Visiting Poland had always been somewhere we had wanted to visit, so when we came across ridiculously cheap (£20 return) flights to Gdańsk, it made sense for us to visit. We planned our visit for the end of January, therefore we knew it was going to be cold, but we did not realise just how cold until we actually arrived. Luckily we had packed for the occasion complete with snow boots, winter woollies and all the knitted accessories you can think of, so we were able to explore to some degree before the weather took its toll and we had to duck into cafes to take advantage of their central heating and enjoy a big mug of warming hot chocolate. Some cities rely on good weather to ensure their visitors have a good time, however, Gdańsk has a good mix of indoor and outdoor things to see and do, the time of year we visited did not matter. Armed with our Gdańsk Tourist Cards which we picked up from the city’s Tourist Information Centre, we hit the streets as soon as we landed and did not stop exploring for the whole four days we were in the city.
Here are the top 6 great things we recommend you could see or do when visiting Gdańsk.
Admire the Old Town
The Old Town of Gdańsk is the city’s biggest and best attraction. Here we got to admire the tall, beautiful, colourful and intricate gabled buildings that Gdańsk is famous for. It is evident that there was a major Dutch influence when the buildings were first constructed as similarly designed buildings can also be found in certain German towns and of course The Netherlands itself. Even though a number of the original buildings were destroyed during World War II, architects have done an amazing job fusing the old with the new and recreating the structures and the façades ensuring that only those with a knowing eye can tell the difference.
Passing through the Golden Gate, which was originally constructed in the early 17 Century, however, had to be rebuilt again following World War II we found ourselves on Dluga Street (Long Street) which merges with Dlugi Targ (Long Market). This is the true heart of the city with all the historical delights Gdańsk has to offer located in or around this area. The most grant and prominent building on the street is the Gdańsk City Hall (Ratusz Głównego Miasta), which was built in the late 14th century. It is a stunning example of Gothic-Renaissance architecture and an absolute beauty of a building.
One of the most photographed attractions in the Old Town of Gdańsk is the bronze Neptune’s Fountain (Fontana Neptune), located outside of the Town Hall, in front of some of the most exquisite buildings in the city. Originally a statue, it was first put in place in the mid-16th century before being turned into the fountain it is today in 1633. Dismantled and hidden during World War II, Neptune now stands proudly in his spot and is an iconic figure and focal point on Dlugi Targ.
At the far end of Dlugi Targ is the Green Gate which was built by Regnier an architect from Amsterdam between 1568-71. It was originally built as the formal residence of Poland’s monarchs although it is believed that none of them every actually stayed there and nowadays is home to the National Museum. It is a beautiful building and my personal favourite in the city. Marking the end of the Royal Mile, it is an attraction in the city that you really should visit and admire the intricate details for yourself. Also, if you get the chance to visit at night, you will be rewarded with it looking even more spectacular all lit up.
Eat and Drink in Gdansk
Having never visited Poland before, I was worried that I would struggle when it came to eating and drinking in Gdańsk. However, I need not have worried, all of the traditional dishes I tried whilst in the city I loved. I wrote a post all about the food and drink you should at least try when in Gdansk. Don’t worry if traditional Polish cuisine is just not your thing, there are plenty of other restaurants, including Italian, Thai and one of my all-time favourites, the Hardrock Cafe. In fact, one the things we did notice was the actual number of eateries along Dluga Street and Dlugi Targ alone. The street is only 550m long, yet we lost count of the number of places we could have grabbed a bite, which is surely a great thing.
Also, a lot of the restaurants offer outdoor seating areas, which even during the winter when we visited were good to go. With awnings, heat lamps and lovely big thermal blankets, even the sub-freezing temperatures could not put us off, enjoying an al fresco meal and people watching. I can only imagine how fantastic it is during the summer months – having a big plate of pierogi (Polish dumplings), a pint and the sun shining down on you. It’s enough to make us want to book a return trip this summer already.
Marvel at the Churches
We love churches and love visiting them and other religious buildings wherever we are in the world. Usually, we only have a handful to choose from, whereas in Gdańsk because of its long history of Catholicism, we were spoilt for choice, especially as many of them are within walking distance of each other, making it easy to visit them all if you want to of course in half a day or so, longer of course if you wanted to spend any considerable time at each of them. We visited three during our visit, each one very different yet all very impressive and great examples of fantastic architecture.
St. Mary’s Church – It is hard to miss St Mary’s Church, which is a Roman Catholic Church often referred to as the largest brick church in the world. It is located right behind the Town Hall and is well worth a visit if only to marvel at its sheer size, especially the amazing and extremely intricate entrance doors. We didn’t stay for long though as it was having a lot of renovation work done to it and the constant loud noise simply became too much.
St. Nicholas’ Church – the only church to escape being damaged during World War II, St Nicholas’ Church was the first Catholic Church in the city. Mr ESLT had got pooped on by a bird right before we walked through the door (I was crying with laughter); therefore I had to remind him to check his language before we walked in. It is a darker church than all the others with a marble and dark wood interior and compared to St Mary’s, it is tiny.
