In the hopes of seeing more of Russia, I decided with some friends to book a weekend trip to somewhere off the beaten track—Kaliningrad. Why Kaliningrad? For starters, as a student of both German and Russian languages and cultures, Kaliningrad (formerly Königsburg) provides an intriguing intersection between German and Russian history. Secondly, round trip flights between St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad are very affordable (only $82 round trip).
Kaliningrad, an enclave of Russia, separated from the mainland by the Baltic States, first became a part of Russia in 1946 after World War II. Prior to the end of the war the city, then Königsburg, was an East Prussian city, and today echoes of the German past remain. Especially along the Pregolya River, there are parts of Kaliningrad that feel like an old German village. Unfortunately, much of the city had to be rebuilt following the Second World War. At times the city has fallen into a state of neglect, but recently a lot of work was put into the city ahead of the 2019 World Cup, for which Kaliningrad was one of the host cities.
Today, Kaliningrad is a compilation of its German past, mixed with Soviet apartments and modern shopping centers and restaurants.
The flight from St. Petersburg arrived in Kaliningrad on Friday afternoon. The airport is a little ways outside of the city—a bit over an hour by bus and approximately 30 minutes by taxi. Once inside the city everything is within walking distance and fairly easy to get to. The streets can be winding and at times confusing; however, most sights and museums are located along the rivers, and we opted for walking through the many riverfront parks in between destinations.
Two must-see sights are the Königsburg Cathedral and the Amber Museum. I would recommend seeing the Cathedral at night as it is illuminated in the center of a beautiful green park. However, seeing the Cathedral during the day has the added bonus of being able to visit the museum inside. The museum focuses on the history of the city and has a floor dedicated to Emmanuel Kant, a famous German philosopher who is now entombed in the Cathedral. The museum is 100 rubles for students and takes approximately an hour to see.
The Amber Museum is about a 30 to 45 minute walk away from the Cathedral. Kaliningrad is one of the world’s top producers of amber, and the museum boasts some incredible pieces of the gemstone. Entrance to the museum is 150 rubles for students without a tour guide. The museum itself is rather small and can be seen in approximately half an hour; however, we spent another half hour in the gift shop, which had some of the best prices I have seen on amber jewelry in Russia. If you are in the market for amber souvenirs, this is the place to go.
All in all we spent two nights in Kaliningrad, and I would say a weekend trip is the right amount of time to experience this city. The main downtown area is young and full of life, and there are many tasty restaurants and good bars in the city center. The average meal costs between 400 and 700 rubles, and portions are rather sizable. On the first day I made the mistake of ordering two menu items as is normal in St. Petersburg, but this proved to be far too much food. A couple of good restaurants to try are Resto Presto, located next to Ploschad Pobedy and Rubnaya Derevnya, directly off the Jubilee Bridge near the Cathedral. Resto Presto is an Italian café that also offers a wide variety of menu items—the pizza and ramen were our personal favorites. Rubnaya Derevnya offers traditional Russian cuisine, and the pirogi’s are a must try.
We stayed at Hostel Suffix, located along the Pergolya River and approximately a 10 minute walk away from the Cathedral. Beds in an all female dorm were $15 per person per night, and we found the hostel to be quite clean and comfortable. Also, the location was great!
In total the weekend in Kaliningrad cost us less that $175 each, including flight, accommodation, food, and souveniers.
As for visiting Kaliningrad, it is not necessarily one of the places in Russia on everyone’s radar to visit, but never the less it is an enjoyable place to spend a weekend.