t a whole lot else to do that I hadn’t seen the night before.
I carried on beyond it to check out the remains of Kaunas Castle.
There isn’t a lot left of Kaunas Castle, and I didn’t pay to go in. Instead, I took a wintery walk around it, and watched a load of kids sledging down the old moat. There was a tiny, fluffy dog going absolutely bananas in the snow!
Great fun, and another thing that really got me into the Christmas spirit.
Watch out for the Kaunas dragon too, which you can apparently hear if you put your ear to a hole in the castle wall. Did not deter the dog from having the time of its life though.
Speaking of holes… (no, don’t worry, get your mind out of the gutter, please.)
Lunch at Holy Donut
Holy Donut probably isn’t the cheapest place for lunch, but it looked really good and I’d read great reviews. There was a bit of a wait for a table, but once I was in, the service was fantastic and really friendly and quick.
I became a total hipster and got avocado toast with a poached egg, along with fresh orange juice. It was exactly the pick-me-up I needed – with the contrast of the freezing temperatures outside and the warm indoors, my sinuses were playing havoc and I hadn’t been feeling 100%.
To combat my sudden onset of healthiness, I indulged in one of the many incredible looking doughnuts on offer.
Which one would you choose?!
Aleksoto funicular & view point
I realised I’d missed something on my list, and turned back on myself back to the old town square. I was debating whether I could be bothered, but there’s a viewpoint where you can take a funicular to get a view of the city. The clouds were starting to close in, so I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it, but I decided I might as well go while I was there.
The funicular only costs 1€ each way, and I would have ridden it up and then walked back down, but as luck would have it, it started full on snowing by the time I was up there, and icy steps in bracing cold snow are not my idea of fun.
(You can see the snow on my hat, and by the time I got back to the hostel, my hat, scarf and hair were all frozen!)
It’s a nice view from the top, so I’m glad I did it, even though there’s nothing else to really do up there.
By the time I got back down, the snow was really coming down, which had already transformed the town square.
I was tempted to pop in to the Chocolaterie on the square for a hot chocolate, but I was still so full from my massive doughnut that I think more sugar would have made me feel sick.
However I’ve seen lots of recommendations for it, and it would definitely be a good winter antidote.
Street art in Kaunas
From there, I headed back to the hostel, taking in some of the street art dotted about the city. As well as the awesome courtyard gallery above, street art has apparently become much more of a thing in Kaunas in the past few years, which I love.
It also has some really unique pieces, like this brilliant one that’s based on a child’s drawing!
The most famous is the wise old man, pictured above, which is near the castle so you won’t miss it.
I had passed some more on my wanders too.
I could have spent a couple of hours wandering to find more from the map I had been given, but the snow had turned to ice in the air, and it wasn’t the most pleasant to be walking about in. If I went back to the hostel now, it would be getting dark by the time I wanted to go out again, but I’d done a lot in a day, so I was pretty happy to go back to relax and organise myself for the morning – more on that in a minute…
Do you also love street art? I’ve got a few posts on it – one on Glasgow’s amazing mural trail, and a photo post of some of the best street art in Melbourne!
Baking Mad Hidden Lab – a Breaking Bad themed restaurant
For dinner, I only needed to go round the corner, which is lucky as the sharp ice was still coming down.
I’d found a really funky-looking restaurant themed around Breaking Bad, which looked really cool. It’s downstairs in a basement so it’s kind of tucked away which is apt.
Confession: I still haven’t finished watching Breaking Bad. We binged the first four seasons, took a break, and sort of forgot to go back to it! I mean, I know what happens, but still, I need to actually finish it!
Anyway, I had the Los Pollos Hermanos, a delicious chicken burger with cornflake breadcrumbs. It was sooo good! I couldn’t even finish it, which seems quite poetic. I also treated myself to a rum cocktail with mango & pineapple rum – yum!
A couple of observations
One thing I found quite interesting after a conversation I had with a hostel room mate was the difference in people’s levels of English. The guy in my room was Ukrainian and had lived in Lithuania for two years (so not because of the war). I asked him why he chose Lithuania, and he said he had been offered a job after finishing university, and because Lithuania was the first country to leave the Soviet Union, most older people speak Russian, so it was easier for him to acclimatise.
Now, he’s learning English because most younger people speak that instead of Russian – which made complete sense after my experiences. The older ladies who worked in the café I’d visited that morning didn’t really speak any English, but the young girls who worked in Holy Donut were completely conversational in English, as well as the young guy in the restaurant that evening. I just found that transition really interesting, especially after it was brought up in conversation at work this week too, and a colleague asked how it was in Lithuania!
