Best Things To Do In Gdansk Poland
After spending several days shared between Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Poznan and Torun, I thought the city of Gdansk would be much the same. Wow, how wrong was I!!! Gdansk is gaining popularity and offers a large variety of things to do and see, day and night. It is easy to see why it has been voted destination of the year several times.
Gdansk is an absolute must-visit city when travelling to Poland. The city is rich in history and full of interesting things to do and see; both day and night. You can easily spend more than 3 days in Gdansk especially if you decide to include a day trip to Sopot and Malbork Castle, the largest European castle.
Getting to Gdansk from Torun?
Getting from Torun to Gdansk by Intercity train was a breeze. European train travel is something I look forward to because the Australian train system is very basic, inefficient in comparison and best described as slow travel. To be fair Australia maybe the 6th largest country in the world but this relatively new country has a population of only 26 million.
Getting Around Gdansk
In my opinion catching public transport is a great way to connect with a new city and feel like a local. Half of the fun of travel is working out how to get from point A to point B. With the invention of digital maps and transportation apps, travellers are seeing more and getting lost less.
Gdansk 24 Hour Ticket
Torun is 170 kilometres south of Gdansk and took 2.30 hours by Intercity train to reach Gdansk Główny Station. From the main station, I purchased a Gdansk 24-Hour ticket which gave me access to all forms of public transport. Visitors can purchase one ride tickets that are valid for one ride only, however, once you alight a bus or tram you need to buy another ticket to go further.
Time allocated tickets allow you to travel on buses and trams for a set period of time. Separate night tickets are necessary unless you purchase a 24-hour ticket which is valid for travel both day and night. Seniors and visitors holding a concession card travel from any country can purchase tickets at a discounted rate.
Tourist Cards in Gdansk
Tourist cards provides free access to several museums and establishments and incorporate a MZKZG metropolitan ticket is valid on all buses, trams, trolleybuses and SKM trains. A metropolitan ticket also allows you to travel between cities on SKM Tricity Trains to Gdańsk, Sopot, Gdynia, Malbork, Rumia, Reda, Wejherowo, Kartuzy, Kościerzyna, Żukowo.
Gdansk Information Bureau
Local government tourism offices are a wealth of useful information and the best place to connect with local guides, free walking tours and private tour companies. Most major cities offer visitors access to online city maps, printed guides, attraction and activities information, transport timetables and FREE Wi-Fi hotspots.
Best Sim Card in Poland
How did we ever travel without the internet and smartphones? Like you, I need to have access to reliable data through fast and secure Wi-Fi connections. Reading travel forums is part of travel planning and a good way to learn about a country’s internet services.
Travel forums are great for finding out which Telecom companies deliver the most cost-efficient data plans and fastest connections, tried and tested by other travellers.
Once you narrow down the choice, research where you can buy and activate your plan in store. Know what the Telecom provider requirements are, such as sighting your passport, to ensure you can buy a new SIM and complete the purchase. The last thing you want is to purchase a new SIM from the airport, only to find you can’t activate it when you reach your hotel or destination.
Orange Polska Telecom
Data is fast and super cheap in Poland in comparison to many other European countries. Orange Polska Telecom offers travellers the best data plan in Poland and is easily accessible throughout Europe. Most plans allow you to use the same SIM card in multiple European countries and plans can be top-up online or via the Orange App.
With ticket in hand and data on my mobile, I made my way to one the Gdansk 5 Star Hotels. As soon as I checked-in at Hotel PURO Gdańsk Stare Miasto, I knew I had chosen well. My only disappointment was I hadn’t booked for longer.
The views from my room were spectacular and I could have sat by the window and looked out for hours, but Gdansk’s was waiting for me to discover. However, I knew after a big day of exploring, I would sleep well and feel refreshed for another day of more of the same.
Gdansk Astronomical Clock
I began my adventures by making my way over to the tallest wooden clock in the world. The Gdansk Astronomical Clock is inside the 13th century Polish St. Mary’s Church which is constructed mostly of wood.
The large decorative clock stands at least 17 metres / 45 feet tall, so it is impossible to see the elaborate details towards the top. This historic 1400s timepiece was built by clockmaker Hans Duringer and tracks the time of day, position of the sun and moon in relation to the zodiac signs plus the calendar of the saints.
Each day at noon, you can see three kings at the top. On another level there is the procession of apostles and below that an intricate zodiac face which sits at the top of the saints’ calendar. Each of the three parts works beautifully with the other just like clockwork.
Legend has it that Duringer was intentionally blinded by the authorities after he completed the Gdansk Astronomical Clock so that he could never build a clock of equal beauty anywhere else in the world. However, Duringer did create another astronomical clock in a neighbouring town, so perhaps the legend may not be as accurate as his clocks.
