World Cup: What you need to know about Russia's host city Kaliningrad

2018-05-04 16:30
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Kaliningrad is the capital of a small territory isolated from the rest of Russia and sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

With a major Russian naval base nearby, the port city is packed with history. And nearby Baltic Sea beaches could prove irresistible for World Cup fans in good weather.

SEE: From Russia With Love: 5 things Saffas heading to the 2018 World Cup should check out

Kaliningrad will host a game that could make or break the World Cup hopes of England or Belgium.

Here's what you need to know about one of the 11 host cities in Russia.

THE STADIUM

One of the smallest stadiums used at a World Cup since 2002, the simply named Kaliningrad Stadium seats 35 000.

Its rather conservative design is decorated blue and white to evoke the nearby sea and Kaliningrad's maritime history. Buses will be organised to transport fans to the remote location on a largely undeveloped island.

After the World Cup, it will be used by Baltika Kaliningrad, currently a team playing in Russia's second division.

The new World Cup stadium in Kaliningrad, Russia. (Photo: AP/ Nikolai Kharchenko)

WHAT TO KNOW

Kaliningrad is one for the history buffs. Under the name Koenigsberg, it was a political and cultural centre for Germans for hundreds of years, but much of that heritage was destroyed during World War II.

After the Soviet collapse in 1991, it became a haven for smugglers. Local officials are trying hard to reinvent the city as a tourist destination in the way nearby Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have done.

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The upper lake in Kaliningrad. (Photo: AP/ Ferdinand Ostrop)

WHAT TO DO

The German cathedral and the Ocean Museum both draw tourists, though the beaches outside the city may be the real draw during the World Cup.

To find sea and sand, head to the villages of Zelenograd or Svetlogorsk, or to the Curonian Spit, a long sandbank which links the Kaliningrad region to Lithuania, with water on both sides.

A man catches fish at the lower lake in Kaliningrad. (Photo: AP)

If you're looking for a souvenir, amber is often found locally — sometimes with prehistoric insects still trapped inside. Kaliningrad companies specialise in elegant amber jewelry.

For food, there are German and Russian-style restaurants around the centre of the city.

WHAT TO WATCH

Kaliningrad will host four matches, starting with the Group D game between Croatia and Nigeria on 16 June.

Serbia will then take on Switzerland in Group E on 22 June, followed by a Group B match between Spain and Morocco on 25 June.

The final match in the city on 28 June is likely to draw the most interest. That's when England will take on Belgium in Group G.

Plan your trip to Russia

  • Do SA residents need a visa: No - South African citizens travelling to Russia without the intention of working, studying or living in the country will be free from visa requirements and can enter, stay or transit without a visa for a duration of up to 90 days. Read more here.
  • Currency & exchange rate: Russian Ruble – 1 Rand = about 4.99 Russian Ruble.
  • Main airport: Sheremetyevo International Airport.
  • Airlines that travel there: Aeroflot, British Airways, EgyptAir, KLM, Czech Airlines, Air France, Turkish Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Emirates, Qatar Airways, SWISS. Search for flights here.