The Kaliningrad Oblast is an oblast or “state” in the Russian Federation that’s completely surrounded by Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic sea. Thanks to the geopolitical aftermath of World War II, this small Russian territory is in the curious position of not touching any other part of Russia.
For centuries, the region was part of the German state of East Prussia. It was annexed by the USSR after World War II, which proceeded to push out all the Germans who still lived there and rename the territory Kaliningrad after the Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin.
Stalin argued to keep the territory as it would be Russia’s only non-frozen port, provide access to the Baltic Sea, and serve as a foothold in Europe. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, Kaliningrad was left wedged between the independent nations of Poland and Lithuania. Those countries joined the European Union, Russia did not, and Kaliningrad, still under the control of Russia, became the geographic anomaly it remains today.
The territory’s population currently hovers around 1 million. Old medieval castles and ruins of forts are sprinkled throughout the area leftover from the East Prussia days, as well as sandy beaches on the Baltic. However visitors have become scarce as Kaliningrad’s economy struggles and the area is increasingly tied to the Russian mafia.
Know Before You Go
The region is well-connected to European Russia and Belarus, with numerous flights and trains. The local airport is an international one, with flights to/from a few major destinations like Prague, Barcelona, Warsaw, Berlin, Riga, as well as Tashkent, Djerba and a few charters in summer. Another option is to fly into a neighboring country and take a bus, train or ferry to the region. You can also drive to Kaliningrad Oblast, as roads have greatly improved. However, the lines at the borders can sometimes take up to 4 hours depending on the time of day. Note that you'll need a multiple entry visa to travel by land between Kaliningrad and mainland Russia.