If you are British and you were flying over Lithuania, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the plane had done a u-turn somewhere over Denmark or Sweden and was in fact about to land back in Blighty. If you aren’t British and haven’t seen our green and wonderful land from the air, then it’s just very similar!Friday -0°CSaturday -1°CSunday -0°CMonday -0°C
After landing and swiftly making our way through immigration (went to the wrong man in a box so no passport stamp – boo), we easily found a taxi to take us to our apartment (booked via booking.com who conveniently convert the accommodation address to the local language for exactly this type of situation). A bit pricey at around EUR 1 per KM, it was a lot quicker (about 20 mins) than getting the bus which would have taken about 45 mins and easier than getting a train (which would have meant getting a bus each end as well). The roads and driving were on par with other Baltic countries in this region – full of pot holes that all the drivers swing widely around, no seatbelts (until you see a police car) and talking on phones to your wife/mum is absolutely fine. Mr Taxi Man dropped us off right outside our apartment building; which wasn’t that well sign posted but luckily the chap checking us in was sat outside and clocked us right away. In very friendly but broken english, he took us upstairs to a spotlessly clean, well equipped and art deco styled apartment. After showing us around, he disappeared and left us to it. Quickly dumping our bags, we set off back out to explore and find some food!
Kaunas is the second-largest city in Lithuania but little known. In fact there are few blogs online about this charming city and Instagram only brings up photos of people with a small smattering of places to visit. Our apartment was perfectly located with the first of those places quite literally just around the corner – set at the end of a tree lined pedestrian only street (Laisvės Alėja (Freedom Avenue)) is a gorgeous dome topped cathedral – St. Michael the Archangel Church. We were lucky to see this in quite a few different times of the day and the way the light changed the colours was incredible.
After grabbing some tourist-free (there was no one there which was a repeat theme of the trip) photos of the cathedral (and poking our head inside to nosy at the wedding going on), we opted to get some lunch in a lovely looking cafe/restaurant just a few metres down the street – again they clocked us as foreigners and gave us english menus right away. We both picked deep fried pizza – think a deep fried Yorkshire pudding covered in pizza sauce and topping! The sauce was really rich and we both struggled to finish it which makes a change!
Despite being so full, we couldn’t walk away with out ice cream so got a tub to go each and slowly started walking down the tree lined mall which connects the old and new parts of the City. The street is lined with small shops and some lovely looking cafes, bars and restaurants. Although some of these had people sat outside, the whole city felt quiet and we never really saw this change during our time there – not that we were complaining! We had seen some photos of street art on IG and Maps.me seemed to suggest that there was one location just off Laisvės Alėja so we branched off to try and find it. After several dead ends, something caught my eye and we followed a small side street into what looked like a residential small courtyard full of paintings on the walls, sculptures and weird & wonderful things like a childs ninja toy hanging from a broken electrical cable! Some of the wall paintings were incredible – such as the boy in the door way shown below which looked so realistic and life like. There was no one there except for one chap who came out of one of the houses and totally ignored us before disappearing down another small street.
Leaving the open air art gallery, we headed back to Freedom Avenue and followed it further, heading towards the castle and main square which we knew was at the end. On the way we passed several groups of elaborately dressed singers and musicians – we later found out that it was an International Folk Festival which made a great additional feature to the afternoon!
After a brief stop (to get a cocktail in a swinging nest chair – why not!), we carried on to the main square which has a beautiful church to one side (Kaunas Cathedral Basilica – very white inside with a massive high vaulted ceiling), a twin towered pink Town Hall and another church which has now been turned into the city museum. It was now roasting hot with little shade yet there were still more groups of folk singers and musicians across the square playing and dancing to anyone who cared to stop. The Gothic castle is to the right of the main square which is where most of the day trippers from the capital visit. We briefly walked through what would have been the moat and cut back through the grounds but didn’t go inside – you can do tours and there is supposedly great art work as well to see but it was just too nice a day to be spending it inside!
We followed a road down to the river and after getting slightly lost, crossed over it via a massive road bridge (Vytautas the Great Bridge) to find a funicular which took us to the top of the highest hill in the city (not that high!). For some reason it was free – we later figured out it was because the best view point was blocked by construction work so clearly they didn’t want to annoy people by charging them to see a big hole in the ground. Once back down, we retraced our steps to the town square (passed the House of Perkūnas which is one of the most original and Gothic secular buildings in the city) and found a delightful bar with bean bags outside, cold Coke in bottles and chocolate covered pancakes!
Before heading back to our apartment for a quick shower before dinner (yes more food – in a lovely but slightly odd Indian inspire vegetarian restaurant), we managed to find a massive wall painting of a wise old man. Hidden in a car park behind a bus behind a random sushi restaurant, it’s an impressive piece and worth hunting out if you are in that part of the city.
The next morning after being treated to a massive thunderstorm which cleared the air, we headed back to the same restaurant on Freedom Avenue for breakfast (excellent as was lunch the previous day). We were pretty much the only people on the whole street until a few older people shuffled into the cathedral for morning mass.
Heading back down the street, we branched off to hunt down one more piece of street art work – a pink elephant! We had seen a few photos of this online but the actual street address was pretty tricky to pinpoint but we finally found it (after cutting through the gardens of the Vytautas the Great War Museum) and it’s really worth looking for (apparently there are two but we couldn’t find anything about the second one online – if you find it, let me know!). We then tried to get another funicular to the top of another hill on which sits a massive square church (Christ’s Resurrection Church) that you can see from all over the city – unfortunately, despite signs saying otherwise, the funicular was closed and we had to climb up many many steps to the top. Once at the church (with a Sunday mass in full swing), we took the lift to the roof which offers a spectacular view over the city – you can pretty much see the entire city spread below you.
Was it worth flying 3 hours each way for just 24 hours in this lovely city? Absolutely! Really friendly people, easy to navigate city with most things within a short walk and lots of great food & drink places.
Tips and Tricks:
- Our Revolut cards worked everywhere as normal.
- The totally free offline maps.me app has seemed to improve slightly recently and although it got a few places slightly wrong, it did get us to most places that we wanted to see without too much back tracking!
- Remember to book everything you can via TopCashBack – even when booking via Hotels.com, Expedia etc or even direct with the hotel/car hire/carrier
- We didn’t have enough time as it’s about a 30 min taxi from the city but Ninth Fort looks great as an additional item to see.