When I started planning what to do in Gdansk, I found out quickly that there really aren’t that many blog posts about the town. It’s understandable – the seaside town of Gdansk is far from the southern party capital of Krakow, and not that many backpackers venture to the Baltic coast for a good time. You totally should, by the way. It’s awesome.
So, I decided to put together a little guide of everything I did during the holiday. I know I don’t really do travel guides often. Mainly this is because I can’t remember the names of the places I’ve been or the food I’ve eaten, and because I am terrible at sightseeing. If you let me loose in a new city all by myself, I will come back six hours later very satisfied and when asked, tell you that “I saw pretty houses and had the most amazing muffin in that little shop with the green walls there”. “What about the Eiffel Tower?” you ask. “What’s that?”
Day 1: Find out what Gdansk is all about.
|St. Mary’s Cathedral|
If you’re an efficient traveller, one day in the actual city of Gdansk should be enough to see what you want to see. Start your morning with a hearty breakfast and arm yourself with good shoes (those cobblestones will soon start pinching through the soles of your Converse) and, if you’re travelling outside of summer like I did, an umbrella.
Hopefully you have booked accommodation close or on the Dluga Street / Market, so you’re close to the biggest attraction itself as you begin your exploration: the houses. Even though the street name translates as “Long Street”, it isn’t, in fact, very long. However, if you’ve got a huge crush on pretty streets like I do, you will spend too much time on that not-so-long-street just taking pictures of the colourful houses and admiring the art on them.
The thing with Gdansk is that as the rest of Poland, it took huge hits in the Second World War and most of the houses you see have been rebuilt after 1950s; so don’t let their look fool you into thinking they are old. However, they were pretty meticulously copied from what they previously were.
If you’re more interested in the history of the city, visit the History Museum on a Tuesday when it’s free (riiiight, like you need any free things in Poland when everything’s so cheap as it is). We didn’t have time to visit because of inconvenient opening hours between 10 and 2 o’clock. There’s also an actual WWII museum that should open this year.
January 2018 edit: The Museum of the Second World War opened in March 2017 and the admission is also free on Tuesdays.
When you’ve walked through the main street, cross under the Green Gate on the other side and over the bridge to get to the docks. On the other side of the river you’ll find some more nice houses, a decent Chinese restaurant and ruins that date back to the World War. There’s a walkway that allows you to walk around the destroyed buildings and get a glimpse of the waterways around them, also providing a nice view to the houses on the other side.
|ruins, city on the background|
For lunch, head to one of the affordable chain shops back on the main street. Bobby Burger does awesome bagels (and their slogan is ‘Come hungry, leave drunk’), and Green Way has got pretty good vegetarian food. Or pick something up from the covered market which is also surrounded by small bakeries. The market is located just a couple of blocks away from the main street and on the way you can check out St. Mary’s Cathedral that dominates the skyline of the city when seen from further away. Usually you can climb the tower for a view over the city, but it was closed for the winter so we just took a look inside and continued our merry way.
Just opposite to the cathedral is also Bistro&Bar, a small, bright restaurant where you can either pick out lunch or return for dinner. Their pork chops are to die for and their prices better than in some of the other restaurants near the main street.
|Green Gate (not really green. Many places have dissappointing names in this city.)|
Day 2: Check out Zaspa, Sopot and Gdynia.
On your second day to the city, explore outside of it. Since we were planning on a multi-stop daytrip, we got a daypass for the railway between Gdansk and Gdynia which only cost 17 zloty – about four euros. Your guide book might point you towards Sopot, but don’t overlook the suburbs of Gdansk.
Zaspa is the third stop from the main railway station and a home to a collection of some of the best pieces of street art that I’ve ever seen. The first ten pieces were painted in 1997, and the project was revived less than ten years ago. Nowadays the suburb is a host to 54 large murals plus a number of smaller pieces painted on the walls. If you want, you can print out a map from this website to go with you, but it is easy to just let the murals guide you. They won’t be hard to see. Apparently they offer free tours that explain the history of the area, but going on your own is totally fine as well.
It’s easy to get lost in Zaspa for hours, chasing and photographing street art, but when you’re done hop back on the train and ride it all the way to the beach resort of Sopot. It was still buzzing despite the harsh wind and conditions that definitely were not right for a beach holiday, so even though the weather would be better in the summer, the city would also be absolutely packed.
|picture by Katri|
From Sopot we still ventured further on until Gdynia, but there isn’t too much to say about that place. The city has a few museums and a port, but the harbour is a 1-2 km walk from the railway station and since the surroundings looked like the regular soviet cement blocks, we just didn’t bother and only stayed for a stroll through the food market and a cup of coffee. If I’m honest, Gdynia isn’t really worth a visit.
After you get back to Gdansk, venture to the other side of the railroads and climb up the hill for looks over the city. You can’t miss the spot, it’s marked by a giant cross.
Day 3: Go to Hel.
|picture by Katri|
I can’t decide whether the best thing about Hel is its beautiful nature or its name. So, so many bad puns.
Hel is a popular summer getaway spot because of it’s “refreshing Baltic breeze”. It goes without saying that during the winter that breeze is a bit more like an aggressive howl trying to snatch your brains out of your head, but I would still recommend a day trip to this peninsula if you have an extra day in Gdansk. Even though the wind was crazy, the weather wasn’t too bad until it started raining later that afternoon.
Take your time walking along the beach looking at the huge waves and the Baltic Sea. There’s also a seal sanctuary by the sea, but you need to have a physical 5 zloty coin on you to enter and since it was our last day in the country, we were all our of zloty. Nearing the tip of the peninsula, the road was cut off by high, aggressive waves blowing over the barriers, so we swerved slightly inland and took another route to the beach. I’d recommend you do take a walk through the forest if you’re an army buff since there are old military bunkers, towers and artillery in the forest. Hel, in fact, used to be a military base.
Get lunch in town before heading back to Gdansk – there isn’t a shortage of places that are even cheaper than the ones in the city, and possibly even more delicious. If you’re looking for something Polish to warm you up, try to find a place that serves zurek – soup inside a bread. It’s weird, and it works. I haven’t got a clue what was the name of the place we ate at, but I want to live there. So much marine swag on the walls… Plus they had an aquarium! Coziest little place ever.
As much as I liked visiting Hel now, it would definitely be better in the summer. The peninsula is covered in thick, young forest and a path runs all the way through it, so without the strong wind it would make a really pleasant walking or cycling route. You barely even have to worry about any ferocious wild animals other than squirrels and seagulls, since the peninsula is still barely wide enough in places for the railway.
In the evening you can go spend your last zlotys in shops in Gdansk. There are some near the railway station and a small mall about five minutes away, but for serious shopping head for the Galeria Baltycka shopping centre. It also had the closest Starbucks… you know, in case you swing that way.
All in all I can highly recommend Gdansk as a city getaway. It is everything a city seeker might desire – affordable, pretty, active, and so small that you won’t feel remorse on your way home for not having time to see everything.