District-by-district Travel Guide To Kaunas, Lithuania | True Lithuania
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Kaunas Travel Guide: An Introduction

A view towards the Kaunas old town from the upper station of Aleksotas funicular. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Kaunas is Lithuania’s second largest city (population 325 000) resting at the confluence of country’s two largest rivers, Neris and Nemunas. For centuries it has been smaller than Vilnius, but only a bit, therefore Vilnius vs. Kaunas rivalry is felt everywhere from basketball matches to internet forums.

Kaunas medieval old town is smaller but more intact than that of Vilnius as it suffered less of the Soviet post-war destruction. It is dominated by the churches at the Rotušės (City Hall) square and a wide Vilniaus street as well as by the restored Kaunas castle near the confluence.

Away from the city center and close to the hydroelectric dam that dammed Nemunas river stands the impressive Pažaislis monastery (built in 17th-18th centuries), a pearl of late baroque in the Northern Europe.

What makes Kaunas really unique is, however, its heritage from later eras. It is here where the Russian Empire built a 1st class fortress (in 1882 - 1915), its forts, batteries, barracks and redoubts surrounding the entire Kaunas city. The majority of these fortifications can still be seen today and are in fact the best-preserved 19th-century fortress of this type in the world.

In the city itself, you can see other remains of the Russian Imperial military, such as the garrison church ("the Sobor"), warehouses and derelict barracks where nothing is changed since they fell into disuse after the World War 1.

One side of Laisvės Alėja (Freedom Avenue), the high street of Kaunas. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Another era well visible in Kaunas is that of the interwar independent Lithuania. Vilnius was captured by Poland in 1920 and Kaunas became a temporary capital “until Vilnius is liberated”. As such it expanded swiftly (population increased by 66% in mere 16 years) and received many new public buildings as well as large private homes. Urban plan for Žaliakalnis hill district was laid back then with its imposing art deco Church of Christ Ressurection. 1922–1940 buildings also exist in the New Town which continued to serve as the city center throughout the period. Kaunas takes huge pride in its interwar era, the buildings of which are now recognized as UNESCO World Heritage.

Modern Kaunas has been searching for its identity in a way. Its major pedestrian high street Laisvės Alėja (Freedom Avenue) has somewhat “died out” with most businesses moving to the Old Town or the new shopping malls Akropolis and Mega. Approximately 100 000 people left Kaunas for good in the past 20 years, but the annual influx of students to its numerous universities never allows the city to age, and the local Žalgiris basketball team always remained the most followed sports franchise in Lithuania.

It can be said now, however, that Kaunas has finally reinvented itself, "marrying" its traditional image of a patriotic Lithuanian city with that of a hipsterized and globalized one. New Lithuanian monuments and cultural hubs are now joined by foreign business investments and thousands of expatriate students from all over the world.

An outdoor advert declares: Kaunas. My city, wherever I would be. Created by Monika Vilčinskienė there are many similar ads that superimpose famous places of Kaunas on the best-known wonders of the world (in this case, the War Museum and the Church of Christ Ressurection were moved to the landscape of Luxor, Egypt).

Some of the major national museums are located in Kaunas rather than Vilnius: the War museum, the new Basketball museum, and the Gallery of Lithuania’s most famous symbolist painter Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (early 20th century) are among them. The Museum of Devils with a collection of devil and demon figurines is probably the most unique.

Kaunas is also the 4th largest city in the Baltic States by population (surpassed only by the three capitals). Among the region's 5 most populous urban areas Kaunas is the most culturally homogenous (over 90% of its people are ethnic Lithuanians).

More information:
Kaunas by borough (district): An area-by-area guide to Kaunas and its sights, with maps and pictures.
Kaunas by topic: Shopping, Entertainment and other topics of Kaunas.

Map of Kaunas Boroughs. Borougs in red shade were initially developed for 19th century fortress. Soviet boroughs are shaded green.

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Senamiestis (Old Town) of Kaunas

Surrounded by rivers from three sides the medieval Old Town of Kaunas is located next to the confluence of two major rivers: Neris and Nemunas. This confluence, once important for trade, is still guarded by a tower of Kaunas castle (14th century) that you can climb witnessing minor exhibits.

Kaunas castle tower. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Not far south from the tower lies the Rotušės (City Hall) square, the heart of the city and the location for any celebrations, be it the annual Hanseatic days that remember history of Kaunas as a trade center in era when the Hanseatic Union dominated the Baltic trade, or the Christmas market, or military parades in the days-gone-by.

