Visitors guide to Gdansk, the hidden gem of northern Poland

Visitors guide to Gdansk, the hidden gem of northern Poland

A beautiful historical city with magnificent architecture, a global transportation hub and also a place that has experienced many challenging moments over the last century. It's been a year and a half since I left for an Erasmus study stay in Gdansk, Poland, and now I've decided to write an article with some tips, advice and recommendations, for those who are about to visit the hidden gem of northern Poland.

It should be mentioned that all the information in the article are based on my personal experiences which are purely subjective. I spent about five months in Gdansk and I only brought positive memories back home. You may see some things differently or they may not work the way they used to. Nevertheless, I hope that you will find the article useful and interesting.

Before I get to the actual tips for some interesting places in Gdansk, I would like to mention some general information about Gdansk. I certainly don't want to turn this blog into a Wikipedia. However, I think it's a must to introduce Gdansk a bit in the beginning. Wait, not Gdansk. I mean, Tri-City!

Gdansk? Nope, it's a Tri-City!

You mean Gdansk ain't Gdansk? Yeah, that's what I'm saying. The majority of Gdansk residents usually refer to Gdansk as a Tri-City. Together with the adjacent cities of Sopot and Gdynia, it forms a conurbation, i.e. several cities merged into one continuous built-up area. These three cities are known as the Tri-City (Polish: Trojmiasto). From a legal point of view, they are three separate cities, each with its own distinctive characteristics, but overall they function as one living ecosystem.

Characteristics and specifics of the Tri-City

Personally, I liked Gdansk the most. It is characterised by its historical centre, where one can feel like in some Scandinavian cities. Interesting is also the industrial part of the city, the so-called Stocznia (meaning the Shipyard), where the Solidarność movement against communist Poland was born. Gdansk is a city of contrasts, and although the historic centre and the industrial shipyard itself form a big enough contrast, the list is far from over. A few dozen kilometres of coastline with beach bars and those unique white piers? Or the Westerplatte peninsula, where the first battle of the Second World War broke out? Or perhaps the large number of green city parks and residential areas? Yes, this is Gdansk too.

However, Sopot is certainly worth a visit, too. It is located west of Gdansk and simply said, it's a spa town built in a completely different style than Gdansk. There is also a large pier in Sopot, which is very popular among tourists. During the high season it is accessible for a fee, but during the low season it is possible to enjoy it for free. Speaking of piers, I would also recommend visiting the pier in Gdynia-Orlowo, which might not be as large as the Sopot pier, but has its own charm and I personally liked it very much. Especially the sunrises here are worth it (I was even lucky enough to experience one of the two days a year when the sun rises exactly aligned with the pier centerline and it is a great experience).

A few kilometres down the coast is Gdynia. It's a city that looks a bit more modern and urbanistic than the previously mentioned ones. However, I wasn't too impressed with Gdynia and rate it as the weakest part of the Tri-City. Although I visited it several times during my stay, I don't think it's a must-see, especially if your visit of northern Poland is tight on time. Instead, I'd rather go to the Hel peninsula, which has absolutely won me over!

Hel Peninsula, the little Polish Seychelles

I've already mentioned the long beaches along the entire Baltic coast, which are a nice place to relax and unwind after a busy day in the hustle and bustle of the city. But the city's beaches are not even close to the Hel peninsula, which I consider a bit of a Polish miracle.

Hel Peninsula is a small spur of land jutting out into the sea, about an hour's drive from Tri-City. At its tip is the fishing town of Hel, with a few military bunkers and WWII shipwrecks scattered around. What captivated me most, however, were the vast beaches with pure white sand, which I would expect to find more in the Seychelles or the Maldives. The sea temperature is undoubtedly somewhat different than in the aforementioned exotic destinations, but in the summer months it is a pleasant refreshment.

As for the beaches themselves, I would particularly recommend the beaches on the northern side of the peninsula. Compared to the beaches on the south side, these beaches are wider, nicer and usually less crowded. Personally, I've tried the beaches around Jurata and Jastarnia, roughly in the middle of the peninsula, but basically any beach on the north side will be worth it. However, you can't go wrong with beaches on the south side of the island either.

Visiting Hel is best done by car. However, traffic jams can form during the peak tourist season, as many tourists have already discovered this destination. If you want to avoid this, there are two options: taking the train or the boat. For strategic reasons, I don't recommend taking a boat to Hel. It takes longer, is more expensive and the boat only runs once a day, so you have to limit your time. The train runs from early in the morning until late in the evening and the price is also more than pleasant.

Hel is definitely worth a visit and basically everyone I have recommended it to agreed with me. Have you also been to Hel and enjoyed it as much as I did? Let me know in the comments.

Tips, advices, recommendations and interesting places

I was very pleasantly surprised by Gdansk during my stay here, and I describe it as one of the most beautiful places in Poland. I've been to Krakow, I've visited Warsaw, but Gdansk and the whole Tri-City had a kind of special charm. It's certainly influenced by the fact that I spent part of my life there, but maybe in retrospect you'll give me credit for that. However, I promised some tips, tricks, advices and recommendations for interesting places, so let's go through them now.

