Lithuania

Day Trip From Vilnius To The Trakai Island Castle 

DAY TRIP  FROM VILNIUS TO THE TRAKAI ISLAND CASTLE

One of the major things I kept seeing when I was researching Vilnius was the castle in the Island near Vilnius and I really wanted to go see it in person. I am so happy I went. It was only a half day trip and getting there was easy and comfortable. 

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Day Trip From Vilnius To The Trakai Island Castle 

History of Trakai (Why go to Trakai?)

There were two reasons that lead me to Trakai. The pretty castle on the island and the remaining population of the Turkish ethnic minority known as Karaimes, the people who followed a branch of the Jewish faith Full History of Trakai. Both of which date back to the 14th century.  

Getting to Trakai from Vilnius with Public Transports

I took the 12:21 train from the train station in Vilnius straight to Trakai. It was a comfortable and warm double decker train. Each way was 1.80 euros and the journey was 40 minutes. I bought my tickets on the way there from the Vilnius train station. One the way back the station in Trakai was closed, so I just got it from the train for the same price. I got the 17:15 train back. Make sure you check the train times because they aren't very frequent. It's an hour or two wait between them. In worst case scenario, you are able to get two buses to Vilnius, but that's going to take much longer (an hour and a half). 

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The Trakai Island Castle

Entry: €3.50 Student/ €7 Adult ticket + Photography permission €1.50. 
It takes half an hour of walking to reach the castle from the train station, but it's a pleasant walk that could either be done inside the village or alongside the three lakes on the way. 
The castle was even more impressive in person rather than photos. March this year was unexpectedly cold and even colder in Trakai. It was so cold that the lake was completely frozen. I even walked on the lake to the castle rather than taking the bridge. Once you get there, it will take you between two to three hours to see it all, photograph and read most of the information. The structure of the place is what interested me the most. You can clearly see how the castle was rebuilt. the old part was the grey stones and the new one was the red bricks. The inside rooms where well heated and have various exhibitions related to the history of the area. One of the last ones was a little one specific to the Muslims who used to live there and their customs. It was such a good experience to see it. On a side note, the cafes directly around it are over priced and not that great. I went to the traditional one, but it wasn't all that. I would skip them and get something on the way back to the station. 

Other Sights in Trakai

I am starting with the other sights in Trakai because they all come before the castle on the way to it. You can also see them after the castle, but I didn't have patience and wanted to see everything that was on my way. 

  • Orthodox Cathedral
    This is actually one of the first sights I saw walking from the train station (15mins after walking). It was very quiet and there was only one lady observing the space. It was lovely to see. It takes between 5-10 minutes to see and photograph. 

  • Wooden Houses
    As you walk to the castle, you will pass by the wooden colourful houses along the main road. It was cool to see them. If it wasn't for the cars parked everywhere I could have taken some amazing photos of that part. 

  • Kraimi House of Worship
    As mentioned above the Kraimi is a minority ethnic group in Lithuania. I first thought they were Muslims because of how similar some of their traditions seems, but then realised it was a branch from the Jewish faith. The word used for thus house of worship is kenesset, which means church in Arabic. The location has always housed a place of worship, but this one was rebuilt only in the mid-nineteenth century. It's a square yellow wooden house. Sadly it was closed when I got there, so I couldn't see it on the inside. It should be open during summer times during the week.

For more information check the official tourism website of Trakai

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Islamic History in Lithuania

Islamic History in Lithuania .jpg

Just before my trip to Bosnia two years ago, I spoke to Tharik Hussain, a Muslim travel blogger focusing on documenting the European Islamic heritage, who told me over twitter about some of the rich history of Muslims in Europe. Since then, it has been on my mind. I was very busy prior to my Lithuania trip, so I didn't plan it fully, but when I got there, I remembered the European Muslims and looked into the Islamic history of Lithuania further. I looked up the closest mosques to Vilnius and it was the Nemėžis mosque. It was 5km from the city in a little city. I was very tempted by the history of the area that I decided to just go for a visit. I asked my hotel to call the number online and they said they will be open. 

