Lithuania is full of absolutely amazing places. One of our favourites was the fairytale island castle of Trakai, about 30km out of the capital Vilnius. It was the perfect day trip and we had it all to ourselves on a scorcher of a late-May morning. The skies were so blue they are almost too blue for photos, but I hope to have captured just a small part of Trakai’s beauty.
How to get to Trakai
The easiest way to get to Trakai is to drive. There is parking near the castle and the drive takes around 30-45 minutes depending on traffic. You could also hire an Uber/Bolt and it will cost you around 50 Euros for a round trip.
Alternatively you could get the train, which runs regularly between Vilnius and Trakai and is much cheaper at around 10 Euros. The only problem is that both the train and bus stations are well out of the centre. You will have a 45mins- 1 hour walk once you get in to Trakai.
We chose the drive option and were glad we did as we had already done so much walking around Vilnius and Kaunas.
The Castle’s History
Trakai Island Castle was built in the 1300s, constructed on the largest of the three lake islands of the region by the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Duke Kestutis. The castle was not only defensive, but also became Kęstutis’ main residence.
In the late 1300s, the castle suffered an attack by the Teutonic Knights (the Crusaders trying to spread Christianity across Europe causing havoc along the way). Kęstutis was assassinated and there was a power struggle between Jogaila and Vytautas the Great for the title of Grand Duke (Vytautus, the most famous Duke of all, obviously won). Apparently, during the truce with the Teutonic Order, the re-construction works were even supervised by the Order’s stonemason.
Trakai Island Castle lost its military importance soon after the Battle of Grunwald in 1410 which marked the start of the Lithuanian-Polish Union (having defeated the German Teutonic Order in the battle). The castle was transformed into a residence and newly decorated from the inside. Vytautas died in the castle and it remained as the subsequent rulers’ residence until in to the 1500s, when it became a prison. Then gradually over time it fell in to disrepair and was only restored in the 19th century. Interestingly, the Russian Empire restored elements during their occupation from 1795-1918, and the Germans also did during WW1.
There are a number of exhibitions in the castle which cover its history in detail. There are also a number of exhibits on different items through time – such as smoking pipes, ivory use and ornaments and hunting.
Other things to do in Trakai
Trakai is quite a small town, but there are things to do here besides just the castle. One of the best things to do on a nice sunny day is hire a boat and go out on the stunningly blue water of the lakes, ice-cream in hand. It’s super relaxing and fun. If you don’t want to do the boating, there are also numerous engine powered boats sailing all day which you can hop aboard. Or if you don’t fancy boating, just walk around the perfect blue lakes.
Also in the town are a few museums to visit, including Trakai History Museum, the Sculpture Museum and a number of nice churches. Personally I didn’t think the museums were great and much preferred the exhibitions in the castle, but they are still worth a visit.
What do you think of Trakai? Would you want to visit if you were in Lithuania? We had a wonderful sunny day out to this perfect spot and I can’t recommend it enough. Stay safe and happy travelling.