The eldest building in Hel, already mentioned in the early 15th century records, now houses the Museum of Fishing. Until World War II it was St. Peter and St.Paul's church - a place of worship of the protestant inhabitants of Hel. Considerably damaged during the war, it was used as storerooms for a few years afterwards and was only saved from total demolition in the late 50s by the preservation order from the local council in Gdansk. However, the present-day building is only part of the old structure. The old tower, blown up by the defenders of Hel in 1939 to make the bombardment from the warships more difficult, was higher than the present 21 m one. From the top of the tower you can admire the panorama of the Pucka Bay and, on a clear day, the view of the three cities: Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot. In the hall of the museum you can see the only original object from the former church - a bell cast in 1749.
The Museum of Fishing at Hel occupies the building of a fifteenth century Gothic church (see another tip) just opposite the port. It displays all kinds of traditional fishing equipment and models of various kinds of boats. There is also an exhibition of traditional fishing boats in the yard outside. Other exhibits show the history of the Baltic Sea and its flora and fauna. In addition, the museum houses a collection of memorabilia from the defence of Hel in September 1939.
Open daily 10.00 - 18.00
Admission to the museum: Adults - 5 zl; Concessions - 3 zl;
To climb up the steep steps to the tower you pay 2 zl extra.
The lighthouse at Hel is not a very old one, but there have been many lighthouses on that site before. The strategic position of the town and frequent sea accidents around it made the construction of a lighthouse necessary already in the 17th century. At the time, of course, real fire had to be kept going all night. The first electrically-powered lighthouse had to be blown up by the Polish defenders of Hel in 1939 to make bombardment of the town from the warships more difficult for the enemy. The present 40 m high hexagonal lighthouse, which was constructed in 1942, offers a great view to those who will make the effort of climbing it.
Fokarium is an aquarium only with seals. It is operated by Gdansk University but it is open for tourists. In early spring you can meet there baby seals which will be released to sea in may. The fokarium is open every day from 8.30 till 20.00.
Seals are a natural part of the sea but unfortunately the population of seals in Baltic Sea is decreasing beacuse of the seals perishing in the fishing nets. Without the help of the people this beatutiful mammals will not survive.
Seals are very cute and understand a lot. It is easy to train them and they recognize their carers. Please help them to save seals in Baltic Sea.
The scientists at the Seal Sanctuary at Hel look after seals which, for various reasons, were unable to live in their natural habitat and then, when they get stronger, release them into the Baltic Sea, where seals have become very rare. A visit to the sanctuary is an interesting experience for children and adults alike. The seals look quite happy there, racing from pool to pool, getting out onto the banks and romping about like naughty children. I could watch them for hours - one even kept jumping up on the bank right ahead of me as if posing for photographs. You can watch them either directly or through a pane of glass underground. To make your visit even more interesting try to be there at seals' feeding time, e.g. at 2 p.m. The building houses also an exhibition on the natural environment of the Baltic, unfortunately in Polish only.
Opening times: during the season - 9.00 till sunset, out of season - 9.30 - 16.00.
Admission: 2 PLN + another 2 if you want to see the seals through the glass. You must have 2 zl coins to enter.
Excellent disabled access.
Walking along Wiejska St, the main street of Hel, you will see some charming 19th century fisherman's cottages. Half-timbered, with tiny windows and with low wooden fences around them, they remind me of doll's houses, but they still serve their purpose. More and more of them have been beautifully restored in recent years so don't miss a single one. The one in the photo dates back to 1890, the one that houses a restaurant is even older, coming from 1842. In poor condition, it will undergo complete reconstruction in the autumn this year. I keep fingers crossed they don't spoil it. The wrought-iron railing in the third picture has been added only recently.
Hel is an important fishing and passenger port at the tip of the Hel Peninsula. Take a walk around the harbour to see the fishing boats, yachts and join a passenger cruise to Gdynia, Sopot or Gdansk. In fact, you can visit Hel by going on a return cruise from one of those three cities, but then you'll miss all the lovely places on the way along the peninsula. Unfortunately, the passenger boats do not operate in low season.
The promenade leads from the passenger and fishing port some way towards the former military port. You can sit on the benches there basking in the sun or, walking along it, get to the small beach on this side of the coast. But the beaches on the other side of the peninsula past the wood are much more spacious and looking onto the open sea. Yet the promenade has its advantages. For wheelchair users or mothers with children in pushchairs for example, it offers easy access to seaviews. On a cool day the place gives you better shelter from the wind. And during a storm it enables you to watch the waves crashing on the coast - mind you don't get splashed!
Many old timber cottages have been beautifully restored and new elements added to their design. This beautiful carving of a saint (St Mark the Evangelist?) with lions, which symbolise vigilance and courage, must have been placed over that door this year - I have never seen it before. Or is it perhaps that now I am a VT member I notice more things around me?
The woodland around Hel has always been surrounded by wire fences and heavily fortified as a military area. But this has changed since Poland joined the NATO and the European Union. This year some of the wartime German, and older, Polish, military installations have been revealed to the public in the new Museum of the Defence of Hel. The museum consists of two parts: one is the 25 m high range-finder tower, so well hidden in the forest that we have never even suspected its existence and, on the other side of the main road, also in the forest, the site and remaining installations of the actual battery Schleswig Holstein. The cannons and other movable parts of the battery were transferred to Calais already in the autumn of 1941.
There, under the new name of 'Lindemann' it was used to fire at targets at sea as well as at some British batteries across the English Channel until September 1944, when it was taken over by Canadian forces. If you like military memorabilia, the museum is a must. If you don't, give the place a miss or search for mushrooms in the forest as I did while my husband went to take the photos. He is not a fan of military constructions either, but at least he knows more about them than I do.