This is your guide to Gdańsk, a port city in Nothern Poland that is rich in history. It is often thought to have a Scandinavian feel about it, which I can see, especially by the river, and has several elements of Dutch architecture. Gdańsk has historically belonged to many different nations before officially becoming a Polish city. It has a lot to offer, from of pretty buildings and beaches to high rise murals.
Take a free Walkative Tour
I did two free Walkative Tours whilst I was in Poland; one in Gdańsk and one in Wroclaw. I was really impressed with both. Both tour guides were really funny and engaging and the tours were very informative. I like to do it on my first full day in the city to get my bearings and figure out where everything is, as well as learning some history and finding some good locations for photographs. The tours are free but it’s recommended that you tip (as you feel). I opted for the old town (also known as the main town) tour, but there is also a solidarity tour and two World War II themed tour options.
Highlights of Gdańsk Old Town
Gdańsk old town is insanely pretty, and a complete wonderland for anyone who’s into photography or looking for those instagrammable spots. The Old Town was mostly destroyed in World War II and had to be reconstructed, but this didn’t impact its beauty. Looking at the tall, thin, coloured houses it’s easy to see why people compare the Old Town architecture to that of Amsterdam.
Neptune’s Fountain in Long Market features a bronze statue of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. The thing I liked the most about the fountain was actually the buildings behind it. The whole old town is stunning, with streets and streets of the most beautiful pastel coloured traditional houses, but these three together were my favourites. The blue brick building is Artus Court, a former meeting place of merchants and now a history museum.
Long Lane (Ulica Długa)
Despite not being the official “prettiest street” in Gdańsk, Long Lane was my favourite; probably as it’s the first one I saw! This street is part of the Royal Way, so named because it was the route that the King would take on special occasions in a procession through the city. It runs from the Golden Gate to the Green Gate.
Golden Gate (Złota Brama)
The Golden Gate is situated at one end of Long Lane. It features statues on the top displaying the ideal attributes of citizens, facing both inwards, towards the city and outwards, towards visitors.
St Mary’s Basillica (Bazylika Mariacka)
The interior of St Mary’s, one of the largest brick churches in the world, is quite impressive. If you look up to the ceiling, it is adorned with little gold stars. As well as being easy on the eye, this is a way for the church to get donations, as you can sponsor a star on the ceiling by donating. The church houses an astronomical clock from the 15th century as well as several frescoes. Similarly to Prague, legend has it that the maker of the clock had his eyes gouged out so he couldn’t make a better one.
The Great Armoury (Wielka Zbrojownia)
Another gorgeous spot in the old town and a great photo stop is the Great Armoury. Originally a weapon store, this building is now owned by Gdańsk Academy of Fine Arts and hosts exhibitions. The spectacular Dutch-designed building, along with a lot of Gdańsk, was destroyed during the World War II bombings and has since been beautifully restored.
The Gdansk Crane (Źuraw)
With mentions as early as the 14th century, the crane was once the largest crane in the world. It was used to load cargo onto ships and was operated using man power. As our guide described it, men used to run around in a giant hamster wheel to make the crane function.
St Mary’s Street (Ulica Mariacka)
This street is known as being the prettiest street in Gdańsk, and is certainly very pleasing on the eye. It’s a closed off street that nowadays is largely used for amber sales.
See the Amber Altar at St. Bridget’s Church
The amber altar was a recommendation from the tour guide. It’s quite impressive and the short walk there and back was tranquil. I was surprised to be charged to enter the church, but it only costs 4 Zloty, which is the equivalent of around 80p in GBP, which seems fair enough. All of the golden pieces you see making up the impressive altar are made entirely out of amber! You’ll find a lot of amber in Gdańsk, where it’s been used, worked and traded for thousands of years. Which brings me to my next point…
Go Amber Shopping
You’ll find amber stalls and shops all over the old town, many with very reasonable prices. It’s a great idea if you want to pick up some souvenirs for friends/relatives or Christmas presents. St Mary’s Street (the so called prettiest street in Gdańsk) is famous for its amber shops, but you’ll probably find it cheaper on other streets.