In the center of the square stands the City Hall with a 53 m tall tower (1780). Nowadays it is used for registering civil marriages.

Rotušės square from a public terrace on Jesuit monastery roof in December. City Hall and the annual ingenious Christmas tree in the foreground; Seminary and Kaunas castle in the background. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Marriages are also common in the five churches that surround the square so every summer you can see many newlywed couples here. The tallest spire is that of Ascension Church that is almost universally referred to as Vytautas church after the Grand Duke who commissioned it in 1399. This oldest building of Kaunas lies to the south of the Rotušės Square next to a gothic residential building known as Perkūnas house.

The churches of the square well represent every major pre-1800 architectural style. The southern flank is dominated by the Baroque Jesuit church (1720) and monastery with a summer terrace on top. West of the square behind historic palaces stands another large gothic church dedicated to Saint George (1490s) and a nicely repaired Renaissance priest seminary palace with its own Holy Trinity church (1634). Beyond them, there is a Santakos (Confluence) park at the point where Lithuania's two largest rivers converge.

Medieval St. George church in the Kaunas Old Town . ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

There are many other nice old houses and palaces near the square, some of them housing mediocre museums (dedicated to pharmacy, Lithuanian literature, ceramics and sport). Visit them if you are interested in a particular field (e.g. Sports museum may enthrall a collector with its plethora of historical medals and cups - but bore many others). The most modern museum there is the Basketball Museum, following the glories of the Lithuania's national sport.

To the east of the square is the red brick Kaunas Cathedral that is the largest gothic building in Lithuania.

Kaunas Cathedral at the northeast corner of Rotušės square has a gothic exterior but a baroque interior. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The main Vilniaus street beside the Cathedral leads eastwards from the Rotušės square towards the New Town. Today it is the most important street of Kaunas with many restaurants available in its old authentic buildings. Going east on Vilnius street you pass the dilapidated Baroque God's Body church facade (unfortunately, its three towers and the interior was entirely destroyed by the Soviets and only a single room now is left for celebrating mass in what effectively became a multi-storey building).

Vilniaus street view towards Rotušės square (towers of the Jesuit church are visible in the background). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

After passing the underground passage there is the President's residence of interwar Lithuania with a small park. Now it hosts extensive year-long temporary exhibitions.

In a seemingly ordinary courtyard at the end of Vilniaus street,  a gothic Saint Gertrude church is located. This meticulous small church dates to 1480.

St. Gertrude church visible from a calm J. Gruodžio street. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Smaller and less busy streets parallel to the Vilniaus street are also a great place to stroll and watch the Old Town of Kaunas which suffered less of the post-war Soviet destruction than its counterpart in Vilnius and therefore is more intact. The Folk musical instrument museum located at Kurpių street has a nice array of Lithuanian traditional instruments (no on-demand audio, however).

Nemunas embankment with its modest Lutheran church (1683), gothic buildings and views over Aleksotas is another alternative.

Wide Šv. Gertrūdos and Šauklių street in the north are where the lowland Old Town gives way to Žaliakalnis hill. The 15th century St. Nicholas church and former Benedictine nunnery located there are however still a part of a downtown, its cute octagonal tower joining the ensemble of Kaunas gothic buildings.

Map of Senamiestis (Old Town) of Kaunas.

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Naujamiestis (New Town) Borough of Kaunas

The New Town with its grid layout of streets dates to the late 19th century. This district lies entirely to the east of the Old Town. It was built by the Russian Empire as the administrative center of Kaunas Fortress which surrounded the city during the same era.

Because of its military importance, there was a tradition that no building may exceed 2 floors (+attic) in size. Therefore even the most important buildings such as the former fortress HQ are not tall, but expansive. The main exception is the Kaunas Sobor (Soboras) in the center of a small square. This imposing Russian Orthodox Church with its shining dome was built for officers of the military fortress. After the independence of Lithuania (1918) the Russian military departed and the church became Roman Catholic. It still remains the church of the army.

The Sobor visible from Laisvės alėja (Freedom Avenue). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The independence changed the building size restrictions as well. New Town became the downtown of what effectively became the country's capital. Many stately buildings were constructed here, among them the Central Post building (1931), Parliament building (1928), Officers Club (1937), Savings Bank Palace (1940) and „Pienocentras“ company HQ (1931). Most construction took place in the 1930s when the prevailing style was art deco with Bauhaus influences. The building facades typically have many rounded geometrical elements and some sharp corners. This unique architecture of Kaunas is recognized as UNESCO World Heritage.

