Part 5 of the Baltics series (May 2015).
When I first shared some photos of Trakai Island Castle, a friend exclaimed that it looked like something right out of a Disney movie, and I can’t disagree.
Trakai Island Castle was built on an island in Lake Galvė in the 14th century, and is the only island castle in Eastern Europe. Upon arriving in Trakai, the castle is a leisurely 2 km walk from the bus station, though public buses are also available.
To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t heard of Trakai prior to perusing a travel guide my Couchsurfing host had kindly left for me. The town itself is a half-hour bus ride from Vilnius, and is a perfect location for a day trip or quiet getaway. During the summer, there’s no shortage of water activities such as boating, kayaking and swimming in Lake Galvė.
Though it was a bit early in the season for swimming in May, I managed to find a quiet spot to dip my feet and people-watch as a large group of schoolchildren ambled up to the castle on a field trip (and thanked my lucky stars that I’d just narrowly missed them).
Aside from Trakai Castle, the town is also home to a significant Karaim population, a small Turkic-speaking religious and ethnic group resettled to Trakai by Grand Duke Vytautas in the 14th century from Crimea. I don’t claim to be an expert — this blog does an excellent job of detailing Karaim culture, including the significant influence they’ve had on the architecture in Trakai, especially the brightly-painted wooden houses with three windows facing the street.
After working up an appetite exploring Trakai’s many points of historic interest, you’ll find no shortage of restaurants boasting traditional Karaim cuisine, with the most famous being kybyn (a baked lamb or beef dumpling not unlike a Jamaican patty). Of course, cepelinai are always available on any menu — I daresay I indulged in one too many during my time in Lithuania!
This is an extremely affordable day trip in the Vilnius area. The bus takes about half an hour each way, and is a fairly comfortable ride. However, do make a note of the return bus times — they only run once every hour after 6 p.m.
Bus from Vilnius to Trakai: 1.80 € each way
Plate of cepelinai: 1.80 € for two pieces