Ah Gdansk, I remember when I visited for the first time last June. It was my second time in Poland, and after having an amazing time in Warsaw (although it was freezing) I couldn’t wait to touch down at Lech Walesa airport. Why? It was a small city full of history, full of amazing food and beautiful sights. It ticked all the boxes. Plus I’m always a fan of cheap destinations to visit being a student on a low wage of course!
So here is a guide to Gdansk, how to go and why you should go!
HOW TO GET THERE AND WHERE TO STAY
-Getting to Gdansk is a breeze. Many airlines fly into the airport, many flights being Ryanair flights. I flew from Stansted as usual and boarding and take off was all on time. Sometimes you can bag a return for around £20, which means this trip is not too mean on your wallet. On this occasion I paid £30 (cheaper than my weekly rail fares to university).
-To get from the airport to the city centre there are a few options. There is a train but it runs infrequently and you have to change station at Gdansk Wreszez. The positive is that is only costs 3zl (not even a pound). Upon a arrival we used a taxi as it was more convenient. Make sure to use Neptun Taxis as the other companies are pretty awful! (Trust me I am speaking from experience). It will cost around 60zl, just over £10.
-If you don’t want to fly or are flying into somewhere else, the Polish train system is pretty good and very well priced. It is very easy to get here, however, there are not as many international services to Gdansk, so you will have to change at big cities such as Warsaw or Krakow.
-For accommodation, we stayed at the Hilton Gdansk. Having a loyalty account and being part of the highest tier, it meant that by only paying for the most basic room, we got upgraded, had free breakfast and had lots of little luxuries thrown in for free (free wine, free truffles, free water daily etc). It is one of the priciest options in the city, but if you have a loyalty account with them and travel in the off-season it is extremely well valued! Plus the high price is a result of its prime location, spa and spacious rooms with views.
-For cheaper stays, I really recommend the Mercure as it offers stunning views of the Old Town on one side, and the shipyards on the other. You can also reach the train station and a shopping centre within 5 minutes. For a super budget option, an Ibis has just been built next-door to the Mercure and I’ve always had a great stay in them in other Polish cities, very cheap but service is amazing for the price.
WHAT TO DO
Explore the Old Town and Marina
Stating the obvious here of course. Make sure you spend at least half a day exploring the beautiful areas of the city. The quaint colourful houses, the crystal clear water and the numerous clock towers and churches really make Gdansk shine. In my eyes its more beautiful than other canal cities such as Bruges and Amsterdam and is so under appreciated. I also learnt during this trip that all of the buildings here are inspired by various places in Europe, not just Poland. With most of Gdansk being destroyed during World War II, they had to rebuild much of the city. Many of the buildings were inspired by France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy – no buildings were to be built or rebuilt if they were influenced by Germany. Even in the architecture you can learn so much about the city and country’s history, which is pretty marvellous.
Take a tour of the dockyards
For those of you who don’t know much about Eastern European history, the shipyards of Gdansk have always been extremely important. As early as World War One it was fought over by Germany and Poland when it used to be called Danzig, then during World War Two Hitler made sure to ‘take back’ Gdansk for his own gains very early on, then it belonged to the Soviets, and more recently many large riots took place in the 1970s and 1980s over worker’s rights and lack of democracy in Poland. Consequently, Gdansk was the first place in Eastern Europe to regain a form of democracy after nearly half a century of communist rule. During my first visit, I never got round to seeing the shipyards in person, but expected it to be easy to walk around…boy was I extremely ignorant and naive. Once on board my pirate ship (I’m not kidding…) lets just say it took 45 minutes to see majority of the shipyards, I was in awe of the scale. Plus we had a lovely commentator from Norfolk explaining everything we saw during our journey, and lovely staff who made the best hot chocolate. It was a lovely way to spend the morning.
