The deeper you delve into Kaunas history, the more interesting the city seems, the more faces of it you discover. It’s easy to spend half a day walking around instead instead of a planned hour. And then, you’re already looking forward to the next weekend, when you’ll be able to open up another page of Kaunas. Maybe this time it's the turn of the city’s wooden architecture?
In this route full of curiosities and stories, sometimes never even written down, we included those buildings you can actually go inside (during working hours, of course), warm up, chat, and maybe even have some tea.
... by the way, don’t forget to take a peek at the trees from time to time when you're wandering around Kaunas - there's more than one wooden birdhouse inspired by inter-war modernism. These birdhouses were created by street artist Morfai.
Žaliakalnis is full of wooden architecture! And even though the vast majority of the houses are residential, there’s still somewhere you can come in and have great time without knowing anyone. Located on a narrow street, a wooden synagogue dates back to 1858. The Jewish community hasn’t been congregating here for a long time (the only synagogue in Kaunas is on E. Ožeškienės Street). A few years ago, a studio for various arts was set up here, with occasional musical events. For example, an acoustic concert by the kaunastic band Flash Voyage is planned for Christmas.
Just before the war, the writer’s family brought parts of the house by rail from Žemaitija, the homeland of Vanda Sruogienė, and built it on Ramioji srteet. Today you can still see the dining room set by the famous furniture designer Jonas Prapuolenis and have a look at the writer’s study, where he unfortunately did not spend much time.
A decade after Sruoga’s death, the street was named after him, and some more years later, the house was turned into a museum where you can learn all about his famous book “Forest of the Gods” and more.
The pioneer of tragedy and tragicomedy in Lithuanian literature did not shy away from other forms of literature. You can find out more about this writer at his home-museum, a branch of the Maironis Lithuanian Literature Museum, which not only exhibits authentic objects and documents, but also hosts literature- and theatre-related events. When inside, it is easy to forget that Savanorių Avenue is buzzing nearby - actually, when the writer and his family moved to Kaunas, there were not as many neighbours around as there are today.
“The house on Zikaro Street built by Zikaras” sounds like an ironic quick-word, but it’s absolutely true. The house built by the author of the Kaunas Statue of Liberty, a pioneer of professional sculpture, right next to his workplace – the Kaunas School of Art – today functions as a museum and is as cosy as it was 100 years ago. Because it has just been carefully renvated! Note the authentic floor covering called meloleum, among other peculiarities.
“I am healthy and full of strength for my noble work,” wrote composer Juozas Gruodis on a card of his own self-motivation system. To find out what else motivated him, visit (by appointment or by joining an event at the museum) his and his wife Stasė’s villa, which is home to a branch of Kaunas City Museum. The house on the picturesque hillside by the Neris was designed by a famous interwar architect Feliksas Vizbaras. And the composer planted apple trees in the garden, which still bear fruit today. Delicious!
This elegant green residential house was designed by Vaclovas Michnevičius, an inter-war architect who loved to interpret historical forms and is famous for his turrets. One of those, visible from various places in Žaliakalnis, also adorns this building. You can actually stay in one of the stylish apartments of this wooden house with a terrace offering spectacular views – book a night or a few on the Booking platform. And now it’s time to head down to the centre.
This blue-painted house is home to three institutions with different profiles, all complementing each other. On the ground floor, which dates back to the late 19th century, is the craft beer pub Vingiu Dubingiu, which opened its doors six years ago and quickly became popular with the cultural and academic communities. On the second floor is the social centre Emma, named after Emma Goldman, the “most dangerous woman in America”, born in Kaunas, where everything from readings to dancing takes place. The newest neighbour is Kolibris, an independent bookstore.
K. Donelaičio street starts with a row of historic wooden houses, reminding us of what the centre of Kaunas looked like at the end of the 19th century, during the tsarist governorate. It is where the officials and other wealthier residents lived. This particular house, a good place to try out Lithuanian cuisine was built around 1896 by craftsmen of Soboras church, who did not hesitate to apply the decorative principles and elements of Russian wooden architecture. You’ll find them both on the façade and in the interior. The adjacent house, number 7, is only slightly older, and is also interesting and distinguished from other wooden houses of the same period in Naujamiestis by its décor.
From K. Donelaičio street, let’s go past the same Soboras to Kęstučio street. There are many examples of modernist architecture here, but there are also many smaller wooden buildings that date back to an earlier time. Number 43, a wooden “lace” house built around 1900, has a music shop – even if you don’t plan to buy a guitar, you can still come in and chat.
It gets even more interesting further on. Although you can only get to the National Kaunas Drama Theatre’s prop warehouse if you are part of the staff, this house is worth a stop. The artist Valda Verikaitė has created a glass and mirror installation “Reflections of the Theatre” for the institution’s 100th anniversary. The matt surface of the photographs of theatre legends offers a way to focus the gaze and to regenerate the life-giving powers of this art.
Did you know that the contemporary Kaunas City Chamber Theatre also “grew” on top of an old wooden building? Although it has now changed its shape considerably, the object fits into our itinerary, as the main stage is where the wooden part was. “We have learned that the site used to belong to the Pažaislis Monastery. In 1865, the monks asked for permission to build a single-storey wooden building, probably a hostel. In 1895, Antanas Čiulada bought the wooden house. It was used to rent apartments,” Jurga Knyvienė, head of the theatre, is quoted in an article on lrytas.lt. She adds that during the Soviet occupation, the building was nationalised and went to the Kaunas Construction Trust. “The building housed a sports club and two halls. In 1992, the building was given to the theatre people and they did a lot of renovation work on their own.”
Šančiai neighbourhood is famous for its unique wooden heritage, the amount of which was influenced by the Tsarist officers and soldiers who lived here, as well as by the factory workers. The present urban network here is colourful in every sense. Local circus performers spend their winters, create numbers and do other jobs in the complex of houses on Drobės street. There is also a clown museum with several thousand specimens. Get in touch before you visit!
It’s time to travel to the other side of the Nemunas. This wooden house is almost a hundred years old. It has been a parsonage, a school, a kindergarten, a charity place, even a cinema... Recently, Giedrius Bučas, the initiator of many sustainable design projects, has moved in, and is using his own efforts and sustainable methods to awaken the building to a new, fully cultured life. In less than a year, the space has already hosted theatre performances, film screenings and performances.
There are two churches at this address. The old wooden one was built in 1921. As Silvija Slaminskienė writes on autc.lt, “The wooden church of St. Casimir in Aleksotas is one of the earliest wooden sacral buildings constructed in this diocese in the first decade of independence.”
The new church was designed by Algimantas Kančas (1954-2016), one of Kaunas’ most famous contemporary architects. It is used for services, while the old one is used by Caritas to organise various activities for children and young people and to provide charity.
Quite a few of the library’s more than two dozen branches are located in unique buildings – for example, the Z. Kuzmickis branch is in a modernist villa. The tiny Lampėdžiai library is located in an authentic wooden house near the famous lake, surrounded by nature and neighbours. The library, which has been on the ground floor since 1959, is filled not just with books but also with exhibitions and readings.
We wanted to include the bar “O kodėl ne?“, a favourite among the hipster crowd, which was succesfully operating for several years in a villa in Vytautas Park. A dismantled villa was brought from Germany for the needs of a German official between the wars and assembled in Kaunas! Unfortunately, the bar closed its doors in December, and we don’t know yet who the new inhabitants of this place will be.
Many other wooden houses in various parts of Kaunas are ready to be captured on camera – as long as their residents don’t object. We hope your walks in Žaliakalnis, Žemieji Šančiai, Panemunė, Vilijampolė and central Kaunas are inspiring!