A trip through the Kaliningrad region is not easy to organize – in addition to the urgently required Russian visa, without knowledge of Russian, the search for accommodation can be difficult in some places and some areas are simply not open to tourists at all. At this point we would like to give you an overview of the most important basics of a trip: How do I get there? Which travel time is the best? How is health care in Kaliningrad? Do I have reception there with my German cell phone?
In order to avoid nasty surprises, it is advisable to organize a trip to the Kaliningrad region through a tour operator specializing in the region, such as the Baltic specialist Schnieder Reisen – they are very familiar with the destination area and clarify all questions in advance.
If you want to travel to the Kaliningrad Region, you have various options – by plane, ferry or overland.
When arriving by plane, the destination is Kaliningrad-Khrabrovo Airport. It is located north of the city and is connected by bus and taxi.
Kaliningrad is served by the Russian airline Aeroflot (via St. Petersburg or Moscow), as well as by the Polish LOT (via Warsaw) and Air Baltic (via Riga). There are currently no direct connections from Germany.
It is also possible to travel overland to the Kaliningrad Region by car. The distance from Berlin to Kaliningrad (Königsberg), for example, is around 650 kilometers.
To arrive by car, you need your passport with a valid Russian visa, your vehicle registration document and your driver’s license. The green insurance card is strongly recommended. If the driver is not the owner of the vehicle, a power of attorney can be useful.
WITH THE FERRY
The ferry can be reached by ferry via Klaipeda in Lithuania. The shipping company DFDS offers connections between Klaipeda and Kiel. The ferry passage takes about 21 hours and is offered daily.
Transporting bicycles, cars and mobile homes is no problem on the ferries. “Mobile” travelers can thus travel on to the Kaliningrad region via the Curonian Spit, for example, without any problems.
Various cabin categories for two to four people can be booked on the ferries, as well as reclining chairs and single beds in gender-separated collective cabins.
From Klaipeda you can take a short ferry ride to the Spit (Smiltyne) and then continue to the Lithuanian-Russian border at Nida. Especially during the week, the border crossing on the spit is significantly cheaper in terms of waiting times than on the mainland. The ferries to Smiltyne run very regularly (roughly every 20 to 30 minutes). You can pay for the ride on site in cash or by credit card. There is a small ferry for pedestrians and cyclists and another that transports cars and RVs. Attention: The offshoots are located in different places in Klaipeda.
If you are traveling from the north, entry into the national park will be charged at a checkpoint near Alksnyne. There are three machines available for this. If you don’t have cash, you can pay the amount by credit card at a counter. Cyclists are currently exempt from this fee.
If you don’t want to drive over the spit, you can use the border crossing at Sowetsk (Tilsit) with the famous Queen Luisen Bridge.
The best time to visit the Kaliningrad Region is between May and September. The main travel season is between June and August, in the warm summers. Then the days are warm, the nights remain twilight. In summer the sun can shine intensely, think about sun protection! Even then, the evenings and nights can be quite cool.
The transitional seasons are also ideal for a trip, especially since holidaymakers then benefit from quite cheap flight and ferry prices or hotel offers. Autumn and spring are on average cooler than here, but this is usually not a problem, especially for tourists interested in culture and history. However, the weather can be changeable, so you should pack an umbrella, a warm jacket and a rain jacket.
The accommodations in the Kaliningrad region do not all correspond to the Central European standard. As a vacationer, you should prepare yourself for this. The former Soviet hotels are often very large and have a rather impersonal appearance. Smaller accommodations such as guesthouses or private hotels usually do not have the same level of comfort as in Central Europe, but you can enjoy the hospitality of the population. You can find a large selection of hotels at affordable daily rates here.
Especially in the city of Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg) the accommodation offer is quite large and diverse. Upscale houses are also easy to find here. In the smaller cities, the choice is usually limited. The seaside resorts of Zelenogradsk (Cranz) and Svetlogorsk (Rauschen) also have a very diverse range of hotels.
