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Situated on the Baltic coast of northern Poland lies the beautiful port city of Gdańsk. Gdańsk is the largest city within the Pomeranian Voivodeship and is part of a metropolitan area called the Tricity, which consists of Gdańsk, Gdynia and the resort town of Sopot.
Gdańsk, as beautiful of a city as it is, is not that well known to visitors from outside of Europe and is often overshadowed by more popular cities such as Warsaw and Kraków when it comes to tourism.
From the moment I first laid eyes on a photo of Gdańsk and its historic waterfront along the Motława River, I knew I had to visit. Located approximately three hours north by train from Warsaw, it makes for the perfect day trip, or even a weekend getaway. I decided to stay in Gdańsk for one day and I can tell you this; I could’ve stayed much longer. Although I was able to see many of the city’s main attractions during my stay, some of the museums I wished to visit had early closing hours, or were closed due to Corona, but I didn’t let that spoil my time there because I absolutely fell in love with this colourful city and its charming streets.
I was graciously gifted a Gdańsk City Card by the Gdańsk Tourism Office when I arrived in the city, which allowed me skip the line access to attractions, discounts at certain restaurants and free entrance to a lot of attractions. I highly suggest getting the 24 hour city card if you’re ever in Gdańsk. You can find a full listing of what the card has to offer at the Gdańsk Tourism Board’s website.
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As with most cities in Poland, Gdańsk has a turbulent and complex history that has seen Polish, Prussian and German rule and was even once considered a royal city of Poland in the early modern age. In the late middle ages, Gdańsk was considered an important seaport city and was part of the Hanseatic League.
Tensions started to rise between Poland and Germany, which eventually led to the beginning of WWII starting in Gdańsk. Germany attacked the Polish military base at the Westerplatte Peninsula on September 1, 1939 after Poland refused to surrender. The people of Gdańsk fought tooth and nail against the Germans, but sadly were overtaken, the city devastated and the majority of the Polish population executed. From there, the war spread out all throughout the country. Gdańsk was also the birthplace of the Solidarity Movement in the 1980’s, which essentially was a major cause to end Communist rule within Poland.
Gdańsk is also well known for being the major player in the Amber trade. Amber, or Baltic Gold as it’s commonly referred to, comes from the Baltic Sea and is considered extremely valuable. You’ll find everything from necklaces to souvenir knick knacks sporting the golden hued stone while shopping in Gdańsk.
If you fancy a day trip, you could head to Malbork Castle, which is the largest castle in the world measured by land area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or make your way to Sopot and Gydnia to see the Baltic Sea and Poland’s most famous beach.
Although my time in Gdańsk was short, I made it my mission to see as much as possible during my visit, so if you’re planning to head to Gdańsk, or are looking for some lesser known cities in Poland to travel to then here is my list of how you can spend a day exploring Gdańsk.
Getting To Gdańsk
Arriving in Gdańsk is easy and accessible by rail, bus or plane from all over Poland. Gdańsk Lech Wałęsa Airport, which is the 3rd largest airport in passenger traffic in Poland, is a short distance from the city centre. Ultimately, the best way to get to Gdańsk is by rail in my opinion. It’s relatively quick, comfortable and efficient. The main rail station in Gdańsk is Gdańsk Główny and is a short walk from the city centre. To buy train tickets, you can buy them in the station at machines, at kiosks run by salespeople, or even online at PKP Intercity’s website.
Ulica Długa (The Long Lane) in Gdańsk, is one of the most notable tourist attractions of the city. It leads from the Golden Gate (Złota Brama) to the Długi Targ (Long Market) and the Green Gate (Brama Zielona). Długi Targ, or Long Market, was established during the 13th century as a merchant’s road, but after the Teutonic Knights took over Danzig, or Gdańsk as it’s known as today, it was home to the wealthiest and most prominent people therefore Długi Targ was also commonly referred to as the Royal Route. Most cities in Europe have a main city square filled with restaurants and cafés, but Gdańsk’s Długi Targ is the main artery of the city and its colourful tenement homes are its main attraction.
