Culture in Kaunas: Why visit Lithuania's second city in 2023

Kaunas’ tenure as a European City of Culture 2022 came to spectacular end in November. But what is the legacy for visitors to Lithuania’s second city?

4 mins

Lithuania’s second biggest city, Kaunas, has certainly relished the attention that comes from being a European City of Culture. This year saw it emerge from the shadow of its big sister, Vilnius, and reveal to the world its own incredible history, inter-war architecture and vibrant culture.

The city’s tenure as a European City of Culture came to an end with the performance of the final act of ‘The Contract,’ a spectacular kaleidoscope of music, dance and storytelling at the Žalgirio Arena.

But what’s next? The title of European City of Culture has been handed on, but for visitors to this charming Eastern European city, the legacy of Kaunas 2022 means the excitement has just begun.

5 reasons to visit Kaunas in 2023

1. A cultural calendar bursting with new events

A scene from Sutartis, the final act of ‘The Contract’ (Martyno Aleksos/Kaunas 2022)

A scene from Sutartis, the final act of ‘The Contract’ (Martyno Aleksos/Kaunas 2022)

Kaunas 2022 saw the city host over 1,000 individual events. Visitors were thrilled by spectacular concerts and performances, thought-provoking exhibitions by international artists like Yoko Ono and William Kentridge and light shows that transformed the cities building and utilities into living, breathing works of art. 

Virginija Vitkiene, the Director of Kaunas 2022, says that the creative network forged in the process will see Kaunas enjoy a bumper cultural calendar for years to come. In 2023, 12 new festivals have already been added to the 30 existing events that Kaunas is already famous for.  

The annual Kaunas Biennial remains one of the largest international contemporary art festivals in the Baltic region. There’s a jazz festival in April and a Modern Dance Festival in October, a brass band festival in May and a festival celebrating the city’s Hanseatic heritage in August.

Whatever month you visit Kaunas, there will be something happening. And the cultural networks created from being a European Capital of Culture means it will be bigger than ever.

You can check out what’s on with this handy cultural calendar.

2. Even more street art

The Wise Old Man (Peter Moore)

The Wise Old Man (Peter Moore)

Kaunas is already famous around the world for its striking street art. ‘The Wise Old Man’ on the side of a former footwear factory on Jonavos g. 3 has long been a favourite with visitors to the city. So too the Kiemo Galerija on E. Ožeškienės g. 25, a courtyard festooned with artwork telling the unique stories of the people living in the flats overlooking it – including a life-sized pink elephant.  Even the most casual walk around the city will reward you with art that is at once playful and contemplative and steeped in the city’s history.

As part of its European City of Culture celebrations, Kaunas recognised the importance of this vital artform to the city by creating a new ‘Street Art Route’.

Seven new artworks were commissioned, each one telling a forgotten story of the city. ‘Life Interrupted’, on A. Mickevičiaus str. 30, tells the story of Rosian Bagriansky, a young Jewish girl saved from the Kaunas Ghetto. ‘All Souls Day’ on Trakų str. 35, recalls the time 10,000 people gathered to protest in the old Kaunas cemetery. And ‘Kačerginė’, on J. Janonio str. 2, commemorates happier times in the interwar years, with an artwork depicting young friends enjoying life on the river.

The local tourist board has created a useful map of the city’s street art that you can download and follow.

3. More engagement with the locals

Learn about the city's culture and history with a local guide (Shutterstock)

Learn about the city's culture and history with a local guide (Shutterstock)

One of the most positive outcomes from Kaunas 2022 has been the renewed pride it has given local inhabitants in their amazing city. Thanks to the European City of Culture program, they have become experts in their city’s history and attractions and are keen to share their knowledge with visitors.

This has led to the creation of Experience Kaunas, a program where local volunteers take visitors on unique tours of Kaunas. Your ‘Cultural Host’ will share their passion and expertise on different areas like street art, architecture, the city’s Jewish history, hidden corners, foodie delights and cultural secrets. The tours are personal and quirky and can be booked ahead of your visit at

You’ll also get useful tips for after the tour as well. I went on the ‘Temporary to Contemporary’ tour with culture hosts Aušra and Giedrius, who spoke about a Soviet-era doughnut cafeteria on Laisvės al. 84. It’s called Spurginė, and it was the highlight of my trip. 

4. A deeper appreciation the city’s Jewish past

The Holocaust Memorial at the Ninth Fort Memorial Complex (Peter Moore)

The Holocaust Memorial at the Ninth Fort Memorial Complex (Peter Moore)

Kaunas once had a thriving Jewish community that formed an integral part of the city’s cultural and commercial life. They were subjected to one of the worst pogroms in World War II, with an estimated 50,000 people murdered on a site near the city’s Ninth Fort by the occupying Nazis.

For a long time this dark part of the city’s history wasn’t so much ignored as not spoken about. That changed during the city’s tenure as a European City of Culture with a number of projects focussed on telling the stories about this side of the city’s history. An online Memory Office was created for people to tell the forgotten stories of the city’s multi-ethnic past. The new CityTelling Festival was launched, performing these tales through music, theatre and art and professional storytelling. As mentioned above, a number of new murals telling the specific stories of Jewish lives interrupted, were commissioned and created.

Post-European City of Culture, there are plans for a Holocaust Museum to honour these stories in a more tangible way. The CityTelling Festival will become an annual event on the city’s cultural calendar. And a Klezmer music tour, which sees an orchestra touring the district to rekindle memories of local communities and their culture, is set to become a permanent offering.

Until then, visitors are encouraged to visit the affecting Ninth Fort Memorial Complex, where there is a striking brutalist memorial to those lost during the Holocaust as well as a rolling calendar of sobering exhibitions to ensure that now these stories have been told, they won’t be forgotten.

5. The best bits remaining the same

Laisvės Alėja, aka Freedom Avenue (Shutterstock)

Laisvės Alėja, aka Freedom Avenue (Shutterstock)

The good news is that the things that made Kaunas a great place to visit before it became a European City of Culture have remained the same. And, in many cases, a little bit better.

The city is still a treasure trove of Inter War architecture, with over 6,000 examples in the city centre alone. Laisvės Alėja (Freedom Avenue) remains one of the great boulevards of Europe, where you can walk 1.7 kilometres under a canopy of trees, stopping at lively cafes and shops along the way. Every cobbled street in the perfectly preserved old town reveals an 'Instagrammable' moment from the city’s tie as a Hanseatic trading port. Even the quirky Devil Museum is undergoing renovation and is set to be bigger and better for the post Kaunas 2022 crowds.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is Spurginė, the doughnut cafeteria, at Laisvės al. 84. It’s an untouched remnant of Soviet times, where stocky babushkas still serve up freshly-made sweet and savoury doughnuts for locals crammed around the bar. Dine in or take away, the doughnuts are an absolute treat.

Related Articles