Kaliningrad Teutonic castles, amber, and the beauty of the Baltic coast
Home of castles and gothic temples, Kaliningrad was a German city called Königsberg until 1946. Originally home to 370 thousand residents, the city suffered greatly during World War Two when many buildings got destroyed. After the war, the city and the remaining German population of twenty thousand came under the Soviet control.
Today Kaliningrad is the city where the European past meets Russian reality: ruins of Teutonic castles stand side by side with brand-new blocks of concrete and glass, a renovated Catholic cathedral houses on its premises an Orthodox church. The scenery around is magnificent: severe Baltic Sea, sand dunes and vast beaches, pristine national parks and amazing amber deposits. Come visit if you want to see two cultures tightly tangled together in the background of a beautiful landscape. A shiny piece of amber will be a wonderful keepsake to remind you of the trip.
The top city sites are clustered on the island of Kneiphof, or simply “on the island” as the locals say. You can get there if you cross the bridge by taxi, by car or take public transportation from Leninsky prospect to the marine cultural centre (Dom Kultury Moryakov). If you opt for public transit, please, expect a 600 meter walk.
The first must-see site is, of course, the city cathedral which dates back to 1333. Destroyed in World War Two, the cathedral was completely restored only a short while ago, in 2005. Today its graceful gothic red-brick structure is a symbol of Kaliningrad. The locals suggest seeing it first to feel the spirit of the city. Not in use by the Catholic community anymore, it even houses a small Orthodox chapel inside.
Immanuel Kant’s Tomb
Immanuel Kant, arguably the most famous citizen of the old Königsberg, was buried here, next to one of the cathedral’s walls. Walk inside and you will find a museum dedicated to the famous philosopher. Its coverage, however, extends beyond the details of Kant’s biography. Visitors can learn about the history of Kneiphof island, look at the ancient artefacts, rare coins, knight armour, and keys from century-old locks. Kant’s death mask is one obvious highlight; another one is the cathedral’s unique organ, the largest one in Europe. The ideal time to visit the museum is during an organ performance. During the world championship concerts will be held almost daily.
Embankment of Peter the Great
Kaliningrad – once known as the city of seven embankments – has recently acquired a new one – called Paradnaya (Ceremonial) Embankment, located near the stadium. But the best place for a stroll is the embankment of Peter the Great, outlined with the vessels from the Museum of the World Ocean. Take a nice walk – spectacular vistas and a renovated cobblestone pavement will make you imagine yourself enjoying the views Immanuel Kant once admired from the very same spot.
Museum of the World Ocean
Docked along the only Russian embankment featuring historic vessels are unique ships from the museum collection. Almost every ship is a museum in itself presenting its own exhibit: visitors can mount on board of the ship SRT-129, the submarine B-413, and the space communication vessel Cosmonaut Viktor Patsev. In addition to the open-air exhibits there is a lot to see inside: the main building houses a diverse collection of shells, corals and skeletons of ancient sea creatures. But the key highlights are the two other sections of the museum set up in the 19th-century city gates – King’s Gate and Friedrichsburg Gate. Constructed in neo-gothic style, they look like miniature castles.
Kaliningrad region can boast the largest amber deposit in the world. Thus, the city has the unique museum dedicated to the history of this gem and its excavation in Russia. The museum is situated in the city centre inside a castle tower which dates back to the middle of the 19th century. The exposition takes up three floors of the building. Visitors can admire various kinds of amber including a giant 4-kilogram gem, the biggest one in the country. The exhibition also presents jewellery, household items and artwork from the 17th century as well as pieces by contemporary Kaliningrad artists – all made of the precious yellow stone. Here, too, one can learn about the work of Kaliningrad Amber enterprise – the only enterprise in the world processing the Baltic stone on an industrial scale.
House of the Soviets
A giant unfinished building in the city center, it is a symbol of Kaliningrad and the most famous incomplete construction in the region. The construction started in 1970s but the building was never commissioned. For better or worse, during the championship guests of the city won’t be able to explore this piece of Soviet architecture in full detail. The House is only structure Kaliningrad authorities were wary to present to the guests so it was covered with the World Cup banners.
Kaliningrad Regional museum of History and Arts
As old as Kaliningrad region itself, the regional museum was opened in 1946. Without proper quarters, its exposition was wandering around minor galleries until in the 1990s it eventually settled in the former city concert hall built in 1912. Inside there are five rooms, each dedicated to a specific topic - nature, archeology, history of the region, the Great Patriotic war (WWII) and the local history after the war. The last two parts of the exhibition are particularly vast and impressive. People’s memories of the war are still fresh in the city.