Climb St Mary’s Church Tower
I had to return to the church after our brief visit on the walking tour, as the tower has amazing views over the city. I paid 10 Zloty to climb the tower but I think the price varies. Half way up I was definitely questioning my choices (and fitness level) but the view was worth it. It’s 400 steps to the top and parts of the tower are very narrow, so be careful coming back down. This is one of best places to get panoramic views of the city skyline.
Visit the Amber Museum
I went to the amber museum as a way to kill some time before my boat trip, but it was quite interesting to learn about Gdansk’s connection with the stone and how amber occurs in nature. You’ll find some specimens with insects and plant life preserved in them, some science and history as well as a gallery of various art pieces made from amber. The second part of the museum is about the building that houses the museum and was formerly a torcher chamber. I decided to skip that part though!
Take a Sunset Boat Tour of the Shipyards on the Motlawa River
Gdańsk is largely known for being a port city and for its shipyards. My mum was perplexed that I would want to go there as the only thing she knew about it was that it was the “USSR ship building capital of Europe”. Let’s just say I’ve successfully managed to change her mind! The shipyards were also the birthplace of the European Solidarity movement.
I bought this evening cruise on Get Your Guide on a bit of a whim, but it turned out to be one of my best experiences in Gdańsk. Pay attention to the pickup point as it’s quite far down the river from main town. I made the mistake of faffing around taking pictures along the river and being late; they had to turn round and pick me up! Yes I was that person. And wrap up warm, it got freezing towards the end, which is likely why the tours aren’t running again until April 2020.
The guides were very knowledgeable about the ship yards and various buildings and landmarks along the river. I don’t know a lot about shipyards, I was mainly there for the view, which did not disappoint! However, I learnt some interesting things about the history of Gdańsk on the way, as well as tips on places to go.
Go Searching for Street Art in Zaspa, Mural City
Approximately 30 minutes out of central Gdańsk is a built up neighbourhood with sky-scraping murals from artists around the world. There are 60 different pieces to see and fall in love with. Checkout my post about street art in Gdańsk & Gdynia for more details on the art and how to get there.
Explore the rest of the Tri-City Area
Poland’s Tri-City is made up of Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot. Both Gdynia and Sopot are within easy reach of Gdańsk via tram or train, and could probably be seen together in one day.
Also mentioned on my street art post, Gdynia also has a lot of vibrant murals to see and some good places to eat. As my Airbnb tour guide told me, “Gdańsk is where you work, Sopot is where you party and Gdynia is where you live”. You can get there within half an hour by train from Gdańsk Glowny.
Sopot, known in the area for its nightlife, is a nice area with a lot of pricy restaurants and bars. Stop by the crooked house building and walk along the beach all the way back to Gdańsk.
It took us about 20-30 minutes to walk to Jelitkowo. Follow the distant sight of the Gdańsk shipyard cranes and relax with the Baltic Sea lapping at your feet. If you visit in the summer/early autumn, you may get charged to enter the pier, which is the longest wooden pier in Europe. However, you can quite easily get around (under) it and onto the beach if you don’t fancy the charge.
We were surprised to see swans and ducks swimming in the sea, which is quite uncommon in the U.K. If it fits in with your itinerary, I reckon a sunset walk would be even better.
Visit Wrzeszcz for Cool Vibes and Vegan & Vegetarian Food
I found out about the hipster neighbourhood of Wrzeszcz (I can’t say it either) from the owner of the hostel I was staying at, who recommended it for veggie & vegan food. I’m a Pescatarian (but cutting down on fish) so I was excited to find a neighbourhood filled with vegan restaurants. We ended up in a pierogi restaurant called Pierogi Lwowskie and the food was soooo good! Wrzeszcz is also home to vegan favourites like Avocado Bistro and House of Seitan. Both were recommended by locals but were quite busy when we arrived.
Learn about Gdansk’s History
World War II
Whilst in Gdańsk your likely to encounter elements of its WWII history. As part of the walking tour, I saw the old post office, where several Polish workers were killed in a battle to defend Gdańsk from the German invasion of Poland. This was one of the first acts of the Second World War, which began in German Danzig (now Gdańsk) on 1st September 1939. Outside of the building is a monument to those workers, in the form of a mural, two sculptures and moulds of fingerprints where they would have stood as they were executed. Westerplatte is also an important location, as the site of another battle of the same date.
