To Hel and back

The Hel Peninusula is a narrow strip of land poking out over the north of Poland, in the Baltic Sea. Yesterday I took a one hour ferry there from Gdynia, walked 20 miles along it, then took a one hour train back. It was exhausting, and beautiful.

A map of a section of Poland showing Hel Peninusual and Gdynia, with arrows for ferry and train routes, and a squiggle for where I walked

The ferry from Gdynia runs from May to September, and is 40PLN (~10EUR). There's one guaranteed to run in each direction, and two which run if there are enough people demanding it. I went at 10am, and it takes about an hour. The port is about a 15 minute walk from Gdynia main station, in a straight line. I bought my ticket from the office on the port (they're also available online) about half an hour before departure. There were only a handful of other people on board.

A white ferry labelled AGAT beside a port on the sea A weird shaped building with big red letters on The top deck of a ferry with benches on View from inside a ferry across a port to a city Raindrops on a window to the sea People walking along a pier beside a ferry, next to the sea

Hel itself is the biggest town, on the end of the strip. It is surrounded on all sides by beaches, and backed by woods with many remnants of the World Wars, like bunkers and shelters. I didn't stick around in the town for very long after disembarking the ferry, but plunged into the woods to cross to the less inhabited beaches on the northern side.

A small beach with a pier and town in the background Trees, sand and moss covered bunker in the woods Trees in the background, sand dune in the foreground with cement blocks

For a while I followed the beach. It was windy, mini sandstorms peppered my ankles; the waves crashed to my right and there was no-one. Miles and miles of soft white sand, stretching out in both directions. It really felt like paradise.

The beach is separated from the woods by banks of sand dunes of various sizes. It was much more sheltered and warm to walk through here, but the dunes were deep and soft; ploughing through took more energy. I wandered between beach, dunes and woods. The trees were far enough apart that an absence of well defined trails didn't matter. Pale green-blue moss on the ground was deliciously crunchy underfoot. Sometimes the woods would open into wide patches of dunes, pure and white and sweeping, completely undisturbed by other footprints. Periodically I came across a bunker or a rusty watch tower, half-buried in the sand or overgrown by trees.

Fluffy sand leading to the sea through a gap in the trees Light coloured moss carpeting the forest floor with a tree in the middle White sand dunes with scattered grass and trees, and a sign saying 64 Hel Footprints on a beach leading towards the camera, sea on the left Dunes lined with trees and the sea in the background Light green moss on the forest floor with a tree trunk in the corner Dunes, grass and trees Wispy pine trees in the foreground with beach and sea behind Grassy dunes with sea on the horizon A military shelter that looks like a tank sticking out the top of a dune with grass, and trees in the background Dunes with grass going into the distance with trees on the horizon and right Most of the picture is smooth white sand stretching to the horizon, with some trees and blue sky

I had planned to walk from Hel to Chałupy, and take the train from there back to Gdynia. OpenStreetMap calculated the walk to take about 6 and a half hours, so I had 1.5 hours of bufffer before the second-to-last train and 3 hours before the last one. Plenty of wiggle room. Except I managed to consume almost all of the buffer before I was even half way. I was zigzagging through the woods and dunes, stopping for photos and lunch, and of course walking on sand dunes is considerably slower than OSM accounted for. When I realised there was a very real risk of missing the last train, I stepped up my pace.

I passed through the villages of Jurata and Jastarnia without really stopping to take them in, but I was keen to get to the narrowest part of the peninsula, hoping to see sea and beaches on both sides. I did stop long enough at Jurata to walk down the pier, and read about how the peninsula was used as a torpedo testing ground by the Germans in WWII.

View down a wooden pier with white fences, to the sea Blue sea with distant beach and trees and a white fence in the foreground Beach in the foreground curving around still sea with a pier along the horizon

There's a little peak called Libek an hour out of Jastarnia, which I think is the narrowest part of the split. Making it here felt like an achievemnet, and was a turning point in my energy levels. I could see the sea from both sides, but the trees are thick and the photo doesn't really capture it.

Panorama with trees, sea, grass and a sign in the middle Green grass in front of treas with sea in the distance Distant sea behind a traintrack and trees Trees silhouetted aginst a beach and sea

After that I realised my legs were tired and to make it to Chałupy on time I had no more opportunities to linger. The next village was Kuznica, which had beaches on both sides it would be nice to enjoy, so I decided to cop out one stop early and take the train from here instead. This bought me an hour, so I slowed my pace a little. I sat on the beach in Kuznica on the bay side, where the sea was much calmer, shallower and warmer than the Baltic Sea side.

Rough concrete path on the right leading to a sun setting over a town with a church spire An upturned boat on a beach with rough sea in the background Shallow sea water with ripples and sunlight

There was of course no ticket machine at the train station. I watched the sunset over the tracks, and the train arrived just before 9.

I bought the ticket from the conductor, half asleep, struggling to get out the name of my departure station (which I had only managed to implant in my brain beforehand because it ends in 'nica' meaning I associate it with Bosnia pies) and where I was going to, by the time she came around (13.50PLN, ~3EUR).

Train track running into the distance with trees and the sun Sea on the horizon with traintracks in the foreground Shelters on a train platform, with sun set pink and orange streaked sky

All photos and GPS on Runkeeper.

🏷 travel walking poland