The museum itself is worth a visit but its branch on Universitetskaya street is an absolute must. The place is called Bunker or Blindazh (trench shelter) and is situated in a real war-time bunker, 7 meters below the ground. Its exposition includes miniature models, dioramas, and maps of Soviet westward advance telling the story of the storm of Königsberg and unfolding the events of World War Two right in front of your eyes.
A private museum located in a old building from 1912 recreates life of an old Königsberg household. Altes Haus was created by a couple of antiquarian enthusiasts - they first rented this apartment to wait out the redecoration of their own home, and then decided to extend the rent and organise an exhibition hall. It became a museum filled with items typical of a German household of the beginning of the 20th century. The interior is original, too - walls and ceiling are covered with authentic paintings, wooden doors are native and even larch floors remind of the old times. The museum has no restriction poles or bars: you can sit in an antique armchair, touch a vintage ceramic cup and even play a century old violin. A lifehack: take a group tour and save some money.
Ethnographic center and Center of trade and crafts "Fishermen village"
Constructed in 2006, this quarter reproduced the architectural style of the pre-war Königsberg. It looks sweet, but a tour won’t take much time - there is little to see save for a couple of neat houses and a lighthouse with a panoramic view. Fishermen Village also has hotels and restaurants, but these mostly target tourists while the locals consider the prices extravagant.
Kaliningrad Art Museum
Although young, the local art museum possesses an extensive collection of 14 thousand art pieces. One of the highlights is the section of graphic works by contemporary Russian and Baltic artists, including artists from Kaliningrad. The art museum takes pride in its temporary exhibitions (up to 50 projects a year!) and its own biennale 'Kaliningrad-Königsberg’ featuring graphic art of the Baltic states.
Friedland Gate Museum
The city center is surrounded by a circle of eight gates built in the 17th century. You can take a tour of them all and immerse into the past of the citadel city. But if time is pressing and you have to choose go with the Friedland gate. See the tower crowned with sculptures of the Teutonic Order leaders. Inside you can delve into the pre-war life of Königsberg residents - explore a careful copy of an old city street with original signs, telephone booths, and old trams. The collection of the museum constantly grows as museum experts collect antiquities around the city.
You can get around Kaliningrad by buses, trams, and trolleybuses. Unlike public transport in many Russian cities, the operation here is quite strict to the schedule. Timetables are available online on Go2bus and Bustime websites. Single bus-ride fare is 20 roubles (0.27 eur). You can also take a minibus (the proverbial Russian marshrutka) for 22 roubles- (0.30 eur). Public transport operates from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. but closer to 11 p.m. and after transport becomes less reliable.
Uber does not work here, but its Russian substitutes Yandex taxi and Rutaxi do. A trip through the city rarely costs more than 200 roubles (2.75 eur). On the days of the matches fans will be able to reach the stadium using shuttle buses for 20 roubles (routes S2 and S3). This is by far the most convenient way to get to the stadium - you will still have to walk a few kilometers from the regular bus stop. Taxis and private cars will not get as close as the shuttle buses either. On the bright side, the bus will be waiting for you on the way back. On the days of matches these routes will operate until midnight.
Cafes and restaurants
ADDRESS: Oktyabrskaya square., 2a
TELEPHONE: +7 (921) 619–25–95
WORKING HOURS: 11:00–23:00
A restaurant serving French cuisine on the second floor of the lighthouse in the Fishermen Village offers a wonderful view of the city. The place is quite small, but this the only disadvantage. It is a great place to try local seafood, for instance, mussels.
«Solnechniy kamen» ('Solar stone')
ADDRESS: Marshal Vasilevsky square, 3
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 253–91–06
WORKING HOURS: 12:00–02:00
The restaurant is located inside the Rossgarten gate built in 1705. The interior is fully in line with the historic place - pompous and ornate, it reminds of the old Prussian style. Here you can try Russian traditional cuisine with its blinis as well as a variety of fish dishes - baked carp, fried flatfish and sturgeon steaks.
ADDRESS: Prospekt Mira st., 105
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 295–70–80
WORKING HOURS: 12:00–00:00; Friday and Saturday — until 04:00
A restaurant with a wonderful green terrace and a playground for children. The drinks menu includes a few kinds of beer from the restaurant's house brewery. You can taste them all for a symbolic fare of 50 roubles (0,68 eur). Beer will feel even better if you pair it with stroganina made of marlin or Atlantic bonito. In fact, everything on the menu deserves equal attention - the restaurant's chef is as particular about the meat dishes as he is about fish.
ADDRESS: Prospekt Mira st., 74
TELEPHONE: +7 (962) 255–44–00
WORKING HOURS: working days — 08:00–22:00; weekends — 10:00–22:00
Coffee revolution has only recently overwhelmed Russia. In the capital and in some larger cities you can find coffee business enthusiasts committed to importing special kinds of coffee and roasting seeds in the house. GS Coffeeshop — is a chain of cafes which does precisely this putting all care and skill into making your coffee ideal.