The heritage of the Muslim in Lithuania goes back to the Turkish Tatars that were invited to help in the war because of their warrior reputation. Since their moved, they have preserved their Islamic practice and are spread around Lithuania in specific areas such as Nemėžis and a few others. 

Getting to Nemėžis mosque from Vilnius

Luckily, I was in Vilnius on a Friday, which means that the mosque will be open during prayer time. Finding the right bus and directions was easy through Google Maps. There were two bus options from the main bus station in Vilnius. The journey was half an hour on the bus.

Going back required a bit of wait in the very cold weather though, so plan your return according to the bus schedule because they aren't frequent. 

Nemėžis mosque

The Nemėžis mosque is located 5km from Vilnius and it went through a series of event. The same location housed a place of worship since the 14th century. In 1684 a wooden mosque was officially built. The building itself have been burnt with wars then rebuilt in 1909. It was reopened after the Soviet wars in 1993. Some part of the structure such as the dome are new and from 2009. I was just really curious to see the sight and the simple wooden square that is the mosque. I liked the simplicity of it and I felt nostalgic to what the community once was. There is a graveyard outside of the mosque and I walked through it to see how it was put together. Some graves had pictures engraved on them, which is something I haven't seen before. 

The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary
By Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Caner K Dagli, Maria Massi Dakake, Joseph E.B. Lumbard, Mohammed Rustom

Anything else to see near Nemėžis mosque?

The village is tiny and I didn't find anything else to see or do, so I went back to Vilnius right after the prayers. Maybe I would have walked around it more if the weather was nice, but it was extremely cold and I just left. I was a little shy to approach the men in the mosque that's why I couldn't have asked about other spots and sadly there weren't any women there. 

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If I had more time and connections, I would have gone to the Keturiasdešimt Totorių meaning 40 tatars because the history of it is even older. I couldn't figure out how to get there with public transports and I decided last minute so I had to miss it. Tharik Hussain has written about it though and it's worth a read. 

Click on the image to read it in larger format. It's page 22-23. 

Click on the image to read it in larger format. It's page 22-23. 

More information about Muslims in Lithuania

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Food Recommendations in Vilnius 

I didn't know what to expect from Vilnius in terms of food. I was just hoping for edible food with a few vegetarian options and I was very pleasantly surprised when I tried their food! There were great vegetarian and sea food options and it was delicious. It was a similar food experience to Prague, which I also loved! Granted most of my money went on food (twice a day!). This list is only of the restaurants I tried when I visited for a couple of days. I added two halal option at the end. 

Vegetarian and Seafood Recommendations in Vilnius 

Drama Burger

Address: Gedimino pr. 31, Vilnius 01104, Lithuania
Food Type: Vegetarian + Seafood + Meat
Price: €12.5 for a burger, a side and a lemonade. 

It seems like Lithuanians have a love for burgers. I saw a few burgers joints around and I mean who doesn't love a good burger! I just walked to the nearest burger place I found hoping they will have good options for me and they did! There were three vegetarian and two sea food burgers. I had their salmon burger and shared a fries and cheesy cauliflower. It was VERY good. A little oily, but it was good winter food.    

Casa La Familia

Address: Rūdninkų g. 18, Vilnius 01135, Lithuania
Food Type: Vegetarian
Price: €12.5 for a medium pizza and a lemonad

This place serves fresh vegetarian pizzas (that can be vegan too!). The pizzas were so good that I went to this place twice. It's super family friendly and they have a kids playroom in there too. It gets super busy when it's a weekend or a lunch, but a little more quiet at night. Their menu is full of cool inventive pizzas with nice mixes. It was hard to choose and all the choices I tried were SO GOOD! I enjoyed their salad and Oreo cheesecake too! They are also known for their Kampuchea if you are into that. I am not, so I had their lemonade and it was nice.  

