Trakai – Lithuania symbol of tourism
First mentioned in 1337 by the Teutonic Knights and one of Lithuania’s former medieval capitals, despite being home to just 5.400 souls the town of Trakai and the national park it’s located in provide plenty of opportunities for visitors to experience and enjoy this unique part of the world. Crowned by a magnificent Gothic castle, Trakai is known for its many different inhabitants both past and present, among them Lithuanian’s, Jews, Poles (who still make up a substantial percentage of the population and who know the town as Troki), Russian, Tatars and the Lithuanian Karaime, an intriguing, Turkic-speaking offshoot of the larget Judaic Karaime movement who arrived in the town from the Crimea at the end of the 14th century and who are currently teetering on the edge of extinction. Just 28 km west of Vilnius, Trakai is both a tempting day trip and a destination worthy of further attention thanks to the aforementioned park.
How getting to Trakai?
Several ludicrously cheap buses leave daily from Vilnius bus station, starting before dawn and running until the early evening. The journey time is around 30-40 minutes. Trakai’s bus station is a shabby concrete shell with no facilities. As with the train station it’s also a ridiculously long way from the main sights, a good 20 – minute walk north up Vytauto. Starting and ending around the same time as the buses but running less frequently, trains take about 40 minutes to make the journey and cost next to nothing. Taxis are usually parked outside both the bus and train bus stations. A trip to the centre shouldn’t cost more than 2 Eur. To reach Trakai by road, take the A1 (E85) road west out of the city, followed by the A4 in the direction of Druskininkai, then the A16 (E28), which takes you the rest of the way. Driving time depend on traffic but is 20 to 30 minutes.
Bus station address: Vytauto g. 90, Vilnius
Train station address: Vilniaus g. 5, Vilnius
Castle & Trakai history museum (Trakų pilis ir Trakų istorijos muziejus)
Drawing mild comparison to the vast, red brick Teutonic fortress in the Polish town of Malbork, Trakai castle (or Island Castle as it’s also known) may not be as grand as its Germanic cousin, but what it lacks in stature it more than makes up for in location.
Sat splendidly on a diminutive Lake Galvė island at the northern end of the town, construction began in the 14th century at the behest of the then ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Kęstutis, and was completed at the start of the 15th century by his son Vytautas the Great. Built as part of an expansion programme of the neighbouring Peninsular castle, it’s completion came at more or less the same time its military importance came to an end after the victory of the combined Polish – Lithuanian armies led by Vytautas against the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Grunwald (Lithuania: Žalgiris) in 1410.
Its second life as a residential palace saw in enter a golden age, with the castle visited and admired by many foreign dignitaries including Flemish diplomat Guilebert de Lannoy, who mentioned it favorably in this memoirs. The castle’s demise came with the vicious war with Muscovy in 1655, which saw it seriously damaged and eventually abandoned.
Attempts to rebuild it have been ongoing since the 19th century, with wars and border shifts complication earch new project as it arose. Ironically it was during the Soviet occupation that it was eventually restored to its former glory, with work beginning soon after the end of WWII.
Reached by crossing two footbridges and one island, Trakai Castle is essentially two structures, namely the defensive outer section and the Ducal Palace. Entrance to the island and lakes chore around the castle is free.
More like a giant game of snakes and ladder designed by MC Escher than an enriching cultural experience, the Trakai History Museum is spread around the castle and linked via a baffling array of higgledy – piggledy wooden steps and dark, plunging spiral staircases. The two main collections are to be found inside the western case mates (casements) and the Ducal Palace, the former and least interesting made up of 19th century European glassware, ivory walking stick handles and the like and the latter a collection of items dug up in the vicinity of the castle, a huge collection of coins, a small exhibition dedicated to the Karaite and few life-size models of medieval gents with enormous moustaches. More than worth a visit for a poke around if nothing else. Admission: 8 EUR. Open: 10:00 – 19:00, October 1 – October 31 Open: 10:00 – 18:00.
Address: Kęstučio g. 4, Trakai
Trakai Historical National Park (Trakų istorinis nacionalinis parkas)
One of total of five national parks in Lithuania, at just 8,200 hectares Trakai Historical National Park is the smallest but by no means the least interesting. Set amidst gently rolling hills formed during the last Ice Age about 14,000 years ago, the park contains a total of lakes, some truly spectacular scenery, one or two ethnographic sights of particular interest and the town of Trakai itself.
A population of 14,000 rosy faced locals, of whom many remain tied to the land, sprinkle the park with humanity, giving it an agreeable lived – in feel lacking in many other rural areas in the country.
The proud recipient of national park status in 1992, Trakai Historical National Park is one the Unesco World Heritage tentative list. Things in its favour include its aforementioned comeliness and the town inside it that gives it its name, woodlands brimming with wildlife, traditional farmsteads and villages, manor house, heaps of fresh air and a sense of having gone back in time.
There is one of the most popular place for the rest: you can swimming, fishing, sailing yacht, sailing boat and more.
In its glory this mansion, build on land formerly occupied by the local Tatar community, belonged to the prominent Tiškevičius family who lived in it until 1939. Build in the 19th century in a Neo-Renaissance style, the palace itself is closed, but the grounds, designed by prominent French landscape gardener Edouard Andre. In summer this a prime spot for a picnic and a stroll around the palace grounds. Catch a passenger ship and say you want to get off at Užutrakis, or rent a rowing boat.
Open: 11:00 – 19:00, Closed Mon, Tue. October 1 – November 30 Open 11:00 – 16:00 Closed Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu. Admission 3 EUR.
Address: Užutrakio g. 17, Trakai
- Visit Trakai ant not try to eat kibinai is like going to Japan and circumventing the noodles;
- Taste “Gira” drink (made from fermented bread that is very popular in Lithuania);
- Great apartment: Argo Trakai