FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Day trip to Trakai

Posted in Lithuania, Trakai by folkestonejack on August 25, 2019

Our travels in Lithuania have brought us to Trakai, an easy day trip from Vilnius. Trakai is most famous for its picturesque red-brick island castle, which sits at the heart of a national park rich in historical sites and over thirty lakes. It’s hardly surprising to discover that such a photogenic sight should feature so heavily in Lithuanian guidebooks and promotional tourist brochures, but there is much more to the city than this.

The island castle

The city was once one of the most important cities in the country, alongside Vilnius and Kaunas, as well as the residence of the grand dukes of Lithuania. It has long since lost its importance as a political centre, but still draws plenty of tourists to see the island castle, which was restored and substantially rebuilt in 1962. Today, the city has a population of 5,373.

On our arrival by train we took the longer and shadier route to the island castle, around the edge of Lake Berardinai, taking our time to enjoy the scenery. Despite the early hour we discovered a busy community on the little jetties dotted about the route populated with sunbathers, fishermen and wild water swimmers. One had a wonderfully improvised chair made from a car seat. It all felt very tranquil and incredibly relaxing. The waters looked incredibly clear.

A tranquil walk alongside Lake Berardinai

The first stages of construction of the island castle have been dated to the 14th century, but the castle continue to evolve for some time after. The name itself is a little misleading as there were originally three islands, with rock and gravel in-fill used to create a larger island. There are plenty of lovely views to be had by circumnavigating the exterior walls.

Once inside, you discover that the castle is comprised of two very distinct parts – the bailey in the lower part and the former ducal residence in the upper part, accessed by drawbridge. I don’t think anyone could be under illusion that this is anything other than a substantial twentieth century re-build, but the historical displays help explain what was left before that work started.

The museum in the upper part of the castle presents the history of the territory, the castle and the local Karaim and Tatar populations. I particularly liked a display of coin hoards discovered in the area. A series of rooms in the bailey provide a home for a historical museum with an array of historical artifacts from porcelain to pipes with no specific connection to the castle. It’s all interesting enough, without being good enough on its own to justify a visit.

A view of the ducal residence

After leaving the castle we pondered the option of taking a boat trip on the water, eventually choosing a shortish trip on a double deck boat from the Trakai lakefront. A half hour circuit on Lake Galvė gave us a decent view of Užutrakis manor house and a different perspective on Trakai Island Castle.

Count Józef Tyszkiewicz created the Užutrakis estate in 1896-1902 with a neo-classical palace designed by Polish architect Jozef Huss. After the Soviet occupation of Lithuania the palace saw a variety of uses, including time as a sanatorium for KGB officers, a Pioneer camp and a rest home. Through all this the park suffered, but the restoration has seen the reinstatement of copies of many of the sculptures and vases that were destroyed in that period. It sees use as a concert venue in the summer and we could still see a stage set up for this purpose as we passed by.

The palace on the Užutrakis estate

On our return to Trakai we sought out some of the other sights around town as we slowly drifted back to the station, heading first to the Trakai Peninsular Castle. It turned out the grounds were out of bounds during our visit, having been fenced off for restoration works, but the small museum of liturgical art at the entrance was fascinating. The museum holds some curious exhibits and if nothing else, you can enjoy watching fellow visitors getting spooked by a strange diorama with a priest with a swiveling head!

Other sights we visited or stopped off at in Trakai included the church of the visitation of the blessed virgin Mary, which includes a striking silver-plated image of the Virgin Mary and the oldest surviving frescoes in Lithuania; the orthodox church of the nativity of the most blessed virgin, which was undergoing considerable restoration work when we stepped inside; the statue of St. John Nepomuk, standing atop a pillar; and an old wooden post office. There are other sights a little farther away that we didn’t get to.

Overall, our day trip to Trakai offered a wonderfully relaxing escape with some interesting sights along the way. It’s definitely worth a visit.


Travelling to Trakai could not have been simpler. Information on the train timetables is readily available online and unusually clear. Tickets can be purchased online, at the ticket desk in the station building and I think you can get them from the conductor too. The intervals between trains can be quite significant, so needs a little thought. We opted for the 8:16 train to give us a whole day in Trakai, which the next train, at 11:30, would not have given us.

The local train at Trakai

The short journey by double-deck train to the terminus at Trakai takes just over 30 minutes, delivering you to a small terminus at the edge of the city. The bus station is a little closer, but not much. The walk from the railway station takes around 30 minutes by the direct route, along the road, or 45 minutes if you take the path alongside the lake that we chose. It is possible to switch from the lakeside path to the road just before the peninsular castle.

Our visit coincided with the last Sunday of the month, which sees many museums open to the public free of charge, and a day of ancient crafts and trades inside the castle. An unusually busy day, particularly with the fine summery weather, but never to the extent that it stopped us from doing anything we planned. It did look as though we had stumbled across rush hour for the castle though, looking at the crowds crossing the two bridges to the island castle!

There were plenty of options for boat trips on the lake – on a busy summer’s day we found a couple of options on the waterfront at Trakai, next to the first bridge; a couple of smaller boats across the bridge on Karvine island; and more options still across the second bridge just outside the castle gates (ranging from yachts and small craft to the left of the gates and the largest boat we saw on the lake ‘Skaistis‘ to the right). I don’t think you would have difficulty finding a boat trip on a summer weekend.

Boats on Lake Galvė

The length of circuits offered ranged from half an hour to an hour. Prices ranged from 5 euros for a trip on one of the smaller boats to 12 euros on one of the larger craft, with the yachts coming in at a higher price still. Everyone was eager to pick up passengers. The Skaistis advertised a regular sailing schedule, running once an hour, while other boats just left when they had enough passengers on board. We took up the option of a short cruise on the comfortable double-deck Holiday Boat which cost us 5 euros (cash) at the jetty.

There was a tourist ‘train’ running on the road between the railway station, bus station, castle and the manor house (3 euros for a day ticket). We also noted an offer highlighted on the noticeboard at Trakai station for a combined day ticket covering the tourist ‘train’ and boat to Užutrakis manor house (7 euros, excluding weekends). Tickets are available on the tourist train, at the Trakai tourist information offices or through the local hotels.

The Tourist Information office at Trakai (located close to the lakefront, near the first bridge) offers some helpful maps of Trakai and the grounds of Užutrakis, as well as a range of other leaflets about local attractions.

It is also well worth purchasing a copy of the slim but handy guidebook ‘Trakai: A guide through the Historical National Park’ by Karolina Mickevičiūtė Juodišienė, published by Briedis (ISBN 978-9955-26-417-0). The guidebook provides some useful maps and covers the history of Trakai, the sights in/around Trakai and introduces the Karaite cuisine. I picked up a copy inside the castle for five euros and it also seems to be available online through the publisher’s website.