In recent years, Kaliningrad’s historic neighborhoods have been invigorated by a new wave of cuisine, art, and urban design. The city — which was primarily used as a natal base until the end of the Cold War — has distanced itself from its combative past and now serves as a lively stop for travelers visiting Europe’s Baltic region.
If you’re headed that way and are wondering how to squeeze in everything this charming city has to offer, read on!
- Area: 86 mi² (23 km²)
- Population: 431,000
- Founded: September 1, 1255
- Official Language: Russian
- Time zone: Eastern European Time (EET) (UTC + 2)
- Airport: Khrabrovo Airport (KGD)
- Currency: Russian ruble (RUB)
- Drive on the: Right
Over the years, Kaliningrad has passed through German, Polish, Prussian, and Russian rule. By the end of WWII, the city finally found stability under the Soviet Union, but the constant turmoil had taken its toll on the city’s infrastructure, forcing much of it to be rebuilt during the Cold War.
Located on the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad was a key port for the Soviets during this time, housing their Baltic Fleet. It wasn’t until the dispersion of the Soviet Union in 1991 that the city and its namesake oblast became an exclave — an alienated state surrounded by foreign lands.
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kaliningrad has seen a bump in its economy due to fishing, manufacturing, and hospitality. In light of this recent turnaround, the city will be hosting games in the upcoming FIFA World Cup.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Like the rest of Russia, Kaliningrad endures the good and bad of each season. Snow, rain, wind, and sunshine can all be experienced within the city, so book your trip according to which season you’d prefer to experience. That said, because of its location in the northern hemisphere, the city’s warmest days fall in July and August, meaning these months also see the most visitors. But regardless of when you decide to schedule your trip, be prepared for anything — the weather in Kaliningrad is known to change quickly!
After choosing your travel dates, turn your attention to the country’s visa requirements. Unless you’re traveling to and from other parts of Russia, you’ll only need a single-entry visa. You can expect to pay a base-rate of $42 USD, and you’ll need to wait approximately five business days for the visa to process.
Also, note that Russia’s currency is the ruble (RUB). One USD equates to roughly 63 RUB, and it’s best to keep cash handy while traveling, as some tourist attractions require a fee.
Located just outside the city, Khrabrovo Airport connects Kaliningrad to nearby cities such as Berlin, Copenhagen, and Warsaw. If you travel to the city via airplane, a shuttle bus can transport you from the airport to the city’s downtown area — and it will only cost 80 RUB (approximately $1.25 USD).
Kaliningrad is also accessible by train, though options aren’t as abundant as they once were. That said, hopping on a train is never a bad decision, as it’s a relaxing and scenic way to travel through Europe. And, new routes from Gdynia, Poland, and Klaipėda, Lithuania, have recently been introduced to the city’s railways, which is a good sign for future travelers!
For an up-and-coming city, Kaliningrad has surprisingly good public transportation. The city relies almost entirely on buses, though routes supported by trams, trolleys, and mini-buses as well. To hop on one of the above, simply pay the required 18 RUB ($0.28 USD) — a ride on a mini-bus will cost you a bit more. To help you navigate Kaliningrad’s public transportation network, download Yandex Transit (Uber’s Russian partner) — the app showcases routes and schedules across the city, and also allows you to book taxis.
If you’re looking into renting a vehicle while visiting, don’t stress. An international driving permit isn’t necessary, and the city is home to plenty of companies to choose from — though driving experience always helps!
WHAT TO DO
Because of Kaliningrad’s storied history, it’s no surprise that religion is deeply rooted in the city’s infrastructure. Kaliningrad is home to many cathedrals and churches, each offering a different glimpse into the region’s past. One of the more popular religious structures is the Gothic-style Königsberg Cathedral, which dates back to the city’s German rule. The cathedral itself — originally built in the 14th century — is intricately designed, emblazoned with various carvings decorations. You can visit Königsberg between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. for free and, who knows, you might even stumble upon an organ concert while you’re there!
Along the banks of River Prega, you’ll find Kaliningrad’s historic Fishing Village — one of the city’s most appealing attractions. The small village, located within walking distance from the downtown area, continues to pay homage to the city’s German roots and boasts a picturesque promenade fitting for an afternoon stroll. The area is also home to various cafés, restaurants, and hotels, and there’s even a lighthouse on site, which offers spectacular views of the surrounding area for just 50 RUB ($0.78 USD).
Although Kaliningrad has been freed from its violent past, the city’s countless gates and fortifications stand as reminders of its resilience. Though the list of these sites seems endless, a few stand out from the rest.
The King’s Gate is an impressive brick structure that has endured Europe’s most brutal wars. Refurbished and sold to the city in 2005, it’s now a museum, café, and cultural center honoring the work of Peter the Great.
Another hard-to-miss structure is the Friedrichsburg Gate, which stands as the last physical memory of the Friedrichsburg Fortress. This gate, much like the King’s Gate, is now part of the Museum of the World Ocean and showcases the region’s maritime and shipbuilding history.
Though only half of The Curonian Spit belongs to the Russians (the other half lies behind the borders of Lithuania), you’ll still want to check it out. This sandy sliver of paradise is home to some of the Baltic region’s finest landscapes, and a popular spot for summer visitors as it boasts world-class beaches, as well as a glorious lagoon.
Though there is a bus that can take you there from downtown, renting a car may be less of a hassle — and it will allow you to experience some of Russia’s most beautiful countrysides!
Engraved with an intriguing history, Kaliningrad continues to celebrate its past while infusing its streets with new, modern flair. In doing so, it’s created a new stop for travelers exploring Eastern Europe. Remember to keep this in mind when planning your next trip!
Header image by Ant Rozetsky