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.
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.
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.
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!
Like all the other villages on the Hel Peninsula, Hel boasts wonderful spacious sandy beaches. The one on the Pucka Bay side is not that large, but if you cross the peninsula, which can be done in a matter of minutes, you will find an expanse of fine sand - ideal for sunbathing. Near the official entrance to the beach there are slides and other attractions for the children. If you just want peace, sunshine and the sea, there is plenty of space further on in either direction.
In the woods nearby you can see some military memorabilia of Hel's turbulent past, such as cannons, and in the waters of the Baltic there are some shipwrecks from war times.
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.
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.
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?
If you have a day for exploration, take a passenger boat from Gdynia, Gdansk or Sopot to Hel or Jastarnia (only from Gdynia). You can go on a round or one-way trip, but give yourself some time to visit Hel and have a meal there before you return to the city. Unfortunately, the boats run only in the high season, which this year, for instance, ended on 17th September and often ends while the weather continues to be great and is forecast to remain so till the end of the month. We have recently found out that most of the boat trips actually stop at the end of August.
For more details of the cruises, including the price list and the timetable, see the website, only partly in English, so let me add that 'odjazd' means departure and 'przyjazd' arrival.
If you can't take a trip on one of the big boats going to Gdansk or Sopot, don't despair. You can still enjoy a round boat trip into the open sea on one of the smaller boats. They are there off season as well and for the small sum of 10 (for 30 min.) or 15 (for 45 min.) zloties will take you along the coast to see the war time shipwrecks, the beaches and the lighthouse at Hel. We chose the Cpt. Morgan, a fishing boat built of wood after the Viking designs. It was my birthday and, coincidentally, the boat turned out to be exactly my age (well, not to the day, but anyway). Beautifully renovated (I wish I could undergo this as well), it is now used for boat trips, fishing trips for groups, trips organised to watch sunset or sunrise at sea. I somehow don't believe I would get up that early but even by day we greatly enjoyed the rocking of the boat to the sound of traditional shanties, with the wind in our faces and the sun shining brightly. The boating fan that I am, I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate my birthday.
Hel's harbour is enormous which means that even on a summer Sunday, if you are prepared to walk a bit you can get away from the crowds. I'm not sure that I would have had the energy to walk right to the end of it if I had started out at the town side but because of my poor sense of direction we ended up getting a little lost and found ourselves practically at sea.
This did mean that we got to really enjoy the outer harbour before exhaustion or sun-stroke kicked in. It's not so sanitised out here and you can peep into rusty old fishing boats and trip over nets. The warehouses lining the pier are functional rather than decorative and there is a real fishing town feel. The breeze is wonderful here also and the combined smell of ocean and fish is totally refreshing.
As you come closer to the town centre the whole atmosphere and ambience of the harbour begins to change. Now stalls start to appear alongside the wall seperating the town from the sea and large sun umbrellas advertising beer flutter vigorously in the wind. The boats moored here are almost all pleasure boats available for cruises around the peninsula or for the longer cruise to Gdansk, Sopot or Gdynia. Between the pier and the streets the first restaurants and bars appear and a local radio station broadcasting live, pounds out the music. At this stage we are still feeling very upbeat and enjoy the slightly manic atmosphere, while drowning a Zwiec or two.
From here you can see the building which houses the fishing museum and the combination of bright red roof tiles, intensely blue sky and little white wispy clouds is really dazzling.