To Hel and Back

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

It may not live up to its namesake, but Hel is unfortunately not its ironic opposite either.

We expected what all the inviting online images offered, and planned our day accordingly. We envisioned picnicking seaside and making Pete-and-Dalene-shaped grooves in the deep, soft white sand. Hel Peninsula, a 35 kilometre long sand bar off the north coast is made just for that – at some points it is only 200 meters wide and thus each side is a beach-hopper’s dream.

At first glance, as our ferry from Gdaล„sk pulled into the port, this is what we got:

Port Beach Hel Poland

Crowded, commercial, and upon closer inspection, kinda dirty.

There had to be more.

But in our first hour of the few we had allotted for Hel, we stumbled. The official at the tourist office pulled out a map that barely showed more than what was in front of us. We asked about nicer beaches and he pointed to that which had already caused my upper lip to sneer in disappointment. But we weren’t ready to give up just yet.

There HAD to be more.

Port Hel

We muddled down the main tourist street, asking a few for help but finding only scarce English. We had previously read that bicycles are the best way to get around, but our two attempts to find rental shops came up empty. Quite literally: there were open lots where google maps said bike shops would be.

We sat defeated in a cafe, already judged our day as wasted, and began counting the hours until the return ferry was set to go.

Grumpy and muttering, we wandered a bit further. Finally an upturn: bikes! With wheels finally under us, we ignored the one-beach map we had been given and instead found our way through the pine forest that mysteriously runs the center of the peninsula. We dodged golf carts used as taxis, locals hauling beach chairs and other gear, and joyfully hopped around from one beach to another.

The best beaches are hidden on the other side.

We dodged golf carts used as taxis and joyfully hopped around from one beach to another.
Beach Hel Poland
Hel-Peninsula-Poland-02
Beach Lounger

This marks the actual tip of Hel, and the northern most part of Poland.

Hel Monument

Hel-Peninsula-Poland-05

Visiting mid-week, we were actually able to avoid some of the crowds reported to overtake the peninsula. Hel is apparently where the Polish go for vacation.

Our stumbling at the beginning? I think they just don’t want other tourists coming here. They want Hel all to themselves.

26 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Sam
    July 19 2013

    I heard about Hel a while ago from Polish friends in the UK, and I’d seen their pictures from their time there, so I was surprised by your initial impression as it always looked so idyllic! Glad you managed to find the hidden side!

    • July 20 2013

      The beaches are quite idyllic, once you find them. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I would also be concerned about going on the weekends, apparently they get quite over run.

  • Susan
    July 19 2013

    With that name this story couldn’t help but be funny. I’m taking notes on your experiences so we won’t/will check them out too!

    • July 20 2013

      Ohhh, there were SO many options for how to write this post given the name of Hel!! It was hard to narrow our options down. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Aleks
    July 19 2013

    Considering crowds, it is better to go to Hel in Sep. – there are fewer people then.
    Have you visited the upside down house in Szymbark? There is Canadian Kashubians’ home in an open-air museum.

    • July 20 2013

      Oh MAN! How did we miss the upside down house? That looks awesome! I wish we had known about it.

  • July 20 2013

    The tip of the peninsula looks lovely! We don’t like overcrowded beaches either and avoid going to Italian beaches during the week and all of August for that very reason.
    Jennifer recently posted..A Musical Journey on the General Jackson Showboat

  • July 19 2013

    It’s fun to find out where all the locals really like to hang out, eat and entertain. Sometimes you only discover these when you are actually there and ask around and find the best of everything local

    • July 20 2013

      That is the way we like to travel! Just show up in a place and ask the locals. Sometimes it takes awhile to get a good answer, but usually it works. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • July 20 2013

    There’s a Hell in the Cayman Islands as well. In the four months I lived there I went once… stamped a few postcards and was on my way!
    Alex recently posted..Becoming a Divemaster: Practical Experience

    • July 20 2013

      Haha! Oh, the blog title possibilities would be endless from there!

  • Good find with the beach — I love it when I discover a spot the locals use. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..This is Not a Hotel Review: @JetwingHotels

  • July 20 2013

    Looks like Hel wasn’t so bad after all. Glad you found the more “heavenly” side. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • July 20 2013

      I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say it’s heavenly, but Hel had its moments.

  • July 20 2013

    So glad you didn’t give up – the path you followed via bike looks inviting and restorative.
    Maria recently posted..9 Tips for Great Photos from Your Current Camera

    • July 20 2013

      That path was so surprising. I’m not sure if I’ve ever smelled alpine and then been on a pristine beach seconds later? Seemed bizarre to me!

  • Kim
    July 21 2013

    I suppose I wouldn’t have expected much out of beaches in Poland! So it’s good to see you found some hidden gems.

    • July 24 2013

      Same! If we would have known, we would have planned for longer days of just lounging on beaches!

  • Emily in Chile
    July 21 2013

    That’s so strange that the tourist office wasn’t more helpful, but I’m glad you guys had a good day in the end!

    • July 24 2013

      I think part of it was the language barrier. I’m not sure he understood what we were asking for, or how to explain for us to get there!

  • July 22 2013

    I love little secrets like that where they deny the existence of someplace in order to keep it for the locals.

  • Ewa
    July 22 2013

    Hel is nice but off-season… I myself was born in Gdansk and ‘ve lived here for 24years and maybe twice in my life went to the beach in the summer during the day… it is HELL ;).

    • July 24 2013

      Haha! I’m glad we were there a *little* early at least. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • July 25 2013

    So overall would you recommend going there for a day trip? We’re in Gdansk and considering going there for a day.

  • July 30 2013

    Still not much of a fan in regards to how this beach looks. :X

  • I am so glad that you found bicycles and were able to explore further! The image of the griffin adorned boulder at the northernmost point in Poland is so dramatic – fabulous!

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