Gdansk is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Poland. With its colorful houses, historic gates, sea climate and tall brick churches, it attracts visitors from all over the world. We wandered through Gdansk for a few days to discover what the city has to offer. Spoiler alert: a lot!
Located on the coast of Poland, Gdansk has a lovely sea climate. Despite the fact we traveled in June, daily temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius were great for city tripping. If it got too hot during the day, we resorted to the water to catch a breeze.
There’s no lack of tourists in Gdansk. Whether it’s Scandinavians enjoying the affordable booze or tour groups exploring the cobbled streets of the city center, there’s something to do everywhere! Along the smaller streets, tourist shops sell amber, the main souvenir available in Gdansk.
Lovers of architecture will be happy: Gdansk’ colorful facades are photogenic and the buildings well-kept. The city center is steeped with history and interesting stories, visible to the naked eye or kept in museums.
History of Gdansk
The history of Gdansk begins in 997, when the Bohemian bishop Adalbert arrived and baptized the inhabitants. The settlement could grow because of the developing port, which became incredibly important for the city throughout the years.
The Teutonic order seized the settlement in 1308 and joined the Hanseatic League in 1361. The city quickly turned into an important center of trade.
In the 15th century, locals pledged allegiance to the Polish monarch by demolishing the Teutonic Knights throne. Gdansk became even more powerful in the trade business and was now an important player in all of Europe.
Due to the ongoing wars between Poland and Sweden, from which Gdansk could escape, the region had weakened and could be occupied by Prussia in 1793. 14 years later, Napoleon and his Polish allies defeated the Prussians and took back the city.
Unfortunately, this didn’t last long. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna gave Gdansk back to Prussia, which became Germany not much later. In the hands of the Germans, Gdansk was turned into a German city. They reinforced the city’s defenses and made Gdansk grow economically.
After WWI and Germany’s defeat in it, the treaty of Versailles gave the Polish nation a part of their coast back, the so-called Polish corridor. Gdansk, named Danzig at the time, wasn’t included and fell under the protection of the League of Nations.
By the time Hitler rose to power, the port and the city were considered German. WWII Started in Gdansk after a German battleship fired shots from Westerplatte. The Germans continued to use the port throughout the war, using the Polish inhabitants in forced labor.
When the Russians arrived in March 1945, the Germans fled or died in battle. The Poles, coming from Soviet occupied territory, now resided in the city.
After the war ended, Gdansk got gradually reconstructed. The works lasted until well into the 1990’s and because of that, the city is known to be the largest area in Europe to be reconstructed from the ground up.
How much time do I need in Gdansk?
We stayed in Gdansk for 3,5 days, which is too short in my opinion. If you want to explore the city center thoroughly, have a day on the beach at Sopot and discover the ruins of Westerplatte, you might just make it. We, however, took it slow due to the rising temperatures in Poland. Because of that, we didn’t get to visit Malbork Castle, which is only a little train ride away from Gdansk.
Depending on what interests you, Gdansk is worth spending 4 to 6 days in.
What to see in the Old Town of Gdansk
Wandering through the Old Town of Gdansk is probably the highlight of your trip. From the long and buzzing market square to the little backstreets selling amber jewelry, Gdansk is beautiful all around.
Długi Targ, translated ‘the long market’, is where most people start. This square is filled with out of towners the entire day and when you see the rows of colorful houses and the gorgeous town hall, you understand why.
The central square is filled with picturesque attractions, such as Neptune’s fountain, Artusa Court and the Golden Gate, marking the entrance of this pedestrian area.
One of the highlights of Długi Targ is the Town Hall with the astronomical clock. It also houses the History of Gdansk museum.
Around the square you’ll find a few cute streets. Mariacka Street is filled to the brim with restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. The picturesque street is fun to walk through, even when you’re not interested in buying amber.
Piwna Street is famous for its beer. Brewers living on this street produced the delicious Jopen beer. Just like Mariacka and the market square, Piwna Street is buzzing with tourists all day long. Still, walking through it is well-worth your time and effort as you can see some of the most beautiful facades here as well.
The Old Town of Gdansk also houses a few gorgeous churches and cathedrals. St. Mary’s church is worth visiting as it is the largest brick church in the world. With its stunning interior, it deserves a place on your ‘must visit’ list.
The oldest church in the city is St. Catherine’s church. This church, now made of brick, was once built entirely out of wood by King Sobieslaus in 1185.
The many gates in Gdansk lead you to the several smaller market squares and streets of the Old Town as well as the water. Most of them were beautifully restored, such as the Bread Gate and the Green Gate while others have been a little left out.
At the Motlawa River, you can enjoy the typical Hanseatic buildings and pastel facades as well as the famous Gdansk crane. Lined along the water, you’ll find many terraces where you can grab a drink of bite to eat.
This is also the place to do a river cruise. As I could tell from the many, many people on the ships, this is a no go for me as it is way too touristy!
How to discover the Old Town of Gdansk thoroughly
The free walking tour of Gdansk shows you all the places (and more) just described. The English tour is gives twice a day during the peak season, at 10:30 AM and 3:30 PM (2018). Although the tour is absolutely free, make sure you tip your guide accordingly at the end of the tour.
For detailed info about all there is to see, pick up a Lonely Planet.
