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Kaliningrad visit?

I'm from the US, and planning a trip to Poland in October. I'd love to visit Kaliningrad just for a day, but reading that one must acquire a Russian visa to do so and I'm wondering if that's an inexpensive and simple process, or must one jump through hoops. Trying to find info online, but not able to find straightforward information on it. Has anyone ever done this? I will have my own rental car. It looks like an intriguing place.

Posted by
4637 posts

It is not inexpensive and it is not simple. Unless youhave a good reason to visit Kaliningrad I would skip it.

Posted by
73 posts

Got it, thanks... my good reason is because I like to travel! :)

And just while I'm out and about in my car exploring Poland, I'm curious about other borders crossings.
Ukraine - I'm seeing that it's not an easy border to cross, AND not sure it's super safe, so I will avoid this one.

But what about these other countries? Are they similar to crossing other EU country borders like I'm used to with Germany, France, Switzerland, etc?

  • Lithuania
  • Belarus
  • Slovakia
  • Czechia
  • Germany
Posted by
1872 posts

Hi, as they are all in the Eu, Lituanian, Germany, Czechia, Slovakia should be no problem, they are all "soft borders".

Belarus on the other hand is very difficult, even more so than Russia or Ukraine. It's a fairly closed off autocratic country.

Posted by
5005 posts

shandean, what have you heard that makes you think the Poland/Ukraine border crossing is unsafe? All I've heard is that there are often traffic jams when crossing by car, but trains and planes are as simple as anywhere west of there.

Posted by
1872 posts

Stan is right, Ukrainian border crossing is nothing to worry about safety wise. The Western parts of Ukraine, like Lviv, are also safe.

Posted by
12099 posts

I would go to Kaliningrad were it easier. The easiest way is go by a guided tour.

A German woman I know (aged 70) went as soon as the fall of the USSR had become fact...more or less. She went in 1992 with a tour. I saw such tour advertisements by travel agencies in Berlin and Germany when I was there in 1992, my first trip after the Wall came down.

Posted by
10792 posts

For Russian Visas visit the CBIT Visa website. It's how I got mine. Not much trouble. For Belarus if you fly into Minsk and back out of Minsk, you can get the Visa when you land. Or that was the arrangement a year ago, check it out. For Ukraine, define safe. In broad terms Kyiv and Odesa are about as safe as Paris. Lviv, maybe safer. It's an amazing country and worth the effort. Just stay out of the areas under Russian control. Not hard to do. My 3rd trip is in a few weeks.

Czech Republic is very interesting, but Prague is too crowded for my taste. Slovakia is one of the last great hidden secrets. But the tourism infrastructure is weak. Take a fly rod, the fishing is excellent. Germany doesn't light my fire and Lithuania is on my bucket list.

My impression of East Prussia is sort of dark, but even if I'm wrong I just won't spend money in Russia right now.

Belarus, the only surviving Stalin styled dictatorship tried to loosen up a few years ago, but the Russians objected and sent tanks to the border. That ended that experiment

Posted by
25 posts

Cheers from Kaliningrad. We are expecting new free e-visas to be introduced. Still waiting for a list of countries to be listed in this new law.

Posted by
25 posts

P.S. Rental cars usually not allowed to cross the border. Double check that with the rental office. Anyway there are plenty of buses and a flight too.

Posted by
12099 posts

Good to know on the rental cars. If I went, it would be by train or with a tour group.

Posted by
73 posts

Couple of comments:

Nick, thanks so much for the info. Do you expect this introduction of free e-visa to occur by beginning of October? I'll keep watching for it. And I'm with you about the rental car entry… I'd do a group tour if I go here.

Stan/Carlos, what am I to make of the US travel advisory for safety in Ukraine?

James, I'm flying in and out of Krakow, and after reading mixed reviews of Belarus here, I won't take any chances, as I'm doing the solo travel thing for this trip. (Also leaving out Ukraine, and Kaliningrad (unless the free e-visa materializes by my trip and then I'd do a group tour.)

From what I'm reading online, there should be no issue taking a rental car across the borders the other countries I mentioned (Lithuania, Germany, Czechia, Slovakia).

Posted by
84 posts

"what am I to make of the US travel advisory for safety in Ukraine?"

It's commonly agreed among well travelled people that the US travel advisory(and to some extent others too like UK, Australia) is to be taken with a pinch of salt. It is understantable that they prefer to err on the side of caution, but it's not only that. The advisories were often found to be politically motivated and nothing to do with the actual safety situation on the ground, you know like: "Don't travel to Iran! Iran is baaad" Never mind it is one of the safest and most welcoming countries of the world as Rick Steves himself found out:https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/video/tv-show/tv-specials/iran/iran-travel-journal-part-i

Coming back to Ukraine your government is advising you against travel to the Crimea. Never mind it is a much safer holiday destination than Florida. Don't travel there because it was annexed by Russia and Russia is baaaad. They don't advise you against travelling to the Golan Heights which was annexed by Israel, because well... you know.