The Second World War Museum is only a few years old but came highly recommended by locals and fellow tourists. Sadly I didn’t have enough time in Gdańsk to visit.
The same goes for the European Solidarity Centre. I did visit the memorial to fallen ship workers outside (pictured above), but I messed up my train times and panicked, leaving a lot earlier than I needed to and having to skip the museum this time round. Lech Wałęsa is the face of solidarity, a workers rights movement that began in the Gdańsk shipyards. He went on to become Polands’s first democratically elected President and win a Nobel Peace Prize. For more information on the Solidarity movement, see this article from inyourpocket.
You’ll pass several examples of classic communist architecture in Gdańsk. when walking down the river, you’ll notice that most of the ships have names. Our boat guide explained that having a boat named after you was a reward for the most efficient workers in the shipyards during the communist era.
See the Gdańsk Sign
Only a short walk from the historic post office, you’ll come across the Gdańsk sign, next to a Ferris wheel and a carousel. You’ll get a better view of the sign from the other side of the river (main town side).
Four Quarters Fountain (Fontanna Czterech Kwartalow)
I came across this cute fountain on my way back to St Mary’s church after visiting the Amber Altar and it brought me some joy. It’s a great spot for photos if you get the right light/weather. I saw a lot of fountains during my time in Poland and this was one of my favourites. The four lions represent the four quarters into which the city was once divided. This is the location where they all came together.
I tried pierogi twice in Gdańsk: once was a pre-prepared packet from a corner shop for an easy dinner after a long day. It was was very bland and underwhelming (no surprise in hindsight). The second was at Pierogi Lwowskie. Although technically a Ukrainian restaurant (oops) the pierogi were amaaaazing. Best food I ate out in my 3 weeks moving around, hands down. I had the mushroom one with caramelised onions on top. They were mouth watering, moist and surprisingly filling!
Getting Around Gdańsk
Main town Gdańsk is walkable, but to go to a lot of the places I’ve mentioned, you’ll probably want to use public transport (although I will add that ubers are pretty cheap). You can get around by tram, bus or train.
A single bus or tram ticket is 3,20 PLN and can be bought at tram stops, most press stands or on some trams. If you plan on making several stops, buy a 24 hour ticket for 13 PLN.
Train tickets can be bought at Gdańsk Glowny or online a few says in advance with Polrail (you can scan your e-ticket even though it tells you to print it). If you get your tickets from the station, tickets for some trains can be bought in machines in the underpass that leads to the platforms, but others have to be bought at the counter outside in the main station building. Leave enough time before setting off to figure it out!
To Sopot: Train from Gdańsk Glowny
To Jelitkowo beach: Tram no 8 or 6
To Wrzeszcz: Tram no 6, 9 or 12, or a train from Gdańsk Glowny
To Gdynia: A train is the most direct. You can get several lines so check which one you’re going for before you get a ticket. You can often buy tickets with the conductor on the train but it may be more expensive.
Where I stayed
I stayed at Slowgate Hostel, which was about a 10-15 minute walk from the old/main town. It was really close to the Akademia Muzycena 01 tram stop, which came in useful, and there were a few small grocery shops nearby.
I enjoyed my stay there and met some nice people in the common room in the evenings, even did a day trip with one of them. They are a vegan & vegetarian friendly hostel and offer a free breakfast every morning, which sold it for me. The breakfast was fairly simple but included fresh salad veg, cheese, bread, cereal etc and decent coffee.
I like to save money but also value my privacy, so I appreciated that the largest dorm (8 bed) has these wooden box beds. You get a roomy box with plug sockets to yourself. The light didn’t work and the bedding was tatty but it was such a nice vibe and it did it’s job! You can also get good recommendations from the owner and meet a fair few solo travellers there too.
Thank You for Reading!
If you enjoyed reading this, you may like my posts on Street Art in the tri-city and reasons to visit Poland. If you liked it please pin, share or comment; I really appreciate any and all engagement. If you want to follow me on my travels I post regularly on Instagram!