Discovering Vilnius as a city means leaving no stone unturned; take the ancient capital of Trakai for example. A day trip to nearby Trakai will present you with the perfect experience of absorbing in some of Lithuania’s rich and vibrant history. Vilnius’ answer to Paris’ Château de Versailles sits some 28 kilometres west of the modern Lithuanian capital and is filled with a hatful of attractions and activities to allow you to squeeze in a full day of itinerant fun.
The Trakai Island Castle
Trakai’s showpiece is undoubtedly the enchanted, yet magnificent, Trakai Island Castle. Surrounded completely around the cobalt Lake Galve, the island castle showcases historical aspects of Lithuanian art, religion and architecture and is just simply a sight to behold. The castle is often referred to by the locals as ‘Little Marienburg’, named after the Marienburg Castle in Malbork, Poland, which is famous for being the biggest castle in the world (by area).
The beacon-like, bricked stronghold shimmers a lighter shade of auburn and was designed in typical Gothic style with an outside courtyard, moat, turrets, a large, open inner courtyard, and a myriad of galleries and arcades all reminiscent of medieval times. Completed in the early 1400s by Vytautas the Great, the castle was built as a residence for the incumbent Grand Duchy of Lithuania and, also, as an act of tactical defence primarily against the neighbouring Russians.
The religious artworks that can be found with the island castle are nothing short of inspiring; in fact, much of the artwork has religious undertones, which gave the island castle the reputation as somewhat being a Mecca for Lithuanians. Furthermore, the Trakai History Museum paints a picture of the castle’s chronology from its original construction all the way to its countless restorations to the architectural delight that it boasts itself as today.
Along the reconstructed footbridge that connects the Island Castle to the Lithuanian mainland are quaint, little row and pedal boats, which can be hired to explore the topography that envelops the island castle, and if you’re brave enough, you can go swimming in the lake too.
Restaurants and Eateries in Trakai
Make time to try out the local delicacy: kibinai: pastries crammed with mutton and onions. However, other meats including turkey can be used as a substitute filling of this wonderfully exotic Eastern European staple.
The dish itself was brought to Lithuania by the Karaites, who were a Middle Eastern faction brought back by Vytautas the Great on his voyage to Crimea. Most of them served as bodyguards for the island and peninsular castles but brought with them a delicacy that is now seen as a Trakaian trademark – for a comprehensive history on the Karaite people, check out the Karaites Ethnographic Museum.
However, Žeju Namai, Senoji Kibinine, Kibinú Salis and Kybynlar all serve this delicacy and will provide with some of the best dining experiences in Trakai.
Accommodation in Trakai
The stylish Kempingas Slenyje is situated only five kilometres outside of the Trakai city centre and makes for an ideal rest-place on either side of your in-depth exploration of Trakai. Its versatility allows you to either set up camp or stay in either wooden cabins or lavish guesthouses, with panoramic views of the lake a main feature. For further choice, however, consider the Apvalaus Stalo Klubas and IDW Esperanza hotels, which have rated highly amongst travellers’ reviews.
Outside of the Trakai Island Castle
Other attractions to visit in the greater Trakai area include the ruins of the once glorious Trakai Peninsula Castle that rests in the northern district of Trakai. Built in the late 1300s, the peninsular castle once stood admirably for 300 years before being destroyed by the Russians during the Russo-Polish War in the 1600s. The well-preserved southern tower still stands proudly between Trakai’s two lakes. However, the ruins still provide a stark contrast of the awe that the island castle enjoys.
For you fitness freaks out there, frequenting the Trakai National Sports & Health Centre is a great way of actively experiencing what the Lithuanian countryside has to offer; choose between a host of summer and winter activities that range from SCUBA diving to horse riding, while bicycle, canoe and kayak renting is also available for further enjoyment.
The Trakai Historical National Park is another option for the able-traveller; many travellers choose to cycle or hike through sections of the 80-square-kilometre national park, yet cycling will be a more time-efficient method of seeing much of the park itself.
For further information whilst in Trakai on any of the abovementioned activities, consult the Trakai Tourist Information Centre.