There are so many things to do in Gdansk and reasons to fall in love with this beautiful Polish city that narrowing it down to only 20 was a tough task! We share our highlights from Gdansk Old Town, our favourite bars, restaurants and day trips from Gdansk you cannot miss!
Although we loved Krakow (you can read about our trip here ) we found Gdansk more enjoyable as there were far less tourists. This factor makes it the perfect time to visit, before it becomes too popular and you have to fight with selfie sticks and crazy flight prices! We visited Gdansk in November and although we travelled overnight by bus from Krakow, flights from the UK are insanely cheap. This means it’s the perfect destination for a weekend city break!
1. Visit Gdansk Old Town
The city is famous for it’s stunning architecture that was almost entirely rebuilt after WW2, so one of the most popular things to do in Gdansk is explore The Long Street – also known as Dluga. The colourful and ornate buildings (with no cars – the street is entirely pedestrianised) will make you feel like you’re in a fairy-tale. Gdansk Old Town is one of the most picturesque old towns we’ve visited, the numerous restaurants, trinket shops and cosy cafes add to the enchantment of this city. All guarded by the beautiful golden gate!
2. Prison Tower and Torture Chamber
Every fairy-tale needs a prison tower, right? In Gdansk Old Town the prison tower and torture chamber do not disappoint. Also known as Wieza Wiezienna these fascinating buildings were built in the 14th century and were originally part of the city walls. However in the 16th century, new city walls were built (including the beautiful Great Armoury building below) turning these into the prison, court and torture chamber. Today the buildings are used for slightly less traumatic purposes and are actually home to the Amber Museum. Leading us to our next point…
3. Amber Shops in Gdansk
Gdansk is known as the capital for the collection of Baltic Amber. Although thought of as a precious stone, it is actually fossilised resin from 40 million year old coniferous trees which after some science, a lot of dust, compression and time created the fiery gemstone you’d recognise today! The largest source is from the East of Gdansk, where it literally washes ashore – hence it’s available in abundance. Head for Mariacka Street which is lined with amber shops if you’re keen to get your hands on some.
I wished we’d bought some as Amber is said to help to balance the emotions, clear the mind, release stress and negative energy – essential when travelling as a couple. If the Amber doesn’t work, these travel couple tips might.
4. Gdansk Town Hall
This striking building is one of the many architectural gems on Long Street. You cannot miss its rising spire, towering over the city. Dating back to the 14th century and home to the Gdansk History Museum, add it to your list of things to do in Gdansk if you’re a history lover. Also one of the best things to do in Gdansk for an amazing view of the city! You can climb to the top of the Town Hall Bell Tower for a small fee of 5zl.
5. Visit One of the Largest Brick Churches in the WORLD
St. Mary’s Basilica, also known as Bazylika Mariacka, is not only one of Europe’s largest brick churches, but believed to be the largest in the world. This is due to being constructed with more red bricks than any other church in the world. Astonishingly this Catholic church can host 25,000 people!
There is no fee to enter and once inside, the 15th century Astronomical Clock is a definite highlight. According to legend, the clock’s creator had his eyes gouged out so he’d never make a clock better than this one! To be fair, I’m sure we heard the same story about Prague’s clock too, so don’t take our word for it ( you can read our Prague itinerary here).
On Saturday and Sunday between 10:00-15:30 you can walk to the top of the towers – all 405 steps to the top! After a 3.3 million Euro renovation tourists can now benefit from the tallest views in the city as there is a viewing platform at the top. There is a small 8zl fee, definitely worth it for the best view of Gdansk.
6. Dine Out for £3 per person at a Milk Bar
As we were backpacking Europe on a budget (find out how much we spent in 3 months here) we made it our mission to find local, affordable food and avoiding tourist traps. In Gdansk, it was incredibly easy to find – cue Milk Bars. This cafeteria style dining (similar to the Lido restaurant in Riga) were introduced during the war, allowing people to eat well but cheaply. Meals here are approx. £3.
For one of the most authentic things to do in Gdansk definitely squeeze in a visit. We were recommended Restauracja Gdanska, Bar Mleczny Neptun on the main street at ul. Długa 33/34, and Bar Mleczny Słoneczny on ul. Wladysława IV. As a top tip, visit earlier in the day – the choice, quality and temperature of the food tends to be better ha!
7. See the biggest Crane in the world – Gdansk Crane
Okay, slight lie – at one point it was the biggest crane in the world but 80% of it was destroyed in the battle for Gdansk, 1945. It then underwent huge reconstruction and was one of the first things we spotted in Gdansk Old Town as it sticks out amongst the ornate facades along the canal front. Also known as the Zuraw Crane it is amazingly 500 years old and during the Summer in Gdansk visitors can explore inside – a wee tip, it’s free on Saturdays!
8. Walk by the Canal – to find the Gdansk Sign
By walking along the canal you will tick off many of the top things to see in Gdansk. You’ve hopefully already ticked off Gdansk Crane and even more enchanting architecture. A walk along the canal will be rewarded with the huge Gdansk sign, which unlike the ones in Amsterdam or Budapest is not crawling with tourists – infact we were the only ones there! If your feet are tired from exploring Gdansk Old Town, we recommend trying number 10.
9. Take a Pirate Ship along the Gdansk Canal
This unmissable mock pirate ship is known as the Black Pearl (Czarna Perla) and is one of the first things you’ll spot on the canal. There is also it’s sister ship, The Galeon Lew (The Lion Galleon) and both can take you between Gdansk waterfront and Westerplatte. Tickets are 30/20zł one-way or 45/30zł return.
