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Curonian Spit in Kaliningrad Oblast: dunes, forest, and sea

Kaliningrad Oblast (Russian: Калинингра́дская о́бласть) is Russia's only oblast (administrative subdivision) that is separated from the rest of Russia. It is an exclave situated between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea.

Historically, the region was Prussian (and later German) and the capital, today's Kaliningrad, was known as Königsberg. The region was the northern half of historic East Prussia. After becoming part of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, it was briefly known as Kyonigsberg (Кёнигсберг), a transliteration of its original name, prior to being renamed Kaliningrad in 1946.

Many of its coastal towns on the Baltic Sea coast have beautiful sandy beaches. It is also the heart of the old Prussian Kingdom of Brandenburg-Prussia and has many ruins of old castles and forts dotting the landscape.

Cities[edit]

Map of Kaliningrad Oblast

  • 1 Kaliningrad (Калининград) – the capital, formerly called Königsberg
  • 2 Pionerskiy (Пионерский) – a beach resort and home to one of Vladimir Putin's many second homes
  • 3 Primorsk Primorsk, Kaliningrad Oblast on Wikipedia (Примо́рск) – formerly called Fischhausen
  • 4 Sovetsk (Сове́тск) – formerly called Tilsit
  • 5 Svetlogorsk (Светлогорск) – Soviet era seaside resort, formerly called Rauschen
  • 6 Zelenogradsk Zelenogradsk on Wikipedia (Зеленоградск)
  • 7 Zheleznodorozhniy Zheleznodorozhny, Kaliningrad Oblast on Wikipedia (Железнодоро́жный)

Other destinations[edit]

Understand[edit]

The Kaliningrad Oblast is the northern part of historic East Prussia (German: Ostpreussen). The southern part is roughly the Warmia-Masuria region of Poland. Since 1945, it has been part of Russia. In 1525 the Duchy of Prussia was founded by the last High Master of the Teutonic Knights Albrecht of Brandenburg-Ansbach who became the first duke of Prussia. From 1618 in personal union with Brandenburg, the duchy was elevated to a kingdom in 1701.

Though the united Kingdom of Prussia (with the capital Berlin) was a member state of the Holy Roman Empire and later the German Confederation, Prussia proper was not a part of Germany (or any other state) but an independent country until 1871 when the German national state was established under Prussian leadership. Prussia was thereby incorporated into Germany as its dominant and most powerful state.

After Germany's defeat in World War II, East Prussia's native German-speaking population was forcibly expelled and the area was divided among three countries. The northern part with the capital Königsberg became the area of Kaliningrad Oblast, while the southern part was incorporated into Poland. A third part, the district north of the river Memel (Memelland) with the main city Klaipeda (Memel), had been split from Prussia and incorporated into Lithuania after World War I, and this was done again after World War II. In the aftermath of the war, all three areas were ethnically cleansed of their native German speaking populations.

Because the German-speaking inhabitants were forced out and all their property was confiscated, the population of Kaliningrad Oblast now consists mostly of Russian-speaking people, but there are still a lot of traces of old German culture (for example, every city in the oblast has an authentic name in German) which, along with the presence of modern Russian culture, makes it an interesting destination for travelers.

Kaliningrad Oblast produces 90% of the world's amber.

Talk[edit]

The Russian language is spoken by more than 95% of Kaliningrad Oblast's population while English is understood by many people. While German culture plays a long historical role in the region, the language is spoken by few.

Get in[edit]

Caution Note: Travel to/from Kaliningrad by air, even domestically, is obstructed as Russian flights are now banned from entering into EU airspace. The sole workaround by air or sea is to enter (or overfly) the Baltic Sea from St. Petersburg, following the domestic ferry route through a narrow maritime corridor between Finland and Estonia, then south across open water. All land travel requires transiting through the Schengen Area, where Russians and Belarusians are very much persona non grata in the wake of the 24 February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and ongoing war crimes. Any goods subject to European Union sanctions are banned from Polish and Lithuanian roads, even in transit from other points in Russia, and land border crossings which normally were backlogged a few hours at most are becoming near-impassible with wait times extending into days. There is one rail line which crosses Lithuanian territory which remains passible, but which is not open to transit of military or dual-use goods. (Soviet trains cannot run in Poland due to a break of gauge.) It's also no longer possible to disembark from this train in Lithuanian territory in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Information last updated 01 Mar 2022)

Visa[edit]

As Kaliningrad is an exclave of the Russian Federation, visitors require as a general rule a Russian visa to enter (see below). If you plan to travel overland between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia, you will need at least a double-entry visa in order to exit and re-enter Russia. Travelling by air on domestic flights between Kaliningrad and Moscow or St. Petersburg can be done even with a single-entry visa. For more information about Russian visas, see the visa section on the Russia page.