The Curonian Spit is a popular holiday destination in Kaliningrad Oblast. Most of the hotels, pensions and guest houses can be found here in the two largest towns, Rybachi and Lesnoye. But you can also stay as a guest in the smaller towns such as Morskoje (Pillkoppen). Overall, the standard is a bit simpler than in the rest of the area.
Health care in the Kaliningrad region is not comparable to that in Western Europe. There are pharmacies and doctors in most of the larger towns. A hospital in Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg) is available for more serious complaints.
For treatment in a private hospital (where medical care is usually better than in state institutions), according to information from the Federal Foreign Office, advance payments in cash or by credit card were required in the past.
Vacationers who are dependent on medication should stock up on essentials in advance. In addition, good mosquito and tick protection and good sun protection belong in the first-aid kit. Before traveling, you should seek advice from your family doctor about a vaccination against the tick-borne disease TBE (early summer meningoencephalitis). Even when applying for a visa, travelers are required to provide evidence of a valid health insurance abroad accepted by the Russian Federation.
Shopping / souvenirs
Classic souvenirs from the former East Prussia and today’s Kaliningrad region are mainly amber products – the region is simply famous for that! The “Baltic gold”, as amber is also often called, is inextricably linked with the Baltic Sea coast. It can be acquired as a “pure” stone (it is particularly beautiful with so-called inclusions) or processed into jewelry or decorative items. You can buy it in expensive jewelry stores along Lenin Prospect in Kaliningrad, but also at numerous market stalls throughout the exclave at touristically significant places – for example at Königsberg Cathedral or on the Svetlogorsk promenade.
Small shops and large supermarkets are available for everyday needs. Especially in Kaliningrad there is a large offer. A visit to the market is also interesting here. Locals sell regional products such as fruit and vegetables here. There are often small grocery stores in smaller towns.
The following rules and laws must be observed in the Kaliningrad Region:
There is a speed limit of 60 km / h in built-up areas and 90 km / h on country roads.
The low beam must also be switched on during the day. The alcohol limit in the Kaliningrad exclave is 0.0.
The green insurance card has been accepted by the Russian Federation since 2009, but the country code RUS must be noted.
THE KALININGRAD REGION FOR…
Sure: For many vacationers, history is the main motive for a trip to the former East Prussia and today’s Kaliningrad region. The German past, the events during the Second World War, the time of the Soviet Union and the current situation as an exclave between the EU states Lithuania and Poland offer enough material for an interesting search for clues. Still, the Kaliningrad region should not be reduced to just that! The natural landscape also offers a lot to discover: wonderful views, lonely landscapes and impressive animal encounters await nature lovers. In addition, active people such as cyclists or hikers will find great terrain here for their next trip. The diversity of the region is remarkable!
In the Kaliningrad region, the historical places allow travelers to walk in the footsteps of the past. On the one hand, this includes those visitors whose family history is linked to northern East Prussia, whose parents were born there, or even themselves. “Homesick tourism” is a term that is often used in this context. On the other hand, the holidaymakers are often people who are interested in the East Prussian past even without family reference – after all, today’s Kaliningrad area belonged to Germany for a long time.
The old German names of the cities still play an important role, especially for older travelers: Königsberg, Tilsit or Insterburg remind many of the region’s changeful past, which for them often goes hand in hand with war and displacement. Unfortunately, there is usually little left of the old cities, buildings of German origin have been destroyed or left to decay, giving way to socialist urban structures and monotonous prefabricated buildings. All the more sad for the “returnees”. But there are still traces to be discovered that are worth exploring!
The history of East Prussia is inextricably linked with the events of the two world wars, the Soviet occupation and the current situation in the Kaliningrad region as an exclave, surrounded by an external EU border. It is really worth dedicating yourself to the history of this region.
