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Kaliningrad Travel Guide – Russia’s European Exclave in 2024

This article is a Kaliningrad travel guide for the Russian exclave in the heart of Europe. Kaliningrad is a symbol of the remanence of the Soviet Union and their presence in Central Europe. It was also named Tripadvisor’s top emerging tourism destination for 2020. Have you ever heard of it? We wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t. Visiting Kaliningrad has become more popular in recent years, especially as more people stay clear of mainland Russia. Here is all you need to know about the history of Russia’s largest exclave. 


History of Kaliningrad

Kaliningrad is a small exclave nestled between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea that was once a part of the larger Soviet Union. As Eastern European Nations began claiming their independence at the end of the Cold War, this territory was held onto by Russia.  

Centuries prior, Kaliningrad was known as Königsberg – an area under the rule of Prussia before it was absorbed into the newly formed German Empire. Königsberg was special to the German empire for cultural and historical reasons, as it was a large part of the unification of the German Empire. 

However, as Germany lost World War 1 and suffered penalties, the loss of connecting land between Königsberg and mainland Germany marked the beginning of the end for a German held region. 

As the Soviet Union began moving eastward years later, many of the ethnic Germans living in Königsberg migrated to Germany after the siege by the USSR. When the allied forces won the war and plotted to limit Germany’s power, land surrounding Königsberg was divided into three and awarded to Poland in the south and Lithuania to the north. However, the land in the middle was claimed by Russia as no other Nation requested the territory of Königsberg/Kaliningrad. 

Why? Lithuania refused Königsberg/Kaliningrad because it predicted future complications with the mostly Russian population. After the fall of the USSR, Poland didn’t want to claim Kaliningrad for similar reasons. Germany didn’t push to regain Königsberg/Kaliningrad because it was busy trying to settle Germany and didn’t want to upset the Allied forces. At this stage, most of the Germans living in Königsberg/Kaliningrad relocated to Germany, so the population was now mostly Russian. 


Kaliningrad Today

Today, Kaliningrad has a population just over of a million and the main language is Russian. Kaliningrad serves as Russia’s only Baltic Sea port and is an economic hub for fishing and industrial outputs. Tourism has also become a big part of the economic success of the region, which boasts “diverse nature, unique water resources, balneal resorts and many historical and cultural landmarks”.  

It is also a hub for war infrastructure – Nazi war bunkers, USSR nuclear submarines, and Prussian forts are all attractions in the Kaliningrad exclave. Simultaneously, a lot of the architecture is Kaliningrad is inspired by the presence of Germany in the region decades prior – with many old German houses preserved. It is no surprise that Kaliningrad is often described as the most Western part of Russia. 

Kaliningrad has developed infrastructure, making tourism (whilst you are in the region) simple to navigate. A challenge however for Westerners wanting to visit this exclave is that it remains under the Russian visa system which can be timely to accomplish if you are not eligible for an E-visa

To read about enclaves and enclaves click here.


Is Kaliningrad safe? 

Most government websites will urge their citizens not to travel to any Russian territories because of the war. However, this exclave feels slightly removed from the situation in mainland Russia. It is also bordered by Lithuania and Poland who are not active participants in the war. Although, Kaliningrad is very close to the Belarusian border which has recently heightened concerns for Kaliningrad’s potential participation in the war, earning it the title of ‘most militarised zone in Europe’.  

Kaliningrad has lower levels of petty theft, harassment and crime compared to mainland Russia. For us, Kaliningrad is business as usual, but we do recommend checking your government’s travel safety advice. 

Do you want to join us in Kaliningrad? Join our Kaliningrad Post Soviet Exclave Tour this August! 

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