Trakai and Trakai Castle are important to Lithuanian history. Associated with the Grand Duke Gediminas, a medieval Lithuanian hero, Trakai rose to importance before the Grand Duchy of Lithuania joined with Poland, forming the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth. The area began to develop in the 1400s with its castle the center of the action, though the area saw human habitation long before these permanent structures were built.
"Trakai" references the "glade" in which the area appears.
Trakai is popular not just for its castle. The beautiful natural landscape of the area, where lakes meet, is popular with Lithuanians and travelers from abroad throughout the year. Though it is most popularly visited during the summer, many recommend visiting in deepest winter, when the lakes freeze and snow envelopes nature and castle alike in pristine whiteness.
Two Castles, One Lithuanian Museum
Trakai Castle is situated in Trakai, about 20 km from Lithuania's capital city Vilnius, so it makes for an excellent day trip. The Trakai Castle Museum is situated in two castles - one on an island in the middle of a lake, and one on the shore. There is actually a third castle associated with Trakai, but this structure lies in disrepair and is not a part of the museum complex. However, you can see its ruins as you explore the lake area.
Exhibits in the Castle Museum
Because Trakai Castle has undergone renovations, it offers an appropriate home to some of Lithuania's most interesting archeological artifacts, religious objects, coins, and finds preserved from the excavation of the castle grounds.
The Karaims, or Karaites as they are locally known, of Trakai are an ethnic group that settled here in the 14th century. This Turkish-speaking community also follow their own religion, which derives from Judaism. Originating from Crimea, this community preserves aspects of the way of life their ancestors brought with them when they resettled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
One of those can be enjoyed by visitors: the kibinai, dumplings filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables, can be ordered at select Trakai restaurants. Those in the know say that only the kibinai found in Trakai are the real deal and that those able to be ordered in Vilnius can't hold a candle to those that are made to order in Trakai. Also, view a small exhibit dedicated to the Karaites at the castle museum.
Information for Visitors
The Trakai Castle Museum does require an entry fee, and museum staff may usher visitors in the direction the exhibits were meant to be viewed in, prohibiting backtracking. The use of a camera within the castle also requires a small fee. The Trakai Castle Museum's official website is located at www.trakaimuziejus.lt and may be accessed in both English and Lithuanian.
Exploring the Town of Trakai
Trakai was a medieval capital of Lithuania, and it still retains its historic charm. Visitors to Trakai may enjoy one of the town's festivals, which include recognition of its history. Because Trakai was built in the midst of three lakes, waterside walks and picnics can be enjoyed, as well as recreational activities on the water.