A few months ago, I received a message from Michal, a charming travel blogger, who asked me if I’d like to join her on a trip to Kaunas, Lithuania. She was invited by the Kaunas office of tourism, who suggested she invite another blogger on the trip and she thought of me 🙂 As you can see, I took her up on her offer.
And so it was, I took Ryanair’s first flight from Tel Aviv to Kaunas with Michal in late October.
If you want to read more extensively about Kaunas, I’ve written a useful post with all the information about Kaunas, as well as recommendations for all the restaurants we’ve visited. However, if you’d like a concentrated post about restaurants, you’ll find it here “Recommended restaurants in Kaunas post.”
Kaunas trip itinerary
Day 1 – Flight, hotel check-in, dinner
Flight to Kaunas
I met Michal at the airport.
I booked a seat with room space and came prepared with coffee and a new book. We both brought trollies and a small bag for the airplane (Note that there’s a new Ryanair policy requiring you to purchase “priority” if you want to bring a trolley or bag onto the plane).
The flight left on time and we arrived in Kaunas at 17:00. Ieva , representative from Kaunas tourism information center , met us at the airport and drove us to the hotel (You can take a cab or bus to the city center from the airport).
We arrived at our hotel, Best Western Santakos, a 4-star hotel in a great location by both the new and old towns. You can pretty much walk anywhere from it.
Additional hotel reviews and link to hotel price comparison
We organized our things in the rooms (Each got her own room, fun).
A Lithuanian gourmet dinner
At seven o’clock we went for dinner at Uoksas. A Lithuanian gourmet restaurant. We had a pre-made four-course menu. We started the meal with delicious rye bread (Warning: It’s addictive). We then got a Mackerel dish, a tartar dish, a fish dish and pumpkin Brule for dessert. Of course, we had white wine with the meal. That’s basically how we started a wonderful trip in a great city.
Day 2 – Tour of the old town, music museum, monastery meal, flax produce store
We started the day with a hotel breakfast.
Tour of the old town
Afterwards, our amazing guide Linas came to meet us at the hotel and take us on a tour of the old town. We passed side streets like Mapu street (Map), visited the municipal building – The city hall (Map) which used to serve as the mayor’s office (1920 – 1940) and today is a wedding spot (In a room called The White Swan).
It also has a balcony from which important people who visited the city speak (Facing a large square), where the basketball players come after a victory, as well.
We also walked along the rivers crossing the city, one of which is the largest in Lithuania and crosses other countries as well, and the other is the second largest). Where the two rivers meet is the place where Kaunas was first settled.
We visited the castle area (Map), entered the church by the castle. This church wasn’t destroyed in WWII, as it’s not in the town center, but at the time the Soviet army decided to turn it into a training facility for the red army and after a few years, when they established a larger training ground, they returned it.
Note: There aren’t any free, tip based, tours in the city – But you may contact the office of tourism and arrange a guide for a tour in the city or go to the landmarks I’ve mentioned on your own time.
From there we went to the Kaunas City Museum, Folk music branch – a cute museum, fit for children and adults alike. You can try many strange musical instruments there. Many of them are simple to make and it’s cool to see how such a simple instrument can produce unique sounds. The employee there also demonstrated many instruments for us and you can listen to Lithuanian music, as well.
On the first floor are interchanging exhibitions and on the second floor are the instruments.
When going up the stairs there’s music and lights that appear gradually. It’s a museum worth visiting.
Address: L. Zamenhofo g.12
Lunch at a monastery and a stop at a lake
We continued to Pažaislis monastery (Map) for lunch. We rode there in Linas the guide’s car.
During the summer there’s a bus stopping near the monastery, and during the winter you may rent a car or take a cab there.
Before arriving at the monastery, we stopped for pictures at the nearby lake. It’s a lovely lake that even has a beach. If you’re coming during the summer I recommend visiting it. You Can swim in the lake or tan on the beach, and there’s a small playground there. (Map)
At the monastery there’s also a hotel (Which looks like a special and romantic place to stay), as well as an intimate, gourmet restaurant Monte Pacis. For starters we had excellent yam soup, for mains we had a fish dish and for dessert a pear in wine with vanilla ice-cream. Yummy.
After the meal we walked around the monastery area. Unfortunately, the gate to the monastery was closed, but we looked around the area and it’s beautiful. We enjoyed the autumn colors and saw fishermen fishing nearby.
Art and linen shop
From there we moved on to a store selling art and linen products, Jaukūs namai. A unique store with many handcrafted flax products, as well as art and unique jewelry. They also give workshops about making linen and the owner showed us the process (Apparently, it’s a long process with many steps). If you’re looking for a special gift for someone or something for your house, a piece of clothing or jewelry – this is a shop worth a visit. Map.
Return to the hotel
In the evening we went to Medžiotojų užeiga. We felt full of lunch, so we decided to share three starter dishes and have wine (Of course). We ordered Caesar salad with shrimp, Herring and a dish of Salmon. The dishes were excellent and despite it being a meat focused restaurant, we found ourselves lighter options on the menu.
Day 3 – A day of art, viewpoint, relaxing evening
Breakfast at the hotel
Linas the guide came to the hotel to pick us up for a day of art.
Gallery in the yard
We passed several streets with graffiti and Linas told us about each painting. The place I liked most was a gallery in a living compound’s yard where we got lucky to see the artist behind the paintings, Vytenis Jakas, who also lives in the compound. He explained to Linas about the paintings and Linas translated for us. The gallery is called Kiemo galerija (Yard Gallery) (Map). There’s a wall he just started drawing on and it has a plan showing what the painting is going to be – It’s about to be the people living in the building with a characteristic of each one.
