For anyone who has never been to Poland, or who does not know too much about the country, Gdańsk is one city that may ring a few bells. Even if the name itself does not, events which took place there certainly do. It is Gdańsk, after all, that can claim to be the home of Lech Wałęsa, Solidarność (Solidarity) and the former Lenin Shipyards – images of the man, the movement and the shipyards flashed across television screens all over the world during the 1980s. People who had never thought too much about Poland were suddenly witnessing life-changing events unfolding there – nightly – on news bulletins. There was surprise and admiration for the tenacity and grit of the Poles, and the world watched in amazement as Solidarity led to the fall of the Communist regime…something deemed surely impossible by so many.
For visitors not familiar with Polish history, Gdańsk offers other surprises, including its architecture, which is an accurate reflection of its cultural and historical complexities. After all, pre-war Gdańsk – which was known as Danzig at that time – was under Prussian and then Hanseatic rule for centuries, and its architecture beautifully shows this: a visit to this northern city is not unlike a visit to Amsterdam and its buildings are surprisingly elegant. Though badly damaged in WWII – entire sections of the city were completely destroyed – the city was rebuilt to faithfully show how it looked originally. To step into Gdańsk’s Main Town (Główne Miasto) is to truly step back in time about 400 years, straight into a Hansa merchants’ settlement.
The obvious starting point is the Główne Miasto (Main Town), the largest historic part of the city. A walk down the main thoroughfare, ul. Długa, to Długi Targ, the open square on the street’s most eastern corner, is quite natural – a stroll in this direction is very flowing, as it starts at a massive gate called the Brama Wyżanna (Upland Gate) and leads smoothly away. It’s worth noting that the gate was the starting point of the Royal Route, used by Polish monarchs on their visits. To retrace their route, go through the ornate Brama Złota (Golden Gate) which is next to the Dwór św. Jerzego (St. George’s Court), itself handsomely decorated with Gothic touches and a statue of St. George and the dragon. From this point, ul. Długa goes directly to the town hall, with shops, cafes and restaurants scattered on either side of the street, along with gorgeous touches on the buildings, such as original engravings, colourful doors and massive windows. Upon reaching the Town Hall, look up – the roof, the hall has a massive golden statue of King Sigismund August, and the height of the hall, combined with this statue, ensure that the building is a striking aspect of the city’s landscape.
From the Town Hall, continue down ul. Długa to the Brama Zielona (Green Gate), which marks the exit from the Main Town and leads out to Gdańsk’s stunning waterfront area. Boats still travel up and down, and a short walk away from the city will offer tantalising glimpses of the famous shipyards and open water. There are plenty of boat trips along the Motława Canal, particularly pleasant during the summer months.
When the mood to shop strikes, turn left out of the Green Gate, pass the former granary district of ul. Chlebnicka (Bread Street) and Brama Chlebnicka (Bread Gate), and then turn left onto ul. Mariacka. This picturesque little street has cool cafes, chic bars and luxury shops galore; the buildings are all dragon-faced gutter spouts and bohemian charm. But look closer: inside those terracced houses are high-end jewellery and clothing shops, all begging to break your resolve and your holiday shopping budget (You can actually haggle the price of the jewelry – we did it and it works!) And once you have shopped to your heart’s content, sit down at one of the amazingly atmospheric bistros to enjoy a glass of wine, before heading up to the Kościół Mariacki (St. Mary’s Church). This is the largest old brick church in the world, and if you climb its 405 steps to its tiny viewing platform, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking – or, depending on your fitness level, perhaps a breathless – view of this beautiful, waterfront city.
My husband and I stayed at Hotel Królewski. We had a great view of the Medieval waterfront. Hotel was really nice and reasonably priced for such a great location. In the mornings a breakfast buffet is available. Later the hotel’s restaurant serves international dishes. The staff is available 24/7 and can help guests organize sightseeing tours and taxi transportation.
Hotel is located on a little island. The island itself has several points of interest, such as the Maritime Museum, the Baltic Philharmonic and the Gdańsk Marina. All are within 500 ft.
Długi Targ is half a mile from Królewski, which is the heart of the historic quarter. Gdańsk Główny Train Station is 1.5 miles. Everything was within walking distance and we were really happy with our stay.
We took couple days to explore Sopot and Gdynia as well. You can get there pretty fast from the train station, with local trains leaving every few minutes.
Definitely visit Gdańsk if you have a chance! If any of you have different suggestions in regards to stay in Gdańsk and places to see there – please let us know in comments below.
Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)