Entering Kaliningrad Oblast is possible with a free special e-visa for certain citizens. Some specific rules apply regarding the points of entry. It is not possible to travel to other parts of the Russian Federation with the special e-visa scheme. More information can be gathered here: Kaliningrad Region E-Visa Application Process

By plane[edit]

Khrabrovo Airport (KGD IATA) [1] is a small international airport, so you may need to fly into Lithuania (Vilnius), Poland (Gdansk or Szczytno) or Finland and take a bus or ferry to Kaliningrad.

Local KD-Avia flies from several European cities. This is the easiest way to get into Kaliningrad. You can take a LOT (Polish Airlines) flight through Warsaw, every day except Saturday. Aeroflot also has several daily flights from Moscow.

By train[edit]

As of 2019, it is possible to arrive to Kaliningrad Oblast only from the eastern direction. There is a regular service from the Russian mainland through Belarus and Lithuania. There are no international trains from Poland or from Klaipeda in Lithuania to Sovetsk.

By bus[edit]

There are regular bus connections to Kaliningrad from Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, Poland, Ukraine and Germany.

By ferry[edit]

There are regular ferry connections from the port of Kaliningrad in Baltijsk to St. Petersburg.

Zegluga Gdanska has duty free cruises from Gdynia and Gdańsk to Baltijsk.

By car[edit]

There are several border crossing points.

Get around[edit]

By train[edit]

Kaliningrad Railway passenger trains network

The Kaliningrad Railway branch of RZD provides regular commuter service from Kaliningrad to Zelenogradsk, Svetlogorsk and Guryevsk. On other lines, traffic is very low, usually one train in the morning to Kaliningrad and one train in the afternoon from Kaliningrad, with extra services during weekends and holidays. Additionally, long-distance trains from Russia to Kaliningrad stop in major towns along the line.

Commuter train frequency, 2016

By bus[edit]

There is a network of bus connections through the oblast connecting all major settlements. The schedule and network map is available in Russian on this site.

By bike[edit]

As a flat country, Kaliningrad Oblast has a huge potential for biking. Unfortunately, the infrastructure is very limited. Through the territory of oblast goes international EuroVelo 13 route.

By car[edit]

The road system is extensive in the Kaliningrad region; however, they are not always well-maintained, and sometimes it is hard to get around because of the absence of signage indicating directions/destinations (especially in the city). Driving rules are generally the same as in most European countries, but many do not follow them, especially during rush hours in the city. Beware of the traffic police because they like to stop foreigners.

See[edit]

Almost all the sights of the Kaliningrad region belong to the German period. Perhaps the only "remarkable" monument of the Soviet era can be called the House of Soviets in Kaliningrad (an unworthy administrative building in the center of Kaliningrad in the brutalist style, which still causes controversy in society). In the post-Soviet era, quite a lot of new Orthodox churches were built in the region (although a significant part of the Orthodox parishes are located in German churches). Of artistic interest is perhaps the Church of Faith, Hope, Love and their mother Sophia in Bagrationovsk, which is a qualitative imitation of Russian church architecture of the 17th century. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Kaliningrad rather impresses with its size.

The main layer of the German heritage is the monuments of the Teutonic era, castles and churches. They are built in the characteristic North German Brick Gothic style. Unfortunately, the state of most of them is deplorable.

Balga Castle is located on the shores of the Kaliningrad Bay. Built in the 14th century by the Teutonic Order on the site of the Prussian fortress of Honede. The architectural monument is in a dilapidated state.

Georgenburg Castle is located in the village. Maevka, 2 km from the city of Chernyakhovsk, Kaliningrad region. It was erected on the site of the Prussian settlement Karzovin (Garzoven) in the middle of the 14th century by the master of the Teutonic Order Winrich von Kniprode. It is owned by the Russian Orthodox Church, and is a tourist attraction. Part of the premises has been renovated, excursions are being conducted, and a museum of living history is being created.