"I'm flying in and out of Krakow"

This begs for an easy side trip by train to the prettiest Ukrainian(once Polish) city Lviv(Lwów). For God's sake it has been already "discovered" by Rick Steves! Get there before it gets crowded like Prague and Krakow!

https://blog.ricksteves.com/cameron/2019/03/lviv-ukraine/

"and after reading mixed reviews of Belarus here, I won't take any chances, as I'm doing the solo travel thing for this trip."

Belarus is probably the safest, cleanest most orderly country of Europe, but frankly it is quite boring after a few days.

Here is recent trip report from this spring(it is in German, but with lots of photos):

https://www.drehscheibe-online.de/foren/read.php?030,8931628

Posted by
73 posts

I consider myself well-traveled, thank you, Marduk. And I don't base my travels on communication from my country's travel website say, but I do consider them. Thanks for the links!

Posted by
10792 posts

James, I'm flying in and out of Krakow, and after reading mixed
reviews of Belarus here, I won't take any chances, as I'm doing the
solo travel thing for this trip. (Also leaving out Ukraine, and
Kaliningrad (unless the free e-visa materializes by my trip and then
I'd do a group tour.)

Ukraine doesn't require a Visa and the train trip from Poland I understand is convenient (Ukraine Air is so cheap, easy and well run that I've always flown). The US advisory is because of the areas invaded by Russia and the ongoing war to push them out. Absolutely no need to go anywhere near them anyway as Ukraine is a huge country and Lviv is a world away. And how bad can a country be that just elected a Jewish comedian president.

Belarus is what it is, but I dont know that makes it too dangerous to travel. It's always been on my radar but when I've researched it, couldn't find much that interested me. But look at it, might strike you differently.

Another thing to think of is that Budapest is a hub for Wizzair which means you can get all over Eastern Europe for under $100. Opens up a lot of options.

Posted by
73 posts

Nice! I only have 9 days staying in Krakow half of that time, and Toruń the other half. I think I’ll have plenty to keep me busy with day trips from each of those, but if I feel the need to venture, that’s nice to know.

Posted by
25 posts

Fred,

Rentals have issues with insurance while leaving EU by crossing the Russian Border.
I know that a couple of companies allow such trips for some extra fee.

p.s. Train to Kaliningrad - only from Vilnius, Lithuania.

Posted by
25 posts

shandean, e-visas should be available from July.

P.S. I could meet you in Poland and drive to and around Kaliningrad as alternative. ;-)

Oh, one more alternative, there are a couple of places where you can cross the border on foot, like Sovietsk for example. With visa, of course. A wild option for those who have Russia in their Bucket List.

Posted by
25 posts

shandean, not sure if Torun worth a 4-day-stay.

Don't miss Malbork Castle, and research Gdansk destination.

Posted by
12099 posts

Thanks for the information> Sovietsk....that's the former Tilsit, isn't it, the place where Napoleon met the Tsar.

@ shandean....I am going to suggest that Torun is worth 4 nights. If you had enough of the town by the end of the 2nd night, then I suggest going to the bus station, pick out a town whose radius is one hour or so from Torun, and explore that town.

I only had time to see Chelmno on the Vistula getting there by bus from Torun...very interesting seeing the countryside from Torun to Chelmno since both are on the Vistula. Had I had another night , I would have gone to see Grudziadz the following day, ie, the second day trip.

Posted by
73 posts

Sounds great, Fred! I’ll actually have a car so I’ll because to go wherever I want , and I am planning to take some day trips from my two bases.

Posted by
12099 posts

@ shandean...Then you will enjoy the flexibility that a rental cars obviously brings in tracking down villages outside of towns, yes, certainly one of the advantages of being motorised. Fantastic.

From Torun then I heartily suggest Chelmno and Grudziadz.

From Gdansk I heartily suggest choosing from these: Gniew, Kwidzyn, and if you want to drive further out, Elblag...all worthy of your time.

The advantage from an architectural and cultural perspective is that the towns of Chelmno on the Vistula and Gniew both survived the war intact, ...quite noticeable as you walk from the bus station to the main gate in Chelmno looking at the Prussian and Polish architecture.

As you drive along the country roads here, notice the landscape and farm houses...a real eye-opener for me seeing this from the bus Torun to Chelmno and from the train Gdansk to Malbork.

You'll have the advantage of stopping and checking these specific sights out.

Posted by
25 posts

@ Fred exactly, Tilsit, historical location. Within a walking distance from the border.

