A Tour of Two Capitals: Vilnius and Trakai
Tour Participation Requirements
Special Medical Restriction
Lithuania has had four capitals during its 800-year history as a nation, though Vilnius has been the true first city for most of that time – and it shows. A tour by local transportation and on foot reveals an array of landmarks – especially in the narrow, winding streets of Old Town, built during a period of great cultural, intellectual, and religious flowering that earned Vilnius its reputation as the Jerusalem of Lithuania centuries ago, and designation as a World Heritage Site today.
Despite dark periods of repression under the Nazis and Communists, you'll see ample evidence of that past brilliance at sites like the Gates of Dawn, a medieval city entrance where the painted "Vilnius Madonna" icon is widely believed in both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths to have miracle-working powers.
More evidence can be found at towering, neoclassical Vilnius Cathedral and its square, where a single stebuklas (miracle) tile marks the endpoint of a 370-mile-long, two-million-person human chain known as the Baltic Way – a peaceful 1989 protest that signaled the beginning of the end of Soviet rule.
But long before this, and just a few miles to the west, ancient Trakai – a picturesque town encircled by hills, forests, and more than a few of Lithuania's 2,800 beautiful lakes – was a key military and political center, headquarters of the ruling Grand Dukes, and, for a time, the unofficial capital.
The titan of Lithuanian history known as Vytautas the Great supervised the completion of Trakai Island Castle in the middle of tranquil Lake Galve, just before winning a decisive victory over the Teutonic Knights in the 1410 Battle of Grunwald – one of medieval Europe's largest and most romanticized conflicts. The ensuing peace allowed the castle to be converted to a Ducal Palace, where Vytautas received foreign emissaries and lived out his life.
To this day, the setting of this classic red-turreted castle at the end of a wooden causeway crossing the lake, surrounded by mature trees and stout defensive walls, is like something out of a fairy tale. After a six-century cycle of deterioration and restoration, it lives on as a timeless reminder of Lithuania's unbreakable spirit. Like that solitary tile in Cathedral Square, but on a much larger scale.
They came. They saw. They stayed.
The whole town of Trakai is a cultural landmark, having been built and preserved by a United Nations-worth of different peoples – Tatars, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews, Poles, and Karaims. That last group is Lithuania's tiniest ethnic minority, numbering barely 300 today. Speakers of a Turkic tongue and practitioners of an obscure variation of Judaism, the Karaim arrived there from the Crimea in the 14th century to serve as warriors for Grand Duke Vytautas and decided to stick around. Understandable, given the awesome lake views.
Full refunds issued for cancellations made 7 full days prior to the date and time of requested services. Cancellations made within the 7-day and 72-hour window will receive a 50% refund of purchase total. Purchases are non-refundable inside of 72 hours.