Among the more recent additions is Mykolas Žilinskas Art Gallery (near Sobor), the Lithuania's main encyclopedic museum of foreign art (Lithuanian collectors donated the exhibits from Babylonian cuneiform to impressionism).

Kaunas central post building (near the western end of Laisvės alėja) is a good example of Kaunas interwar architecture that uses both curved and sharp corners. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The undisputed main street of New Town is Laisvės alėja (Freedom Avenue). Once the only pedestrian boulevard in the Soviet Union the street had been the heart of the city long before Soviet occupation. Most of city's major 1880-1940 era buildings are to be found along this street and Romas Kalanta self-immolated himself against the Soviet regime here as well, triggering a global protest. There is now a monument to him in front of the Musical Theater, itself a high-society hub since its opening in 1892, built immediately beyond the former city wall (remains are visible). In the 2000s, however, the urban entertainment largely relocated again to the Old Town and the new shopping malls. Some restaurants and the theaters remain in Laisvės alėja but nightlife is scarce.

The musical theater of Kaunas. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the eastern reaches of Naujamiestis (at the other end of Laisvės alėja) there is the Ramybės (Calmness) park. This used to be Kaunas prime cemetery until Soviets demolished it (1959), destroying the elaborate tombstones and memorials (among them Darius and Girėnas mausoleum). Few of them have been rebuilt (Homeland defenders, 1941 June uprising). Luckily three religious buildings which once centered minority sections of the cemetery survived intact and are still city-wide hubs for the Muslim and Russian Orthodox communities. Lithuania's only non-wooden mosque (named after Vytautas the Great) subtly unites art deco style with Arabic influences. One Russian Orthodox church (Ressurection) dates to 1862 while the neighboring one (Virgin Mary Revelation) was constructed by the Lithuanian government in 1935 after the Sobor was ceded to the Catholics.

The June uprising memorial in Ramybės park is one of many patriotic monuments in the New Town of Kaunas. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The northern part of Naujamiestis is centered around Vienybės (Unity) square. This patriotic heart of pre-WW2 Kaunas hosts Freedom statue, sculptures of the Lithuania‘s founding fathers, a grave of an unknown soldier and other monuments (rebuilt after Soviet destruction).

Major national museums were also constructed here. National Vytautas the Great War Museum (1934) is the most famous. It shares its building (a nice example of monumental art deco) with Čiurlionis art gallery , dedicated to Lithuania‘s most famous symbolist painter. The War museum tower houses a 49-bell Belgian carillon. Created in 1935 it is still played every Saturday and Sunday afternoon (16:00) providing free concerts for everyone in the Unity square (video).

Further north, right in the line of interwar apartment buildings next to the slope of Žaliakalnis hill, there is a newer Devil museum of sculptor Antanas Žmuidzinavičius who collected various statues of devils and other demons from all over the world.

The 1934 museum building and carillon tower in Vienybės square. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the south of Naujamiestis right next to Nemunas river stands the largest shopping mall in Kaunas known as Akropolis (80,000 m²): a repurposed pre-war factory with new multi-storey parking towering above Karaliaus Mindaugo Avenue on the bank of Nemunas. Akropolis also serves as an entertainment hub with ice rink, cinema, bowling and many restaurants. In the island of Nemunas, the new Kaunas arena stands. With 17 000 seats, this arena is the largest in the Baltics providing a home to international gigs and Žalgiris basketball team.

Holy Cross (Carmelite) church is partly outflanked by these modern developments but it still hosts a nice Baroque interior with 17th-century frescoes.

Map of Naujamiestis borough of Kaunas.

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Žaliakalnis Borough of Kaunas

Žaliakalnis is the interwar (1918-1940) extension of Kaunas. Some of the era's grandest projects have been constructed here, but the borough still retains its calm suburban feel.

Homes here stand amidst old trees that line up every street. Large wooden edifices are joined by entire streets of 1930s brick villas and a few new houses of the modern elite with swimming pools and fountains. Many of its art deco "little castles" and wooden masterpieces now bear plaques with the names of interwar high society members who used to live there and some have been converted to museums.

P. Višinskio street, one of many calm wooded streets in Žaliakalnis with interwar curved-cornered buildings in the foreground. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Southern and Central Žaliakalnis: Interwar elite neighborhood

Žaliakalnis name means "Green hill" and it lives up to its name. From the New Town, it can be reached by ascending several pedestrian streets named "Laiptai". "Laiptai" means "Stairs" and these streets, in fact, are long flights of stairs that used to be traveled daily by the commuting Žaliakalnis inhabitants of the 1930s. Kauko laiptai are beautiful but derelict.

