Kaliningrad Oblast is that tiny piece of Russia that is located on the Baltic sea coast between Lithuania and Poland. It is separate from the rest of Russia, so it is culturally and historically slightly differeny from the rest of the country. It was formerly part of East Prussia and then Germany (then called Königsberg), so with its German architecture in Kaliningrad city, it is certainly a very European part of Russia. You can still find a lot of beautiful historical buildings, gates and cathedrals to visit in Kaliningrad city.
When doing research before going to Kaliningrad, I could find very little information about the place, so I figured I had to write a guide to visiting Kaliningrad, so that you can learn about the best places to visit in Kaliningrad, Russia and enjoy all the wonderful places it has to offer and know exactly what to expect!
Russian is the only official language of Kaliningrad Oblast and Russia, so be prepared to only hear Russian while in Kaliningrad. It was very rare to see any information in English anywhere, including menus at cafes and restaurants, place names, etc; therefore, you might need to learn some basic phrases.
We arrived at the Yuzhny (Южный) bus station in Kaliningrad city.
How to get there
We took an overnight bus to Kaliningrad from Riga which took us about 8h. The reason I chose this option was because
a) I didn’t have to waste a day on a bus and arrive in Kaliningrad just to go to sleep;
b) that was the cheapest option. It only cost me 38 Euros for a return ticket.
And c) the bus departed on Friday night and arrived back in Riga on Monday morning, so I could have got away with not missing any days of work. The only downside is that you won’t get a good night’s sleep.
The seats were comfortable, but the border crossing took about 2h each way. Flying there or driving your car would take a lot less time.
The bus I took was one from Ecolines – very comfortable, more comfy than an airplane seat, so more suitable and better for an 8h overnight journey. Things to keep in mind though:
1) you will need to bring your own earphones with you because otherwise your options are – staring at Macaulay Culkin’s face on the screen and convincing yourself that you don’t need to see Home Alone more than the 300 times you have already seen it or paying 100 rubles to get Ecolines earphones. I chose to just sleep and forget that I haven’t seen Home Alone this Christmas yet (insert sad face here).
2) English pretty much no longer exists and you will be given all the information in Russian (and Latvian when boarding, if you’re lucky). I don’t think the French speaking guys on the first bus understand any of it, sadly. Dear Ecolines, please teach your staff English. You travel internationally after all. OK? OK!
Where to stay
We stayed at Radisson Blu Kaliningrad – a beautiful hotel in central Kaliningrad city. We had a great experience there – the staff gave us lots of ideas for places to see in Kaliningrad city and elsewhere in Kaliningrad Oblast. When we mentioned that we were planning on going to Svetlogorsk the following day, it turned out that they organise free trips to that same town. So instead of taking a train to Svetlogorsk, we got a free taxi ride there and back. Not too shabby. I also enjoyed the free glass of champagne in the morning and the free upgrade. Thank you!
Beautiful Christmas decorations in Kaliningrad, Russia.
Same square during the day. One of the prettiest places to visit in Kaliningrad.
Citizens of 53 countries can now visit Kaliningrad and St Petersburg using the free E-visa. All you have to do is fill in the form here and wait for a confirmation. It takes up to 4 days for the evisa to get approved. Mine took about 2 days. With the free E-visa you can stay in Russia for up to 8 days. I will have to disappoint my US and UK followers here – you still have to follow your previous visa requirements to be able to enter the Russian Federation.
Kaliningrad is absolutely safe, I didn’t feel unsafe in any possible way. People were friendly, polite and helpful. At one point we did have a local tell us not to have our cameras and phones out because someone could take them, but we saw a lot of people taking photos with their phones, especially in the central part of Kaliningrad city, so you should really take the same precautions you would anywhere else in the world – just don’t be stupid.
PLACES TO SEE
The main city in Kaliningrad in Kaliningrad city. It is filled with beautiful cathedrals, churches, museums, gates, German architecture, Russian markets etc. We spent one day in Kaliningrad city and then the next in a beach town called Svetlogorsk.
Kaliningrad city (Калининград)
One of the first things we saw in Kaliningrad was this adorable little gingerbread house looking church. You can find it near the Yuzhny train and bus station. We later saw a similar one in Svetlogorsk town. How adorable is this tiny church?!
Brandenburg Gate in Kaliningrad city, Russia.
Enjoy some reflections on Pregolya River.
And then it was time to go see what became my favourite part of Kaliningrad city – Rybnaya Derevnya (Рыбная Деревня).
Beautiful architecture and cozy cafes and restaurants.
Turns out the lighthouse is a viewing tower. Sadly, I didn’t realise it when I was there. Make sure you go there!
Go and see one of Kaliningrad’s markets.
Find the Perevornutyy Dom (Перевёрнутый дом) in Park Yunost’ (Парк Юность). Can you spot the upside down doggie and the car?
Marzipan Museum in Park Yunost’, Kaliningrad city.
Svetlogorsk is one of the best places to visit in Kaliningrad, Russia. It is a lovely beach town only about 50km from Kaliningrad city. Great for a walk along the coast. With sandy beaches on one side and a promenade on the other. Check the photos below for development plans for the beach. It’s going to look completely different soon enough.
We started off our Svetlogorsk trip by walking on the sandy side of the beach.
Until the sea started attacking me. By that I mean, the path became very narrow and we couldn’t walk any farther. So it was time to head the other way.
But I made a dog friend along the way, so it’s all good.
You can buy some amber products in Svetlogorsk. Amber is popular everywhere along the Baltic coast.
Have a coffee or a nice meal on the beach.
Or just sit down and enjoy the view.
Development plans for Svetlogorsk. I might need to go back in a few years to visit Svetlogorsk again and see what it looks like. I have very high expectations for this place.
It’s all happening. I’m sure Svetlogorsk will look completely different in the following years, and even next summer.
Lifts are being built, the sandy beach area being extended. The actual Svetlogorsk town is located on top of a steep hill, so walking there takes a lot of effort. You can currently take a cable car back up to the town.
Svetlogorsk is an excellent place for walks and it was quite busy there.
Other amazing places to include in your Kaliningrad trip include the Curonian Spit National park (Куршская коса), Baltiysk (Балтийск) and Zelenogradsk (Зеленоградск).
Kaliningrad is certainly a great place to visit. While it’s small in size, it offers a lot of great places to visit and things to see – unique nature along the Baltic coast and stunning architecture in Kaliningrad city. With its recently changed visa policy, it has become a lot easier to access this part of Russia, and I am sure it will gradually become a more popular tourist destination.