More specifically, 25 snapshots from Poland’s Hel Peninsula, a 35-kilometer long stretch of sand bar that juts northwest to southeast between the Bays of Puck and Gdansk and the Baltic Sea.
Just 300 meters wide at its narrowest and about three kilometers at its widest near its eponymous capital, it’s an odd shape –part mangled crescent, part predatory bird claw– which, despite its hellish-sounding name in English, is a popular summer playground and respite for locals from northern Poland’s Tricity metro area of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot.
But interlopers who arrive on the peninsula at the city port of Hel, be warned: Hel’s capital’s offerings largely cater to day trippers and families, in the summer months a sunny and crowded mix of predictable kitsch: fast food, impossibly sweet desserts, amusement rides and very crowded beaches that offer just enough pleasant tackiness at every turn to inspire a small waterfall of painfully playful wordplay captions to photos you’re dying to compose. Like this one:
And this one:
You get the idea.
Walk east on main street until you reach the first bike rental shop; select one with a comfortable seat and head west immediately where a handful of less-crowded smaller towns with better and more alluring restaurants and much nicer somewhat secluded beaches await.
It’s difficult to get lost, so don’t sweat it; there’s only one Highway to Hel. Spanning the course of the peninsula, it runs parallel to the train tracks that connect it to the mainland and to a (mostly) dedicated and (mostly) paved bike path. There are dozens of trails that’ll lead to the Baltic through pleasant forests and wind-swept sand dunes; most aren’t marked but no-go military zones are. It really is best to avoid those – unless you want to spend some time in a Jail from Hel.
You can hop a train from Gdansk main station (about 90min one way), hop on a bus that will take you through the Tricity are or in the late spring and summer months take a ferry from the city’s old town district (about 2hrs each way). I chose the latter; the route goes through the famous Gdansk port and shipyards.
The morning ferries to Hel fill quickly so buy your ticket at least one day in advance and arrive at the departure pier early if you want to good seat or spot. More than fifty people were already in the queue to Hel when I arrived at 07:40 for my 08:30 ride.