Cool museums and memorials in Gdansk
Gdansk is filled to the brim with interesting historic locations. Each one has a cool story to tell,. Here are a few highlights:
The Historical Museum of Gdansk
The Historical Museum of Gdansk is one of the highlights when it comes to getting to know the city formerly known as Danzig. Although incredibly busy during the peak season, I still advise you to take a look for yourself.
Address: Długa 46
Price: 12 PLN
|Tue||10:00 AM – 1 PM|
|Wed, Fri, Sat||10 AM – 4 PM|
|Thu||10 PM – 6 PM|
|Sun||11 AM – 4 PM|
|Closed on Mondays|
Museum of the Second World War
This museum isn’t just shaped in an interesting way, the inside is even better! The WWII exhibition is what you call an experience: the atmosphere was heavy and oppressive due to the design of the different parts of the museum. I love museums that make you feel the history instead of just telling you about it.
Address: Plac Władysława Bartoszewskiego 1
Price: 23 PLN
Opening hours: 10 AM – 7 PM (Closed on Mondays)
Other amazing museums to visit:
- National Maritime Museum in Gdansk (Ołowianka 9-13)
- Archaeological Museum (Mariacka 25/26)
- European Solidarity Center (Pl. Solidarności 1)
- Amber Museum (Targ Węglowy 26)
The ruins of Westerplatte are another highlight of the history of Gdansk. Located outside of the city center, this former military depot is one of the must-visit attractions. Not only can you learn a lot about the dramatic history of Gdansk here, it also photographs very well!
Monument to the defenders of the Polish Post Office
On September 1st 1939, the SS attacked this Polish post office because they (rightly so) believed it was the base of the Polish defense and spy operations. An epic battle began in which 57 post office employees fought to keep it out of German hands for 15 hours. Nowadays a statue is erected in front of the post office to remember the brave souls fighting for Poland.
It might be good to know that most tourists visiting Gdansk stay within the colorful Old Town and go home without visiting this gorgeous monument. At several points during the day, you might have it all to yourself!
Address: plac Obrońców Poczty Polskiej 1/2
Daniel Fahrenheit was born in 1686 in Gdansk as son of Hanseatic traders. When his parents died, Daniel started working for a merchant in Amsterdam to fund his passion for science. He then invented the Fahrenheit scale which, despite the popularity of the Celsius scale, is still used in several countries of the world. The antique thermometer is part of the monument to remember this Gdansk born scientist forever.
Cemetery of lost cemeteries
Before World War II, the city of Gdansk was home to 27 different graveyards and a necropolis. When those got destroyed during and after the war, this memorial was erected to honor those without a final resting place.
Address: 3 Maja
Other monuments to see in Gdansk:
- Monument to the fallen shipyard workers of 1970 (Pl. Solidarności)
- Millennium Cross (Góra Gradowa)
Where to eat in Gdansk
The city of Gdansk has many restaurants, bars and pubs, most of them located in the Old Town. To avoid high prices and mediocre food, I skipped busy places like the Old Town Square and some of the streets around it as well as all the restaurants located directly at the river.
For the finest pierogi, pay a visit to Pierogarnia Mandu. On their menu you will find the traditional cooked dumplings with meat, white cottage and potatoes and several kinds of vegetables as well as experimental flavors, such as carrot and peanut butter or strawberries topped with sour cream and raspberry sauce.
Their international menu offers Georgian khinkali, Russian style dumplings and even Korean dumplings with kimchi and ponzu sauce.
Everything at this restaurant is so delicious that we had trouble choosing. It is recommended to come back once in a while to try a new flavor.
Address: Elżbietańska 4/8
Attracted to the colorful flowers painted on the doors and windows of this restaurant, we sat down at Tawerna Mestwin, the only Kashubian restaurant in Gdansk. We hit bull’s eye with this one, as it became our favorite restaurant in all of Gdansk.
The restaurant offers the Kashubian kitchen. Delicious fish soups, pickled herring and breaded fish are just some of the highlights. With lunch as the most important meal of the day, we enjoyed fried meatballs, fish and delicious pierogi.
Address: Straganiarska 20
This six-story bunker isn’t a restaurant but a club. The bunker is the only building in the area to outlive the war properly and after years of being completely empty it was turned into a club. It is known for its breathtaking interior and great atmosphere. Upstairs, in the prisoner cells, there’s a smoking room that is worth seeing, even when you don’t smoke.
Address: ul. Olejarna 3
Where to sleep in Gdansk
Hostel 22 is the perfect mix between a hostel and a great hotel. The well-decorated rooms have everything you need, from a super comfy bed to ensuite bathrooms.
Located just outside the Old Town of Gdansk, but in the vicinity of everything important, this affordable hostel is the place to go on a city trip to Gdansk!
Address: Panieńska 22
How to get to Gdansk
Lowcost airlines like Ryanair and Wizz fly to Gdansk on a regular basis. When you’re in Poland (or Germany) already, you can also take a train or bus. Polskibus, now merged with Flixbus, has a few buses going to Gdansk daily.
We took the train from Poznan, which only took us 3,5 hours. You can buy your train tickets here.
Are you visiting Gdansk any time soon?
We loved Gdansk a lot, although we were done with the enormous amounts of tourists quite quickly. Most of the activities listed in this article are well-visited and can be quite overcrowded sometimes. Although we went to Gdansk just before peak season, this was already the case with most of the Old Town. It is all personal preference though, Gdansk is still gorgeous and well-worth a trip to Poland!
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