Gdańsk is like no other Polish city. A sea of Flemish gables, cobbled streets and seafaring heritage make this a gorgeous outpost along the Baltic, with a culture thrust between empires and shared with far-flung cities for centuries. Wander down Mariacka street, in awe of the beauty of the old town, uncovering convivial eateries, quirky bars, fascinating museums and much, much more. And if that’s not enough, the shortest-of-hops out of town offers seaside charms a-plenty.
Getting into the Old Town
It’s hard to find an old town quite as beautiful as Gdańsk’s. Parallels with Bruges and Amsterdam aren’t without merit; Gdańsk famously traded with both cities for centuries, and the influence over architecture, culture and not to mention wealth, is inescapable. Pastel colours, decorative embellishments and those iconic Flemish gables frame the streets, bookended by vast city gates and lively market squares that embody the historic prowess of the city.
Arguably the prettiest street in the old town, Mariacka Street simply oozes atmosphere. It’s the only surviving row of terraces in the city; the narrow cobble street and jutting stoops flanked by ornamental pillars only serve to make the tall homes all the more imposing. It’s a feast for the eyes, each decorated with small fixtures here and there, most now sporting curious little shops at ground level. It’s a good spot to pick up some famous Baltic amber, an age-old trade of the city.
St Mary’s Church
Towering – without exaggeration – literally towering above the old town, is the largest brick Gothic church in the world, finished in 1502. Each street seemingly leads to the vast, imposing walls of the church, with soaring windows and towers pointing to the heavens. It’s an impressive sight; more impressive is the 405-step clamber to the tower’s viewing platform. Winding through the innards of the tower is an experience in itself, though the reward surely is the view from the top. The interior of the church is holistically white, surprisingly plain, though not without its own gravitas.
European Solidarity Centre
Solidarity has profound meaning in Poland. It’s the name owed to a trade union movement that became a symbolic freedom struggle of the late Soviet period, and paved the way for other Soviet states to start their own struggles toward independence. The union movement had its roots in the docks of Gdańsk, and the violence and murder faced by striking workers only strengthened the resolve of local dockers, catapulting the Solidarity union into a national movement. The Centre documents this profound history, a relatively new complex that has quickly become one of the must-see museums in Poland.
Museum of the Second World War
This striking building is a quite extraordinary landmark to the suffering and human cost of the Second World War. The exhibition is comprehensive, sensitive and markedly moving. Do set aside an afternoon; the vast halls are numerous, including full recreations of WWII-era streets, poignant sculpture and installation, and a comprehensive collection of artefacts. The realities of the war, and the Holocaust, are not censored – be mindful that the museum is not suitable for young children. Its existence in Gdańsk is poignant; not just because the city was all but destroyed, nor that its residents suffered the very worst miseries, but also that Gdańsk was the site of Hitler’s first engagement – the Battle of Westerplatte – a catalyst for the war to come.
There’s a very cool night scene in Gdańsk. If you’re hunting for a nightcap, there’s no shortage of eclectic bars in this city. Cellar bars and jazz clubs are the norm, where vintage and shabby-chic reign supreme and the understated revelry spills out onto the street. Head for the streets of the old town to find your sundowner spot, and soak up the unique culture of Gdańsk’s night scene.
Outside the city: Sopot
Sopot is a smart kind of place, a Baltic Riviera beset with beach, fish restaurants, wooden decking and the odd bit of revelry. At just a quarter of an hour (by train) from Gdańsk, a quick beach afternoon with sunset dining is arguably a must do. Along the waterfront, cafes, bars and restaurants vie for business, bunching up around the long, wooden pier (Europe’s longest, no less) that juts into the blue waters. Visitors from all over make this a pseudo pilgrimage, heel-turning back towards the town for walks along the famous Monte Cassino. Here, it’s a tad ritzy, a street more packed with bars, shopping and eateries than your typical Polish town. At sundown, it’s somewhat of a strip, attracting younger revellers that know how to have fun. Join them for Baltic beats and dancing, or escape the action at any number of refined seaside bars, overlooking the now-black waters of twilight.
Outside the city: Gdynia Orłowo cliff
For more outdoor wonders, head a little further north of Sopot (again, within easy reach of Gdańsk) and take a walk along the beach at Orłowo. This is where a deep forest meets the sea, where the forested elevation is battered by the waves causing a cliff edge. It makes for a beautiful beachside stroll, with the Baltic to one side and the Kępa Redłowska forest to the other.
In partnership with the Polish Tourism Organisation