Nature lovers will appreciate the lonely landscapes in the former East Prussia. The gentle hilly landscape, extensive meadows and fields and partly untouched forests offer the local flora and fauna a diverse habitat. The Rominter Heath, the Elk Lowlands and the Curonian Spit are popular destinations for nature lovers.
Moose and birds are the types of animals that come to mind when thinking about the Kaliningrad Region. The region is particularly known for its bird life: in addition to the Nemunas Delta (Memel Delta) in Lithuania, the Curonian Spit is one of the most important stations of bird migration. Hundreds of thousands of birds migrate over the spit every day in the autumn season, but many species also live and breed here. Buzzards, ospreys, finches, tits, sparrowhawks, harriers, oystercatchers, swans, ducks and many others can be spotted depending on the season.
Those who want to explore the bird world can visit the ornithological station or the Fringilla field station (Latin for chaffinch) in Rybatschi (Rossitten). The old ornithological station was founded in 1901 by the theologian and ornithologist Johannes Thienemann. The field station Fringilla is located south of Rybatschi – here the birds are caught with trap-like nets in order to count and ring them. Visitors are welcome. Don’t forget your binoculars!
But beyond the bird world, the Curonian Spit with its fantastic dunes, the pine forests, the tranquil lagoon on one side and the Baltic Sea coast on the other is worth exploring. The Kurschskaja Kossa National Park lies between Seledogradsk (Cranz) and the Russian-Lithuanian border. Many vacationers hope to see a moose. Some of these are now living on the spit again. But wild boars and beavers can also be spotted.
The elk lowlands are also very suitable for hikes and wildlife observation in a lonely landscape. This remote corner of the world on the border between Russia and Lithuania borders on the Curonian Lagoon to the west. The landscape is characterized by moors, rivers, forests, meadows and swamps. It is home to numerous rare animal and plant species such as sundew and some species of orchids. In addition, the elk lowlands are a paradise for many species of birds. Moose can also be spotted here.
The Rominter Heide is also on the agenda for those interested in nature. It is located in the southeast of the exclave. About two thirds of the cross-border heather is on Russian territory, one third on Polish territory. Lonely forest and heather areas and the Rominte (Krasnaja) river attract nature lovers to the former hunting ground of the Prussians. Mushroom pickers will also get their money’s worth here: Rominter Heide is famous for its porcini mushrooms.
The long, tree-lined avenues in old East Prussia form a wonderful backdrop for leisurely bike tours. By bike you can get to places that are hidden from city travelers. The lonely and spacious surrounding area of Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg) is worth a tour of discovery. Quite a few cultural assets are scattered throughout the oblast – one encounters dilapidated churches, ruins of monastic castles, old manors, here and there a stork’s nest or an abandoned village. Cyclists also have the opportunity to come into contact with the local population.
It doesn’t really matter whether you look for permanent accommodation and cycle around the area on day trips or choose a longer distance with changing accommodation. What is nice about both variants is that you can enjoy nature extensively.
The streets with relatively little traffic are ideal for cyclists. However, you will look in vain for well-developed cycle paths, the infrastructure in Kaliningrad Oblast is still under construction. The extension of the Baltic Sea Cycle Route (EuroVelo No. 10), which comes from Gdansk over the Curonian Spit, through Nida, Klaipeda, to Palanga and on to Latvia (Liepaja), is being planned. For years a cycle path has also been built on the Russian side of the Spit, which connects Zelenogradsk (Russia) with Nida (Lithuania). There is still a lack of implementation. But even so, the Curonian Spit is a popular destination for cyclists. The traffic is manageable in most places, the landscape varied and worth seeing.
Such a wonderful natural landscape as in the former East Prussia offers a beautiful setting for various activities in the fresh air. But you have to keep in mind that the tourist infrastructure has not yet developed that far, and tourism is still in its infancy. So you shouldn’t expect a wide range of activities or detailed information materials and hiking maps, but rather see yourself as a pioneer.
