Trakai is a town in the Dzūkija region of Lithuania, 28 km west of the capital Vilnius. It's on the shores of Lake Galvė and its star attraction is the Island Castle - this and the Peninsula Castle are from the 14th century, when the capital moved here and was fortified against attack. In 2020 Trakai had a population of 4141.
Buses from Vilnius run at least hourly: buy tickets from the driver, for €2.60 each way in 2023. Most are direct buses terminating here (run by Trakų Autobusai), though an occasional bus takes 40-50 min via the back lanes. A few (run by Busotas) continue west to Alytus or to Birštonas, Prienai and Marijampolė.
1 Autobusų stotis is the new bus station opened in Nov 2022, replacing the previous tatty rain-shelter not a day too soon. For the castle head 3 km north, a pleasant walk through the old town to the footbridge.
Trains from Vilnius take 35 min, running hourly morning and evening but with a long midday gap, for a single fare in 2023 of €2.40. They stop in Senieji Trakai, for Old Castle, 7 minutes before reaching Trakai. (Trains for Varėna and Marcinkonys also stop at this junction.) The last train back to Vilnius departs from Trakai around 20:30.
2 Trakai railway station is a simple platform terminus with no facilities. It's south edge of town so you've an extra 500 m to walk each way compared to the bus.
By road from Vilnius follow A16 west, but don't come into town, where parking is limited. At Ostruvka turn north onto the 4751 to Varnikai and follow it till it dead-ends at a free parking lot. From here footbridges take you to the north tip of Old Town then to the castle, 1 km in all.
The town is small enough for everything to be reached on foot. Footbridges link town, Island Castle and nearby peninsulas.
- 1 Trakai Island Castle (Trakų salos pilis), ☏ +370 528 53946. Mar Apr Oct Nov Tu-Su 10:00-18:00, May-Sep daily 10:00-19:00, Dec-Feb W-Su 09:00-18:00. This is the one in all the tourist brochures, a redbrick Gothic mirage suspended between blue sky and lake, a seat of the medieval Duchy of Lithuania and nowadays a national symbol. It was built from the 14th century on the largest of the lake islands - all of them smaller than today as the water level was higher. The external enemy were the Teutonic Knights, but almost as damaging was the fratricidal conflict for the dukedom. After the Knights were crushed in 1410 the castle had less defensive value and was converted to a plush residence. It was later used as a prison for wicked nobles, fell derelict in the 17th century but was part-restored in the 20th. Approach by footbridge from the north end of town, visit by guided tour. Check ahead as it's often used a venue for plays and concerts: the blast of sound from a rock band within these echoing walls would send even the Teutonic Knights scuttling back to Malbork. Adult €12, student or senior €6 (Oct-Apr €10/5).
- Bernardine Monastery ruins are 300 m northeast of the bus station. Just a few scraps of masonry, don't spend too long seeking them out, the Bernardines have better structures in Vilnius and Kaunas.
- 2 Orthodox Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos (Švč. Dievo Motinos Gimimo cerkvė) is a dinky little church of 1863: the Orthodox community here was never large. It was wrecked in World War I but rebuilt in 1938.
- Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Švč. Mergelės Marijos Apsilankymo mažoji bazilika) is a baroque RC church 150 m north of the Orthodox church on Vytauto gatve just before you reach Peninsula Castle.
- Imperial Russian Post Office (Buvęs Rusijos imperijos pašto pastatas) is an attractive blue wooden building just outside Peninsula Castle. You can't go inside.
- 3 Peninsula Castle (Trakų piliakalnis). This followed a similar timeline to the island castle, raised against the Teutonic Knights, converted to a residence (where the Grand Duke was murdered in 1440, just to keep up the tradition) then to a nobles' prison before becoming derelict. However Dominican monks settled here and built a monastery and church in 1770. There's a small museum (just a few religious relics) but the castles' admin is also based here, so beware online maps that direct you here for the Island Castle. Most of the area is free to stroll 24 hours.
- 4 Karaite Ethnographic Museum, Karaimų g 22. Closed. This is within the kenesa (synagogue) of the local Karaite Jews. Theirs is a bizarre story played out over 800 years, none of which you will glean from this museum, even if it hadn't been closed since 2020. The Karaites emerged as a community in Crimea and spoke Kipchak, a Turkic language. They define themselves by patrilineal descent (Jewish identity is traditionally matrilineal) and recognise only the Torah as scripture, rejecting Talmud the compendium of rabbinical commentary and interpretation. Over the centuries, they persuaded a series of anti-semitic rulers that they weren't truly Jewish (subtext "we had nothing to do with the killing of Jesus") and shouldn't be treated as such. Thus they were not required to re-locate to the Pale of Settlement, though many did so, and especially to medieval Lithuania. They also largely escaped the Holocaust. However modern genetics such as mitochondrial DNA points to kinship with the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, and Israel has deemed the Karaites eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return. There are nowadays perhaps 200 Karaites in Lithuania, mostly in Vilnius.
