Lithuania is perhaps not the first name that comes to mind when deciding where to spend your holidays. Even though Lithuania is not on many people’s tourist radar, it should be. It has a lot to offer for tourists interested in both medieval history and the post–World War II era. And in Lithuania, Trakai is definitely one of the highlights.
Trakai is a city with only 4500 inhabitants, but with a very rich history. It is only 30km from the capital of Lithuania – Vilnius, so a day trip is simply a must. Trakai is located on a peninsula formed by 5 connecting lakes. The biggest one is called Galve and is famous for its Island Castle. There are about 200 lakes around Trakai, making it a perfect location for summer holidays. In addition, Trakai has many cosy cafes, restaurants and spas, so it is a perfect all-year-round destination.
Winter wonderland in Trakai
Ice-skating on a frozen lake
During the winter, all the lakes are frozen, and the ice is so thick that you can easily walk on it. However, make sure to pay attention to the cautionary signs, as the ice may not be thick enough during warmer winters. The thickness of the ice is usually up to 20cm. In the winter, a common attraction is ice-skating on the Galve lake near the castle. You can bring own ice skates. Usually, the field is not cleared of snow, except for the area near the shores, but the views of the medieval castle covered in snow is breathtaking. If there is no snow or even just a little, you can walk around the castle. It is important to note, that while travelling in the winter temperatures can fall to as low as -20 Celsius, so one must take this fact into consideration. For more extreme travellers, Trakai offers a swim in the cold water after a sauna at the spa.
After some physical activity, it is recommended to try the traditional meal of the Karaites – the infamous “kibinas”. It is a pastry filled with minced meat, usually lamb, eaten with a broth. Karaites lived in Trakai for more than 600 years and kibinas has not changed a whole lot, making it a meal rich not only in taste, but also in history. You can also try “midus”, which is a spirit made of honey, and will surely warm you up on a cold winter day.
The blooming spring in Trakai
Legend of the 3 windows
Trakai is a linear city with most of its buildings being made of wood and their windows facing the streets. Legend has it that 3 windows are facing the street – one window for God, one for the Grand Duke and one for the homeowner.
St. Virgin Mary’s Church and the Godmother of Trakai
Additionally, Trakai has a few museums and churches. One of them is St. Virgin Mary’s Church which displays the portrait of the Godmother of Trakai. This portrait is famous for its many miracles and therefore is a popular pilgrimage destination.
The Uzutrakio Palace
On the other side of the lake is Uzutrakuio Palace, which is facing the Island Castle. It has several beautiful gardens, making it a popular location for wedding photoshoots. Occasionally live music concerts are held within the gardens of the palace. In my opinion, one of the highlights is the flight over Trakai in a hot air balloon. Lithuania has one of the largest amounts of hot air balloons per capita in the world, and the view over Trakai makes the journey in the air truly unforgettable.
Hot summer days in Trakai
The summer in Lithuania can be very hot and the weather is usually great. Therefore, many people take the opportunity to swim in the lake in front of the castle. And if you are looking for more local swimming grounds, as mentioned before, there are many lakes in the region, so you don’t have to search far to find a more secluded place to take a swim. If you are staying in Trakai overnight, most of the accommodation places are built on the lakeside, meaning that most of the time you can swim in your own private shore. Pedalos and rowing boats are a popular form of entertainment in Trakai. This is a very cheap attraction and you can actually sightsee quite a lot, as you are able to swim around the castle, near the Uzutrakis Palace and by the shore. When you are swimming under the bridge people usually wave to you. Moreover, it is a great opportunity to find some private swimming spots just for you and your friends and family. In recent years, paddle boarding is gaining popularity, so this is an option for the experienced and the beginners alike. Trakai is also famous for sailboards.
For people looking for a more relaxing time, there is the option to swim around the castle in a yacht – something that can be done with a glass of wine, but in this case a driver is a must! There is an option for everyone in Trakai regarding water activities, including families with children.
Activities on land
Renting a bike is recommended to thoroughly experience Trakai, as cycling gives you the liberty to ride in the forests surrounding Trakai, as well as to breathe some fresh air. There are many of tours available around Trakai, so be sure to become acquainted with all the different opportunities available to you at the tourist information centre upon arrival. Travelling by car is also a convenient option, as many locals offer a parking spot within their yard, which is a lot cheaper than parking in the city’s parking lots.
Colourful autumn in Trakai
Wandering around the city
Autumn is a very beautiful season in Trakai because most of the 21 islands of the Galve lake are forested, so when the trees change colour, you see golden islands hovering over the blue waters. I would recommend going for an autumn stroll around Trakai and walking along the lake’s shores.
The remains of the peninsula castle are located on the peninsula and are now made into a park, so during the autumn season, the remains of the defence wall against the many colors of the trees prove to be a stunning sight. Amber goods are a popular item in the souvenir shops. Some places in town offer experiences such as baking homemade bread, which can be interesting for children and adults alike.
The Trakai Island Castle
However, a quick reservation should be made in advance. Most importantly, you should visit the amazing Trakai Island Castle. It is located on the island in the middle of the lake, connected to the city by several wooden bridges.
The castle was built in 1409 and immediately became the most important residence of the Grand Duke. Trakai was also the second capital of Lithuania (before Vilnius). It is built in gothic style and is the only castle in Eastern Europe built on an island.
In the 16th century, Trakai lost its importance because the current capital Vilnius grew larger. In 1655, the Russians burnt the castle and the city to the ground. The remains of the castle stood this way for another 300 years, until the 20th century, when it was rebuilt to its former glory. The castle holds big exposition grounds, covering the history of Lithuania. You can find amazing artwork there, as well as many historical items from the daily lives of dukes and some modern technologies as seen in the video. Thus there is a lot to explore. Fairytales are told within the castle walls for children and medieval fairs and concerts (including electronic music concerts) take place in the inner yard of the castle.
To conclude, Trakai is really worth visiting for many reason: to learn about the rich culture of Lithuania and Trakai, to relax on a lake with a great view, to try some tasty new dishes and more importantly, to free yourself from your daily routine and get some fresh air exploring the beautiful Trakai city, a true pearl of Lithuania.