Gdańsk, perhaps more than most cities has been shaped by its geographical position on the Baltic Sea and the constant changing over the centuries from being controlled by Teutonic Prussia and Slavic Poland.
Under Prussian / German times, Gdansk was known as Danzig but nearly always it has been the major seaport of the region and with that, the city acquired great wealth at times, and this shows in the elegant and grand buildings and wide boulevards.
A Phoenix City
The city of Gdansk was decimated during the final stages of WW2 and for a short time, the now Soviet Union controlled the city that laid in ruins with an uncertain future. It’s hard to believe that 90% of the city was destroyed as you walk around today admiring the streets, gates, churches and public buildings, especially the restored 1700’s colourful and exquisite slender houses that line the Royal Route.
Before heading over to the Ruins at Westerplatte, I grabbed some placki, which are Polish potato pancakes. Those, plus a Warka beer seemed to hit the spot and powered me on to the first battle site of World War II.
Westerplatte is a small peninsula in the Bay of Gdańsk that can be reached by bike, boat, bus or cab from downtown Gdansk. Galeon Pirate boat is a pleasant 40 minutes river cruise with various language commentary and bar service. Guests can choose to sail one way or purchase a return ticket. A cab ride back to the marina takes just 20 minutes.
Gdansk Viator Tours
Viator offers tours for those who want to deepen their knowledge of Gdansk’s history with a guided tour of Westerplatte and Gdansk. The main significance of the site is it marks the starting point of the world’s largest military conflict – WW2.
There is a long promenade with a type of outdoor museum and commemorative ‘Battle of Westerplatte’ memorial dedicated to the Poles who held out for 7-days and repelled over a dozen assaults including naval shelling and dive-bomber attacks.
You can choose to travel by car or take a scenic 45-minute cruise along the Motława River to Westerplatte. Tour the site and learn about the events that took place here in World War II. See barracks, a guardhouse, military cemetery, and monument dedicated to the soldiers who sought to defend the Polish coast. Read more about Private Westerplatte Tour with Car or Cruise Transport here.
Unfortunately, for the entire central and eastern Europe, including Poland, the year 1945 did not bring freedom but a new bondage. The communist system collapsed many years later, due to the birth of the Solidarity movement in August 1980 and the perseverant peaceful effort of central European nations striving for freedom.
40 years on liberated Europe faced the opportunity to discover the whole truth about the Second World War, condemn the perpetrators and commemorate the victims. No better place could be found to talk about the complexity of the 20th century history than Gdańsk – the city of the first shots of the Second World War and the city of Solidarity (Solidarności).
Although, everything was eerily quiet during my visit the historic site has been preserved quite well, and I was able to walk along the outdoor museum and admire the World War II memorials and ruined buildings.
Westerplatte Memorial Gdansk Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)
Much of the wealth and power of Gdansk was derived from its river position at the mouth of the Baltic Sea. One of the many defining symbols of the city is the riverside medieval crane built in 1367 and rebuilt between 1442-1444 after the original structure burnt down. This crane was the biggest in Europe at the time and used to transfer cargo and help raise ship masts. The medieval crane ceased working in the mid-19th century and nearly completely destroyed in 1945 in the battle for Gdansk.
Today, the entire waterfront area has been renewed and transformed into boutique hotels, luxury apartments, buzzing eateries, restaurants and beer gardens.
Tall ships and pleasure boat cruises drift up and down the waterfront pass the Polish Maritime Museum and huge shipbuilding complex further up toward the mouth of the river. Viator runs a selection of Gdansk tours that incorporate the old town and waterfront. Click here for more Gdansk Viator tour information.
What’s at the Gdansk Shipyard?
In the 1970 strikes, at least 42 shipyard workers were killed in clashes with the militarised police, known as ZOMO. I discovered quite the unknown history at the Gdańsk Shipyard, which happens to be where at least seventeen thousand shipyard workers gathered ten years later to take a stand against communism.
Next door to the famous Gdansk Shipyard is the Solidarity Centre that opened in 2014 in a purpose built architecturally attractive, and evocative steel building. Purchase your entry ticket and pick up your audio guide and headset which is fully automated as you move through the 7 halls.
Each hall is well signposted and filled with memorabilia detailing Poland’s post war fight for freedom. The museum is dedicated to the history and strikes that originated in the adjacent shipyards and the commencement of the Solidarity movement, negotiations and beyond.
Lech Walesa | Man of Hope
Lech Walesa a former electrician at the Lenin Shipyard played a major role in the Solidarity movement and was instrumental in political negotiations that led to the ground-breaking Gdańsk Agreement between striking workers and the government in August 1980.
The dismissal of crane operator, Anna Walentynowicz was the spark at Gdansk’s Lenin Shipyards to go on strike. Anna was fired 5 months prior to her retirement for participation in the illegal trade union.
