Lithuania was once rich in defensive structures, which helped protect the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania against invaders such as the Teutonic Knights. In fact, you can find many mounds, which are now often used simply as lookout areas by day trippers, throughout the country—they are indicative of that historical defensive system.
However, the hillforts that occupied these mounds were made of wood, and therefore have not survived the centuries. On the other hand, Lithuanian castles made of stone still exist, and they can be visited today to get a better idea about Lithuania’s strong medieval military presence and life in the Grand Duchy.
Unfortunately, Lithuanian castles have typically not survived in their original form. They have been rebuilt partially or almost completely in order to recreate their former size and shape. Some reconstruction even happened during the Soviet period despite the castles’ close connection with Lithuanian identity as a former power in the region.
The castles of Lithuania continue to be symbols of the nation, interesting attractions for visitors, valuable archeological sites, and places of education. When you visit, you may want to make a point to include them on your list of things to do in Lithuania.
Gediminas Castle, which dates from the 14th century, is the most important entry on this list. It sits in the heart of Old Town Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, and is the heart of both the city and the nation. It perches atop Gediminas Hill, overlooking Vilnius Cathedral and the city’s historic center.
The most prominent feature of this castle is its tower, a structure that has suffered some indignities in centuries past but that now, in its rebuilt form, is a recognized as a part of Vilnius’s “brand.” It also serves ceremonial functions, with the flag being hoisted on Independence Day from the top of the tower. In 1989, the Baltic Way, a peaceful protest against the Soviet Union occupying the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, began here.
The interior of the tower serves as a museum, and it’s possible to see models of the castle as it looked in eras past. You’ll also get to look out at Old Town Vilnius from the top of the tower.
Entry to the castle grounds is free, but you will have to pay an entry fee to view the inside of the tower.
The Castles of Trakai
Next in importance on this list of Lithuanian Castles are the castles of Trakai, which date from the 14th century. Trakai, in addition to being an excellent day trip from Vilnius, was also a strategic location, with its many lakes serving as additional natural fortifications to protect the leaders of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The most famous of these castles in the Trakai Island Castle, which sits in the middle of the lakes. Heavily rebuilt, it is now a museum that sees increasingly more visitors every year. Inside, you’ll see archeological finds and evidence and information about life lived in the castle and in medieval Lithuania.
The Peninsula Castle at Trakai was once a grand structure that has since fallen into disrepair. However, visitors to Trakai can see reconstruction works ongoing on different parts of the castle. The castle, once it was no longer used for defensive purposes, had various uses—as a prison and as a monastery, for example.
Old Trakai Castle, or Senieji Trakai Castle, does not exist as such. Instead, its foundations have been absorbed into a monastery building dating from the 15th century.
Kaunas Castle, dating from the 14th century, occupies a spot where two rivers meet, the Nemunas and the Neris. Though heavily reconstructed, it nevertheless represents Kaunas’s historic importance and the strategic positioning of these defensive structures.
Reconstruction work on Kaunas Castle began in the 1930s and continued into the 21st century. Today a museum functions here. The castle is popular with tourists, acts as a meeting place, and offers a lovely opportunity for photos.
Though Klaipeda is one of the best-known Lithuanian cities, its castle is less so, even though a stone castle has been situated here in one form or another since the 13th century. That is because only remains are extant, and the castle is no longer a major feature of the cityscape. The castle was demolished in the 19th century, and much of it was lost. However, renewed interest in the castle led to excavation and reconstruction work, and visitors can now visit the museum that one of the castle’s bastions houses.
Raudone Castle, the current form which dates from the 16th century and which stands in a town of the same name, was never used for defensive purposes and instead was built as a castle due to the stylistic preferences of the original owner. However, a Teutonic castle was located in the same spot, so this “castle” does have its roots in the fortified castles of old. Raudone Castle has undergone many transformations over the centuries with subsequent owners putting their own touches on this residential castle.
The castle is a beautiful site to visit, and a stroll around its park is especially lovely in the fall.
Medininkai Castle is another castle originally built in the 14th century. Located in the Vilnius district and having seen various uses, it has been restored and is now home to a museum of silver items whose craftsmanship dates from the time of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Panemune Castle is one of Lithuania’s grand old estates, built on the site of an older defensive castle in the 17th century. This elegant building with its towers and courtyard overlooks a park with ponds that reflect the castle, sky, and surrounding nature.
Visitors can enter the castle after paying a fee to see the interiors and art exhibitions that are held there.
Part of the castle has been turned into a hotel and restaurant.
Norviliskes Castle was built in the 16th century and acted as a monastery for a long time. However, Norviliskes has seen new life as it welcomes guests for traditional medieval-style dinners, concerts, private parties, and medieval activities. Located in Dievinskes National Park, it sits near the border of Lithuania with Belarus.
Seisikai Castle is a sweet little manor house located on a lake by the same name. For many years it was neglected, but it is now undergoing restoration work. You can see the work in progress conducted by restorers, peek into the towers, and enjoy the lovely grounds. This castle is located near enough Vilnius to make a day trip, and the 16th-century building, with its remaining two towers, will charm your socks off.
As you can see, Lithuanian castles show a great variety in styles, sizes, and uses, with most having been given modern significance with museums or other visitor-centered services. You can incorporate some of these castles into your Lithuanian itinerary and see more of Lithuania while you do so!