Day Trip to Russia?
July 10, 2009 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Kaliningrad, Russia - is it worth visiting & how do I get there?

I'm planning a Europe trip for next summer and I'm pretty sure one leg of my trip will be through Tallinn-Riga-Vilnius. Is Kaliningrad worth trying to visit? I'll be on about an $85/day budget.

If it's worth visiting, how would I go about getting a visa? How expensive would it be? (both for the visa & transportation, accommodation, etc.) What should I go see?
posted by brittanyq to Travel & Transportation around Kaliningrad, Russian Federation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The writer Zinovy Zinik published a great piece in the TLS a few years ago, Letter from Kaliningrad. He was fascinated and repelled by the place:

It is a city of expropriated dwellings and borrowed consciousness, of ersatz languages and perverted ideologies, displaced peoples and misplaced sentiments, the town where Lenin's monument stands on the pedestal once occupied by Gauleiter Koch, and the Gestapo headquarters were supplanted by the local Communist Party branch; cobblestones from old Prussian streets were used to repave Red Square; a town in which the treasures of the Amber Room, once a gift from Konigsberg to Peter the Great of Russia, captured and brought back centuries later by the Nazis, have disappeared without a trace; the ruins of the medieval castle were dynamited to build the multi-storey concrete monstrosity of the Palace of the Soviets (not yet finished after twenty-five years), and where Nazi slogans, executed in high-quality paint, are still visible through the layers of Soviet street propaganda.

On a more cheerful note, it also produces Flagman vodka, which according to Zinik is 'probably the best vodka in Russia'.
posted by verstegan at 2:14 AM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Visa applications to Russia generally (still) require some sort of letter of invitation, as well as a number of other relatively onerous requirements (onerous in comparison to the "come on in, get your visa stamp at the airport" regime elsewhere). Details here. May not be worth your while for a day.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:11 AM on July 11, 2009

I too have wanted to visit this city someday, due to Kant having lived there. Thanks verstegan for that link which I never would have found--I did not know the entire city had been destroyed twice, including Kant's grave. I guess I'll skip visiting the former Konigsberg now that I know...
posted by archae at 6:23 AM on July 11, 2009

Best answer: 1) Because the processing time might be quite lengthy, you may want to get your visa at home if you know your plans in advance instead of in Tallinn, Riga, or Vilnius. Your visa, if you're from the US, will cost $131. Hostels and hotels will arrange the invitation for you, but they may charge an extra fee for this.

2) You can fly to Kaliningrad on AirBaltic from Riga. It's not that cheap - prices for next June are about $150 round-trip. Alternatively, you can take the train from Vilnius, which according to the Lithuanian rail site is about a six-hour journey one way, but would be much cheaper, though I can't get prices. There are multiple trains a day and the Vilnius station has recently been redone, so it's pretty easy to navigate even if you don't speak Lithuanian or Russian.

3) As far as where to stay, here's a place for, apparently, $9 a night. Here's the In Your Pocket guide to Kaliningrad - it's locally-written and updated often. Their guides to Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius, by the way, are great as well.

4) Leaving Kaliningrad, there's also a ferry once a week from a place called Baltiysk to Sassnitz, Germany, north of Berlin near the Polish border. Details.

An alternative that's rather enticing would be to check out Minsk, the capital of Belarus, which is only a four-hour train ride from Vilnius. There are trains that leave at 0200 and 0640, and trains back at 1945, 2226, and 2346 on the random date in the future I checked (September something). Here's a locally-written guide on what to see there, from the same people as above.

Now, Belarusian tourist visas are $131 as well, but perhaps you could get away with a transit visa, which is only $100 if you headed on to, say, Warsaw that night or the next day. I live in Poland and if you're headed south from Vilnius, Warsaw and Krakow are great places to visit as well. Direct trains don't exist from Vilnius, but there is a train from Minsk to Warsaw. You don't need an invitation for this, only proof of onward travel - see details here. As it's probably close to impossible to purchase Lithuania-Belarus-Poland tickets in the States, they might accept a timetable with your intended train times. Call them.

