With this year’s World Cup taking place in Russia, Gdansk actually finds itself kind of ‘co-hosting’ with one of the official host cities – Kaliningrad. Found just 160km away by road (a lot closer if you’ve got your own helicopter and don’t have to wind round by road), Gdansk offers far more flight connections provided by the major low-cost airlines in the region (Ryanair and Wizzair) than the host city itself. Added to that the huge stock of quality accommodation at non-World Cup prices and the city has found itself being seen as a base for some of the visiting Belgium, Croatia, England, Morocco, Nigeria, Serbia, Spain and Switzerland fans heading to the oblast. With lots of local companies offering transport, those with tickets may well find themselves just spending the matchday in Russia.
For those without tickets the city is hoping to recreate some of the atmosphere the city experienced when it hosted matches in Euro 2012. They’ll be a Fanzone in Gdansk and many places will be pulling out the tvs in the hope of attracting you into their gardens. With all matches available from the national TVP broadcaster, you shouldn’t miss a kick although increased prices for permission to broadcast is likely to stop every place showing games as has been the case in the past.
Poland have a team worth watching at the moment too which will mean the locals will be out in force shouting on the Biało-Czerwoni (The Red and Whites). They fancy their chances of advancing from a group which contains Senegal, Colombia and Japan but with an ability to concede as well as score goals, you can expect it to be a nervous ride at times. Poland’s great hope is their number 9, the Bayern Munich forward (well at the time of writing this at least), Robert Lewandowski. His reputation and popularity in Poland can be judged by the number of times you can expect to see his face on advertising hoardings and television screens during the championships. They’ll be a lot of colour on the streets on the days that Poland are playing and you will be warmly welcomed to add your support for the Reprezentacja (National Side). Show knowledge of their great teams of 1982 and particularly 1974 (Poland finished third on both occasions) and you’ll be well-in.
Where to watch in Gdansk, Sopot or Gdynia
The main spot to watch the games involving Poland will be the Coalmarket Square (Targ Węglowy) in the shadow of the Prison Tower and Amber Museum. Large enough to hold 5,000 people, it’ll be the place to experience that World Cup feeling. Note it will be open for Poland games and a small number of others only.
If you like beer as well as football, then this is a very good tip. With 28 beers on tap and many more in bottles mean that you could have your own World Cup of beer while watching the games. A large terrace overlooking the river with food available from the Tawerna restaurant next door means that they have all the bases covered.
Yet to open as we wrote this, a pre-opening tour of the place showed that this will be one of the best places in town to watch the championships with eight various sized screens showing all 64 games in the four different rooms. The result of a couple of years of painstaking rebuilding work, the cellars of Dwor Artusa, historically the Ratkseller of the old town, brews its own beer on-site and has an excellent-looking and well-priced menu. Our favourite bit though are the self-service beer taps – charge up your plastic card with credit and then serve yourself as little as a tasting glass or as much as a jug of one of their beers. A state-of-the-art lighting system means that these ancient cellars will be bathed in the colours of the two competing teams while the match is on.
A garden on the main street and a menu of Asian dishes are the key points to consider Buddha. The owner is a man well-versed in keeping the crowds happy and the food is very good. It’s part restaurant, part bar so it’s a good option for before and after the games too.
Gdansk old town doesn’t have a dedicated sports bar, but this comes close. Lots of screens, a full menu of burgers, ribs and the like and plenty of waitstaff make this a popular sport throughout the football season.
There’s a number of reasons for choosing Kava if you are in Sopot and the two largest are the screens. There is nowhere in town that offers such a large picture and they’ll be showing all the games live (not a guaranteed elsewhere). In addition to a great picture, the kitchen here is very good and the team of waitresses will keep your glass full of one of the range of local craft beers.
The most British looking pub in the Tri-city, this will be your best bet if you are up in Gdynia. A very good selection of beer, including a decent pint of Guinness plus a bar menu mean you’ll not need to rush back to Gdansk if you want to spend the early part of the day visiting the youngest of the three cities.
Watching a match in Kaliningrad
With the ticket sales process designed to keep the tickets out of the hands of touts and in the hands of the people who purchased them, trying to get a ticket late in the day isn’t going to be easy. What you will need for certain is a Fan ID, which will give you entry to Russia and later to the stadium zone. Without a Fan ID, or a Russian visa, you won’t even get past the guards on the border at Braniewo/Mamanovo so check out the official site for more info about that. If you have a Fan ID and a ticket, the next challenge is getting to Kaliningrad itself.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to download a copy of our guide to Kaliningrad available online, in PDF format, or as an app for Android and iOS. Find them at kaliningrad.inyourpocket.com
Getting to Kaliningrad
The only way to get to Kaliningrad at time of writing, unless you own your own helicopter or have access to a motor boat, is by road. There are a number of companies offering transport services to the Oblast, but please check because not just any Tomek, Ryszard or Henryk can drive you there. The driver, even if he or she is not going to the match, needs to have the right papers to enter Russia (a Fan ID or a visa) and a vehicle which is insured for Russian roads. Getting into a car in Gdansk does not guarantee that is the case so please check. Even with the Russian border guard making special arrangements for match days (traffic will be processed in one direction only (into Kaliningrad before and out of Kaliningrad after the match) which will double the number of gates processing fans, there’s unlikely to have ever been the volume of traffic seen at the border as they can expect during the tournament. Note that you must be in a vehicle to cross from Poland into Russia so do not try to do that on foot. Prices on the bus cost as little as €10 one-way while a taxi will take 4 and could cost as much as €75 per person.
The local taxi company has some drivers with Russian visas and insurance so they are worth a call.
Local tour guide Eliza Wasiewicz can also organise transport for small and large groups though spaces were running out when we spoke with her the other day. Give her a call – she can always say no.
The Polish bus company have regular connections to Kaliningrad which depart from the bus station on the hill behind the main railway station. You can buy single and return tickets from the ticket office in the increasingly dilapidated bus station building. Journey times are typically between 3 and a half and 5 hours, but with the huge traffic expected, this could be longer, so you are advised to take the early bus which departs at 06:00. Buses have their own lane at the border, so this might be the most convenient in terms of queuing.