But one thing is certain: bathers and water rats will not miss out on the Curonian Spit and in the seaside resorts of the Samland coast. The beautiful Baltic Sea beaches are ideal for a swim in the sea. It is not for nothing that many locals come for the holidays or weekends and enjoy the Kaliningrad “bathtub”.
And of course, walks in the entire Kaliningrad region are very attractive. Lonely landscapes such as the Rominter Heath, the Elk Lowlands or the Curonian Spit invite you to do so. The famous dunes on the spit are the main focus of hikers. However, you should make sure that you stay on the paths and do not damage the vegetation – in the interests of protecting the dunes and avoiding conflicts with Russian border officials.
At first glance, the Kaliningrad Region may not be a suitable travel destination for families with children – after all, the history of the region is an important travel motive for many and history is known not to be a decoy for the younger ones among us. But you can still feel at home here as a family: Not only the hospitality and child-friendliness of the Kaliningrad population is widely known, the extensive and in many places untouched nature is a paradise for child-friendly discoveries. Going stalking in the elk lowlands or on the Curonian Spit to spot one of the gentle and shy elk can be a real pleasure for children – at least if the stalking is successful.
On the Curonian Spit, the flat sandy beaches of the Baltic Sea coast await, they are also great for swimming and paddling for smaller children. The fine sand invites you to build castles, the water warms up relatively quickly in summer.
In the Kaliningrad urban area there are also offers suitable for children: In the large Kalinin cultural park east of the old town, the Ferris wheel and carousels entice the playful to let off steam. The Kaliningrad Zoo, which was opened in 1895, is home to lions, bears and elephants, among other things, and is a nice change for children in the otherwise sometimes dreary city.
Outside Kaliningrad, for example, there is an opportunity for children to experience the life of knights up close at the old Schaaken Ordensburg. This is where history becomes interesting even for the little ones.
Those seeking relaxation
The Baltic Sea coast in particular is famous for its resorts. If you want to enjoy the fresh sea air and one or the other spa or wellness treatment, you’ve come to the right place.
The Curonian Spit offers unspoiled nature in many places, fresh sea air and numerous interesting places. If you want to relax and enjoy nature, this is the right place for you. On walks and hikes you can enjoy the view of the lagoon and the Baltic Sea, the wonderful dune landscape and the airy pine forests to the fullest. If you are looking for some exercise, you can recharge your batteries on bike tours, Nordic walking on the Baltic Sea beach or on long walks.
The old seaside resorts of Cranz or Rauschen on the Samland coast, now called Zelenogradsk and Svetlogorsk, were known for their recreational value in earlier centuries. Towards the end of the 19th century, when the seaside resorts were connected to Koenigsberg by train, a pronounced recreational tourism developed along the coast. Svetlogorsk in particular offers good hotels, wellness and health treatments, a good opportunity for a relaxing holiday dedicated to health.
By the way, Russians have a very strong sauna culture. Typical is a steam sauna, the banya, in which various infusions are used. Traditional sauna rods (traditionally made of birch) support the sauna process. Some of the hotels and accommodations in the Kaliningrad Region have saunas available to their visitors.
TYPICAL KALININGRAD REGION
The associations with the Kaliningrad region are multifaceted. Sure: East Prussia and the German past – many think of that first. Königsberger Klopse, the great philosopher Immanuel Kant, amber – the fossil resin that is abundant in the region – follow closely. Typical Kaliningrad region!
Eastern European cuisine is considered hearty and extremely tasty – as is the cuisine of the former East Prussia and today’s Kaliningrad region. People like to eat bread, meat, soup or stew – hearty.
Sure, Königsberger Klopse probably comes to mind when thinking of the cuisine of the former East Prussia and today’s Russia. The cooked meatballs with capers in a light sauce are usually served with rice or potatoes and pickled beetroot.
Borsch is probably one of the most famous Russian dishes and is widespread throughout Eastern Europe. It is a beetroot soup that is often served with sour cream. And the Russian soup okroshka (cold!) Consists of sour cream, cucumber, egg and potatoes. Pelmeni are dumplings filled with minced meat or mushrooms.