Today, Walesa has an office located on the second floor and often seen walking the museum talking to visitors. Allow at least 3 hours to visit this fascinating museum which is filled with state-of-the-art multimedia displays and original artefacts.
Exceptional views over the shipyards can be seen from the rooftop of the Solidarity Centre.
Gdansk Shipyard Today
While those workers spent hours manufacturing one thousand ships to send to other parts of the world in the past, currently, it is not doing quite so well. However, the locals are doing what they can to preserve this space and the history that can be found within.
Walking Sightseeing Tours
Get to know more of Gdansk’s 1000-year history with one of the Viator private guided walking tours. There are several main routes however, the most recommended is: Gdansk Old Town Private Walking Tour: Legends and Facts.
Explore Gdansk Old Town without the stress of navigating, and put your full focus on enjoying the sites, as you’re guided along by informative multilingual speaking guides. You’ll learn about local legends and interesting historical facts and get the opportunity to ask your guide loads of questions.
Walking tours are also a great way to find your bearings as you walk down cobbled street and learn about local gems off the tourist trap.
Everyone visiting Gdansk must take at least one Free Walkative Tour. Taking the 2.5 hour Solidarity Tour will help you to understand the complicated history of post WW2 Polish history and how its peoples helped shape Poland as we now know it today.
Your guide will describe life under communist regime, the history of its collapse which started here in the shipyards of Gdansk. Walk along the paths that raised the city from ruins and brought freedom to half of Europe. The tour includes the headquarters of communist party and communist secret services in Gdańsk, monument to the fallen shipyard workers, historic health and safety building in the shipyards and loads more.
Day trip to Malbork
Malbork Castle is the largest Gothic fortress in Europe. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most famous monuments in Poland. Learn about its intriguing history that was once the headquarters of the entire Teutonic state. It is situated on the Nogat river and you need to allow around two hours to explore the castle.
Inside the castle is an Amber museum and a collection of flags and weaponry. For a self-guided tour of Malbork Castle catch a train to Sopot Station approximately 55 minutes from Gdansk Glowny Station and walk the 20 minutes to the castle.
3 Top Stays in Gdansk
Puro Gdansk Stare Miasto is 17km from Gdansk Lech Walesa airport and located in the heart of old town Gdańsk. Just 300 metres away from Long Street and 150 metres from Green Gate as well as close by to Artus Court, Main Town Hall and the National Museum.
The hotel offers free bikes and Wi-Fi plus Dancing Anchor Restaurant serving classic seafood, fish and meat dishes created by acclaimed chefs. Rooms are modern, air conditioned and equipped with an iPad and a flat-screen TV. Private bathroom includes shower, hairdryer and complimentary toiletries.
Puro Gdansk Stare Miasto has a 24-hour reception, express check-in and check-out service plus meeting facilities. Laundry and ironing services are available on request.
Address: Stągiewna 26, Gdańsk
Excellent traditional Polish specialties and international dishes are served in Hotel Gdańsk Boutique restaurant. Enjoy an award-winning beer produced in the hotel’s own brewery, Brovarnia Gdańsk and indulge in a quality coffee from the in-house cafe. 24-hour reception, room service, massage, free sauna and spa treatments are available. Hotel Gdańsk Boutique is located within a 20-minute walk of the Gdańsk Główny Railway Station and a few hundred metres from St Mary Church in the Old Town.
Address: Szafarnia 9, Gdansk
Hotel rooms come with a flat-screen TV plus smartphone with free international calls and unlimited internet. Each room has an electric kettle, private bathroom, complimentary toiletries, hairdryer and some suites have a small seating area.
Address: Podwale Grodzkie 4, 80-895 Gdańsk
Local Craft Whiskey
Gdansk whiskey Starka was my drink of choice at Hotel Gdansk Whisky Bar that evening. Here you can try over 50 types of exquisite whiskies including exclusive, noble whiskies from around the globe. The extensive list includes the most renowned Irish and Scottish brands, plus specialty whiskies from Japan, USA and Canada.
Gdańsk Best Cafes and Coffee Spots
Having an awesome cup of coffee can be a memorable experience for us coffee addicts. Finding the Poland Coffee Spots guide was a godsend as not everywhere in Poland serves up exceptional coffee. I can recommend these two funky coffee houses in Gdansk.
Drukarnia – address Gdańsk, ul.Mariacka 36
Kreatywna – address Gdańsk, Słowackiego 19
You may wonder like I did, why coffee is more expensive in Poland than other European cities. If you discover the answer, I’d love to know why too!
There is more to Polish cuisine than potato pancakes however you must try them. They are delicious or why not make your own from the recipe including in this YouTube video.
Disclosure: Some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you book accommodation or make a purchase. I only recommend companies and products I use personally or have researched.
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