In just a few days, you can explore a new city – tick off the most popular sites, take photos of random murals, visit a museum or two, have a cocktail... and go home. But is that how you really get to know a place and its spirit? Chances are, the people you’ll meet during your stay will also be visitors to Kaunas or members of the hospitality world. After all, we all want more in our travels – we want them to be different and exciting. So we invite you to unpack your suitcase, relax and get a feel of what life is like for a Kaunas resident. If you want to find out what they do before and after work, how they migrate around the city and what they breathe, this ‘Like a Local’ guide is for you.
Lithuanians love nature, so Kaunasians like spending their free time in the city’s parks or the forests connecting Kaunas and the Kaunas district. Centrally located Santaka Park is perfect for those who recharge their batteries by watching the river flow, Oak Grove is best for those who appreciate the wisdom accumulated by ancient trees, and Kalniečiai, Dainava or Draugystės parks are designed for active time with family and friends. Kleboniškis forest attracts those who appreciate the opportunity to go for a jog or just take a walk surrounded by greenery, while Panemunė pine grove is suitable for all occasions and seasons.
Of course, “local nature” can also be spotted elsewhere in the city. In Žaliakalnis, Šančiai and other residential parts of Kaunas, where private houses and villas abound, it is easy to spot carefully looked-after nurseries and orchards. These finds add an extra layer of freshness to such touristic routes as the modernist architecture of Kaunas.
The centre of Kaunas, situated in the Nemunas valley, is limited geographically, so it is natural that when the city became the Provisional Capital between the two world wars, it began to grow upwards, too. As more and more settlers settled on hills in Žaliakalnis and the vision of the Lithuanian University campus in Aleksotas was developed, the “mountain problem” had to be addressed. This is how Kaunas acquired the status of a cable car city, which it is proud of to this day. Of course, this means of transport is more of a pastime than a daily routine. Still, after a busy half-day on Laisvės Avenue, nothing is more pleasant than sitting on a wide wooden bench and admiring Christ’s Resurrection Basilica just a minute later.
Kaunas is also a city of bicycles. As new cycle paths are being laid down, the number of people pedalling increases. The global movement Critical Mass was quite popular some time ago, and local enthusiasts based in the workshop “Ride&Mend”, located in Student Square, aim to revive it. Drop in and ask for advice on how to improve your bike or solve a long-standing problem. And there are plenty of riding ideas in Kaunas. There’s a popular trail to Zapyškis and back, and it’s fun to ride to Kleboniškis forest, around the city, just along the Nemunas rivers, or while hunting for all sorts of attractions. There are also routes for street art and fountains - you can find them and others on the Like Bike website.
Markets around the world are places full of locals. Kaunas is no exception. The residents know vest where to buy seedlings in spring (at Šilainiai Market, also frequented by potato lovers and Christmas tree fans on different seasons), where to look for antiques (in Aleksotas, of course), and where to find a treat for your four-legged friend (at Zanavykai market, where you’ll be greeted by a bronze sculpture of a dog who once loved to visit). And for freshly baked delicious bread, fresh cheese, herbs, fish and other gourmet delicacies, head to the Farmers’ Market in the Old Town on Saturday mornings, under the shade mural ‘The Wise Old Man’. Just don’t sleep in!
We must also mention the Urmas shopping town, known three decades ago as ‘the base’. It is a unique open-air heritage museum of economic history. Of course, the wild 90s vibe has been ‘renovated’, but the atmosphere here is unlike any other. A business centre next to the area, resembling a thousand inter-war litas banknotes, a monument of sorts to the legendary entrepreneurship of Kaunas residents, must also be adequately observed. ‘The base’ is also home to the weekend Trunk Market, which several times a year turns into an international festival, attracting curiosity hunters from neighbouring countries.
Kaunasians dining in the city have plenty of choices. Laisvės Al4ja and the Old Town are full of cafés offering business lunches, where work and personal matters are also discussed at midday. The citizens are also well aware of the unwritten rules - for example, the legendary Spurginė is on holiday every July.
It’s easy to nourish the body and soul in summer, which is why Kaunas people like to have lunch or dinner “with a view”. The charming street food at Brasta Square in Vilijampolė, which overlooks Kaunas Castle, or Ipanema in Panemunė, which has changed the stereotypical image of a beach café, or Habits Bakery, which bakes sinfully delicious croissants by Soboras church, are just a few examples. Another is the Bundu bakery, using flour ground in Aleksotas - can you imagine that this small café on E. Ožeškienės street can even accommodate yoga mats?..
OK, OK, it’s time to tell the truth. There is no such thing as a single entity as a Kaunasian. Many Vilijampolė people live in unique “double” houses. There are Aleksotas people who cannot imagine their lives without regular visits to the Kaunas Botanical Garden. There are the Šančiai people who live in colourful wooden houses and even create operas to prevent a new street from being built along the Nemunas (and so far, they are doing a great job). Then, Šilainiai people go to the communal gardens in the Eighth Fort of Kaunas Fortress to grow their own vegetables.
Of course, there are also Žaliakalnis residents who know the difference between a lion’s roar and a tiger’s roar (both can be met in the Lithuanian Zoo!). People living on the hill can also show you the most stunning panoramas of the city and where to find the wooden angel of Žaliakalnis.
After you talk to locals in Petrašiūnai, you’ll be lucky to visit not only the world-famous Pažaislis monastery but also the district’s industrial heritage, and a walk by the Kaunas Lagoon will invite you to hear the legends of the villages that were flooded by it.
Residents of the Old Town might tell you what the courtyards and streets of this part of the city looked like just a few decades ago (and, incidentally, this is also revealed in the exhibition of the inter-war photographer Antanas Ingelevičius, which is currently on show at the Kaunas Picture Gallery). The centre’s inhabitants are proud of the Courtyard Galler), an open-air oasis of art created by a resident of one courtyard, Vytenis Jakas, and his followers. Here, the stories of the old locals come to life on the walls, and the hopes and dreams of the new are captured.
You can find many of the community highlights that have graced Kaunas in recent years in the Kaunas IN office. Here we have the Kaunas - European Capital of Culture 2022 Legacy Map. Focusing on the unique details of the city’s mosaic, the programme has initiated street art murals, other cultural objects and traditions that have inspired local people’s confidence in themselves and in Kaunas.