Kaliningrad: a low-budget city break away from the tourist trail

Kaliningrad: a low-budget city break away from the tourist trail

Russian exclave Kaliningrad is ideal for clients who want a short break in an up-and-coming, affordable city, discovers Karl Cushing

If your clients are seeking an ‘up and coming’ city break destination, Kaliningrad, capital of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, could be just what they’re looking for.

Sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, Kaliningrad is little-known in the UK. A lack of flights and strict visa restrictions has also made it difficult to travel to.

However, Russian airline KD Avia recently launched a daily service from Gatwick, taking just over two hours. A recent relaxation in visa rules means visitors from the UK and EU can now bag a 72-hour visa at the airport rather than in advance.

Why go?

Though it can’t compete with more glamorous counterparts such as Moscow, it’s much cheaper and offers a different, less-trodden experience at a time of rapid change.

The local government is investing in environmental, active and cruise tourism and a growing number of English-speaking information centres. It is also one of only four regions in Russia where large-scale casino development will be permitted from January 2009.

The city is also ‘rediscovering’ its historic, German roots in a bid to lure visitors.

History

The city is more famously known as being philosopher Immanuel Kant’s birthplace, Königsberg – a name it retained until it fell into Soviet hands in 1945.

Having fallen on hard times with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the exclave has undergone a recent recovery, having been given special economic status by President Putin.

Architecture

Many historic buildings were lost or heavily damaged during the Second World War. However, the Königsberg cathedral has been restored and other buildings are being overhauled. Soviet-era curiosities include ‘The Monster’, an unfinished and disused building from the 1960s.

As our tour guide Olga put it, the city’s buildings are “mixed together like a Russian salad – an improbable mix of improbable things.”

And it’s certainly a sign of the times when the city’s Lenin statue is moved to make way for a new Russian Orthodox cathedral.

Highlights

  • Kaliningrad Cathedral, with its Kant Museum, and view the old city gates and 15 forts
  • The Amber Museum
  • Boat tours on the Pegolya river
  • The coastal resort of Svetlogorsk, famed for its amber and German-era wooden buildings
  • Curonian Spit National Park, which has stunning pine tree-lined dunes and beaches

Accommodation

Hotels with agent booking codes remain limited, although plans are afoot to widen the selection. Current options include the Moskwa in Kaliningrad. I stayed in the Heliopark Kaiserhof, the exclave’s first chain hotel, which opened in the spring

Sample product

Regent Holidays has three nights at the Hotel Albertina in Kaliningrad from £315 per person, year round, including flights with KD Avia from Gatwick and taxes.


Where is it?

Kaliningrad on Google Maps:


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