Where would you go if you would have the opportunity to spend a weekend somewhere in Poland, before a week-long business trip? Which city would you choose? Or would it be a peaceful place in the countryside, or maybe a resort in the mountains?
Well, I’ve had that chance, and at the recommendation of a colleague, I ended up in Gdańsk, a port city at the Baltic Sea, with a history going back a thousand years. The city’s old town is truly a hidden gem. All right, maybe not that hidden, but definitely not as well-known as it should be. Before the trip, I had seen some pictures online, but I have to admit that the outcome exceeded all of my expectations.
Gdańsk is the capital of the Pomeranian Voivodeship and part of the Tricity, a metropolitan area with over one million inhabitants, along with Sopot, Gdynia and a few other minor towns. Each summer, Gdańsk hosts one of the biggest and oldest festivals in Europe: St. Dominic’s Fair, which started back in the 13th century. If you’re in Poland at the beginning of August, just don’t miss it. In terms of size, this fair is considered to be in the same category as the German Weihnachtsmarkts and Oktoberfest. That’s something, for sure!
A very interesting fact, not known by many, is that Westerplatte peninsula, situated to the north of the city, is the place where World War II began. On September 1st, 1939, the German forces attacked Poland and started the war that lasted for six years and generated the abominable Holocaust. The city’s beautiful old town was heavily damaged during the war, but thanks to pre-existing drawings and pictures, it was rebuilt in the 50s and 60s. And now looks spectacular.
Apart from the long, impressive history and picturesque old town, Gdańsk is also known for being the place where the Solidarity (Solidarność in Polish) movement started, in 1980. Led by Lech Wałęsa (which later won the Nobel Peace Prize and became the president of Poland), the movement protected the worker’s rights and was a major symbol of the resistance against communism. You can state that the fall of communism in Europe had started in Gdańsk.
It’s quite easy to figure out that you have to stay somewhere in the old town, because that’s the heart of Gdańsk. There are a lot of nice, spacious apartments around, both on Booking and on Airbnb, way cheaper than hotel rooms, that will offer enough comfort for a short stay. For example, I’ve chosen Apartment Słoneczny Old Town (Grobla I 13C), located in an old building, right next to St. Mary’s Church. Below is the view from the apartment – appealing, right? And since breakfast is not included, I’ll give you two places, not far from the apartment, where you can go and enjoy the first meal of the day: Cafe Libertas () and Lookier Cafe ().
Guide to Gdańsk
Saturday morning, snow was falling out of the grey sky, my weather app was showing minus 8 degrees Celsius, but with a much lower real feel. Perfect time to start walking! Just joking, the weather was freezing. But since you can’t control the weather, you have to adapt.
- Let’s start with the coolest place in Gdańsk, or at least in my opinion: Ulica Mariacka. Charming, narrow, with a cobblestone alley, with amber jewellery shops, row houses and creepy gargoyles, guarding the terraces. That’s St. Mary’s Street.
- Bazylika Mariacka (St. Mary’s Church) is one of the largest brick churches in the world. It features a beautiful decorated pipe organ and a 15th century astronomical clock. Its tower offers a great panorama, but have in mind that during the cold season, access is restricted.
- Ulica Długa (Long Street) and Długi Targ (Long Market) are top attractions. Everywhere you look, you’ll spot majestic mansions, which used to be the homes of the wealthy merchants, a few centuries ago. Notable sights: Ratusz Głównego Miasta (Main Town Hall), Neptune Fountain, Artus Court, Brama Zielona (the Green Gate) and Złota Brama (the Golden Gate).
- Next activity is taking a stroll along the western bank of the Motława river. Besides the beautiful, imposing gateways and colorful old houses, you’ll also see the Żuraw (currently part of the National Maritime Museum), the city’s old crane and one of its symbols.
- Admire the facade of this stunning Dutch style building: Wielka Zbrojownia (the Great Armoury), a former working arsenal till the 19th century. When I visited Gdańsk, the ground floor was opened and hosted a modern art gallery.
- Let’s head a bit north and check St. Catherine’s Church (the oldest church of the city), Wielki Młyn (or Great Mill, Europe’s largest mill during the Middle Ages, currently closed) and Ratusz Starego Miasta (Old Town Hall), which are just some tens of meters away, one from the other.
- After so much walking, you must be hungry, so it’s time for a break. Luckily, in this area there’s a great Polish restaurant: the Pierogarnia Mandu Centrum (). The pierogi (dumplings) are definitely the highlight of local cuisine. These come in various combinations of ingredients, from meat to vegetables and cheese. And there are even sweet ones, filled with fruit jams or chocolate. Prices are decent: 10 pieces cost from 15 to 25 zloty (that’s from €3.5 to €6).
- I’m going to end the tour with a visit to Westerplatte peninsula, the place where WWII started. There’s not much to see here, except for multiple information boards about the war, the ruins of the defenders’ barracks and the monument raised in their honour. But it’s a place of sorrow, that will trigger powerful emotions.
Gdańsk was cold… literally. But that’s just because of the weather. The city surprised me in a very positive way. Its architecture is not something typical for Poland, but a mixture of styles I’ve seen before, in other European cities. It feels a bit like a Nordic city. No wonder it was voted as one of the best European destinations for a holiday or city-trip in 2017, it will easily surpass your expectations. Go and discover it!
Do widzenia, do jutra, Gdańsk!
Author: Marian Bulacu
Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.