Bistro 18

Address: Stiklių g. 18, Vilnius 01131, Lithuania
Food Type: Vegetarian + Seafood + Meat
Price: €12.5 for a pasta main and a lemonade

This place is known for their pasta and wine. I only tried their prawn pasta and it was really good. I had a juice there, which was nice and fresh. They have vegetarian options there too that looked good. 

Kitchen

Address: Didžioji g. 11, Vilnius 01128, Lithuania
Food Type: Vegetarian + Seafood + Meat
Price: €12.5 for one person for three course meal and a juice. 

If you go there during lunch time you can find a cheaper deal of two things that is between 5-8 euros usually a soup and another type of starter. They are very filling and enough for one person, but if you want to order a main too they have a few vegetarian and sea food options. the food was cooked well and the service was great. I really liked the sophisticated vibe of the place. 

Gaspar's

Address: Pylimo g. 23, Vilnius 01141, Lithuania
Food Type: Vegetarian + Seafood + Meat
Price: €35 for one person for three course meal and a drink. 

Splurge night! The older I get, the more I really appreciate food and the last night of the trip is usually my splurge night of good fancy food. This restaurant is Indian inspired with a European twist. Don't go expecting true Indian food because it's not that, but if you want flavoursome European choices with a hint of the East then this is for you. I really enjoyed my meal there and I liked how trendy it all felt. The place is cozy (read small), so either go early 6pm or book a table. 

Halal Food in Vilnius: 

On the official Muslim of Lithuania website, I found two food recommendations. I even passed by one of them. 

  • La Turca Vilnius: Turkish Restaurant in Vilnius
    Address: Juozapavičiaus g. 4. Vilnius, Lithuania
     
  •  Desi Lietuva: Pakistani Restaurant in Vilnius  
    Address: Trakų g. 5 (1,713.71 km) 01132 Vilnius, Lithuania

I saw another halal option on google maps, but I am not sure about it since it's not mentioned on the official page. More information on halal food in Lithuania

Halal Food in Vilnius

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Over to you: what would you try from these restaurants and do you have other food recommendations? 

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Vilnius Three Day Itinerary (Muslim Friendly guide to Vilnius)

Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania. It is two hours and a half flight from London with two hours time difference. I was very impressed with the few days I spent in Vilnius and I feel like I could have stayed longer relaxing in one of the trendy cafes eating good food and exploring further. 

I wrote down all the things I did and compiled all my thoughts in this post to help you plan your three days in Vilnius and answer some of your questions. 

Vilnius Three Day Itinerary
Lonely Planet Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania (Travel Guide)
By Lonely Planet, Peter Dragicevich, Leonid Ragozin, Hugh McNaughtan

Transportation in Vilnius (How to get from the airport to Vilnius?)

Public transportation were great in the city. I loved how easy it was to get around and each journey was 1 euro including the journey from the airport. I found out my bus connections, times and stops by using Google Maps. If you are staying in the old town, it's easy to walk everywhere as well. The longest I walked was 20 minutes, but it was an easy walk with lots to see in between. 

Vilnius Three Day Itinerary 

Things to do in Vilnius

I thought four days in the city would give me so much time to see most things, but it was only enough to scratch the surface and make me want to go for more! Three of the days were dedicated to Vilnius and I am so happy I decided to go for a visit. 

#1 Thing to do in Vilnius: Explore the old city on foot

Required Time: 3-4 hours
Tip: 10 euros
You can either go to the Vilnius Free Walking Tour that is done everyday at 10:30 from the Cathedral Square or their alternative free tour that is done on Thursdays and Saturdays at 1:30pm. I learnt so much on this tour and it was nice walking with a local asking all kinds of questions about what the city was and what it has become. My guide was in his 20s and told us all kinds of stories. I love city walking tours as a starting point to get to know the city a little bit. 

Old City Vilnius, Lithuania

#2 Thing to do in Vilnius: See the city from above

Required Time: 1 hour
City wall, Cathedral square tower and the hills where the crosses are located. 
The only place I managed to see the city from above was the city wall and it was really interesting and I loved the view. If I had more time, I would have gone to the other locations to take in the view. 