ADDRESS: Proletarskaya st., 79
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 238–94–65
WORKING HOURS: 09:00–21:00
A network of small cafes with a wide variety of breakfast options served until 14:00. You can have a 'Greek' breakfast with eggs, baked in tomato sauce with feta cheese, 'Norwegian' with salted salmon on baguette or ’French’ with a croissant and many more. The restaurant's team has prepared a special 'fan set' for the time of the championship with Bavarian sausages and a house-made alcoholic drink 'Kaliningrad Maradona'.
ADDRESS: Proletarskaya st., 98
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 231–00–81
WORKING HOURS: 12:00–00:00; Friday and Saturday — until 02:00
Wood and glass dominates in the interior design of this spacious eatery on the bank of Verkhneye lake. The menu is democratic enough - sandwiches, brusquettes and several grilled dishes. Come get a small snack in a friendly atmosphere and enjoy peaceful views of the lake.
ADDRESS: Chaikovsky st., 4–10
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 261–16–48
WORKING HOURS: 11:00–00:00
Manavi — is an exclusively Georgian place which, however, is not overly obsessed with national character. Traditional dishes are served in a neutral but festive setting with candles and wide armchairs. On the menu you will find a lot of Georgian words - khinkali, khachapuri of ten different kinds and Caucasian kebab.
ADDRESS: Karl Marx st., 18
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 231–31–37
WORKING HOURS: 12:00–01:00; Friday and Saturday — до 02:00
A family trattoria with good Italian cuisine, a wide range of pastas and pizzas. Owners say all the recipes for the dishes on the menu were collected in different regions of Italy. Children will be treated to a special healthy meal option and will enjoy their time with an entertainment rep.
address: Zhitomirskaya st., 22
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 238–84–70
WORKING HOURS: 11:00–23:00
Steindamm is the name of the oldest Königsberg quarter which was destroyed in World War Two. Only a couple of streets survived - a restaurant in retro style is situated in one of them. Its setting evokes memories of the European past and the menu is full of free variations of Eastern Prussian dishes. You can try local fish and poultry as well as Königsberg klops - meatballs in caper sauce.
ADDRESS: Gorky st., 2
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 230–00–30
WORKING HOURS: 12:00–01:00
This chain owns two spots in the city, both are designed as an English pub with bulky furniture and soft colors in the interior. The drinks menu includes 20 kinds of tap beer and 30 types of whiskey. Apart from them you can order a steak, pork knuckle and other meat dishes. The house specialty definitely deserving attention is stroganina made of Atlantic bonito.
ADDRESS: Garazhnaya st., 2–2a
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 276–64–20
WORKING HOURS: Monday — Thursday — 16:20–00:00; Friday — 16:20–02:00; Saturday — 14:00–02:00; Sunday — 14:00–00:00
A brutal pub in the building of a factory on Garazhnaya street. Behind the door with a rusty tin sign you will find darts, a vast variety of craft beers, and burgers.
ADDRESS: Dmitry Donskoy st., 13
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 253–39–20
WORKING HOURS: 12:00–01:00; Friday and Saturday — until 06:00
A micro bar right in front of the building of the regional government serves strong drinks and simple snacks. It is a place where young bohemians of Kaliningrad chill and hang out. Without any threat of ruining your budget the bartender will mix for you a classical Long-Island or, if you wish, something more sophisticated.
ADDRESS: Prospect Mira st., 33
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 231–00–31
WORKING HOURS: 12:00–00:00; Friday and Saturday — until 02:00
A pub neighboring a jazz club. Its blue and yellow interior is full of British elements - restroom doors, for instance, look like red telephone booths. The absolute best on the menu are delicious English pies with pork, chicken or vegetables and cheese.
ADDRESS: Oktyabrskaya st., 4
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 230–71–30
WORKING HOURS: 11:00–00:00
You can come for the view of the riverwalk and stay for the food. The menu has pasta, panini, different types of cheese and brusquettes. A wide selection of wines.
ADDRESS: Stanochnaya st., 12
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 295–66–77
People do not go to this bar for a casual drink, people come here to get hammered and have the times of their lives. The place is also a stage for Russian underground gigs from rap to alternative electronic music.
Shops and markets
Kaliningrad locals shop for groceries in the local chain stores — 'Viktoria', 'SPAR', 'Semya' (family). Prices here do not differ much from average price in most Russian cities - around 30 roubles for bread, 40 — for milk and 50 for a dozen eggs. Things get more complicated with fresh fruits and vegetables — their supply in supermarkets is scarce. Local residents usually get those at city markets, the largest of which is Central Market. Apart from the greens here you can also buy meat, and of course, local fish, Kaliningrad's specialty and pride.
