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  • Writer's pictureDamian Brzeski

Kaliningrad - an attractive destination for summer holidays or a trap for tourists?

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Kaliningrad is a city full of contradictions and surprises. On the one hand, it is a Russian exclave that borders Poland and Lithuania, and on the other, it is the former Königsberg, which hides many traces of German and Prussian history.

Kaliningrad is also a place that attracts tourists with its monuments, museums and attractions, but at the same time deters them with traffic jams at the border, visa problems and a tense political situation.

Is it worth going to Kaliningrad for summer holidays? Is it an attractive destination or a trap for the gullible? In this article I will try to answer these questions.

The center of Kaliningrad in black and white photography

Why is Kaliningrad worth visiting?

Kaliningrad is an extraordinary city that hides many secrets and attractions. Its rich and intricate history has left its mark on architecture and culture. It is part of Russia, but at the same time it is separated from it. It lies on the Baltic Sea, but at the same time there is no easy access to it. It is full of contrasts and surprises.

Kaliningrad has a long and turbulent past. Its beginnings date back to the 13th century, when the Teutonic Knights founded a fortress here and named it Königsberg in honor of the Czech ruler Přemysl Otakar II. It was the capital of the Teutonic state, and later was part of Poland, Prussia and Germany.

After World War II, it fell under the rule of the USSR and changed its name to Kaliningrad in honor of the Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin. Currently, it is the westernmost part of the Russian Federation.

Kaliningrad has a rich and diverse culture. It was home to many famous people, such as the philosopher Immanuel Kant, the writer Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann and the composer Richard Wagner. It combines German, Polish, Lithuanian and Russian influences. It has many interesting places to visit and explore.

Kaliningrad offers countless tourist attractions. Here you can admire beautiful monuments from different eras, such as the Gothic cathedral with the grave of Kant, the baroque Royal Gate with the museum of the city's history, the modernist House of the Soviet built on the ruins of the Teutonic castle or the neo-Byzantine Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

You can also visit fascinating museums, such as the Amber Museum with the largest collection of this raw material in the world, the World Ocean Museum with exhibits related to the sea and shipping, and the Altes Haus - a private museum dedicated to everyday life in former Königsberg. You can also relax here in the Zoological Garden with over 4,000 animals or in the Victory Park with fountains and monuments.

Kaliningrad is a city worth visiting to discover its unique character and charm. It delights with its history and culture, its architecture and nature, its atmosphere and people. It has a lot to offer to every tourist who is looking for something unique and original. I invite you to Kaliningrad - a city full of surprises!

Why are there traffic jams on the border with Kaliningrad?

If you plan to travel to Kaliningrad or back to Poland via road border crossings, you must expect long waiting times in traffic jams. Why is this happening and how to prevent it? Here are some reasons and tips you might find useful.

One of the main causes of traffic jams on the border with Kaliningrad is increased tourist traffic during summer and winter holidays. Many people go to the Kaliningrad region to visit its interesting monuments, admire the beauty of nature or take advantage of the seaside attractions.

Traffic is especially heavy when the start dates of the German federal holidays overlap, as many Germans travel to Kaliningrad via Poland. Then traffic jams can reach up to several hundred meters and last several hours.

Another cause of traffic jams at the border with Kaliningrad is tourists' unpreparedness to cross the border. Many people do not realize that the Kaliningrad Oblast is part of the Russian Federation and is subject to its laws and customs and passport procedures.

You understood correctly, there are cases that tourists do not take into account that they are crossing the external borders of the EU.

To enter or leave Kaliningrad, you must have a valid passport and a visa or other form of authorization to stay in Russia.

In the absence of such documents or their irregularities, you have to take into account the need to write documents on the spot or refusal of entry or exit. This increases the control time dramatically and causes delays for other travellers.

Traffic jam on the border of Mamonowo II - Grzechotki

How to avoid traffic jams on the border with Kaliningrad? Here are some tips:

  • Plan your trip ahead. Check the holiday dates in Germany and avoid traveling during these periods if possible. Also check the traffic status at the border on the websites of the Border Guard or the General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways.

  • Prepare the relevant documents. Make sure you have a valid passport and a visa or other form of authorization to stay in Russia.

