ravelers’ favorite things to do when they visit Vilnius is take a day trip to Trakai, the medieval capital of Lithuania. It’s a beautiful town situated on a peninsula in the middle of a cluster of lakes, and whether you visit in summer, winter, fall, or spring, you will be impressed by the beauty of the landscape, the tranquility of the water, and the striking view of the red brick castle situated on its island.
Table of Contents
- Why is Trakai Important and Why Should You Go There?
- How to Get to Trakai from Vilnius
- Things to Do on a Trakai Day Trip
- Tips for Enjoying Your Trakai Day Trip
Why is Trakai, Lithuania, Important and Why Should You Go There?
Trakai dates back to the 14th century, when Grand Duke Gediminas identified the spot as excellent for expanding his domain—it was close to Kernave, then the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. And you’ll agree with Gediminas when you see the place itself—with its lovely views, cool breezes, and plenty of plant- and wildlife, it is certainly prime real estate!
Generations of Lithuanian Dukes
Gediminas built what is known as the Peninsula Castle, the ruins of which are fenced in, but which you can walk around, and which is at various stages of repair and reconstruction. Kestutis, Gediminas’s son, built the fully restored Island Castle, the symbol of Trakai, and the one that today takes center stage in photos. In the early 15th century, the town became an important center to the grand duchy and was granted city rights.
Trakai is also important because it’s been home to a special ethnic minority for centuries, who have left their imprint on Trakai in particular and Lithuania in general. The Karaites or Karaim, a Jewish ethnic group that came from Crimea to settle here in the 14th century under Grand Duke Vytautas, have given Trakai its special atmosphere—Karaite architecture, including a synagogue, can be seen in the town, and pastries called kibinai, which come from Karaite cuisine, can be enjoyed throughout the town.
A Convenient Day Trip
In addition to Trakai being important to Lithuanian history, it’s also a convenient way to experience what Lithuania is like outside of Vilnius and see some of its natural environment. Trakai has been cultivated as an easy day trip for visitors, and you’ll be able to shop for souvenirs such as Baltic amber or Lithuanian folk art, sample Lithuanian food, see a museum, or enjoy water sports or a boat ride.
How to Get to Trakai from Vilnius
Getting to Trakai from Vilnius is easy. It’s such a popular day trip that public transportation regularly goes back and forth between the two locations and costs about 2 euros each way. Of course, you can also rent a car (check out CityBee), but finding parking can be a problem. The distance between the two points is short enough, taking a taxi also isn’t out of the scope of possibility.
Take a bus to Trakai from the main bus station in Vilnius on Sodu g. Buy a ticket from the ticket office—buses leave for Trakai every 10 to 20 minutes, so you shouldn’t have to strictly plan or wait around too long.
The train station is located near the bus station on Geležinkelio g. Trains run less frequently than buses do, and it’s advisable to buy your ticket to and from Trakai immediately in case you overstay in Trakai and the train station is closed. However, do check the train schedule so you can adequately plan.
You’ll have to walk 3-4 kilometers (about 20 minutes to a half an hour) to get to Trakai proper from either of these options. However, the walk is lovely because all of Trakai is lovely—enjoy it! While using Google Maps may help you find the way, typically you can follow others to the center of town because they’re all going the same way. Even locals love a day trip to Trakai and visit it on the weekends when the weather is particularly nice or when fresh snow has fallen and a deep freeze has turned the lakes to ice.
Things to Do on a Trakai Day Trip
Because the town is relatively small, you may be wondering what you can do on your Trakai day trip visit. While there are plenty of things to do, you should plan for a leisurely day in the town—the atmosphere of relaxation, after all, is partly why it’s so popular with the locals! However, as you walk around and admire the colorful wooden architecture and lovely natural surroundings, consider enjoying one of the following activities:
Trakai Castle—the Island Castle, that is—is obviously this day trip’s number-one attraction. It’s one of the top Lithuanian castles for visitors!
The inside of the castle, which has been heavily restored, houses the museum, which shows you how the castle looked when it was originally built. You can get a feel for how the people in the castle lived from day to day through coinage, archeological artifacts, and weapons. It isn’t only the main castle that holds an exhibition—the buildings that make up the castle complex are also full of things from the past and information about their significance.