A wooden Swiss funicular, built in 1931, offered an alternative. Considered part of Lithuania's technical heritage it still travels up and down Žaliakalnis hill, although today most people use buses, trolleybuses or private cars instead.

Church of Christ Ressurection (near the funicular top station) is Žaliakalnis's most impressive building. Its construction started in 1933 with the aim of creating the largest church in the Baltic States. However, the unfinished building was turned into a factory by the occupying Soviets. Construction was eventually completed in the year 2003 and the white tower of the church is now easily visible from most of Kaunas. You are able to visit not just its massive plain interior but also ascend the elevator to the flat roof crowned by a unique chapel. Marriages are performed there with great views of the entire city center of Kaunas.

Take note that there is another church of Christ Ressurection that served the community while the main church was unusable. However, if you will see them both you will certainly know which is the monumental one.

Church of Christ Ressurection as visible from the lower parts of Kaunas. The factory on the left was constructed by Soviets to lessen the prominence of the church. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Streets like Perkūno Avenue let you „breath the air“ of Kaunas elite from almost a century ago. Here stands the historic Sports district, centered around a pedestrian boulevard with a monument for Darius and Girėnas, the first Lithuanian pilots to cross the Atlantic (also the pioneers of transatlantic air mail service), an important feat in the dawn of the aviation. Around it stands Europe's first basketball-specific arena (5000 seat Kaunas Sports Hall where the 1939 European Championship took place), the Darius and Girėnas football stadium (est. 1926, the largest in Lithuania) and Sports academy buildings. The nearby Radio antennas in southern Žaliakalnis are the oldest Lithuanian radio station (est. 1926).

Perkūno Avenue is also surrounded by some of the best private homes in interwar Kaunas. If you wonder about their interiors and original owners, check one of the Žaliakalnis memorial museums. There are ones for Kipras and Mikas Petrauskas (opera singers), Chiyune Sugihara (Japanese consul famous for saving potential Holocaust victims by illegally issuing them Japanese visas), Marijona Rakauskaitė and Liudas Truikys (opera singer and scenographer), Galaunė family (opera singer and art historian). Only the first two can be visited without a prior arrangement; Petrauskas's museum is recommended, while Sugihara museum inscriptions lack historical accuracy. Truikys/Rakauskaitė museum interior has been changed the least (it is inspired by Asia due to its owners adoration of the Eastern philosophy), while Galaunės' museum includes the most interwar furniture.

The living room of interwar star opera singer Kipras Petrauskas. The total area of his home is 1000 sq. m, but much of it was nationalized by Soviets. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Eastern Žaliakalnis: The garden city

The 1923 concept of a "planned garden city" was fulfilled the most faithfully in Eastern Žaliakalnis anchored on diagonal and crescent streets. Its vision was created by a Danish engineer Frandsen, who was also responsible for contemporary Copenhagen urban plan. However, Frandsen's utopian hopes of relocating the entire Lithuanian government to patriotically-shaped buildings here were not fulfilled and the district was built up by largely wooden homes instead. Simpler than the pompous edifices of Southern Žaliakalnis they still housed notable families of intellectuals. One may visit the memorial museum of writer Balys Sruoga to see an authentic interior (arrangement not needed).

Next to the modest St. Anthony church there is an Old Jewish cemetery (est. 1861), its sad state of repair a result of Soviet policy against preserving old cemeteries. Unlike many others, this one at least was not demolished or redeveloped.

To the south lies the Kaunas zoo (now somewhat outdated it is the largest in Lithuania) and Ąžuolynas (Oak forest) (a pristine land where a southeastern extension of Žaliakalnis was planned but never completed). With 770 oaks and 84 ha area, Ąžuolynas is the largest urban oak forest in Europe. Mickevičius valley on the eastern end of Ąžuolynas has a pristine mountain creek valley feel in the middle of the city.

Ąžuolų kalnas: A calm outback

Savanorių Avenue coincides with the historical Saint Petersburg-Warsaw road (constructed in 1830-1835) and it is the 19th-century roots of Žaliakalnis. Here stands the gothic revival Saulė (Sun) gymnasium (1913), the first Kaunas official Lithuanian school after Russia scrapped the Lithuanian language ban (1904).

Neighborhoods north and west of Savanorių Avenue are known as Ąžuolų Kalnas (Oak Hill). This area has a suburban feel as its wooden buildings are smaller. Many of them have been replaced by modern single-family dwellings. Historical Kaunas art school (1924) occupies a green yard of the former 9th battery of the Kaunas fortress. Its romantic fence with 48 owl sculptures (originally 52 for 52 weeks) is the symbol of Ąžuolų kalnas. The materials for its construction have been gathered from the fence that surrounded whole Kaunas city in the 19th-century fortress era.

