|above the town|
|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 very long in fact, as my guide book informed us and which for some reason amused us endlessly. 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 that; so don’t let their look fool you into thinking they are old. However, they were pretty meticulously copied from what they were previously.
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.
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 to 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 to later that evening. Their pork chops are to die for and their prices better than in some of the other restaurants near the main street.
|Green Gate (which is not really green)|
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. You might know that you must visit 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.
Sopot is mostly known for the longest wooden pier in the world. In the summer you have to pay a small fee to walk on it, but in the winter you can just go for a stroll.
Oh, and apparently the Polish word for pier is the same than the Finnish one for “willy”. Funny how the world works.
|picture by Katri|
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.
|picture by Katri|
I can’t decide whether the best thing about Hel is it’s beautiful nature of it’s 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. 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.
All in all I can highly recommend Gdansk as a city getaway. It is everything a busy 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.