Trakai is a lakeside town that sits nearby the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. This historic spot is home to the famous Trakai Castle, but there are various other reasons to make a trip here, including to walk the quaint streets and enjoy the serene outdoors. While some stay in Trakai for multiple days to take in all the beauty here, a visit to the town is also a great day trip from Vilnius.
Some Trakai History
Trakai was once known as the capital of Lithuania. The Grand Duchy treasured the area and they decided to build a castle there starting in the 14th century. The ruling family moved and built a palace in Vilnius, which then became the central hub of the Grand Duchy. But Trakai still remained an important city.
Various groups settled in the area, including the Karaites, a Jewish sect and community with Turkic roots. A small group still occupies the Trakai area today, evident in the unique style of houses lining the streets and the delicious Karaim cuisine.
Settlers continued to make their way here and Trakai continued to grow until Russian occupation. Russian forces destroyed much of the town and castle in the mid-17th century. But the castle was rebuilt in the 1960s and a museum was opened inside it.
Today, the town of Trakai is a popular destination among locals and tourists who come to the area to enjoy the beautiful outdoors, visit Trakai Castle and other museums and historical structures, and escape the bustle of the city.
Getting to Trakai
Trakai can be easily reached by train or bus from Vilnius. And it only takes around 30 minutes! We found the Trafi app to be pretty helpful as we traveled around Lithuania because it shows timetables, stops, bus and train numbers, and other travel information.
We opted to take a bus to Trakai because they run more frequently than the trains and the bus station was closer to the heart of Trakai than the train station there. Buses cost a couple euros per person for a one-way ticket.
Tickets for buses can be bought at station ticket machines ahead of time, and some bus companies offer their tickets online too. Alternatively, you can buy them at the station the day of or sometimes on the bus directly from the driver. You can also buy a return ticket ahead of time, but we didn’t because we weren’t sure of how much time we would spend in Trakai. We purchased tickets at the station machines for the way to Trakai and directly from the driver on the way back. Note that if you buy tickets from the driver, you will need cash.
Train tickets can also be bought at the station, but throughout our time in Lithuania, we booked all of our train tickets online before the day of the journey. The rail website is simple to use and you get an e-ticket upon purchase. Tickets to Trakai via train were only slightly more expensive than bus tickets, and prices change depending on the time of day.
If you are in Lithuania during peak season in the summer months and have a tight schedule, we recommend booking tickets ahead of time, especially since Trakai is a popular spot to visit.
Renting a car is a great option if you want to explore various spots in Lithuania on your own terms. There are various car rental agencies in Vilnius, and Trakai is only a short drive away. We noticed many road signs directing the way to Trakai as we left Vilnius, but we also recommend downloading maps in advance.
There are many paid parking spots around Trakai that charge 1-1.50 Euros per hour depending on the zone you park in.
While seeing Trakai and Trakai Castle are pretty straightforward on your own, you can also book a day tour from Vilnius. There are varied tour options – from tours lasting a few hours to full-day and multi-day tours. Itineraries will vary too, such as some tours including Vilnius highlights, kayaking excursions in Trakai, or visits to some of the towns and natural spaces in southern Lithuania.
Many tour options can be found online from sites such as Get Your Guide and Viator. There are also some tour agencies with offices located in Vilnius, such as Travel Addicts, that offer day trips to Trakai along with multi-day excursions.
Visiting Trakai Castle
The main touristic draw to the town of Trakai is the magnificent Trakai Castle. It is one of the most popular attractions in Lithuania! This large gothic-style castle sits on an island in Lake Galvė and is connected to the mainland by a wooden bridge. We were certainly in awe as we crossed the bridge towards the huge castle surrounded by stunning lake landscape!
Visitors can learn more about the castle and Grand Duchy in the museum housed in the castle and admire the architecture from inside the castle walls. We also enjoyed walking around the island just outside the castle, taking in the beauty of the surrounding area. We were lucky to be there in the fall when the leaves were changing and there was hardly anybody there!
Visitors can access the island for free during any time of day. See below for information regarding entrance to the castle.
Peak Season (April through September):
- Ticket Cost: 12 Euros per adult
- Guided Tour: 30 Euros in Lithuanian, 40 Euros in English, Polish, German, or Russian
- April: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, Noon – 6 p.m. on Tuesday, closed on Monday
- May through September: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Low Season (October through March):
- Ticket Cost: 8 Euros per adult
- Guided Tour: 15 Euros in Lithuanian, 18 Euros in English, Polish, German, or Russian
- March, October, & November: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, Noon – 6 p.m. on Tuesday, closed on Monday
- December through February: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
Tickets can be bought online in advance here.
Opening hours may change on holidays and around events hosted at the castle. Ticket prices may also be discounted for certain individuals. Check the website for more information and updates before your visit.
Lastly, not far from where the wooden bridge sits is an observation deck that offers a beautiful view over the lake towards the castle.
Other Things to do in Trakai
The castle may be the most popular site to visit in Trakai, but there are many other things worth seeing while you are visiting the town.
