Travel guide to visiting Trakai Island Castle

The former residence of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania


Trakų salos pilis, Trakai, Lithuania

GPS: 54.655052261617, 24.936876821464

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Surrounded by water, Trakai Island Castle is nestled in a preservation area on one of the 20 small islands in Lake Galvė. This medieval fortress is part of the Trakai National Historical Park, established in 1991 and the only one of its kind in Europe. The 80 km² protected area aims to preserve the historical sites and natural heritage of this beautiful Lithuanian region.

Trakai Castle underwent construction between the 14th-and-15th-centuries, when the city of Trakai briefly became the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The first building, of which nothing remains today, was built by Gediminas, King of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, after the transfer of his capital from Kernave to Trakai. Later, Grand Duke Kestutis, followed by his son Vytautas the Great, built a Gothic fortified complex similar to Malbork Castle in Poland. After the famous Battle of Grunwald (or First Battle of Tannenberg) in 1410, the purpose of the Trakai site as a defensive castle accelerated in response to the growing but futile threat of the Knights of the Teutonic Order. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania joined forces with the Kingdom of Poland to form the Republic of the Two Nations (1569-1795). This political union enabled Trakai Island Castle to resist the expansionist wishes of Muscovy (Great-Principality of Moscow) for a time until the formation of the Russian Empire.

Thanks to its location in the middle of Lake Galvė, this castle was also used as a summer residence and reception place for prestigious guests (ambassadors, diplomats, noblemen, merchants, etc.). Occupied by the Russian Empire from the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 20th-century and then by German troops during the First World War, it was completely restored in the middle of the 20th-century. Today, Trakai remains the only island castle in the whole of Eastern Europe and one of the favourite destinations of Lithuanians. A visit to the museum, with exhibitions on Trakai Island Castle and Medininkai Castle (based in the south-east of Vilnius), is an opportunity to learn more about the history of the country.

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  • The Christian religious order of the Knights of the Teutonic Order, founded in the 12th-century, quickly developed into a military order. It led numerous crusades against pagan peoples (Lithuania was the last country in Europe to convert to Christianity). At its peak at the end of the 14th-century, the Teutonic Order had a vast territory worthy of an empire. The stinging defeat at the Battle of Grunwald in the early 15th-century against the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania marked the decline of the order. The order still exists today as a clerical religious institute of pontifical right. In contrast, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania became one of the most powerful states in Europe before it became part of the Russian Empire. At its peak in the 15th-century, its territory stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, covering almost one million square kilometres (compared to 65,303 square kilometres in present-day Lithuania). At that time, its population was made up of people with very different religions and customs. Its grand dukes and kings could convert to Catholicism or Orthodoxy.
  • The lake town of Trakai has many communities, including the Karaites. This small Turkish ethnic group came from the Crimea in the early 15th-century at the request of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vytautas the Great, to help with his personal protection (as guards and servants). They later became farmers, craftsmen and traders before achieving full autonomy.
  • Trakai Castle can be reached by train or bus from the capital Vilnius, which is only about 30 kilometres away.
  • The best time to visit is from May to September (remember to use mosquito repellent).
  • In the off-season, the site is closed to visitors on Mondays, but access to the castle grounds is still possible (a footbridge provides easy access).
  • On site, you will be able to taste the kibinai, a tasty hot pastry stuffed with meat and accompanied by chopped onions, a culinary specialty of the Karaites.
  • The defensive architecture of the castle surrounded by large bodies of water
  • The thick walls and high red brick towers of the castle; the vaulted interior rooms
  • The Trakai History Museum; collections of ancient artefacts, manuscripts, furniture, arts and crafts
  • Archaeological exhibition on the castle site and ethnographic exhibition on the Karaites community
  • The 15th-century church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the 19th-century Orthodox church
  • Lake Galvė and its 20 islands; the picturesque setting in summer and winter
  • Water activities (swimming, fishing, water skiing, windsurfing, boat, pedal boat and pleasure boat rental)
  • Walking, cycling and horse riding around the various lakes or through the large green areas
  • Classical music festivals, opera and ballet performances, traditional and old crafts’ days, concerts, medieval festivals and knights’ tournaments in the high season (the weekend in mid-June marks the start of the festivities)

Where to eat

  • Pilialaukis
    (varied and economical cuisine)
  • Remus
    (comfortable and delicious)
  • Senoji Kibinine
    (local specialities)

Where to go

  • Paneriai Memorial Museum
    (place of memory)
  • Vilnius Tower
    (best view on the capital)
  • Vichy Vandens Park
    (family water park)

Where to stay

  • Aerodream
    (calm and romantic)
  • Esperanza Resort & SPA
    (luxurious services)
  • Argo
    (relaxing and well-decorated)