The most typical souvenir from Kaliningradis is amber and jewelry made of amber. You can buy it at craftsmen fair stalls in the street or in kiosks at the majority of the city sites. If you want to go for something more exotic you can bring back some locally produced brandy. A product of the local liquor plant named after the city itself, cognac Königsberg can be easily found at pretty much every store. Another delicious gift is marzipan and figurines made of it - this traditional treat is a part of the German heritage of the city. You can also bring back home some fish delicacies - they are easy to find in any large supermarket.
Around the City
The surroundings of Kaliningrad can rival the city in interesting sites. Budget a couple of days to travel around and explore Teutonic castles and the beauty of the Northern nature. One-day trips are very popular here and the range of car-sharing services is impressive compared to any other Russian city. So this may be a good idea to rent a car.
Old German school Waldwinkel
About one hour drive away from the city there is a private museum reconstructing the atmosphere of a public school in Eastern Prussia. Once it was a real German primary school but now anyone can sit at the desk, write something on the blackboard, explore the classrooms and take a walk in the garden overwhelmed with blossom. The museum's owner will be your guide. You can call to book an excursion in advance +7 (921) 262–92–28. Do not forget to ask about souvenirs - here you can get a plate with alphabet written along its side. This was an actual teaching tool in Eastern Prussia. Today the alphabet is Russian, but one letter is missing - for those guests who pay particular attention.
Kaliningrad spits are narrow stripes of land between the Baltic gulfs. Tourists are usually advised to visit two of them. One is the Baltic spit dividing the gulf of Kaliningrad from the gulf of Gdansk. This is a deserted area for a lonesome bike ride or a contemplative walk. The second is known as the Curonian spit as it divides the Curonian gulf from the Baltic sea. Considered more suitable for tourism, it will impress you with the beauty of the surrounding nature and make your Instagram followers cry. You will find yourself between the sea and the gulf in the midst of sand dunes and the 'dancing' forest. It is also home for wildlife - if you are lucky you can spot a roe (but seeing them is more of a exception than a rule). The national park has its own app on App Store and Google Play with maps and audio guides. The spit is not easy to reach. It is best to go with an excursion or rent a car (for example with City-rent or Lifcar). You can also take a bus Kaliningrad - Zelenogradsk - Morskoye and get out at Duna Efa stop (do not mix it up with Duna stop). The trip will take around 2,5 hours.
Yantarny Village (Amber Village)
This village on the Baltic shore can boast of a dozen sites including its own enterprise excavating and processing amber. First, enjoy the wide beach with white sand and football field and volleyball ground. You can also take a stroll in the local park and walk the two kilometer boardwalk by the sea. The museum called the Amber Castle is also an interesting destination.Here everyone will find something to their liking: you can see a collection of amber, a torture room, an exhibition inspired by Russian fairy-tales and a gallery of fine arts all housed under the same roof. To get here take bus number 120. An hour-long trip will cost 100 roubles.
Teutonic castles in Chernyakhovsk
Kaliningrad region bears traces of its glorious past looming large in the castles of the Teutonic Order. Unfortunately, the majority of them are not well-preserved. Two of them dating back to the 14th century are located in Chernyakhovsk, a small city with a population of 36 thousand people. First you have to see Isterburg castle which houses a small museum inside. The building is partially destroyed but still retains its noble grace. On the castle grounds you will find stables and several household buildings. Three kilometers away from Isterburg one can see another castle, Georgenburg. Like Isterburg, it was powerful in the past but looks dilapidated in the present. You can walk around its territory free of charge. To get inside you need to join an excursion which will be fairly brief - castle walls, chimneys and chunks of old crockery is roughly all what is left. You can get here by bus via routes — 680Э, 526, 515, 583. The trip will take roughly two hours.
Zelenogradsk is a small town on the shore of the Baltic sea. Besides a gorgeous boardwalk, it has a beach and a large pier stretching out into the sea for 150 meters. Nearby you will find a natural spring with fresh water from the depth of 240 meters. The eastern side of the promenade ends up in a food zone filled to the brim with summer cafes and restaurants which attract myriads of tourists in high season.
ADDRESS: Prospekt Mira st., 4
TELEPHONE: +7 (401) 255–52–00
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PHOTOS: cover – Ivan Annenkov, 1 – YuI – stock.adobe.com, 2 – Belikart – stock.adobe.com, 3 – cafe «Ogonyok», 4 – «Ulitsy», 5 – EwaStudio – stock.adobe.com, 6 – yulyao – stock.adobe.com, 7 –ottochka – stock.adobe.com