The owl fence of Ąžuolų Kalnas (Western Žaliakalnis). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Ąžuolų kalnas inhabitants famous enough to have their homes transformed into museums were sculptor Juozas Zikaras and writer Juozas Grušas.

Map of Žaliakalnis. Parts of Ąžuolų kalnas (Western Žaliakalnis) are not included (see Old Town map for the art school and Zikaras home). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Aleksotas Borough

Aleksotas district is immediately beyond Nemunas river from the Old Town but it has a certain suburban feel, just like the entire southwestern Kaunas. The Nemunas valley, deep by lowland Lithuanian standards, means that Aleksotas has a lower part and the higher part built atop a wooded hill. This hill can be ascended by another of the Kaunas interwar funiculars still running on its Swiss machinery manufactured in 1935 (closed on Sundays).

The best vantage point in Kaunas is near the funicular upper station. You can see most of the historical boroughs of the city with Old Town dominating the foreground. This place may be reached by stairs or by car as well as the funicular.

Winter in Kaunas, as seen from the top station of Aleksotas funicular. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the higher part of Aleksotas, the Darius and Girėnas airfield is located. Built in 1915 it was the main airport of Kaunas until the 1980s when it was replaced by a new one in Karmėlava suburb. Now it is overtaken by sports aviation but Aviation museum is also located here. You should probably skip it if you aren't a fan of aviation; that said the museum has interesting pictures and aircraft models from interwar Lithuania when the country was known for its aircraft manufacturers and had a mighty air force with some 100 fighter planes. There are some Soviet aircraft and helicopters in the exposition outside. Darius and Girėnas airport one of the oldest continuously operating airports in Europe. However, with old buildings replaced by new ones that dawn of the aviation era remains largely in the museum pictures.

Aleksotas was considered to be a separate town until 1919. In fact, it was on different Governorate of Russia with Kaunas being the capital of Kaunas governorate and Aleksotas being part of Suvalkai (Suwalki) governorate. The differences between these two governorates were no small deal: not only the laws were different but also the calendar. Kaunas Governorate had the old Julian one and was lagging two weeks behind Aleksotas where Gregorian calendar was used.

As such, Aleksotas bridge was nicknamed "time machine". This was not the bridge you see now, however, as the current one was built by the Soviets after the previous one was destroyed in World War 2. The monumental columns of Aleksotas bridge (rebuilt in 1948) are the last place in central Kaunas where the Soviet symbols are still not removed. They are safeguarded for their architectural value. This sometimes raises heated arguments as some politicians prefer to cover them.

A view towards Aleksotas from the Old Town with Aleksotas Bridge visible. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Compared to Žaliakalnis Aleksotas is less interesting.

Aleksotas map is included in the map of Kaunas fortress area.

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Vilijampolė Borough

Still sometimes called by its Yiddish name "Slabotkė" Vilijampolė was the Jewish district of Kaunas. Unfortunately, little remains of that era with the Jewish community decimated and forced to flee during World War 2; many buildings were demolished afterward.

Southern Vilijampolė (the area around Jurbarko, Veliuonos, Linkuvos streets) remains more authentic, with its primarily wooden buildings crowded on small lots along narrow streets, a few of them still unpaved.

The small rental apartments in architecturally unimpressive buildings once housed poor Jewish and non-Jewish families (rich Jews left Vilijampolė for better boroughs in the 19th century but were forced back during the German occupation in 1941). Even the local Catholic church building lacks the typical glory: built as a simple two-story house it received a tower only in 2004.

Buildings in Jurbarko street. This trunk road delimits the southern boundary of historic southern Vilijampolė. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Northern Vilijampolė was largely rebuilt by the Soviets in Stalinist (a few buildings around Sąjungos square, itself a former cemetery) and Functionalist (further north) styles. The street layout has also been changed there.

Unappealing looks earned Vilijampolė a bad reputation, not helped by the infamous Daktarai gang of the early 1990s which was based there.

Žemaičių road in northeastern Vilijampolė climbs a hill and from there you can enjoy a panorama of the city. Unfortunately, it is Vilijampolė itself that is most visible there and the lovelier neighborhoods (Old Town, New Town) are in the background. Therefore other vantage points such as the top funicular station in Aleksotas offer better views.