Located at Długi Targ 44, sits the Dutch Mannerism styled Artus Court. This building was constructed back in 1348 and was once used as a meeting place for wealthy merchants, local elite and was the centre of social life in Gdańsk. Although severely damaged throughout many years of war, the Artus Court was rebuilt after WWII with the equipment, including the furnace, that was hidden from the city before the troops invaded Gdańsk. The Artus Court is now a branch of the Gdańsk History Museum and is a major point of interest for tourists and architecture photographers due to its exterior design with numerous elegant statues on the front facade. Entrance to the Artus Court is free with the purchase of the Gdańsk City Card .
While walking through the streets of Gdańsk, you may feel as though you are wandering around the Dutch city of Amsterdam and here’s why. After the German occupation ended following WWII, Gdańsk immediately began to be reconstructed and the people wanted all of the German influences gone, including the city’s name (Danzig) along with the old street names and to be returned to their pre-war names. Some people wanted the city to be restored to its pre-war glory, while others wanted a complete redesign to erase every memory of the devastating effects that the war had on Gdańsk’s streets. The architects that revived the city streets took inspiration from the Netherlands and Northern Belgium, hence why the buildings have a Dutch style to them now. Make sure to stop and look up at the intricate details on the front of the many colourful tenement buildings along the streets.
St. Mary’s Church
Dominating Gdańsk’s historic Old Town, Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or simply St. Mary’s Church (Bazylika Mariacka), awards those who dare to climb the 405 steps to the top of the basilica’s tower with commanding views of the city streets below and beyond in the distance. St. Mary’s Church is also noted as the largest brick church in the world. It can hold up to 20,000 people at one time and houses many works of art and also a massive astronomical clock. Entrance to the church is free, but if you want to climb the tower, it’ll cost you 10 PLN, but if you purchase the Gdańsk City Card from the tourist office, entrance to the tower is free.
Gdańsk Town Hall
The Gdańsk Town Hall (Ratusz) is a historic building located in the heart of the city on Ulica Długa. Designed in Gothic Renaissance style, the Ratusz is notably one of the most magnificent buildings in the Old Town. Construction started in 1346 and wasn’t fully completed until the 15th century. Like most buildings in Gdańsk during WWII, the Ratusz was not spared damage. With the top of the tower destroyed, the Ratusz was carefully reconstructed and rebuilt after the war and was completed in 1952. Today, the Town Hall house the Gdańsk History Museum and for an additional 10 PLN, you can head up the tower to get some excellent views of the city below, but if you purchase the Gdańsk City Card from the tourist office, entrance to the tower is free.
While walking along Długi Targ, you’ll come across the majestic Neptune Fountain, which can be found directly in front of the Artus Court. The statue of Neptune was constructed in 1617 and was later constructed into a fountain in 1663. During WWII, the statue and symbol of Gdańsk was dismantled and hidden away with other city treasures and it wasn’t until 1954 that it was returned to its rightful place.
Walking along the Gdańsk waterfront, you’ll come across the large medieval port crane – the infamous Żuraw, which is located on Długie Pobrzeże. Being the most iconic symbol of Gdańsk, it is one of the last remaining structures of the great trading days within the city. The Żuraw was able to lift up to four tonnes and had two incredibly large wheels inside, which were literally man powered by having two men turn the wheel to work the crane – almost as if it were a human sized hamster wheel. The medieval relic was a functional crane up until the mid 19th century until it was 80% destroyed during WWII during the Battle of Gdańsk . The Żuraw can be found on most souvenirs as well, such as postcards, mugs, shirts, magnets and much more. Today you can visit the Polish Maritime Museum located inside and the cost of the museum ticket and the tower is free with the purchase of the Gdańsk City Card.
