One of the best trips you can take from Vilnius brings you to Trakai. Located only about an hour from Lithuania’s capital, this is an easy and fun excursion.
Trakai is famous for its castle located on an island in the middle of a lake. It’s also a charming town where you can find a few museums and traditional houses. Altogether, you should expect to spend half a day here. If you leave Vilnius in the morning, you can be back after lunch.
While walking through Vilnius, you’ll see a few tour agencies offering to take you here. Our advice is not to join them and go by yourself instead, using our guide. Not only will you save money, but you can also decide what to see and how much time to spend at each place.
Getting to Trakai
Getting to Trakai is easy as it is well connected by public transport. As we said, you don’t need to join any expensive tours to get here.
When going by public transport, you have to choose between taking a train and taking a bus. We recommend the bus as it leaves more frequently and drops you off closer to the town of Trakai. All busses depart from the central bus terminal in Vilnius. You buy your ticket from the driver, so there’s no need to queue at the ticket counter.
Busses leave more regularly during the week than on weekends. Nevertheless, it pays off to check the schedule online before you leave, because there can be considerable gaps in between buses. For trains, which go less frequently than busses, you can look up the schedule here.
If you have a car, we do not recommend using it. We went to Trakai in February, when there were barely any tourists, but those few who arrived already had problems finding parking.
Trakai is a small town, so you can easily walk. It takes about half an hour to get from the bus station to the castle. Shortly after you start walking, you will see a supermarket on your right side. This shop is an excellent place to stock up on drinks and snacks.
You can always go to a cafe or restaurant later on, but if you come in winter as we did, keep in mind that many of them will either have limited opening hours or be closed completely.
What to see
Trakai might be small, but you will find enough sights to keep you occupied for half a day. What makes Trakai so interesting is its cultural heritage. Have you ever heard of the Crimean Karaites? These Turkic people are one of the ethnic minorities who have lived in Lithuania for centuries. According to the legend, they were sent to Lithuania from Crimea, with the order of building a town – Trakai.
Historians picture a slightly different story, according to which the Grand Duke Vytautas brought them to Trakai in the 1400s. They worked for him as castle guards.
No matter the reason, it is fascinating to think about how a Turkic Jewish minority ended up living in Lithuania. Their culture is quite unique, and if you visit the castle, you will end up learning more about them.
Trakai has a quiet and beautiful Old Town. While you make your way to the castle, you’ll start seeing colourful wooden buildings left and right, with the occasional church. While we found them particularly hard to photograph (Daniel has a grudge against the cars) it was still pretty.
If the weather is right, you should walk down to the lake. Trakai is located on a narrow strip of land, surrounded by water. Enjoy the views while walking along the shore. We enjoyed the serene atmosphere but judging by the many restaurants and cafes near the lake it probably gets busy during the summer season.If you find yourself hungry and don’t know what to order check
Trakai Orthodox Church
If you walk along the main road, you will come past the Orthodox Church. This lovely church is worth a quick visit (just be careful not to slip in winter, when ice covers the stairs).
The building dates back to 1861 when Tsarina Maria Aleksandrovna donated money to start constructing it. She was so happy with the result that she gave a golden bejewelled watch to the architect. So feel free to visit and go inside. After all, the church is so lovely it impressed a Tsarina!
Trakai Island Castle
The main reason visitors come to Trakai is that they want to see the Island Castle. It stands tall in the middle of Lake Galve and is the main attraction in Trakai that you absolutely should not miss. The Trakai Island Castle was first constructed in the 14th century, although its appearance has changed multiple times during its lifetime.
Its owners expanded Trakai Castle at many opportunities. Some of the changes were small, while others were large. The most significant addition was the palace that you can visit today.
Back in the time, Trakai was one of the most important towns in Lithuania, and many nobles and notable visitors came to stay at the castle.
Over the centuries, the castle eventually fell into disrepair. Inside the main building, you can see an exhibition about its reconstruction, which started at the beginning of the 20th century and was only completed much later.
My favourite part was, without a doubt, the exhibition about the Karaites. As already mentioned above, Trakai serves as the main home of this ethnic minority. It was so interesting to learn more about their culture!
Also, we highly recommend that you pay the extra fee for taking pictures. The building’s architecture, with its 6-storey keep, is fascinating and we’re very happy with our photos.
Before you go, keep in mind that in winter, the castle isn’t open on Mondays. If you want to save yourself from disappointment, you can check the opening hours in advance.
Take a tour on the lake
I have to admit, we decided to skip this one. The day was too cold, and we still wanted to visit Vilnius in the afternoon. But if you come in summer and have a bit more time, it’s fun to take a boat ride across the lake.
Those boats usually include an audio guide, and you can find them along the shore while walking to the castle. Don’t worry. You won’t miss them as they’re always looking for costumers.
Trakai History Museum
If you have some spare time, you can visit the Trakai History Museum. We skipped this one, but we’d go there if we ever came back. If you decide to go inside, please let us know what you think.
When to go
You can enjoy Trakai all year long. We went in February and had a wonderful time. Winter is the least busy season of the year, and we only saw a handful of tourists in the castle and along the lake.
Summer will be busier with both foreign and local tourists coming to Trakai. On the other hand, the weather will also be perfect for a stroll along the lake. A good compromise could be late spring and early autumn when the crowds haven’t arrived yet or have already left.
We hope you found the above guide useful. Please let us know if you visited and if there’s anything else we should include. If you come to Lithuania, you should visit Trakai as it is both a fascinating, beautiful and historically significant place.
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