Old City Wall, Vilnius

#3 Thing to do in Vilnius: Learn the history of this 100 years old country

There are two ways to learn the history of the city. You can either get on one of the walking tours I mentioned above, but the covered history is very brief or go to the Genocide Museum. 

Required Time: 3 hours
Price: 1 euro for a student or 4 euros for an adult. 

It's actually a very sad museum to see, but it's informative. The location itself is a story! It used to be the KGP office/prison. It's made of three floors. The two you start with are the exhibition areas and are divided to 11 rooms. Each of them is full of information and stories. You have three options to get the full history: read the signs, rent an audio guide from the museum or hire a guide to tell you even more painful personal stories.  The prisons in the lower floors were heartbreaking, but give you a real insight of the pain people went through. It reminded me of how much I cried when I visited an exhibition about war in Bosnia

#4 Thing to do in Vilnius: Visit at least one church

Vilnius is known for the big number of churches. Many of them are still functional. When I was there on Sunday, the churches were getting a lot of visitors and the none religious ones were closed. So, unless you are going for Sunday service, Sunday won't be a good day to go. I went to three of the over twenty churches in Vilnius: St. Anne the gothic brick church, All Saints Church and St. Nicholas Church. You are really spoiled for choice.  

Church Interior in Vilnius

#5 Thing to do in Vilnius: Feel Quirky in Užupis

Užupis is the little republic within the capital and it's a quirky little part of town and your visa is your smile! They have their constitution written in so many different languages. I was really pleased to see the Arabic one there and obviously had to take a few photos. It is funny to note that when Užupis was founded that even taxis wouldn't go inside because it had a reputation, but now it's one of the coolest and most expensive areas to live. There are cool restaurants and art shops there. 

#6 Thing to do in Vilnius: Have some fun with science

Museum of Illusion
Required Time: 1.5- 2 hours
Price: 9 euros for a student or 10 euros for adults

I really enjoyed this museum. I wasn't even planning on going there, but the weather was cold and wanted an indoors cultural activity at night. Thankfully, I made it to their last show, then wandered around taking all sorts of silly photos while I was there. Let's just say it's a fun instagram-able spot! 

Is Vilnius City Pass Worth It? 

I was very tempted to get this before actually visiting the city, but I felt that the 30 euros might be a bit much for 72 hours especially that I wasn't sure if I will visit more than two of the mentioned museum. I also only used the public transports 5 times, which was only 5 euros and as you saw above only went to two museum. I am glad I didn't buy it, but check their list of activities and discounts and see if it will benefit you. 

Where to stay in Vilnius? 

Hotels in Vilnius seemed affordable. I went in the off season and I picked the highest rated bed and breakfast and absolutely loved the location, which was close to all the delicious and hip restaurants I tried. The area was also quiet and pretty. 

If the above hotel is booked on your dates, you can look for other options below. I choose based on the location and the review score: 

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Food in Vilnius

I really enjoyed the food in Vilnius and I had so many options to choose from and indulge in. Checkout the great restaurants I tried in Vilnius

Day Trip from Vilnius

The main day trip from Vilnius is to the little Island Castle in Trakai. It was a fantastic short day trip. Full post with all the details coming up. If I had more time, I would have loved to go to Kunas or some of the other cities around. 

Vilnius Budget

I like to include my spending and sharing them with you to show you how affordable travel can be. 

  • Flight on Ryan Air from London Stansted Airport £40

  • Hotel for four nights for two £160

  • Transportation: 1 euro for each bus journey. It's also walkable. Most places are 30mins walk maximum.

  • Food: This can be as cheap as 5 euro or as expensive as 12.50 euros depending on what you plan to eat.

Exploring Vilnius Churches

Muslims in Vilnius

Muslims from the Turkish Tatar origin have been in Lithuania since the 14th century. There is an Islamic centre in the centre of Vilnius. There is also long heritage of Muslims there. A full post about this is coming up.   

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