A cafe on poles overlooks the Vilijampolė skyline. Kaunas city consists of low Neris and Nemunas valleys and higher hill districts, providing good viewpoints. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Just like Aleksotas, Vilijampolė was considered to be a separate town until 1919. Vilijampolė stands on the opposite bank of Neris river from the Kaunas Old Town and on the opposite bank of Nemunas river from Aleksotas.

Vilijampolė map is included in the map of Kaunas fortress area.

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19th Century Fortress of Kaunas

The massive ring of fortifications, batteries and other installations that surround the city of Kaunas is indeed impressive. Unlike in many other places where such magnificent 19th-century urban fortresses existed in Kaunas you can still see a large percentage of all this.

The Mighty Red Forts of the Fortress

All 13 forts still exist in various stages of decay. The first circle (1st-8th forts) surrounds the city center completely whereas on the intended second circle only one fort (the 9th fort) was completed and additional 4 (10th-13th) under construction by the time Germans captured the entire fortress after a mere week of siege (fortress commander was then tried by the Russians). No two forts of the 1st circle are more than a couple kilometers away from each other so that no enemy could easily enter the city without deadly barrage from the surrounding forts. Every fort is designed to resemble natural grass-covered hills for the advancing enemy, but inside the territory, there are many semi-subterranean structures (barracks, escarpments, warehouses, tunnels).

Two of the forts have been turned into museums. The 7th fort in the northern part of the 1st circle is the Fortress museum. Owned by a group of military history enthusiasts it is continuously improved although not yet complete. The museum that is set up in the concrete 9th fort (the newest of the completed forts) is dedicated to the genocides of people of Lithuania as the 9th fort used to be a prison (since the 1920s) and a place of mass killings in the World War 2. The museum was established by the Soviets to portray Nazi German brutality (some 15 000 Jews were murdered in the forts) but the place is now expanded to include Soviet massacres as well.

7th Fort of the Kaunas fortress served as the Central State Archive in the interwar period. This is still reminded by the name of the street leading to it - Archyvo. Now it became the Museum of the fortress owned and operated by volunteers who are carefully restoring the fort to its former glory. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The remaining forts are largely abandoned and while most can, in theory, be visited, muddy/dirty paths provide the sole access to many of them. One derelict fort that you can easily drive directly into is the 6th fort, which also served as a Soviet and German prison. Its eerie walls overgrown with grass and paintball is now played in some of the buildings. The nearby 6th fort roundabout where three major streets converge is overlooked by a small "forest" of large crosses. These were built by people largely in 1991 and represents the then contemporary strive for independence. There are crosses for Iceland and Denmark (a gratitude for recognizing independence), another one for the liberators of Kuwait (Gulf War). Some later crosses are related to other problems, such as abortions and organized crime. A small column calls for peace on earth to prevail.

Crosses and traditional chapel-poles commemorating the issues of the early 1990s near the 6th fort roundabout. The fort itself is behind these crosses. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Šančiai Borough: Abandoned Barracks and Warehouse Church

Together with the military installations, many new streets were laid, new districts were built with barracks for the soldiers, warehouses, and other infrastructure.

Among such districts is Šančiai to the southeast of the New Town. Red brick 3 stories barracks still line the Juozapavičiaus Avenue there. Some of them are restored and turned into hotels or apartments. Many others stand abandoned or even decayed to a mere outer shell with nothing purposefully changed since the times of the czar a century ago.

The old barracks lining up Juozapavičiaus Avenue in Šančiai borough. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Another interesting building in Juozapavičiaus Avenue is the Jesus Heart church, an interwar building (1938). Next to it still stands the old church, converted from a military warehouse after Šančiai became a civilian district.

The Military cemetery where soldiers of World War 1, World War 2 and other eras lie is also in Šančiai. Lithuanians, Germans, Russians, and others have their final resting place less than "a cannon shot away" in between them.

Panemunė Borough: Barrack Zone That Turned Into Resort

On the opposite bank of Nemunas from Šančiai is Panemunė, another district built for 19th-century barracks. Barracks of Panemunė are concentrated in two groups, both visible from the main Vaidoto street, the smaller one to the north and the larger one to the south, surrounding a stadium (the southern group of barracks served as Lithuania‘s military academy in the 1930s).

Panemunė also has a fair share of interwar wooden and brick buildings as its calm atmosphere between Nemunas river and Basanvičius park was sought for by Kaunas residents of the era. In fact, Panemunė was a recognized resort. The pre-1940 buildings are mostly on the outskirts of the district whereas the center of Panemunė is dominated by Soviet apartment blocks.

