This week, we’re taking you on a trip to one of Europe’s hidden gems: Gdansk.
A lesser-known detail about this Polish city on the Baltic coast is that this is where the German Nazis initiated the Second World War, resulting in the complete conquest of Poland. The solidarity movement that led to the collapse of communism in the Eastern Bloc and the end of the Cold War also originated here, and Gdansk’s shipyards are considered an important dark tourism spot (and one of Poland’s best museums).
Gdansk may not be the first destination that comes to mind when you think of a European sojourn, but with its historical significance and unique experiences (such as dining at a potato restaurant, riding a pirate ship, visiting Poland’s longest church, and the like), by the end of this virtual trip you may end up wanting to catch the first flight out!
36 Hours in Gdansk
10:00 AM: Musical Morning at Poland’s Longest Church
Begin the 36-hour journey with a visit to the Oliwa Cathedral, Poland’s longest church! The church houses a giant organ consisting of nearly 8,000 pipes and hosts the best summertime organ concerts.
11:00 AM: Visit Europe’s Most Artistic Neighborhood
If you’re an art-lover who knows the difference between graffiti and street art, this one’s for you. Just outside of Gdansk, in the suburb of Zaspa, is Europe’s biggest outdoor art exhibition. With over 60 massive wall murals and an array of painted apartment entrances and porches, Zaspa is truly an artist’s playground. Here’s a birds-eye view of the entire neighborhood.
12:00 PM: Museum of the Second World War
As the origin of the Second World War, it was fitting when Gdansk opened this museum in March 2017 to tell the story of the war through Poland’s perspective and to commemorate the lost lives of 55 million people.
Under former Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a Gdansk-native, a competition was held for the design of the museum. The Kwadrat Architectural Studio won the competition and designed a structure that is divided into three parts to reflect the link between the past, present, and future. To bury the evils of the war, the past is strategically designed to be partly hidden underground.
Even if you are not a history buff, this museum is worth the visit because it does a great job of helping visitors understand this aspect of Polish history.
If you’re into dark tourism, head to the Cemetery of Lost Cemeteries to pay your respects to those who lost their resting places during World War II. This memorial site also contains a poem by Mascha Kaleko, whose poetry was ordered to be destroyed by Adolf Hitler in 1933.
1:30 PM: Giant Dumplings and Beet Soup
For a flavor explosion, head to Familia Bistro Garbary for unique Lithuanian dishes that combine a variety of aromas, flavors, and colors. Familia Bistro Garbary is a family-run restaurant and is well-known for its dumplings, chicken broth, and large portions.
Fun fact: as a result of Lithuania’s geographical location, it has been able to accumulate culinary influences from Tatar, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Jewish, Karaim, and even Australia!
2:30 PM: Stroll through Gdansk’s “Wavy Block”
After visiting Europe’s longest church, check out Europe’s longest residential building: Falowiec. Translated into English as the “wavy block,” it’s another one of Gdansk’s most famous peculiarities.
4:00 PM: Bike Ride at Jelitkowo Beach
A trip to Gdansk is incomplete without a trip to its beautiful coast. Spend the evening taking a stroll (or a bike ride) along one of the many tree-lined paths along the beach as the sun starts to set.
7:00 PM: A Self-Service Beer Wall
After some time at the beach, cool down with some ice-cold beers at Piwnica Rajców, a local brewery that offers — wait for it — self-service beers on tap!
Though beer production in Gdansk has changed since the 14th century, its most popular beer, Jopejskie (produced in Teutonic Order times), is still around today.
9:00 PM: More Drinks at a World War II Shelter
Next, hop over to Bunkier Nightclub, a World War II shelter turned bar! Bunkier has amazing cocktails, five-stories for dancing, and even toilets located in old prison cells.
11:00 AM: Bird’s Eye View
Start the day on a high note by riding the Ferris wheel at Długie Pobrzeże, a long embankment just north of the old town. Get your camera ready for the panoramic photo ops because the wheel only makes 3 turns per ride!
If you’re afraid of heights, don’t fret, you can get an equally amazing photo op by taking a boat tour along the Motlawa River.
After you see the city from above, enjoy a cup of polish tea, the third most popular drink in the country, at one of the many cafes along the river.