The Czarna Perła, or The Black Pearl in English, is an exquisite mock pirate ship that takes people on a cruise between Gdańsk and Westerplatte and offers tours in English, German, Polish and even Russian. The cruise lasts approximately 30 minutes and is filled with information regarding the city’s history and key landmarks as you make your way to Westerplatte, the place where WWII began. If you’re travelling with kids, this makes for a great day trip during a nice day and for the adults there is a bar on deck and also a restaurant to serve you some food if you are feeling a tad peckish while making your way back to your starting point. For more information regarding costs, times and dates, you can visit the Czarna Perła website.
Once home to the prison tower and torture chamber, as well as being the city’s old courthouse on the lower level, the Amber Museum (Muzeum Bursztynu) dives deep (pun intended) into the history of Baltic amber. The museum houses many special exhibits such as jewellery, bugs encased within the golden stone and even an amber Stratocaster guitar, which would be a must see for any musician and music aficionado. The cost of the museum ticket and the tower is free with the purchase of the Gdańsk City Card. Head to the Amber Museum website for more information regarding opening times, events and much more. Unfortunately during my visit in Gdańsk, I missed the last call for visitors by five minutes and could not get in. There’s always next time, right? 😉
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Ulica Mariacka is one of Gdańsk’s most beautiful and ultimately the most photographed street in the entire city. Locally known as just Mariacka, this cobblestone street is lined with amber shops, galleries, restaurants and many quaint coffee shops. Mariacka was horribly damaged during WWII, but unlike other streets in Old Town, which were reconstructed with new materials, Mariacka was was pieced back together using salvaged debris from all over the neighbourhood, making it one of the most unique streets in Gdańsk. Another notable characteristic of Mariacka are the ornate gargoyle rain gutters that are placed on the stone terraces of the gabled houses. The gargoyles are known locally as Rzygacze, which mean Spewers or Pukers in English. These exquisite details are one of the many details that draw tourists to Ulica Mariacka while visiting Gdańsk.
Rooftop By Sassy
If you’re like me and search for the best views in a new city as soon as you arrive, I’ve got you covered. The best view in Gdańsk has to be the one on the rooftop of one of the poshest and hippest bars in the city. Rooftop by Sassy boasts incredible views of the Motława River, Czarna Perła, St. Mary’s Church and many more recognizable landmarks below. Make sure to grab a cocktail and head to the rooftop at night to be absolutely dazzled by the lit up views of Gdańsk’s Old Town. Rooftop by Sassy has a great menu if you’re in the mood for some snacks, a list of events on their website, including live music, which definitely would make for a great night out with your friends. Make sure to email them to make reservations though because a place this cool fills up fast!
Where To Stay
Gdańsk is filled with beautiful hotels, hostels, apartments and boutique accommodations to stay in all throughout the city and at affordable prices. During my stay in Gdańsk, I stayed at the stunning Gotyk House located right on Ulica Mariacka, which is situated in a historic house that dates back to 1451. The name, Gotyk House says it all, as the mesmerizing gothic interior of the hotel gives a medieval vibe as soon as you walk through the massive wooden door. The rooms are fashionably decorated with copper details in the bathroom, the coziest beds and attractive ceiling details. I highly suggest staying at the Gotyk House if you’re planning to stay in Gdańsk. Not only are the rooms gorgeous, but the staff is absolutely amazing and so friendly. You can book your accommodations through Booking.com or directly through their website.
Gdańsk was one of the most alluring and captivating cities I have visited so far, not only in Poland, but in Europe. With an array of landmarks dotted throughout the city, excellent restaurants, coffee houses, souvenir shops, museums and colourful streets to keep you enamoured during your visit, Gdańsk should not be missed when you visit Poland. With so much to see and do, I can confidently say that you can see a lot within the city in a day, but to see it all, you could even stay three days to fully enjoy every aspect of Gdańsk.
Have any of you guys visited, or have heard of Gdańsk? After reading this post, would you consider visiting if you have never been there before? Let me know if the comments below! xo