Nemunas enbankment in Panemunė in Autumn, a popular place for a stroll. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Basanavičius park (280 ha) north of Panemunė is larger than the borough itself and a popular place to stroll.

Freda Borough: Botanical Garden and Old Cemetary

To the west of Panemunė lies the district of Freda. Once it was home to the Central Fortification of the fortress that was effectively a ring 0 of its defensive might. In every place not covered by the rivers, this additional circle made the last major obstruction for the enemy before he could finally conquer the heart of the city.

Next to the former Central Fortification and the small Freda manor, the Kaunas botanic garden is now established. In summer tickets are sold whereas in winter it is free to visit. Not far away along a new district of modern homes (called Freda Township - Fredos miestelis) a 19th-century cemetery remains. The first commander of the Kaunas fortress, as well as German soldiers of the World War 1, are buried here next to the now abandoned Saint Sergei Russian Orthodox Church once used by the soldiers of nearby barracks. Several old barracks still survive in the neighborhood.

Napoleon Hill near Piliakalnio street between Freda and Panemunė is the location where the French Emperor's doomed invasion of Russia began by crossing Nemunas (trees now obstruct the views he saw).

Map of the Kaunas fortress, its districts (Freda, Šančiai, Panemunė) as well as the Aleksotas and Vilijampolė. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Pažaislis Monastery and Kaunas Reservoir Area

The Pažaislis monastery dating to the 17th-18th centuries is a wonderful example of late baroque. The central domed church is surrounded by additional buildings forming several courtyards. Pažaislis monastery grand courtyard is the place for closing concerts of the annual Pažaislis festival of classical music.

The monastery may be visited for a fee every day except for the "Days of silence" that are declared by local nuns. It is to the east of Kaunas city center.

A part of Pažaislis monastery. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The monastery now stands next to the Kaunas Reservoir (Kauno marios) made after the Kaunas Hydroelectric Plant dammed the Nemunas river in the 1960s. The reservoir submerged many villages yet it created a popular place for recreation. North of the monastery Kaunas yacht club stands with many affluent people of Kaunas owning yachts in the Kauno marios. Others may be sunbathing or swimming in its beaches available on all shores of the Reservoir, including near Pažaislis Monastery.

Petrašiūnai cemetery (2 km walk from Pažaislis monastery) is the burial place for the famous people of Kaunas (previously of whole Lithuania). The pantheon is in northeast divided into sections by occupation (scientists, priests, sportsmen, artists, Soviet political prisoners...). Alpinist section styled as a hill is interesting. World-famous burials include archeologist Marija Gimbutienė (Gimbutas) and semiotic Algirdas Greimas.

Petrašiūnai cemetery. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Pažaislis may be reached by trolleybuses (Kauno marios stop).

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Soviet Micro-Districts of Kaunas

Like other cities of Lithuania Kaunas has a fair share of dull Soviet micro-districts that were built to be self-sufficient but today are nicknamed "sleeping districts" because many of their inhabittants supposedly come home only to sleep as they work and spend free time away from their districts.

Most of these districts are north of the city center, between the downtown area and the Vilnius-Kaunas-Klaipėda highway. Therefore the large white housing projects is the first and only glimpse of Kaunas seen by those travelling between Vilnius and Klaipėda, which is deceptive. Soviet districts of Kaunas include Šilainiai, Kalniečiai, Marvelė, Milikonys, Dainava, Eiguliai, Smėliai and others. Much of them was built after completely obliterating the previous suburbs that used to stand in their locations.

Soviet housing projects at Kalniečiai district (Taikos and Studentų street intersection). The statue in front (1998) is of Elena Spirgevičiūtė, a Lithuanian girl murdered (together with her aunt) in 1944 by Soviet partisans for refusing to have sex with them. She is considered a martyr by the Catholic church as she died for her moral beliefs. While Spirgevičiūtė's house has long since been demolished the memorial reunites the area with its history. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A different type of Soviet district is Birutė on the other (left) bank of Nemunas. It consists of single-family homes rather than multistorey housing projects.

In general the Soviet districts of Kaunas have little in particular to offer but it may be interesting to see at least a single one to understand where the majority (some 65%) Kaunas inhabittants live at.

After independence these boroughs received new churches and retail buildings. All the major shopping malls save for "Akropolis" are located there. "Mega" mall (72 000 sq. m) next to Vilnius-Kaunas-Klaipėda road attempts to posit itself as a tourist sight for its 10 m tall shark-filled aquarium. While an interesting free sight if you need shopping, it is not on par with foreign oceanariums.

Only a minority of new developments are architecturally interesting, such as the postmodern 1000 litų building in Petrašiūnai.