Head Out on the Lake
We visited Trakai on a chilly and windy fall day, so we didn’t opt to go out on the lake. But apparently Trakai is a very popular place to enjoy some time out on the water.
Near the bridge that crosses to Trakai Castle, there are various rental companies. Some offer kayaks and paddle boats that you can take out on your own. If you’re looking for a more relaxed approach, we also saw companies offering trips on a small boat that cruises around the castle. These boats can be found on along the mainland waterfront and on other side of the bridge just outside the castle entrance.
In the winter when the lake freezes over, people flock to the area to ice skate! We didn’t come across any skate rental places in Trakai, so it is best to reach out to the tourism office beforehand to explore your options.
Karaite Ethnographic Museum
The Karaite Ethnographic Museum contains artifacts and information on the culture, lives, and history of the Karaite community in Lithuania. It is a small museum, but only costs 3 Euros per adult in peak season and 2 Euros per adult in low season. Tickets must be purchased at Trakai Castle or the Sacred Art Exhibition.
For more information on tickets and hours, click here.
Shop for Souvenirs
Lining the waterfront across from Trakai Castle, there were many little shop stalls set up. We found a cute little Christmas ornament here. There were many other items like shirts, jewelry, wood carved goods, handwoven mittens, hats and scarves, and other knickknacks like shot glasses, magnets, key chains, and more.
Try a Kibinai
Kibinai are traditional Karaite stuffed pastries. If you’re in Trakai, you can find them at various restaurants and food stalls. We bought some from a food truck just by the Trakai Castle bridge. Despite the town being very quiet on this fall morning, there was a line, so we figured it was a good choice. We were not disappointed!
Kibinai can be stuffed with various fillings – meat and onions are the common traditional choice. We tried a few different ones containing lamb, mushrooms, cheese, chicken, onions, and spinach. They tasted so delicious and the hot, soft pockets were even better on a cold day.
Hill of Angels
In comparison to the many historic structures in Trakai, the Hill of Angels, or Angelų Kalva, is a fairly new attraction. In 2009, a plan was put in place to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Lithuania and the 600th anniversary of the Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary in Trakai.
Currently, 40 large carved angels sit on a hill just outside Trakai. Each embodies a unique sentiment or notion, including kindness, health, love, and joy. Like Lithuania’s famous Hill of Crosses, many have come here and placed their own little angels atop the hill.
The Hill of Angels is just over 5 kilometers (about 3.2 miles) one way from Trakai Castle. If you aren’t up for the walk and don’t have your own car, there are a few bike rental companies in Trakai. Note that they may have shorter hours or shut down completely in the winter/low-season months.
From Trakai Castle, you may see a large, white building across the lake. This luxurious-looking manor originally belonged to Tartar nobles until the wealthy Tiškevičiai family purchased it. In addition to the large manor, the property had farmlands, a distillery, stable, and other housing for workers.
During Soviet occupation, the Užutrakis became a treatment center for Russian officers. Like much of Trakai during this period, it fell into disarray. Now, Trakai Historical National Park manages the property. It currently houses varying exhibits, artwork, and event spaces.
Užutrakis sits on the opposite shore of Trakai. It is about a 6.5-kilometer (4-mile) walk one way from Trakai Castle. You will pass the Hill of Angels on the way. The manor is open Wednesdays through Sundays during peak season from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. and tickets cost 3 euros per adult. Visitors can access the gardens and trails around the manor for free. For more information on tickets, hours, events, and the park, click here.
Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary
The Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary sits on a hill looming over the surrounding streets and houses around it. It is not known exactly when this church was originally constructed, but historians estimate that it was built around the same time as Trakai Castle.
The interior contains old works of art like the well-known painting of the Mother of God, remnants of Byzantine-style paintings on the walls, an intricate altar, and more. Surrounding the exterior is a small, peaceful garden containing a few sculptures.
The Basilica is open daily from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Stroll the Historic Streets
The streets of Trakai were quite peaceful and quiet when we were there in the fall. We imagine the lakeside restaurants, shops, and streets would be quite a bit busier in the summer. Either way, we recommend walking the town a bit for some pretty lake views and particularly to see the colorful traditional houses.
The Karaite community became established in Trakai when Grand Duke Vytautas brought many families here after battles in Crimea. They were tasked with protecting the castle and also served as clerks, craftsmen, translators, etc. The settlement grew, and at one point, the Grand Duchy recognized the town as its own autonomous entity.
While fewer Karaite families reside in Trakai today, you can still see the many traditional wooden houses along Karaimų street. Many can be identified by colorful exteriors and the three windows facing the street. Legend says that the three windows signify devotion to God, loyalty to the Grand Duke, and the welcoming of guests. Along the way, keep an eye out for the Karaite school and Trakai Kenesa, one of the few Karaite prayer houses in the world.
There are many other activities to do in Trakai and the surrounding areas. We’d love to go back one day to see and experience more! If you’re spending more time in the area and would like some additional ideas, check the Trakai website, or visit the Tourist Information Center in Trakai.