  • Enter customs declaration. This is a document on several pages that you can write while sitting at home, writing this document at the window you block the passage.

  • Follow border authorities' instructions. Observe road signs and light signals at border crossings. Don't try to skip the queue or force priority. Prepare documents for inspection and show them upon request of Border Guard officers or customs services.

  • Be patient and calm. Remember that border control is necessary to ensure security and public order. Do not get into conflicts or arguments with other travelers or border officials. Bring something to drink, eat and entertain yourself to make your waiting time pleasant.

Start dates for summer holidays in Germany 2023

I have prepared for you a list of more federal states that start summer holidays in Germany.

As the largest number of tourists coming to Kaliningrad are Germans and Russians with German passports or seasonal workers with cars with German registration numbers.

Adjust the dates of your arrival and departure from the Kaliningrad Oblast to the following dates:

  1. Lower Saxony (NI)July 6 - August 16 at

  2. North Rhine-Westphalia (NW)June 22-June 4 August in 2023

  3. Bremen (HB) - July 6 - August 16

  4. Berlin (BE) - July 13 - August 25

  5. Brandenburg (BB) - July 13 - August 26

  6. Hamburg (HH) - July 13 - August 23

  7. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (MV) - July 17 - July 26 August

  8. Baden-Württemberg (BW) - July 27 - September 9

  9. Bavaria (BY) - July 31 - September 11

  10. Rhineland-Palatinate (RP) - July 24 - September 1

  11. Hesse (HE) - July 24 - September 1

The German flag symbolizing in this case German tourists going on holiday

Alternative routes to Kaliningrad

Kaliningrad is an interesting and attractive travel destination that attracts many tourists from Germany and other countries. However, to get there, you have to cross the border with Russia, which is not always easy and fast.

So how do you avoid queuing and get to Kaliningrad efficiently and hassle-free? Here are some alternative routes you can take.

One of the options is using the bus connection. From the PKS Bus Station in Gdańsk, there are regular buses to Kaliningrad, which cover the route in about 3 hours. Tickets can be purchased online or on site, and prices range from PLN 170 to PLN 180 one way.

When you travel by bus, you don't have to worry about car documents, insurance or fuel. What's more, buses use a separate line at the border, thanks to which they do not stand in traffic jams and undergo quick inspection. So you can relax and admire the views outside the window.

If you prefer to travel by your own car, you can also choose near border crossing Bezledy - Bagrationovsk. This crossing is less frequented than Grzechotki - Mamonowo II, which is the closest to the Tri-City and most often chosen by tourists. At the Bezledy - Bagrationovsk crossing, the traffic is smaller and smoother, and the waiting time at the border is shorter. To get there, you need to take the national road No. 7 to Elbląg, then the national road No. 22 towards Grzechotki, at the height of Braniewo turn to the road No. 507 to Pieniężno and then to the road No. 512 towards Górowo Iławeckie.

The downside of this border crossing is the meticulous border control, sometimes incomprehensibly thorough and slow. Many travelers have the impression that an Italian strike is taking place at this crossing. This takes place on both sides of the border, Polish and Russian. It is worth bearing this in mind because the procedure of crossing the border at this crossing is always extended.

The map shows the route from Gdańsk to the Bezledy-Bagrationovsk border crossing

For those who are heading towards Warsaw or want to combine visiting Kaliningrad with Lithuania, an alternative may be border crossing in Lithuania, Kibarty. This crossing is located about 155 km from Kaliningrad and is much less crowded than Polish border crossings. The traffic at the border is much smaller and faster, and the control is less stringent. To get there, you need to take the national road No. 16 to Ełk or No. 8 Augustów, then the national road No. 61 to Budzisko and further to Kibarty (LT) via Mariampol (LT).

A map showing the best route from Gdańsk to the Kibarty border crossing

As you can see, there are different ways to get to Kaliningrad without getting stuck in traffic jams at the border. It all depends on your preferences, budget and travel plans. Regardless of which route you choose, remember to prepare the appropriate documents: passport, visa or e-visa and medical insurance. I wish you a nice trip to Kaliningrad! 😊

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