Take a Trakai Day Trip Tour
Getting a guide to take you around Trakai and point out the best sights can be richly rewarding. You will more thoroughly understand what makes Trakai special, how it is unique, and why people continue to make a visit to Trakai one of the most important things they do in Lithuania. A guide will help you maximize your time and identify the most enjoyable aspects of your day trip.
Boat Ride and Paddleboats
Many boat operators and paddleboat companies operate in Trakai, and it’s only a matter of hiring the watercraft of your preference to spend some leisure time on the lake, enjoying the sunshine and the view of the castle and surrounding village.
Uztrakis Manor, which was formerly in disrepair, has been restored. This lovely building recreates the interiors of this sumptuous house in the country, which also has a garden and a view of the castle. You can imagine how the family that lived in the manor must have felt residing in such a place—and with such a view. While the reimagined interiors of the manor house are the main draw, Uztrakis also hosts various artists’ exhibitions throughout the year.
Kibinai are pastries from Karaim cuisine that have become popular throughout Trakai. Served piping hot with a variety of fillings—meat and onion, chicken, cheese, spinach, mushrooms—they can be eaten as a snack while you explore Trakai or as a part of a more leisurely and complete lunch. They can be identified by their fat, half-moon shape and a seam that has been twisted to seal it before baking. Though you can find these Karaite treats throughout the town, for other Karaite dishes, have a meal at Kybynlar, Senoji Kibinine, or Kiubete.
Angel Hill is a sculpture park exhibiting artwork typical to Lithuanian culture—all in the form of different types of angels. This free Trakai attraction has a quiet, orderly feel to it, with the wooden statues standing straight and tall as they are scattered across the green landscape. If you need a break from the bustle of the main part of Trakai, Angel Hill is a good option for snatching a moment of quiet or eating your packed lunch.
You can take a peek into several churches during a visit to Trakai. For example, the Lentvaris Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary has interior sgraffito decorations that made it special. The Senieji Trakai (Old Trakai) Church of the Annunciation and St. Benedict was built where a monastery stood in the Middle Ages, and its alters and artwork are worth a visit. And the Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Trakai is one of eight basilicas in Lithuania, making it a standout landmark.
Exhibition of Liturgical Art
Due to the long-standing presence of a monastery in Trakai, it makes sense that the town would have an exhibition of liturgical art on display.
The wooden kenesa, or synagogue, of the local Karaim population is still in use. It’s a small building of only two rooms with a separate balcony for women worshipers. Though a kenesa has stood in this spot for centuries, the current building dates from the late 19th century.
Karaim Ethnographic Exhibition
The small, four-room museum helps visitors to Trakai learn more about Karaim history, religion, and way of life. It serves as an introduction to this ethnic minority and helps you identify aspects of Trakai that are particular to the Karaim, such as the houses with three windows that represent their typical style of architecture.
Concerts and Festivals
What would such a place as Trakai be without an annual medieval festival? Watch knights battle, try your hand at archery, and enjoy interacting with people in historic costumes in the Pensinsular Castle. Concerts also take place in the elegant halls of Uztrakis Manor or on the grounds of the Island Castle.
Trakai is magical at night. Take a night tour around Uztrakis Manor and the castle and maybe even see some ghosts while you experience this special time of darkness and quiet in these historical places. Or go out onto the water after the sun sets and enjoy the eerie glow created by LED lights that illuminate the waters of the lake.
Return to childhood with a ride on the swings in the swing park of Trakai. The lighting of the swing park makes it especially memorable and photographable, and you’ll enjoy your time there while you let your legs rest from walking around the town.
Tips for Enjoying Your Trakai Day Trip
- Dress for the weather. Wind from the lake can make the air feel cooler, particularly on a cloudy day. Be sure to layer your clothing and have a bag you can stuff your jacket into if you get too warm.
- Wear shoes that you won’t mind getting muddy. While Trakai will be dry during long periods of sunshine, the paths along the lake are dirt, and so even a shower can make them muddy.
- Souvenirs may be overpriced. If you’ve seen a souvenir in Vilnius and again at Trakai, do check the price before buying. You may want to wait until you’ve returned to Vilnius to make your purchase.
- Wander. While tourist maps and guides will point out the top sights to see and things to do in Trakai, the town is so pretty that it deserves a good wander so you can peek into little gardens and appreciate the local architecture.
- Be aware of crowds. Every nice weekend will attract visitors to Trakai. Arriving early and during the week will mean fewer crowds.
- Rent a bike for an easy way to get around the town.