 Sights, places to visit, viewpoints

  • Dlugi Targ Street: the most famous and iconic street in historic Gdańsk, which runs across the entire historic centre
  • St. Mary's Basilica in Gdansk: the second largest brick church in the world, it is particularly interesting because of the possibility to climb the tower, which offers a breathtaking view of the whole city. 
  • Zuraw M3: One of the historic cranes that is open to the public. A great experience, but you need to buy tickets online in advance as the crane's capacity is only 15 people. I recommend scheduling your visit for sunset.
  • Góra Gradowa: A view of the entire Tri-City at the remains of a 19th century fortress. Within walking distance about ten to fifteen minutes from the main train station in Gdansk.
  • SASSY Bar: SASSY Bar would probably better fit to the Fun and Relax category. However, I recommend it mainly because of the great view of the city. You won't see a similar view of Gdansk from any other place. Of course, ordering a fancy drink is a requirement for entry, but it's worth it!
  • World War II Museum: I don't go to museums very often. However, WWII museum in Gdansk is that interesting that I recommend it for a visit! I had originally planned a really quick visit, but ended up spending almost half an afternoon here (and still hadn't had enough). Great exhibits and many interactive displays perfectly brought me closer to the events of World War II, which I had already forgotten from my history lessons over the years.
  • Westerplatte Peninsula: If you don't enjoy museums and are not convinced by my description of the one above, I recommend at least visiting the Westerplatte Peninsula. It is the site of the first battle of World War II and a place of great historical but also moral significance.

Gastronomy

  • Pierogarnia Stary Mlyn Gdansk: Excellent restaurant to enjoy Pierogi, which are typical meal for Poland. I recommend especially pierogi stuffed with plucked meat and baked in the oven, but classic cooked pierogi will not disappoint, either! PS: Pierogi are really big, so don't be afraid that the basic portion contains only three pieces of pierogi.
  • Pizzeria OSTRO: I wouldn't believe that I would eat the best pizza of my life in Poland. The pizzeria is located on the banks of the Motlawa River, and although it gets crowded during high season, it's definitely worth waiting a few minutes for a table. The pizzeria doesn't take reservations, so expect that it might indeed take a while before a table becomes available.
  • Bary Mleczne / Milk Bars: I have to admit that I'm not sure if milk bars exactly belong in the section of gastronomic highlights, but why not. These are typical snack places that offer food at affordable prices and are sort of evergreen in Poland. There are several of them in Gdańsk, I personally liked to go to Bar Mleczny Akademicky or to I-100 Gram. The name "milk" bar is a bit misleading, you can get classic ready-made dishes here which have nothing to do with milk.

Fun and relax

  • 100cznia: a pleasant chill-out spot in the middle of the industrial shipyard. You can have a drink here, enjoy some street foodie, hang out with your friends and maybe even have fun on the dance floor (during the summer season there are various bands, DJs, etc.). 100cznia is only open during the summer season.
  • Ulica Elektrykow: If you love parties, you'll love this place. While abovementioned 100cznia is more of a relaxation zone with good food and drink, Ulica Elektrykow is a real party place. And it's also a really stylish one! In fact, the whole place is made up of a space between two industrial buildings, one of which serves as a place for street foodie trucks and a relaxation zone for tired party people.
  • LUMI Shot bar: Would you like some alcohol? Then be sure to head to the LUMI Shot Bar, where a huge selection of unique drinks awaits you! The menu on the Lumi Shot Bar website is worth more than a thousand words, so check it out.

Beaches and natural surroundings
  • Plaza Stogi: a nice beach at the final stop of trams 8 and 9, which is already closer to the open sea (the other beaches in Gdańsk are located inside Gdańsk Bay, which the inhabitants of Gdańsk do not consider to be the "real" sea)
  • Wyspa Sobieszewska: Just a few kilometres east of Gdańsk is the Vistula estuary, surrounded by dense pine tree forest and a vast lovely beach. Whether you want to clear your head in nature or go jogging in the forest, Wyspa Sobieszewska is a great place for you.
  • Gdansk also features many city parks, which are nice places to visit, as well. Such nice places to hang out or to go for a run.

There's much more to explore

To conclude, I would like to say that there is much more to see in Gdansk and it will never stop surprising you. I also definitely recommend learning more about the history of the city. It would be a shame to go to Gdansk without knowing, for example, that the city was completely destroyed during the shelling of World War II and then rebuilt according to the original plans. So if you're going to the Baltic, at least open Wikipedia and find out something about this interesting area. It doesn't cost that much effort and you will certainly be surprised.

I hope the tips will help you in planning your holiday in northern Poland and if so, I will be glad for any comments or sharing and spreading this article. As they would say in Poland, Do zobaczenia!

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