St. Bridget’s Church – Originally built over 700 years ago, the church was reduced to rubble during World War II, however, it has been fully restored since. We actually did not venture inside, as it was the last stop of the day and I’ll be honest we were frozen to the core and our feet hurt but we still enjoyed admiring it from the outside.
Wander Mariacka Street
Mariacka is the cutest street in Gdańsk, it especially cute when we visited with its light dusting of snow. It is two streets over from the Dlugi Targ and joins the Motława (river) to St Mary’s Church. This quaint cobblestoned street is full of character and certainly worth a wander down. As a major contributor to the city’s wealth and prosperity over the centuries, amber can be found all over the city but particularly here. It is the centre of the amber (often referred to as Baltic Gold in the local area) craft and jewellery trade in Gdańsk, with numerous workshops, shops and stalls selling it.
Mariacka Street is also home to a number of beautiful ornate buildings that rival those that can be found on Dluga Street and Dlugi Targ. Once home to a number of merchants and goldsmiths, they are certainly worthy of a gander. Also, check out the famous gargoyles on the buildings and along the walls down this extremely charming street.
Visit the Museums
This is where our Gdańsk Tourist Cards came into their own. They granted us free and reduced entrance to loads of the city’s major museums and attractions. With so many museums to choose from in Gdańsk, narrowing them down to just a few was a tough task. Luckily our cards were valid for 72 hours meaning we had 3 full days to visit and see as many as we could.
Here are three of our favourites:
Gdańsk History Museum (Included) – The Town Hall houses the Gdańsk History Museum. The museum is full of beautiful rooms and halls with huge ornate fireplaces. There is also an impressive collection of 600 silver pieces, which is a reference to Gdańsk’s silversmithing era. Look out for the black and white photograph which shows the Dlugi Targ reduced to rubble during World War II, it shows how much hard work was put into resorting the city to its former glory. During the summer months, you can climb to the top of the Town Hall’s tower where you will be rewarded with great views of the city. Unfortunately, when we visited in January, we could not get that high, the tower was closed for the winter.
Gdansk Amber Museum (Included) – once the Prison Tower and Torture Chamber, the Fore-gate is now home to the Gdańsk Amber Museum. As mentioned before, Gdańsk is famed for its Amber and at the museum, you can learn all about it and see examples of how it has been used to make many different objects. On the top floor, there is also a huge collection of intricate and amazing amber jewellery to admire. I personally am not a fan of amber for myself but I have to admit the collection is beautiful and if amber is your thing, you will be in your element.
European Solidarity Centre (Reduced) – opened in 2014, on the 25th anniversary of Poland’s regaining its freedom, the museum is located right next to the entrance to the Gdańsk Shipyards, the five-storey building is kind of hard to miss, the building is VERY different to the majority of buildings in the centre of Gdansk. The European Solidarity Centre is somewhere that you have to spend a few hours in Gdańsk. The permanent exhibition took us through the history of the Polish people, from repression under the communist system imposed and supervised by the Soviet Union to relatively modern-day freedom.
Get out of Town
Another thing that is highly recommended to do when you are in Gdańsk, is getting out of the city centre and explore some of the smaller outlying areas including Sopot and Gdynia. As the weather was not on our side, we decided to stay in the city and explore there with the knowledge that we could duck in and out of cafes as needed. However, I have heard both are absolutely beautiful and well worth the visit during the summer months. It’s a shame really as public transport was included in out Gdańsk Tourist Card, but for us, we decided not to take the trips.
Sopot – known for its health spas, sandy beach and its long wooden pier that extends into the Bay of Gdańsk, it sounds like the perfect place to have a wander if the sun was shining brightly especially as it is under 20 minutes away from Gdańsk city centre.
Gdynia – known for its modernist buildings, again it is somewhere more suited to the summer months as it is also a seaside town. However, it is also home to a number of museums, many relating to Polish history. Located just past Sopot and only a 22-minute train ride from Gdańsk.
Malbork Castle – if you have a bit more time on your hands then a trip out to Malbork Castle came highly recommended especially as it is one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments and is also listed as the largest castle in the world. Located just under an hour away from Gdańsk, this castle is at the top of our list should we return to the city.
We loved our time in Gdańsk and it has really sparked a love affair with Poland. We had three days in the city, which we felt was enough. The old town area is pretty compact, which was great as it meant we could walk everywhere. Therefore, by the time we packed our bags to leave, we felt that we had seen the majority of things this city has to offer first-time visitors. Again, as mentioned above, if we return, especially in the summer we will certainly take some day trips to experience seaside town life on the Baltic coast.
If we never return to Gdańsk, I am positive that we will definitely return to Poland, in fact, we’ve always got one eye on flights. We’ve heard Warsaw and Wroclaw should be next on our list. Do you have any recommendations?
- Gdańsk Tourist Cards provided by Visit Gdansk on a complimentary basis