- 5 Varnikai Mound is an earthwork on the peninsula north of Varnika village and parking lot, reached by footbridge. It's of unknown date, described as a hillfort but more likely a motte-and-bailey: an artificial mound fortified by a long-gone wooden stockade, never converted to a stone castle.
- 6 Užutrakis Manor, Užutrakio g 17, ☏ +370 602 14853. W-Su 11:00-19:00. Neoclassical mansion completed in 1895 in a lakeside farm estate. It's sometimes called Tyszkiewicz Palace for its owners, but that name also applies to their stately pile in Vilnius. They fled the Soviet invasion and it was turned into a sanatorium for communist security officials, who presumably were delighted if their sputum persisted red. The mansion decayed and its valuables were stripped. From 1995 it was restored and this is still a work in progress, but several French classical rooms are on display.
- 7 Hill of Angels (Angelų Kalva) is a grouping of religious sculptures. Lithuania has a tradition of wooden crosses and shrines but these are modern, and as a group somewhat macabre.
- 8 Old Castle (Senųjų Trakų piliakalnis) was built before 1321, when Lithuania's capital moved here from Kernavė. The Teutonic Knights destroyed it in 1391 and the Duchy opted to build anew in better defensive positions - the Island and Peninsula castles - and this one was never rebuilt. Trakai town also migrated then to the lakeside. The Benedictine monks acquired the site in 1405 and the castle ruins lie somewhere beneath the church and cloisters. It's free to explore.
- Medininkai Castle is also managed by Trakai Museum but is easier to reach from Vilnius: take Highway A3 southeast towards Minsk, and turn off 2 km before the Belarus border.
- Boat trips and hire: several operators are based along the shore facing Island Castle.
- Vilnius Yacht Club are based on the promontory west of Varnikai Mound. Their annual regatta is May / June.
- Olympic Sports Centre is on the lakeside 200 m northwest of town. It's for serious rowing and other open-water training, the only facility for casual visitors is to be screamed at for entering their waters.
- Golf: Aluona Golf and Country Club is 10 km south of Trakai near Anglininkai village.
- Rimi is the supermarket within the new bus station complex, open daily 08:00-22:00. Locals find it overpriced.
- Others are Norfa on the main road 500 m east of the railway station, and Iki has three branches near the bus station, similar hours.
- A slew of souvenir shops and kiosks line the lane towards the castle.
- Turkiškas kebabas is next to the bus station, open M-Sa 10:00-20:00, eat in or takeaway.
- Argo is a Georgian restaurant within UAB Business Centre at Vytauto g 89, open daily 11:00-22:00.
- Kibinene is a cafe for Karaite food at Vytauto g 69, open daily 11:00-22:00. Cash only.
- Mojo is Asian food at Vytauto g 17, open Sa Su 13:00-20:00, cash only.
- Kiubėtė does Karaite food at Trakų g 2d, open daily 10:30-22:00.
- Kybynlar, Karaimų g 29 (opposite Kenesa), ☏ +370 698 06320. Su-Th 11:00-20:00, F Sa 11:00-21:00. Karaite restaurant, lukewarm reviews.
- Senoji kibininė, Karaimų g 65 (by Viva Trakai north end of town), ☏ +370 659 72132, firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 10:00-22:00. Restaurant serving the kybyn, classical Karaite fare. Their van also supplies takeaways on the lakeshore by Peninsula Castle.
The restaurants serve local and international beers, there isn't a free-standing pub.
- Most visitors come on day-trips, but staying over lets you enjoy Trakai once the tourists have departed.
- Prie Žiedo, Aukštadvario g 10 (opposite bus station), ☏ +370 682 41937. Pleasant clean place south end of town. B&B double €60.
- 1 Apvalaus Stalo Klubas, Karaimų g 53A, ☏ +370 655 68012. Upscale hotel with restaurant on lakeside near the castle footbridge. B&B double €70.
- 2 Viva Trakai Resort, Galvės g 1, ☏ +370 640 88885. Mixed reviews, most visitors are here for the Georgian restaurant. B&B double €90.
- 3 Panorama Hostel, Žalioji g 7B, ☏ +370 699 61330. Smart clean small hotel, not really a hostel and it doesn't have a dorm. B&B double €60.
- 4 Kempingas Slėnyje, Slėnio g 1, ☏ +370 686 11136. Campsite on north lakeshore, idyllic setting but it's 5 km from the bus station, and in summer the mozzies are pesky. Camping €10 ppn.
Trakai and its approach highways have 4G from all three national carriers. As of March 2023, 5G has not rolled out in Lithuania.
- Most public transport routes bring you to Vilnius, where you probably started.
- However buses every hour or two continue west to Alytus or to Birštonas, Prienai and Marijampolė.
- With your own vehicle cut north on Hwy 107 to join the A1 to Kaunas.