Another much more random one was the crosses.
They were really unique and ornate! They almost felt a bit steam-punky?
Anyway, why is this interesting?
Well, one of the top things to do in Lithuania (found on my bible, Atlas Obscura, of course) is a hill full of crosses that look just like this. It actually looks really cool, and seeing the crosses in Kaunas like this one, I realised why it looks even more unique!
Read more: another city that really surprised me was Sofia, Bulgaria: A City Of Colour And Contrast
A 4am taxi fiasco
My trip did almost end in disaster, however. I’d asked at the hostel about getting to the airport early, as I’d realised in horror that the first airport bus of the day got in less than 45 minutes before my flight home. Which seems a bit odd as apparently the service is set up to match all the flights, so I don’t know why they wouldn’t start a bit earlier if there’s a flight on.
Anyway, I asked them to book me a taxi, and they said they don’t book taxis but that I could download Bolt.
“Isn’t that like Uber? So I can’t book it in advance?”
“Yes, you’d have to book it in the morning.”
“…and what if there’s no one available at 4am?”
“Oh, that won’t happen, you’ll be fine.”
As it happens, a few minutes afterwards, someone else appeared who was also on my flight, so we agreed to get up and order a taxi at 4am and hope it wouldn’t take too long to arrive.
Needless to say, it took me a long time to get to sleep because I kept worrying about the damn taxi. I considered even booking a bus to Riga at 6am instead, which would give me a full day in Riga and then I could fly home from there in the late evening for under £40. A spontaneous trip in Lithuania followed by an even more spontaneous trip to Latvia? Why not?!
Anyway, at least there were now two of us in this predicament. We got up in the morning and hoped for the best, so I looked at booking the taxi and it said there would be one available in three minutes for under 15€. As we put on our boots, I ordered it, and by the time we got outside it pinged to say it was there. Brilliant!
The taxi appeared… and drove straight past us, as I waved my arms in the air and chased it down the street.
It didn’t stop.
I messaged the driver, and he called me, but didn’t speak a word of English. He started saying something about Espanol and then hung up. I messaged him again, and he called again, to no avail because he couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand him. Eventually, I told him he would be getting a terrible review, as I watched the marker on the map move further towards the airport.
I double checked, and it definitely said pick up at our address, with the destination being the airport. I think he must have stopped for us, happened to pick up some randomers instead (at 4am???) who I guess may have been Spanish, and drove off with them. Thankfully the app hadn’t accepted my credit card so I’d had to select cash instead, so at least I didn’t pay for their journey.
The only problem was, because I had a journey “in progress”, it wouldn’t let me book another one!
Thankfully, another girl in my room had also been getting up at the same time as us to go to the airport, so I’d invited her to share with us, and she had a Lithuanian taxi app. A proper taxi turned up within two minutes, and we were on our way, breathing massive sighs of relief. It cost 7€ more and we didn’t even care.
So much stress for 4am – not to mention the fact that was only 2am at home!
So anyway, I am never willingly using Uber or Bolt again. (I can’t tell you how many issues I’ve had with Uber, and they’re actually more expensive than taxis in Edinburgh, so what’s even the point?!)
That said, the airport was seamless, and it basically would have taken less than ten minutes to get through security and passport control to our gate (I say “would have” because we perused duty free with our extra time), so the bus might have been fine. Or… it might not have been, so to me it wasn’t worth the risk. Ten minutes before the gate closing is too tight even for me, and I am travel chaos personified.
Despite this, it was a brilliant weekend in somewhere I never expected to visit!
Apart from the Devil’s Museum, I feel like I did everything I wanted in a day in Kaunas, with the magical night before just being a massive bonus.
I’d highly recommend coming to visit in the run-up to Christmas, as it’s really like a winter wonderland, but much more understated than, say, the German Christmas markets. It’s also easy to visit in a day from Vilnius, as it’s less than an hour and a half on the train.
I’m definitely keen to explore more of the Baltics now as well – Riga is meant to be lovely, and I fancy getting the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki! Kaunas was the perfect unexpected introduction to this underrated area of Europe.
Have you been to the Baltics? Where did you enjoy the most?
Like this post? I’ve got loads more about European cities:
⭐ Loving Lisbon: A Perfect 3 Day Itinerary
⭐ A Day Wandering Beautiful Vienna
⭐ Surviving Dubrovnik – And Falling In Love With It
⭐ I Didn’t Expect Bratislava To Be So Pretty
⭐ Visiting Three Countries In A Day: A Trip To Basel, Switzerland
⭐ Exploring Beautiful Belgrade, Serbia