Every time I mention to my foreign friends that they should visit Hel, Poland, I get weird looks. But despite the funny name this really is one of the must-visit places in Poland if you are looking for a seaside getaway.
Wide and sandy beaches, nice town, beautiful forest, unique location, chilled vibe, and some interesting historical remnants – there are so many solid reasons to go to Hel. Since I remember it’s been my favorite place on the Polish Baltic Sea coast and every time I visit Hel I’m more than happy. This place never disappoints.
Whether you are looking for some fine day trips from Gdansk or you want to spend a few relaxing days at the seaside – Hel is a perfect place to go to!
Table of contents
Where is Hel, Poland
The town of Hel is located at the very end of Poland, at the tip of the Hel Peninsula – a narrow, around 35 km long stretch of land north of Gdansk.
This is a symbolic beginning of Poland, you can even find the monument dedicated to this fact at the beach in Hel. What makes Hel’s location special is that the town is surrounded by the Baltic Sea from three sides.
How to get to Hel
Getting to Hel is actually pretty easy and you have a variety of options to choose from.
My preferable mode of transportation is train – all year long there are direct trains from Gdynia (the journey takes less than 1,5 hours), in the summertime, there are also connections from other cities in Poland.
The train route to Hel is really scenic, it goes mostly through beautiful forests but occasionally you can admire the Baltic Sea or Puck Bay, or both at the same time (in the narrowest place the Hel Peninsula is only 200 meters wide).
Another popular option to reach Hel is to take the boat from Gdansk, Sopot, or Gdynia. You can find the details, including the schedule and prices here.
You can also take the bus (including famous bus no 666) or drive to Hel but it can be a nightmare in the summertime when the traffic jams happen often. So honestly, the train is your best option.
Where to stay in Hel
Since Hel is such a popular destination there are plenty of accommodation options for each taste. I would still recommend booking a place to stay in Hel in advance, especially in the summer season. Here you can find the best Hel accommodations.
The best time to visit Hel
In the summertime Hel, just like all the other popular seaside destinations in Poland, can get really packed so if you are not so much into tourist crowds it’s better to avoid the place in July or August. However, if you are looking for the typical summer madness with all its attractions this is the best time for visiting Hel.
My favorite time to go to Hel is either late spring (May-beginning of June) or early autumn (September-October). The weather is already/still good but the number of tourists significantly drops and you can properly enjoy the place.
But Hel is beautiful all year long, even in the winter, especially when the beach is covered in snow. So no matter when you go to Hel you will find it beautiful for sure.
A brief history of Hel
The first settlement, the so-called Old Hel, dates back to the 9th century. Over the years it developed into an important place in the region, mostly due to its location and fishing.
The town was even granted city rights but after a few centuries, when Gdansk’s importance grew, all the privileges of Hel were withdrawn. Old Hel was located around 1,5 km away from the current town but it was destroyed by fire and eventually flooding.
The current town was established when Old Hel still existed and that’s where inhabitants moved when Old Hel fell into difficulties. But the place started regaining its importance only at the end of the 19th century (it was under German rule then) when the fishing harbor was opened here. That’s also when the town also gained popularity among tourists.
When Hel was returned to Poland after World War 1, the area again developed rapidly, especially after the railway line was opened in 1922.
The peninsula became the fortified area in 1936 and Hel was home to the one of two main naval bases of the Polish Navy. After the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, Hel managed to defend for over a month. Until the end of WW2 Hel was occupied by Germany until it was returned to Poland again.
Things to do in Hel
Even if Hel is a small town with a population of just over 3.000 inhabitants, the place is full of attractions.
The main reason to visit Hel is obviously the seaside. That’s where you will find some of the most beautiful beaches in Poland (or even on the Baltic Sea coast) – long, wide and sandy.
In the summertime, they are obviously packed with tourists but if you don’t mind walking a bit toward Jurata (the next settlement on the peninsula, some 10 km away from Hel) you will easily find more secluded areas.
Until recently the very tip of the Hel Peninsula was a military area, closed to the public, but now you can easily walk to the metaphorical beginning of Poland. And it’s such a beautiful place, with only a vast sea surrounding you from three sides.
Since Hel was such a heavily militarized area you will find plenty of remnants of war infrastructure in the forest all over the town. You can explore some abandoned bunkers and watchtowers or visit the museum dedicated to the defense of Hel. When walking in the forest (and these are really beautiful in Hel!) you never know what you can find.
The center of the town is really pleasant with some old houses (some of them from the 19th century) along the main street – Wiejska. That’s also where you will find numerous restaurants, cafes, and fast food points as well as souvenir shops.
Near the center, on the side of Puck Bay, you will find the harbor and probably the biggest of all the Hel attractions – the seal sanctuary. The popular aquarium is part of the marine institute of Gdansk University who focuses on protecting the seal population in this part of the Baltic Sea. Visitors can attend the feeding of seals which is always great fun.
If you would like to look from above at the Baltic Sea, the town of Hel, the peninsula, and even Gdansk you can go up to the top of the lighthouse. It’s located in the forest more or less on the way from the town to the beach and offers some great views of the surrounding area.
The lighthouse itself dates back to 1942 however the first structure was built here already in the 17th century.
And once you are done with visiting Hel you can go to other places along the peninsula that are really pleasant too: Jurata, Jastarnia, Kuźnica, Chałupy or Władysławowo. You can easily take the train to get to them or simply walk along the beach.
Final thoughts on visiting Hel
I might be biased here as I spent so much time in Hel since I was a kid and always loved it but I really believe this is the best place to visit on the Polish seaside. Not only it has beautiful nature but also offers plenty of attractions, especially for fans of military spots.
And while the place can be a bit overwhelming in the summer, if you visit Hel off-season you will easily enjoy the place. Even if you can only come here as a day trip from Gdansk it’s still worth the journey!
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