For example, a cat that used to belong to one of the neighbors and died. The cat will be drawn exactly in front of the owner’s window, so that he can see him from his window. Some of the works are about Lithuania’s painful history. The gallery is trying to preserve the architecture of the 19th century.
It’s a place you have to visit while in town. It’s so special and interesting, with so much history and so many stories behind each piece of art.
Viewpoint of the Kaunas city
From there, we went to a vantage point over the city from the top floor of the church. To reach the church you must climb 250 stairs (There used to be a cable car but it’s under renovation). At the church you can take the elevator up or the stairs. The view of the city was beautiful despite visibility not being perfect that day with some fog over the city.
We had lunch at a sweet restaurant with a beautiful design. It’s a restaurant whose star dishes are made of chicken, and its name translates to “Chicken in a pot”. The Vista Puode restaurant. I ordered a starter of a small chicken sandwich and salad with vegetables, cranberries and cheese. Michal had soup and a sweet main course that could serve well as dessert.
Some more art
By the restaurant was another area with graffiti, as well as an art café – but it was closed when we arrived. (Map)
Coffee break and avenue
We decided to have coffee in the old town, at Vero café – a chain of local cafés, you’ll find many locations of theirs in town. (Map)
Additionally, Vilniaus street itself is a beautiful avenue with many restaurants, bars, cafés and stores and is worth a visit.
Fortunately, we were in town on Halloween and took part in the city’s tradition of lighting a candle along the avenue. Within an hour the whole avenue was filled with candles and it was lovely walking along it with all of them lit.
Dinner at a Japanese restaurant
For dinner we decided to eat something light and chose Rezisierius, a Japanese restaurant on the avenue. We ordered vegetable miso soup and dumplings for starters, and for mains had two rolls of sushi. It’s a great restaurant for an Asian dinner in an intimate, peaceful atmosphere.
Day 4 – A day following Jewish history, basketball game
Breakfast at the hotel
Gate to the Jewish ghetto
Linas came to pick us up at the hotel and we rode with him to several locations following the Jewish history of the city (Reachable by bus).
We started the tour at the gate to the Jewish ghetto (A building you can’t miss), that was made by the same artist from Kiemo galerija (Yard Gallery) (Finished the art piece three months ago). The piece has many broken mirrors representing the broken lives from the past of this place. Map.
Orphanage and graveyard
We moved on to the orphanage that opened outside the gates of the ghetto and served as an orphanage even before the second world war. During the war the pediatrician Pioters Baurelis, with a team helping him, saved children from the ghetto. Map
By the orphanage we visited the Jewish graveyard. Today it doesn’t hold any graves (Only those on a hill that’s hard to reach), as the Soviets decided to destroy everything there after the war and only left two memorials in memory of the Jews murdered by the Nazis. Map.
The ninth fort
From there we went to a horrible place – the ninth fort. It’s a fort established in the 19th century – to protect the city, but before WWII it was transformed into a prison by the soviets and during the war became a concentration camps for the Nazis. 50 thousand people were murdered there. There are two museums. Both portray the horrors the city’s been through under the Soviet and Nazi occupation.
The fort was built in 1913 and took 10 years to manually build it. During the war, 62 jews managed to escape (The guide at the fort took us on the route they escaped by). Part were murdered in the forests and some managed to survive. One of them even wrote a book about the escape from the fort.
The tour there is very hard and definitely not the best part of the trip, but I think it’s an important part of traveling to places like this. To remember what was and learn to appreciate what we have now.
Due to a tight schedule the tour was only an hour and we didn’t get to hear everything, but it’s definitely worth dedicating at least two or three hours to this place. By the fort is a large memorial in memory of the murdered and several smaller memorials as well. The memorial was established in a court where people were murdered. On a single night, 10 thousand Jews were murdered in it. Map.
After the ninth fort we went to the Sugihara house museum, telling the story of Chiune Sugihara. Sugihara is a Japanese diplomat sent to Kaunas for a year to gather information for the Japanese, but who used his station to save thousands of Lithuanian and Polish Jews by producing visas for passage through Japan.
At first, the museum only had one floor, but it was expanded afterwards. On the second floor are explanations about Kaunas under the Soviet and Nazi rules, so people can understand the history behind what happened in the city.
After the ninth fort it was nice to visit a place that gives you hope in humanity and shows people who gave their lives for others. I recommend reading the story about Sugihara, and if you’re in Kaunas, visit the museum. Map.
We then made a switch to lunch at one of the favorite restaurants on this trip, DIA – a modern gourmet restaurant. This is a great restaurant for a romantic dinner.
Michal and I shared three starters of tiger shrimps wrapped in Kadaif pastry, tuna tartar and meat ravioli in truffle oil! Wow! For mains, Michal ordered a Salmon dish and I ordered an amazing octopus dish. For desserts we had coffee and cheesecake covered in chocolate and salty caramel ice-cream. In short, this isn’t a restaurant you’ll want to miss.
Return to the rooms
Dinner and basketball game
We were lucky, and just as we were visiting the city, there was a basketball game between the Žalgiris Kaunas and Real Madrid. The tickets ran out days before the game, but we had tickets and in a good location.
Kaunas lives and breathes basketball, meaning that if there’s a game while you’re in town, you have to go! It’s a super intense experience and the game itself was tight and fascinating.
Before the game we had time to have dinner at a restaurant in the Žalgirio Arena ( The biggest arena in baltic states) , Sala restaurant. A really good restaurant from which you can enter the game, so you should go there first. I ordered Carpaccio and Caesar salad with shrimp and Michal had salmon skewers and vegetable salad with fruits.
After the meal we went to the game and got into the atmosphere straight away. Kaunas led the entire game, but sadly during the last quarter had bad luck and Real Madrid used their momentum to win.