The rain clouds of the previous day had cleared resulting in a dull but fine morning. We enjoyed a lie in and a leisurely breakfast as we had planned a visit to Trakai for mid-morning.
Trakai was the former capital of ancient Lithuania and its 14th century castle was the summer home of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes. It’s located 28 km (17 mikes) west of Vilnius and our original plan had been to go there by public transport at approximately €4 (£3.50) each return. However, on checking the timetables we noticed that trains, although inexpensive were very infrequent and we would have needed to return by bus. Both the railway and bus station in Trakai are at least a 20 minute walk from the old town and castle and so we decided to save time and take the Trakai tour minibus instead. This departs from Cathedral Square at 10.45 a.m. each day, except Monday. The four hour round trip costs €20 (£17.40) with a 50% reduction for Vilnius City Card holders
The minibus was equipped with audio headsets, available in several languages detailing the journey and the history of Trakai. It took little more than 30 minutes to reach the old town, the driver dropping us off by the lakeside, from where we had two and a half hours to do as we pleased.
Walking towards the castle we came across numerous kiosks selling local handicrafts and souvenirs. Even on a cold November day there were plenty of people about enjoying walks by the lake. Boat trips were still operating and although we didn’t take one, they seemed very reasonable at around €5 (£4.30) for a 30 minute trip.
We crossed the attractive, wooden footbridge over to the Trakai Island Castle which stands proudly on the largest of Lake Galve’s twenty small islands. It is the only castle in Eastern Europe built on an island and bears a resemblance to Malbork Castle in Poland which we had visited previously. Since 1962 the castle has been the home of the Trakai History Museum, entrance €8 (£7). We didn’t actually go inside the castle but we were able to view its inner courtyard without purchasing a ticket.
Instead of taking a tour, we opted to enjoy a stroll around the perimeter, taking in the picturesque views from the island. Afterwards, we popped into the Kybynlar restaurant located in an old building in the village. It was warm and cosy inside and we ordered herring salads and Kibinai which are crescent shaped savoury pastries filled with either minced beef or lamb. They were served straight from the oven and tasted delicious and very similar to an English Cornish pasty but without potato. These local delicacies are very popular in Trakai and have thought to have been made in the village for around 500 years.
There was then enough time for a walk through the village where we admired the wooden houses which were all painted in slightly different colours. The minibus picked us up promptly and we were back in Vilnius by 2.30 p.m. giving us ample time for more city centre sightseeing before it fell dark.
A few minutes walk from Cathedral Square stands the Toy Museum entrance €5 (£4.35) and free with the Vilnius City Card. The museum has limited opening hours so it’s best to check the website for details. Entrance is through a gate with visitors needing to press a buzzer for access.
Once inside, the friendly staff spent a few minutes showing us around and introducing us to the history of Lithuanian toys. There were three rooms, the first of which contained the oldest toys some of which dated from as far back as the 12th century. Here we found some simple wooden vehicles, medieval wooden swords and early forms of spinning tops. Visitors of all ages are encouraged to play with the toys and games and in the 19th to 20th century room we enjoyed playing a wooden game called Gruyere involving balance and hand / eye co-ordination. The staff were surprised that we hadn’t come across the game before but it was fun manipulating a ball with two strings.
There were numerous games from the Soviet era offering a fascinating insight into the lives of children behind the Iron Curtain. We played on a table football game, similar to one we used to own then moved on to a table ice hockey game, something we had never come across before but once we mastered operating the puck, was great fun. The final room contained a range of toys and games in use today along with dressing up clothes and arcade games. It’s quite a small museum and is more ‘hands on’ than other toy museums I’ve visited but it’s both educational and fun for all ages.
On our way back to the hotel we noticed that people were still walking up to the Gediminas Tower so we decided to find the start of the steep path so that we could take in the views from the top. A funicular usually takes visitors up to the tower entrance but this was out of order at the time of our visit.
The path was uneven and rocky making it unsuitable for prams and wheelchairs, flat shoes are recommended. Admission to the tower is €5 (£4.35) and free with the Vilnius card. The internal rooms contained cannon balls, a model of a trebuchet, which is a kind of catapult and some scale models of Vilnius castle.
A narrow winding staircase led us to the rooftop viewing area from where we had far reaching views across the river which looked beautiful with the rich gold autumnal tints of the surrounding woodlands.
It was then back to the hotel for a rest, after which we took an Uber €2.10 (£1.82) over to the Meat Lovers Pub in the old town which had a cosy, informal atmosphere and where we enjoyed a tasty dinner and sampled some local beers.
We decided to walk back from the old town to the hotel and along the way we admired several of the city’s buildings we had seen earlier, now looking even more beautiful as they were illuminated in the night sky.
If you have enjoyed reading this post, you may also be interested in the following :