Visit the Solidarity Centre
As aforementioned, Gdansk was where democracy was first restored in Eastern Europe, much of this began with the riots and then the Solidarity movement that arose from it. Solidarity was the union of the Polish shipbuilders and once it secured victory in 1980, they dictated to the government that they would be erecting a monument to the workers killed in the 1970 riots, and thus the first monument but to honour victims of communist oppression was born. Behind this monument lies the new Solidarity Centre, which is not just a museum, but a library, an archive and a centre for many academics. Of course as a tourist, the museum will probably what will interest you and I thoroughly recommend it. You get a free audio guide, and all the exhibition is interactive and I doubt you will want to rush through here.
Soak up the history in many of the city’s museums
There are also many other museums in the city: Amber museum, Free City of Danzig museum, Gdansk history museum, Westerplatte, museum of the Second World War, Post Office museum…the list is pretty much endless, I still haven’t tackled half of the museums I wish to see, but I’m sure I will be back within a year to work on my dissertation so I do aim to tick all of these amazing places off! Essentially, there is a museum for everyone here.
Relax in the spas of Gdansk (and Sopot)
This coastal region of Poland is renowned for its spas, both for health and relaxation. I was fortunate enough to have a lovely one in my hotel, but if staying somewhere no frills you will find no difficulty in finding spas both luxury and affordable in both of these cities. Sopot being the most famous – but the weather unfortunately was very poor when I visited this time. A quick google and dozens will appear. Take your pick!
Shop till you drop
Gdansk city centre isn’t exactly a massive place to shop, especially for brands. There is one small shopping centre near the train station, but hop on a train to Gdansk Wreszez (the same stop to change over for the airport) and you will find Galeria Baltyka. It’s a massive shopping centre with amazing chains inside, which could easily compete with Westfield White City in London. With the Polish currency not hiking up unlike the Euro, shopping here isn’t an extortionate way to spend time.
WHAT TO EAT
Yes I am talking about Wedel AGAIN, but trust me you need to go. Thick hot chocolates, chocolate liquor and the best truffles you can imagine … yes I’m drooling. Plus they also have lots of lovely teas and juices, but that’s not really why you’re going here is it? After a morning of sightseeing, museums and shopping, a chill out in here is a pleasure.
I got back to Sphinx again after enjoying it in Krakow! As I said before its not exactly Polish food, but it is a really good polish chain. It specialises in Egyptian cuisine however, there is such a wide variety of choice there is something for everyone. With Gdansk’s restaurant being situated on the old town square, it provides a lovely experience for a good price.
The most instagram-worthy cafe on the old town square. With hygge-inspired decor and blankets handed to you, it’s a bloggers dream I’m sure. Despite the hygge influence, the cuisine here is indeed Polish and the portion sizes are HUGE. I ordered a plate of dumplings for my starter, and lets just say it was not what I would consider a starter portion. It’s also extremely good value, but I would recommend only one course, otherwise you will be stuffed!
I never got round to trying this place situated on the Marina, but my Dad did and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s rated no 1 on TripAdvisor so it must be pretty good. Lovely decor and ambience, with delicious but gorgeously presented food, it’s not hard to see why it gets the top spot. A bit pricier than the rest of Gdansk, but worth the small splurge.
-If considering a city break to Europe, Gdansk is a bargain.
-For hotels the Ibis and Mercure are great value options, but if you’re someone like me who likes luxury hotels but refuses to pay the high prices in peak season in say Paris, Amsterdam and Rome for example, the Hilton Gdansk is an absolute bargain (especially if you sign up to their loyalty scheme which is completely free! -Although it will take time to reach the highest tier status)
-Food is extremely cheap as always with Poland, there are many convenience stores and supermarkets. Polish restaurants too will be very cheap.
-As said before, Gdansk is cheaper than its southern cousin Krakow, if you’re looking to squeeze your budget even more.
-This is a trip that you can choose to make luxury or budget, but either way, you will be getting a lot in return for little cash.
Would you consider a trip to Gdansk? Have you been there or to other Polish cities?
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