Skipping either Kaliningrad or Minsk, getting between Vilnius and Warsaw isn't too much of a beast. There are two day trains with a cross-platform change (details), and there's also a direct night bus. AirBaltic, again, has relatively cheap deals on flights if you book way in advance and if time is more important than money; a one-way flight from Vilnius to Warsaw is €67 for a random date next June; from Riga, only €37.

If you didn't know already, by the way, virtually every train in Europe is listed on the Deutsche Bahn timetables here. If you're worried about buying tickets in Lithuania or Belarus for your visa evidence, many times DB can forward you paper tickets in the States for a relatively small fee, like €3.50. For trains in the former USSR, another useful resource is

Happy travels!
posted by mdonley at 6:26 AM on July 11, 2009 [8 favorites]

I have never been to Kaliningrad. I have spent a while wandering around Lithuania with no set schedule, a multiple-entry Russian visa, and a vague idea that I would go to Kaliningrad, but after doing some research I was unable to find anything in Kaliningrad that it seemed like I wouldn't be able to find elsewhere. It was pretty heavily pounded in various wars so there is not a ton of historical interest stuff; most guidebooks say that most of the tourists are elderly Germans who lived there when it was Konigsberg. I ended up spending extra time in Kaunas instead, which is a very nice little city, and then I went to Klaipeda and wandered around the park on the Curonian Spit for a day. I recommend either of these options.
If you do decide to go, another visa option is travel agencies. This can be helpful if you don't want to commit to a specific day and hotel.
posted by posadnitsa at 9:11 AM on July 11, 2009

Ah - there's also a night bus to Kaliningrad from Riga on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Departs 22:10, arrives 07:05. You can buy online at
posted by mdonley at 4:50 PM on July 11, 2009's a trip report including a guy's recent trip to Kaliningrad and Minsk on FlyerTalk, a frequent-flyer forum, in which I learned that a flight to Belarus does allow a visa-on-arrival as long as you have pre-booked accommodation and have the aforementioned invitation.
posted by mdonley at 5:06 PM on July 11, 2009

I have a friend who claims he just walked across the bridge without a visa in 1993; this seems like an extremely fallible option. Less fallible is the option of arriving by ferry or cruise ship (from Sweden or Lithuania), which will apparently grant you three days' stay in Russia without purchasing a visa.

FYI, the aforementioned "invitation" is just a piece of paper that a travel agent produces (and charges you $30+ for; I've used before), saying that you're invited to Russia. You can buy them online, they're necessary for a tourist visa, and even if you have honest-to-god friends in Kaliningrad, don't deal them the miserable fate of "inviting" you to visit. They'll have to spend hours at the OVIR office, and will hate you for it by the end!
posted by soviet sleepover at 9:07 PM on July 11, 2009

How you get there I cannot help with, as to is it worth visiting - well it certainly sounds like an 'interesting' place. I highly recommend this article by AA Gill.

To quote just a small snippet - 'It boasts the highest proportion of drug addicts and associated Aids sufferers in the Russian Federation, and 40% of the population exist below the poverty line – that’s the Russian poverty line, which is as low as you can draw a line without falling over. Kaliningrad is gristled with corruption, drugs, smuggling, sex slavery, endemic theft and thuggery. There’s also spiralling TB and the associated diseases of pollution. Nobody really knows what military slurry is buried here, how many toxins rust and seep in the earth and air.'
posted by numberstation at 10:40 AM on July 12, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, these are some great answers! I'm probably not going to end up going... it sounds like an "interesting" place, certainly, but probably not my kind of interesting ;) I'm not sure I want to pay a couple hundred dollars for a visa and a plane ticket to spend a day in a place "gristled with corruption, drugs, smuggling, sex slavery, endemic theft and thuggery." All of these answers were really helpful though, particularly with understanding the visa process, so thanks a ton!

(I also realized there was another very similiar question already... not sure how I missed it, seeing as how it's the only other question tagged with 'kaliningrad.' It's here for any future reference.)
posted by brittanyq at 1:20 PM on July 12, 2009

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