10. Visit where WWII began
Hitler and his troops simultaneously launched attacks on Westerplatte, on the Polish Post Office in Gdańsk and on the town of Tczew on September 1st 1939. This started WWII. The Westerplatte peninsula is now a memorial site featuring a scattering of shelled bunkers, ruins, a handful of old snack bars, souvenir stalls and a small museum open during the summer in the pivotal Guardhouse Number 1. There is also an outdoor exhibition, open all year round.
From Gdansk train station, take the bus No.106 from just outside the station. Or during Summer, it’s easier via water tram (tram number 5) which picks you up outside the Hilton in Gdansk Old Town.
11. Gdansk Nightlife – Ideal for Craft Beer lovers
Gdansk Nightlife is legendary, particularly if you’re a fan of craft beer! There is even a street called ‘Ulica Piwna,’ which literally translates to ‘beer street’! There is no shortage of cosy cellar bars, hipster clubs and traditional taverns. To us, one of the best bars in Gdansk was Bruder Schaft. There was Fleetwood Mac playing the entire time (they also have live music) and the friendly locals recommended we tried Browar Brodacz beer which did not disappoint. It is brewed in Sopot – which has also made our top 20 list!
12. Try Pierogis
Due to it’s seaside geography, the majority of menus are seafood inspired however, you cannot visit Poland without trying some pierogis which are small dumplings filled with meat and/or vegetables. Ours were served with sour cream and tasted amazing – deceivingly filling too!
13. Photograph the famous Neptune Fountain
Although we have painted a very romantic picture of Gdansk, in front of the charming colourful houses of the picturesque Long Market, executions actually took place! The area is also where you’ll find the famous Neptune Fountain erected in 1549 before it was hidden during the war and returned in 1954. Despite the bronze statue depicting the Greek god of sea, Neptune’s Fountain has become the symbol of Gdansk.
Fun fact, just opposite the fountain is the original Fahrenheit Thermometer. Although a tad random, the inventor – Daniel Fahrenheit – grew up in Gdańsk!
14. St. Dominik’s Fair
One of the top things to do in Gdansk in Summer, is visit St. Dominik’s Fair, also known by locals as Jamark Dominika. Established in 1260 by Pope Alexander IV it has been on the go for nearly 760 years! It is essentially a market meets festival meets Oktoberfest as the streets fill with market stalls selling food, drink, souvenirs, clothes and anything in between. The evenings are filled with live music and on the final night of celebrations, fireworks.
Lasting for three weeks, this is the biggest event in the Gdansk cultural calendar and attracts over 6 million visitors annually! For St. Dominik’s Fair 2018 the dates are July 28th to August 18th. More info here.
15. Day Trips from Gdansk – Sopot
Take the Gdansk to Sopot Train for only 4.20zl (one way) and you can be on the shores of Sopot in under 20 minutes! Trains run regularly so simply check the Gdansk to Sopot train timetable at the station (or ask a local, which we did) and they were so happy to help!
Although 10 times the price (at 40zl a ticket – so approx. £8) you can also take a ferry from Gdansk to Sopot. Take a look at the timetable here as it varies depending on weather and season.
16. Take a stroll down Monciak
When you arrive off the train, the main pedestrian street in Sopot is Ulica Bohaterow Monte Cassino – but the locals refer to it by its former name, Monciak (which is also far easier to remember.) The street is lined with restaurants, cafes and pubs. The street leads directly to the city’s famous pier, as well as passing the beautiful St George Church and our next thing to do which is. . .
17. Photograph The Crooked House – Sopot
Built in 2004, the Crooked House on Monciak – also known as Krzywy Domek – is an unmissable photo opportunity! Although the design was inspired by a fairy-tale, the building itself is simply a shopping centre so it’s far more exciting from the outside than inside!
18. Visit the longest Wooden Pier in Europe – Sopot Pier
Extending a quarter of a mile into the bay of Gdansk in the Baltic Sea it’s no surprise Sopot Pier is the longest wooden pier in Europe. It was originally built in 1827 before an extension in 1928 to its current length. At the end of the pier there is a restaurant and marina, as well as the departure points for numerous bay cruises.
As we visited Gdansk in November there was only one lonely fisherman and us, making it even more magical! Note, during the summer season, a ticket is required to enter the pier and costs 8 zl. Do not miss Sopot Pier, it was one of our favourite things to do in Gdansk!
19. Visit the Largest Castle in the World
As you may have noticed, Gdansk are pretty good at building big things – largest church, largest pier and now the largest castle! Bearing in mind, we are Scottish so castles don’t particularly impress us however, situated just a short train ride away from Gdansk in the nearby city of Malbork is Malbork Castle – the largest in the entire world.
Also a history fan? It was constructed by Teutonic Knights during the middle ages and an informative audio guide will share the castle’s fascinating history during your visit. Not one of the best things to do in Gdansk if you’re rushed for time as due to its size a visit will take around 2 hours!
20. Visit Zaspa – The Mural City
As you may have realised from our Bucharest and Prague guides, we are a little street art obsessed. If you are too, head to the residential suburb Zaspa on the edge of Gdansk. Gdansk to Zaspa is only 10 minutes by train from Wrzeszcz station.
Due to the large Soviet style apartment buildings, these created the perfect canvas for street artists to cover in vibrant, thought provoking murals. The area is known as having the world’s largest amount of murals in a confined area (yet another record for Gdansk!) and around 4 murals are added every year. There are over 50 murals in total so prepare for plenty walking.
There is a map available on the official Zaspa website which will only persuade you more that it is one of the most unique things to do in Gdansk!
For more photos of our adventure in Poland, please take a peek at our gallery.
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