Trakai & Kernave – Day Trips from Vilnius
Vilnius can easily be a jumping-off hub for your Lithuanian exploration. There are two excellent sites you must see when you’re near Vilnius: Trakai and Kernave. The Trakai Island Castle is a gorgeous, red-brick complex built in the 1400s (10am-5pm, later in spring/summer). It’s similar in design and history to Poland’s Malbork Castle, though Malbork holds the distinction of being the largest of the genre.
Since Trakai is a thin strip of land, we worried about finding parking so we arrived at the castle’s opening time of 10am. We found street parking (1 EUR/hr, pay at blue machines) easily and walked across the boardwalk to the Trakai island castle. By noon, parking was hard to find and the castle was slammed with Lithuanian school children.
The castle complex is huge, so you’ll quickly tire your littles’ legs. Focus on the areas your kids find interesting.
For us, that was climbing the tower, finding stuffed animals, thrones and dragons.
The highlight though, was playing in the variety of stocks they had in the castle courtyard.
After our visit, we walked around the outside perimeter of the castle.
Since it’s a castle built on an island, this was a super pleasant walk with plenty of rocks to throw into the lake.
We had an amazingly local lunch at Senoji Kibinine. It was just off the boardwalk on the city side. If you don’t find this restaurant, don’t worry. There were lots of options. Be sure to try a kibinine, a local specialty that resembles a meat-filled pastry. You can find these for between 1 and 2 Euros each, making them a really tasty and cheap snack.
For more ideas of things to do in Trakai, stop by the tourist information office. It’s located at the terminus of the boardwalk to the island castle (city side). You can buy local souvenirs here too. A few hundred meters away, you’ll find the Trakai Peninsula Castle and Trakai History Museum.
Instead of visiting these sites, we opted to hire a boat for a spin around the lake.
You can pay 40 EUR for a sailboat trip but we felt the shade on a pontoon boat and the stability would be better for our little ones. It was an incredible deal at 5 EUR per adult for a near-private 30-minute tour.
Our boat captain was kind to our children and let them each drive the boat during the trip. Our littles especially enjoyed looking at the castle from the water and looking for fish in the water.
Trakai has all the trappings of a tourist destination too, although it all seems to be geared toward Baltic state visitors. Beware the trinket stands and ice cream shops – or don’t.
Kernave doesn’t have much to see other than the Kernave Hill Forts (free, daylight hours, free parking). There’s an accompanying museum, but the highlight is the vista of the hills. You don’t see any forts – those are long gone since they were constructed of wood.
What you do see are a handful of naturally formed mounds around 50m tall each. There are paths around each and to the top of each. You can stand on the mounds, imagining what it would have been like to be standing inside a hill fort.
If your imagination isn’t great, you can see a reconstruction of a wooden city nearby. Our kids found this fascinating because the city is made without any metal. No metal meant that all things were pretty interesting to look at – like doors without hinges and sliding wooden window-covers.
We had an epic disaster while visiting the Kernave Hill Forts. Our Middle Little had to use the toilet (#2) but we were 15 minutes from anything resembling a toilet. It was a good learning event for the whole family – living a bit closer to what it was like for the 13th century Kernave inhabitants!
Trakai and Kernave can both be visited en route to or from Vilnius. They make a perfect full-day combo day trip.