The glass facade of the 1000 litų building in Petrašiūnai resembles the most valuable interwar Lithuanian banknote. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Another type of Soviet districts are the Industrial zones, located in eastern and western Kaunas.

Expecting World War 3, factories had extensive nuclear shelters built underneath. One such shelter was converted into the Atomic bunker museum (Western Vilijampolė), hosting a quality collection of war communication, civil defense and intelligence devices. The emphasis is on Cold War era Soviet technology; KGB surveillance systems are the prime exhibits.

Global evolution of gas masks as seen in the Atomic Bunker museum. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Soviet Kaunas sights are included into the Fortress districts of Kaunas and Suburbs of Kaunas maps.

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Suburbs of Kaunas

The suburbs of Kaunas are unique for having a separate Lithuanian word to describe them all: Pakaunė.

The Pakaunė village that sees the most foreigners is undoubtedly Karmėlava where Kaunas airport is located. It has little to offer but is famous for its Cepelinai, the traditional Lithuanian meal is provided here far bigger than usual. Look for signs "Hyper Cepelinai", "Cepelinai XXXL" and similar in the village. The taste of such giants may differ from the true deal somewhat but this fails to discourage Lithuanian emigrants on short visits back who gouge the oversized versions of the meal that is, effectively, *the* symbol of Lithuanian cuisine.

The population of Pakaunė is growing even though the city itself plummets. People leave the city for private homes there: large self-designed mansions in the 1990s and more modest yet elaborate today. Many of the new residential suburbs replace old "collective gardens", a uniquely Soviet program of allocating urban dwellers some suburban land to farm and spend summers at.

The most unique place there is AB spaustuvė, an illegal printing house for censorship-free materials under the Soviet occupation. Vytautas Andziulis built it slowly and secretly under his garden greenhouse and managed to operate undetected from 1980 until 1990 independence, printing 138 000 books with his Spartan machinery (assembled underground using the parts government discharged). The place now operates as a museum that unites well-hidden original "printing dungeon", pre-PC era printing machinery, Andziulis's symbolic art and the heroic-yet-tragic stories of Lithuanians who defied the occupational censorships they endured (Russian Imperial, Nazi German and Soviet). Ab spaustuvė also gives you a glimpse of Pakaunė with a large Andziulis's home which housed his unsuccessful legal printing business in the 1990s (like many early trial-and-error entrepreneurs Andziulis was outcompeted by modern machinery). Pre-arranging the visit at the War Museum may be necessary.

A narrow ladder leads to the subterranean corridor and printing room. The entrance may be covered by a pool (right) by turning a crank (left); bells helped to keep contact. Ab spaustuvė claims to be the sole surviving hidden printing house in Europe. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Raudondvaris suburb west of Kaunas is famous for its "castle", actually a 17th-19th-century manor that has been built to look like one. This is the first of the Castles of Panemunė.

On the southern bank of Nemunas the Zapyškis village is famous for its unusual small gothic church (~14th-16th centuries). No longer used for religion since a new church has been built uphill (1942) it is now an atmospheric venue for sporadic summer concerts hailed for great acoustics.

Zapyškis church now stands lonely on a Nemunas valley field as the village it once served moved uphill. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Some famous places are located near the outskirts of Kaunas but are parts of the city-proper or described as such for clarity: the 9th fort of the Kaunas fortress, Pažaislis monastery and the neighboring Kaunas Reservoir.

Map of the Kaunas suburbs. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Day Trips from Kaunas

Kaunas is the metropolis closest to the geographic center of Lithuania and if you anchor your trip here you may see some of the marvels of the region.

1.Rumšiškės open-air ethnographic museum. 23 km to the east (highway, non-express buses Kaunas-Vilnius stop 2 km from the entrance). It is well worth a visit to see authentic wooden buildings brought here from all over the country.
2.Castles of Panemunė. While the entire length of Panemunė road may be traversed en route from Kaunas to Klaipėda, it is possible to visit the main castles in Raudondvaris, Raudonė, and Panemunė as a day trip from Kaunas. They are 10 km, 60 km and 70 km away from the Kaunas center respectively. Nice towns such as Vilkija or Seredžius may also be visited en route.
3.Kėdainiai. 50 km to the northeast this town is among the few in Lithuania that has centuries-old brick buildings. It was once ruled by the mighty Radvila family and the glory may still be felt.
4.Birštonas (42 km south). This mineral spring resort in a Nemunas river bend is not Druskininkai, but it has its finer points with a former castle hill and a restaurant on high Nemunas coast.

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