Beach Hel Poland Excerpt

To Hel and Back

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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 Gdańsk pulled into the port, this is what we got:

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.

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.

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

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.

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  1. 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!

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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

    1. 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. 🙂

  6. 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!

    1. 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!

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

  8. 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!

    1. 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!

  9. 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 ;).

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