The pancakes, called binyes, which are often served with salmon, caviar and / or sour cream, are of course also known from Russian cuisine. But there is also a sweet version – filled with jam.
In earlier times there was a dish called Königsberger Fleck, a kind of stew made from beef stomach. However, this is no longer found on the menus today.
Amber, the fossil resin from conifers, which is pressed into a stone by hardening it over a period of millions of years, is closely linked to the Baltic Sea coast. The richest deposits are found here. In Jantarny (Palmnicken) there is even an amber mine, here the shimmering stone is mined in opencast and underground mining.
The Baltic amber probably comes from an amber forest in the earth’s history. However, there is no reliable evidence of its location, so its exact origin has not been clearly established.
Amber can be purchased throughout the Kaliningrad region, as well as in neighboring Poland and Lithuania – mostly processed into jewelry or handicrafts or as “pure” stones. They appeal to the senses with their warm color and shimmering effect. Its color can vary from white to yellow to red, reddish brown to greenish. Some stones are cloudy, some are crystal clear. Amber with so-called inclusions is particularly popular. Inclusions are the inclusions of insects or other animal and plant remains as well as water or air. Sometimes the inclusions can still be clearly seen – a small mosquito or fly that was surprised by the resinification and now provides information about the creatures of bygone times.
On the beaches of the spit and the Samland coast, holidaymakers can go in search of the mystical stone themselves.
By the way: The legendary Amber Room, which can now be seen as a replica in St. Petersburg’s Katharinen Palace, was located in Königsberg Castle towards the end of the Second World War. It has been lost since the end of the world war.
It is often called “homesick tourism” when people travel in the footsteps of their roots to the former East Prussia. Many of the elderly travelers were born here, go to their homeland or to the home of their parents.
Although the Soviet rulers tried to ban all German from what is now Russian territory, there are still numerous testimonies of the German past.
Architecturally, the Königsberg Cathedral is probably one of the most famous buildings. Most of the city gates of the old Königsberg have also been preserved. The Königsberg Castle, the ruins of which were blown up under Leonid Brezhnev, is no longer preserved as such, but excavations exposed the foundation and unearthed numerous exhibits. Since the initiator – the news magazine Der Spiegel – left the project, there have been repeated uncertainties about the financing and implementation of the restoration work. In addition, there were and are constant discussions about rebuilding the castle.
Furthermore, many churches have been destroyed or left to decay. Or they were used quite pragmatically as storage rooms for other purposes. In any case, the Church and Faith were banned from everyday life during the Soviet Union.
The memorial for the massacre on Palmnicken beach, where several thousand concentration camp prisoners were driven into the sea and shot in 1945, also reminds of the downside of the region in connection with the Second World War – war, displacement and death. Königsberg and the surrounding area were the scene of bombings, fighting and atrocities against the civilian population, especially in 1944 and 1945.
The old German names of the cities and villages – Königsberg, Insterburg, Tilsit, to name just a few – were replaced by Russian names from 1946 onwards. However, the old German names were not forgotten and are still used today, especially by older people.
One of the great thinkers of the 18th century, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, was born in Königsberg. The city likes to decorate itself with his name.
Kant, who was born in Königsberg in 1724, studied and taught at the Königsberg Albertina. He died at the age of 80 in Königsberg in 1804 and was buried in the so-called professor’s vault on the north side of Königsberg Cathedral. It should be thanks to the grave that the war ruins of the Königsberg Cathedral were not torn down. The grave of Kant is traditionally popular with bridal couples.
The Kant monument erected in Königsberg in 1864 has disappeared since the end of the Second World War. In the turmoil of war it was relocated to the family seat of the Countess zu Dönhoff in Friedrichstein near Königsberg for protection. However, after the war it was gone. On the initiative of Marion Countess Dönhoff, among others, a replica was set up in front of the University in Kaliningrad in the 1990s.