Insterburg Castle is on Zamkova street in the city of Chernyakhovsk (formerly Insterburg). It was founded in 1336 by order of the master of the Teutonic Order Dietrich von Altenburg. Its location allowed it to control the crossroads at the confluence of the Angerapp, Pissa and Inster rivers (from which the castle takes its name). It has been rebuilt many times, in the 18th-19th centuries it finally lost its military significance. The castle housed a court, a food and fodder warehouse, and during the Napoleonic wars, an infirmary, a barracks for the Uhlan squadron. After the First World War, part of the barracks was given to the police, while the main museum of the Insterburg Antiquities Society was opened in the remainder. The castle was badly damaged in 1945 during the assault by Soviet troops, and in the post-war years by a fire. Due to the efforts of local enthusiasts, the remains of ancient buildings have been partially conserved; various historical and cultural events are held in the castle. In 2010, Insterburg Castle was transferred to the ownership of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Labiau Castle traces its history from the Labegove fortress, located on the Labe River (today's Deima) to protect the waterway that ran along the Deima to the Curonian Lagoon and to the Memel Fortress. The fortress has been mentioned in historical documents since 1258. For a long time the castle was an advanced defensive position in the wars with Lithuania. Twice - in 1758 and 1813 - it was engaged in Russian troops. In 1860, it lost its military significance and was rebuilt as a prison. It was used in this capacity until 1963 (it was taken by Soviet troops in January 1945). Badly damaged in 1968 by fire. The castle houses the MBU "Polessky CDC", the museum of puppets, the museum of the city of Polessk and the INS-theater "Labiau".

Schaaken Castle is located on the shore of the Curonian Lagoon in the village. Nekrasovo. The word "schaaken" is of Prussian origin and means "grass". Erected by the Teutonic Order on the site of the Prussian fortress Zoke, it served as a stronghold on the coast of the bay, on the ice of which Prussian and Lithuanian tribes often raided. Until 1871 the castle belonged to the royal dynasty. Three times - in 1711, 1712 and 1717 - the castle was visited by Tsar Peter I. During the Second World War, Schaaken was almost not injured, in Soviet times it was given over to housing, in the 1990s, local residents began to dismantle it into bricks. In the early 2000s, attempts were made to save the castle, the restoration of walls and buildings began, a private museum was opened, and excursions began to be held. The castle belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church.

In Kaliningrad and some other cities of the region, examples of civil buildings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been preserved. The condition, again, is often deplorable.

An interesting layer of the heritage of the Kaliningrad region is the defensive structures of the 19th and 20th centuries. First of all, this is the system of city fortifications of Kaliningrad and the sea fortress Pillau (Baltiysk).

Do[edit]

Eat[edit]

See also: Russian cuisine

The cuisine practically does not have any local flavor, but a large number of beer-themed establishments and a strong presence of Lithuanian, German and Polish cuisines can be noted. Several private breweries operate in the region. On the "continental" territory of Russia, the myth of a truly Kaliningrad dish - bedbugs is widespread. According to the Kaliningraders themselves, hardly one in ten has tried this dish at least once in their life. Additionally, the food is much cheaper than Moscow and much of Russia proper.

Drink[edit]

Stay safe[edit]

Many roads in the Kaliningrad region have a pre-war shape and width. Since the time of the German government, there have been close plantings of linden trees along the roads. The local name for such landings is "the last soldiers of the Reich", which is not entirely correct. Many plantings were carried out already under the USSR, this is clearly seen in the age of lindens, often not exceeding 50 years. Pump trees help keep the roadway intact from landslides. In summer, lindens provide a pleasant shade, a motorist standing in a traffic jam will surely appreciate it. However, there is a local saying: "A tree ran across his path", so you should respect the speed limit and be careful when overtaking/passing and cornering.

Go next[edit]

This region travel guide to Kaliningrad Oblast is an outline and may need more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. If there are Cities and Other destinations listed, they may not all be at usable status or there may not be a valid regional structure and a "Get in" section describing all of the typical ways to get here. Please plunge forward and help it grow!