The Baltic coastal city of Gdańsk is located in the north of Poland and has played a significant role in Polish history. During the Eighties, shipyard union leader Lech Walesa made a stand against the Communist Government, creating the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement which helped to topple the Russian-backed regime. You can visit the European Solidarity Centre which honours Walesa’s memory. Gdańsk was rebuilt in the 50s and 60s after widespread bombing by Allied air raids during WW2 – including parts of the medieval old town. Expect a lively café and restaurant culture, historic waterfront and architecture, world-class museums and art galleries, as well as a thriving trade in amber. Gdańsk also boasts unspoilt beaches along its miles of coastline. Here are 5 Gdańsk attractions to visit during your stay.
The Waterfront and Motlawa River
Gdansk’s waterfront looks a little like Amsterdam with its colourful narrow houses. Trading ships once hauled their cargos onto the bustling quays here, which was then stored in local granaries. Today, the waterfront is just as busy but now lined with galleries, cafes and restaurants. Especially notable is the Zuraw crane – you can’t miss it – which loaded cargo and is open to visitors. Standout sights along the waterfront include the gates at the end of some of the streets, including the 1450-built Bread Gate at the end of ul Chlebnicka. Pass through to see the extraordinary Dom Angielski (House Under the Angels), also known as the English House after its 17th Anglo Saxon merchant owners.
European Solidarity Centre
From his base at the Gdansk shipyards, 80s trade union leader Lech Wałęsa led the 10-million-strong ‘Solidarność’ (Solidarity) movement that resulted in the fall of the Communist regime in Poland. This pivotal time in Poland’s history is honoured in Gdansk’s European Solidarity Centre – a massive seven-story building that houses the free museum, as well as conference halls, rooftop terrace, gift shop, café and reading room. The ESC exhibition spreads over seven halls featuring interactive displays among archive film and photographs from the era, and details the beginning of the strikes in 1980 to the eventual overthrow of the Communist regime in 1989.
Summer in Gdansk is often celebrated at one of the city’s many beaches. From refined Sopot – a former spa town with the longest wooden pier in Europe – to peaceful Brzezno and the golden sands of Jelitkowo and the dunes at Leba, there’s a beach vibe to suit all tastes. Gdynia beach not only boasts fine sand and lovely bathing, but its hinterland is a pine forest. Take a stroll in the city’s gardens and in summer take in a performance at the open-air stage directly on the beach. Children will enjoy the playground and there are a couple of good restaurants with sea views.
Mariacka Street and Dlugi Targ (Long Market)
Gdansk’s medieval old town is a must-see: enjoy tasty pierogi (dumplings) and a shot of vodka at one of the many cafes which are ideal spots for people watching. Head to Ulica Mariacka, possibly the most beautiful street in the area, with its beautiful terraced buildings that line this cobbled thoroughfare between St Mary’s Gate on the riverside and the red-brick hulk of St Mary’s Church, believed to be the largest brick church in the world. The street was rebuilt after its destruction during WW2, using historic documents and photographs down to the last detail. It’s a revelation and feels authentic. The Long Market, aka Dlugi Targ, is a 500m-long street that is home to many of Gdansk’s tourist sites. Take time to visit the Town Hall and its clock tower: On a clear day, you’ll see as far as the Baltic Sea. The Town Hall is also home to Gdansk History Museum. Farther along the street, you’ll see the Flemish-designed Golden Gate with its allegorical statues. Stop for photos at the Neptune fountain and visit Artus Court which houses the Gdansk History Museum.
Giant murals in Zaspa
Venture out of Gdansk city centre to the hi-rise suburb of Zaspa for some extraordinary street art on the side of the buildings. You can join an art tour of the largest urban art gallery in Poland. Allow a good few hours to wander among all the art on display. The first high-rise mural appeared in Zaspa in 1997 and was painted by Rafał Roskowiński. It depicts the Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II and was one of 10 murals that were commissioned to commemorate the 1000th birthday of Gdansk. Shortly afterwards, other artists were permitted to create their own piece of history on the area’s high-rise blocks.
Best Time To Visit Gdansk
Winters in Gdansk tend to be freezing cold and windy with snow in January and February. Cold yes, but an ideal time for museum visits and hot toddies in Gdansk’s many cafes. Or perhaps enjoy some skiing on the nearby hills or ice-skating at Plac Zebran Ludowych. Gdansk Christmas markets are always worth visiting – head to Dluga Street and Oliwa Park which are always illuminated for the festive season. Spring (March to May) can still be a good time to visit Gdansk, especially when the blossom emerges. Summer is always popular: visit in June for the city’s Open’er Festival rock/pop festival from June 30 to July 3. This year, Gdansk’s famous Shakespeare Festival will be held between July 24 and August 2 with many performances in English, while St Dominic’s Fair is scheduled to run at the end of July and into August. Expect lots of market stalls, drinking and great street music. Autumn in Gdansk is generally quieter and the weather is still good for outside sightseeing in September. October and November can be rainy.
Why Visit Gdansk
Easily accessed from most international airports, Gdansk is compact enough for an enjoyable long-weekend stay. Take a stroll along the historic cobbled old town streets and waterfront, sample the famous dumplings and superb Polish vodka in the many bars and restaurants, before visiting the many historical attractions in the city. You can also add an extra day and take time out at the beaches in Sopot or Gydnia, and feed your inner knight at nearby Malbork castle. The extraordinary St Mary’s Basilica is the world’s largest brick church with extraordinary views from its belfry, while top museums include the European Solidarity Centre and the fascinating Amber Museum.