@ James E. As a local, I always open to help with Kaliningrad destination, along with neighborhood: both Poland and Lithuania.
Also I have a small FAQ-blog on my home town http://kaliningradguide.com

It's always difficult for me to give advices without any personal context, as I meet very different types of travelers. Kaliningrad is not a typical tourist destination and a lot depends on what a person is actually looking for:

  • German-era: general or personal family history
  • Soviet theme or modern Russia issues
  • Russian Culture and its heritage
  • Military or cold war topic like WWII, WWI or even WWIII
  • Nature is interesting too
  • or just struggling to find something new and seen most of Europe already
  • or just following their bucket list with Russia in it
  • meanwhile some are forced to visit as a transit point in their longer journey,
  • or business trip
  • or hoping to have fun in cheap bars and enjoy Tinder
  • etc.

At the same time experienced travelers have more experience with Russia destination than me. :-)

There is a small but constant flow of tourists arriving. Currently, as I understand, tourist visa will cost you 100-150 usd in total. (UPD: it's more like 200-250 for US citizens, unfortunately.) And I hope e-visas will make life easier, I will keep you updated on that.

By the way, most of south american travelers don't need Russian visas. So, it's quite common to meet someone from Argentina or Chili, for example.

Posted by
12099 posts

@ shandean....Hopefully you have to time to drive towards the Memel River, if you want to be historical about this trip and want to see the historical site of Tilsit (Sovietsk). I would suggest 2 days minimum in this area near Kaliningrad, if not more...say, a week.

You'll see the valley of the Pregel River if you're approaching the city from the east. No use rushing around. South of the city, ca one hour (?) is Preußisch-Eylau, to the east is Friedland.

I don't know how much the Russian authorities allow free travel but upon entering Kaliningrad means you're at the edge of the Samland peninsula.

There is the East Prussian Museum in Lüneburg if you are into the history, culture, geography, etc of the whole area prior to 1945.

On the Samland peninsula there is also a museum devoted to that area. It's in Pinneberg bei Hamburg. I was there only once, ..in 1989.

If you can read the Cyrillic alphabet in tracking down these sites, or German, all this will be very enlightening and captivating, to say the least.

Posted by
10792 posts

Let's hope it's not too captivating.

I would like to go, just to see all the military equipment. I think it's the most weaponized territory in Europe.

Posted by
84 posts

I don't think you get to see much military stuff, it is probably well hidden, not a tourist attraction and Kaliningrad is actually not that much "weaponized". I think the most weaponized part of Europe must be the Kola Peninsula around Murmansk, with the bases of the Northern Fleet(including the nuclear submarines) and airbases.

Posted by
25 posts

@James E. Ok, military topic in Kaliningrad:

1) plenty of WWII memorials and museums to see
2) there are several open-air exhibitions of Soviet era equipment, including armor units
3) Real submarine as a museum ship in the city center!
4) for modern military items I would recommend to plan visiting parades on Victory Day on May 9th in Kaliningrad, and Navi Day, last Sunday of July in Baltiysk. (Or rehearsals with smaller crowds)
5) Baltiysk - is a close area for foreigners, but you can get an official permission for visiting it.
6) If you are lucky, you can spot some jets during the drills over Kaliningrad. Very annoying thing for locals ;-)
7) Several spots to visit for Napoleonic and WWI topic

Posted by
12099 posts

On the naval matters: prior to 1914 the Tsarist government was building a naval base in a town on the Baltic (obviously) in present day Lativia but known then as the town of Libau, ie very close to Memel in Memelland and striking distance to Königsberg, to contest control of the Baltic.

Posted by
12099 posts

@shandean....I forgot to mention regarding your plans for going to Kaliningrad ...my compliments in choosing it as a trip destination.

It is an "intriguing place" as the capital of East Prussia and if you have ever seen news coverage, reportages, pertaining to the ordinary population in that city, Russians and Germans too, on daily life, etc.

Posted by
112 posts

Hello everyone. @shandean I've been following this post because my husband and I are interested in going to almost the same places you are talking about! Except that we are planning our trip in the end of December, over Xmas.
My question to everyone that has been so knowledgeable about the topic: we are planning on starting our trip in Prague, rent a car and drive everywhere. I already contacted Nick hoping he can help with the visit to Kaliningrad. However, does anyone know firsthand about renting a car in Czech and return in Riga?
Thank you in advance!
Elina

Posted by
4687 posts

Just to add one item to Nick's list of reasons to visit:

  • Math majors who loved the historic puzzle of the Bridges of Konigsburg problem. (I know that some of the bridgnes have been lost.) I hope to visit for this reason, as well as to see the city. (Have already been to Moscow and St. Petersburg and the river between. But, alas, the old visa is not that long-lasting.)