12:00 PM: Ulica Długa
If you’re a fan of the American TV show Full House, you’ll be delighted by the colorfully painted buildings along the streets of Ulica Dluga! It offers an abundance of bars, restaurants, and cafes to choose from and is a great way to spend the afternoon.
Also known as the “Long Street,” Ulica Dluga was once home to wealthy merchants many centuries ago when amber trade was huge. In fact, due to the booming amber trade, Gdansk was once the wealthiest city in Poland.
1:00 PM: Potatoes Galore!
Ever heard of a potato-themed restaurant?? Stop counting the carbs for a bit and indulge in potato pancakes and pasta at Pyra Bar.
2:00 PM: Take a Royal Walk
After lunch, take a scenic walk on Warsaw’s famous Royal way that runs from the Old Town to Wilanow Palace. Admire the famous Polish landmarks such as St. Anne’s Church, Lazienki Park, and the Tyszkiewicz Palace. As you reach the Wilanow Palace, you’ll be greeted by beautiful gardens and grandiose architecture. You’ll see why people call it the “Polish Versailles”!
Pro-tip: spend some time exploring the side streets along the Royal Way where the less known monuments are hidden!
3:00 PM: Ride a Pirate Ship to Westerplatte
Next, live out your Pirates of the Caribbean dreams by hopping on The Black Pearl, a galleon-style pirate ship that’ll take you on a 90-minute ride. The cruise will start from the Motlawa river and make several stops including one to Westerplatte, where World War II began.
5.00 PM: Shakespeare Theatre
Shakespeare once said, “all that glitters is not gold”; we beg to differ — well, at least in the case of Gdansk. Built on top of Poland’s first public theatre, The Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre is quite the showstopper with its modern architecture including dark anthracite bricks and an open roof. Depending on your time, you can also book a one hour guided tour to hear rare stories about Shakespeare and the theatre.
7:00 PM: A Fishy Dinner
You can’t leave Gdansk without dining at Tapas Rybka, a family-owned restaurant that is known for its specialization in fish gastronomy. Since they serve all of their dishes tapas-style, you will be able to enjoy a selection of popular fish snacks and dishes.
Although everything on the menu is delicious, their fish soup, fish paste, and fried cod come highly recommended!
A City Full of Secrets
Gdansk is one of the most overlooked cities in Europe. While people are often surprised by the significant role it played in history, its legacy is laden everywhere- from the political murals painted on the side of apartment buildings to shipyards where solidarity movements were formed. Top this with unique restaurants, breathtaking ocean views, and dark tourism spots — Gdansk has a lot to offer.
Have we tempted you enough to add Gdansk to your post-COVID (#POCO) travel wishlist?
How to get there
The easiest way to get to Gdansk internationally is by plane. The Lech Wałęsa International Airport is the main airport and services many commercial and charter flights every day. To get to the city itself, which is only 6 miles from the airport, you can either take the PKM rail line or the bus — both of which cost only $10. Additionally, taxis are also readily available at the airport.
Since the city is very compact and has a public tram service running throughout, visitors can get around primarily riding the tram. The most popular tram stops for visitors are the connection from the Oliwa district (№6, 12, 15) to the Baltic Sea and Jelitkowo beaches. Tickets are easily available around the city as well.
In addition to taking the tram, visitors can also easily get around by walking. Many of the streets are specifically designed for pedestrians.
Where to stay
The city offers a variety of options for your stay. Budget options include Hotel Moris and La Petite B&B, both of which are located near some of Gdansk’s most popular attractions. Mid-range selections include Mercure Gdansk Posejdon and Golden Tulip Gdansk Residence, two beachside gems. If you’re feeling splurgy, treat yourself to a night at the Podewils Hotel or Hilton Gdansk.
When to go
The best time to visit Gdansk is during the summer around July and August, which is the high season. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit during June, when it is warm and rainfall is low.
Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Canada, Israel, Japan, and many other countries don’t need a visa if they do not plan to stay in Poland for longer than 90 days. EU citizens can visit without a visa and stay indefinitely.
For other nationalities, you should check with your local Polish embassy or the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for the most up-to-date information.
The local currency is the złoty.
The official first languages of Gdansk are Polish and Kashubian; however, English and German are spoken frequently as well.
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