Kaunas has a reputation as a sprawling urban city and a hotbed of post-Soviet mafia. Think again. This vibrant city, the second largest in Lithuania, is a thriving cultural and industrial centre with an interesting Old Town.
Legend has it that Kaunas, 100km west of Vilnius at the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris Rivers, was founded by the son of tragic young lovers. Beautiful maiden Milda let the Holy Eternal Flame go out while caring for her lover Daugerutis. They were sentenced to death by vengeful gods, thus they fled to a cave and gave birth to Kaunas.
Archaeologists insist the city dates from the 13th century and until the 15th century was in the front line against the Teutonic Order in Lithuania's west. Kaunas became a successful river-trading town in the 15th and 16th centuries. German merchants were influential here, and there was a Hanseatic League office. Its strategic position is the main reason it was destroyed 13 times before WWII - when it once again received a battering.
Today it is a town with a sizable student population, some fine architecture, plenty of museums and terrible food.