5 Things to See and Do in Gdańsk, Poland
I recently took a trip to Gdańsk, Poland, a city I had not visited since childhood. Gdańsk has changed tremendously since then, becoming a beautiful mix of old and new history and architecture. Although there are plenty of great sights you shouldn’t miss in the Old Town itself, if you’re ready to deepen your exploration of the city, here are five places from my recent trip to Gdańsk that you shouldn’t miss. There’s a bit of history and culture, as well as some spots to rest and enjoy in the list below – some obvious and some less so. If you happen to visit any of them, I would love to hear what you think in the comments below!
The Gdańsk Stockyard and The European Solidarity Centre
Although Warsaw and Kraków are must-see Polish cities, I recommend Gdańsk for those who want to experience another side of Poland. Far from being just a medieval city, Gdańsk is also where Poland’s revolt against Communism really gained momentum. The stockyard of Gdańsk is where the earliest protests, ones that would echo throughout the country, were organized and carried out.
The European Solidarity Centre (Europejski Centrum Solidarnosci) is a must for those wanting to understand present-day Poland. It is a piece of living history; most people who participated in the protests throughout the country (including my father) are still alive today and can tell you about their experiencing fighting for a new system of goverment. Poland’s rich history has shaped its worldview and the Solidarity movement plays a big part in how Poles understand themselves and their country.
With each room presenting daily life in the 70s and 80s PRL (Polish People’s Republic), and the audio guide incorporating music of the time period, the museum does an excellent job of putting you right in the center of the events at the stockyard. I left the museum feeling like not only had I gained insight and knowledge into this period of Polish history, but I had also absorbed the mentality and spirit of the time (since I was born right at the tail-end of the period and wasn’t old enough to understand).
I highly recommend this museum – it’s entertaining and interactive enough for older children and teenagers and very accessible to those who are not history buffs.
What you should know: Plan to spend 2 hours at the exhibitions with audio guide (available in multiple languages). Book tickets in advance, especially if you’re going in the touristy summer months – this museum is popular for a reason. Entrance is timed and limited for each 2-hour block. General admission tickets are 30pln and the museum is located at pl. Solidarności 1.
Possibly my most delectable discovery on my trip to Gdańsk was Flisak ‘76. This small, dark basement cocktail bar is a gem in the city, serving delicious drinks in a way I have not ever seen done. The exposed brick and comfortable couches make this a great choice for a date night; it’s a good place to sit and chat without having to worry about loud music. The bar (once a restaurant and gastropub) has been open since 1976 and has stayed in the family since that time, making the current owners the third generation.
But the bar’s ambience is outdone by its creative menu and drinks. Flisak ‘76’s menu is thematic, its bartenders true artists. When I visited, the menu was storybook-themed, with each drink inspired by a classic fairytale. When I received my drink, it wasn’t just placed in front of me – the waiter served it while telling me a short tale related to the theme. Looking around, I could tell who had ordered which drink just by looking at the way it was served: in an oil lamp (Aladdin), a potion bottle (Alice in Wonderland), or even in a goldfish bowl (the tale of the fisherman and the fish).
The experience was so fun and artfully done; the drinks were also wonderful (I loved Snow White which came in a glass cloche with dry ice smoke and a “poison apple” – a candied maraschino cherry – on the side). Don’t be fooled by the fairytale element – this is most definitely a grown up playground.
What you should know: Located on ul. Chlebnicka 9/10, this place is SMALL so be prepared to not find seating in the bar itself on a Friday or Saturday night – otherwise there is limited outside aboveground seating. I recommend trying this place out on a weeknight or at an odd hour so you can truly experience its cozy vibe and enjoy sipping your drink without the crowds.
Amber Sky Ferris Wheel
As anyone who has traveled to the north coast of Poland during the summer knows, the weather has a tendency to change quickly and, despite the season, not always stay warm and sunny. My trip in August was full of cloudy mornings and bright, beautiful afternoons – or the reverse. I tried to time out my trip to the ferris wheel, Amber Sky, as well as I could given the weather. However, on the evening I rode the ferris wheel, the rain had just started and lasted throughout the night.
Despite my bad-weather luck, Amber Sky is a must for anyone looking to enjoy the view of Gdańsk from high above. It’s beautiful to ride in the night but just as lovely during the day, thanks to the colorful historic tenement houses in neat little rows throughout the city. The wheel is made up of a series of 36 capsules. Although it’s no London Eye, Amber Sky is 50 meters tall, tall enough that you get a good view of the whole Old Town and much of the rest of the city.
What you should know: General admission tickets cost 35pln and the ride lasts for approximately 15 minutes. Be prepared to possibly wait in line for a little while on warm, summer evenings; tickets are not available online but, as there are a few registers, the wait is not bad. Cash or card is accepted. The capsules are fully covered so you can enjoy a ride rain or shine.
I spent most mid-afternoons during my trip to Gdańsk with coffee and cake at Leń. This small café keeps busy by roasting its own coffee and having fresh bakes on hand daily. The casual, relaxed atmosphere (leń means “lazy person” in Polish) is a good place to enjoy their raspberry latte or lemon cheesecake, both of which are excellent. I imagine that it’s a good place to read or work, as well as just to people watch (which is something that can easily be done from their outdoor terrace). It’s the perfect place and aptly named to lazy about and take a break from all the sightseeing and walking you’ll be doing.
What you should know: The café is located on ul. Piwna 52/53. As with most cafés, go earlier in the day for the best selection of baked goods.
I usually don’t recommend a shopping center as a point of interest while exploring a city, but I’ll make the exception for Forum Gdańsk as it’s the only one I know of with a medieval canal flowing through it. The historic Raduni canal, which was built in 1338, was incorporated into the architecture of the mall. The Teutonic Knights (who also built the Malbork Castle), constructed the canal in order to deliver fresh drinking water as well as power the mills in the city. The current stretch of the canal that runs through the shopping center has been restored and reinforced so that unfiltered rainwater won’t find its way in to the building.
What you should know: Located just outside the Old Town, Forum Gdańsk contains plenty of shops and eateries, which make for a good way to pass part of a rainy day if you need a break from museums.
While in Gdańsk, whether or not you are a history lover, you shouldn’t miss a visit to Westerplatte, the peninsula right off the coast that the Germans attacked in 1939, starting the Second World War. The peninsula is easily accessible by a short boat trip from the Old Town in Gdańsk. The main focal point of the peninsula is its monument, which measures 20 meters tall and was built in 1966 to commemorate the efforts of about 200 Polish soldiers who defended the country from attack for one whole week before succumbing to the much larger 3,000-person German army. The monument stands atop a hill at one end of the park. At various points in the walk to the monument, you can see old bunkers and barracks dating back to before the war. From atop the hill, the words “Nigdy wiecej wojny” (“War – never again”) are fixed to the ground, facing the monument. It’s a sobering visit and one that makes you reflect on just how much Polish and European lives changed in September 1939. There is a planned museum in the works on Westerplatte itslef, to accompany the Museum of the Second World War in the city of Gdańsk.
What you should know: Boat trips depart from the Old Town regularly in the summer season. I recommend buying tickets at least an hour in advance to secure your spot for the hour you intend to travel. Tickets are 65pln for the round-trip fare.