The inside guide to Kaunas, Lithuania's Capital of Culture for 2022

The Lithuanian city is a feast of creativity and design, with modern restaurants, quirky museums and distinctive architecture.

Hot-air balloons over Kaunas.

Photograph by Andrius Aleksandravičius
By Lorna Parkes
Published 14 Sept 2022, 06:04 BST

As joint European Capital of Culture in 2022, Lithuania’s second city is finally getting the plaudits it deserves. Like the capital, Vilnius, it has a relaxed Old Town, a ruined riverside castle, and buzzing bars and restaurants, but Kaunas’s unique appeal lies in its concentration of interwar architecture in its New Town. Much of it was built between 1919 and 1939, when the city briefly served as Lithuania’s capital, and there are hopes its modernist district will be approved for UNESCO World Heritage status next year. 

Before you take in the architecture, however, head to the farmers’ market, which sets up beside the castle every Saturday. Many of its stalls sell just one speciality, be it gherkins, dark rye bread, woodland honey, skilandis (smoked pork sausage) or sakotis, the sweet, traditional ‘tree cake’ cooked on a spit. Nearby, on Jonavos gatve street, the two-storey Wise Old Man mural, which appeared in 2013, was one of the first efforts to revitalise tired public spaces with street art. New murals are constantly being added to the city — you can pick up the Wallographer’s Notes map from the tourist office to create a personalised walking tour.

Tethering the Old Town to the New Town, Laisvės Alėja (Freedom Avenue) is a mile-long boulevard flanked by linden trees, terrace bars and art deco buildings. Make a beeline for Spurginė, a stuck-in-time 1960s doughnut bar with a countertop loaded with pillowy fried spurgine doughnuts. Go for one of the savoury options, stuffed with minced pork, or indulge in a sweet variety filled with apple jam or chocolate. 

Freedom Avenue is also home to Lithuania’s best craft brewery, Genys. Try a beer flight on the terrace, in the shadow of the neo-Byzantine dome of St Michael The Archangel Church, built in the 1890s when Kaunas was part of the Tsarist Russian empire. Or seek out Kamerinis, a cocktail bar in a greenhouse, hidden inside the Kaunas Chamber Theatre. 

Left: Top:

Breads for sale at a farmers’ market.

Photograph by Getty Images
Right: Bottom:

Autumn colour along the Neman river.

Photograph by Alamy

A short walk away, V Putvinskio Gatvė is one of Kaunas’s most impressive stretches of modernist apartment blocks. It’s where you’ll find the M K Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, an art deco temple to one of Lithuania’s most lauded artists. Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis’s work is dreamy and at times dark, marked by surrealism and folkloric symbols. Book in advance for the Trail of Angels, a 25-minute VR experience taking visitors inside Čiurlionis’s most famous works, set to contemporary arrangements of his music scores. 

If it’s more museum-piece architecture you’re looking for, geek out over the Art Deco Museum on an experiential guided tour, which dives into the decadent life of interwar Kaunas through the rooms of a painstakingly preserved apartment. After years of research into interiors from the period, Lithuanian directors Karolis Banys and Petras Gaidamavičius finally opened the apartment as a museum in 2021. 

Dressed like a kitsch homage to grandma’s country kitchen, Višta Puode, off Freedom Avenue, is a good place to try updated Lithuanian culinary classics such as beetroot soup with dill and boiled egg, or creamy potato pie with garlicky goat’s curd. Order the homemade fermented kvass, a sweet-sour, fermented drink made from cereal. 

For a knockout contemporary meal, head east of the centre to Monte Pacis Monastery. Home to a community of nuns since 1920, the complex’s pink-marbled church is a work of art replete with frescoes and stucco. Locals, however, come for the tasting menus served in former 17th-century living quarters, now a restaurant. 

As for where to rest your head, check into the boutique design hotel Bōheme House, whose eight minimalist rooms and apartments draw inspiration from local creative luminaries. Breakfasts include pesto buckwheat porridge or curd pancakes, and there’s a roof terrace for panoramic views of the Old Town. 

Shoppers in the Old Town, the Church of Jesuits St.Francis Xavier in the background.

Shoppers in the Old Town, the Church of Jesuits St.Francis Xavier in the background.

Photograph by Alamy

Explore like a local: Karolis Banys’s favourite museums and galleries

Co-founder of the city’s Art Deco Museum, Karolis Banys shares his must-see cultural institutions in Kaunas.

J Zikaras House-Museum
On a hill over the Old Town, this house is full of unique sculptures by Lithuanian Juozas Zikaras (1881-1944). It’s a great example of wooden modernism architecture.  

House of Posvianskis and Klisas
Book a tour of an apartment within this private residence, the only example of Amsterdam School-style architecture in Lithuania. 

Oakwood Park and Žaliakalnis
This park is something of an open-air gallery. Located in the suburb of Žaliakalnis, it’s full of centuries-old trees. Take a walk around the Žaliakalnis area itself to explore the modernist architecture. 

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