A Guide to Gdansk: Poland's Seaside Gem
The port city of Gdansk is so far north in Poland that I'm sure many miss out on this gem while exploring Europe. But, please, do yourself a favour and add Gdansk to your itinerary if you can. The picturesque setting and colourful architecture make this city one of Poland's favourite destinations, especially among locals looking to enjoy their holidays. We're glad we were able to spend some time in the city and have gathered up our best tips in this guide to Gdansk for those who want to enjoy a true Polish gem!
A Guide to Gdansk
We arrived to Poland at the peak of summer and were constantly hearing from locals who had either just returned from or were on their way to the seaside for their holidays. And, when asking for recommendations, everyone told us we just couldn't leave Poland without visiting the seaside. So where exactly is this popular seaside? As it turns out, the seaside includes over 500km of golden beaches to enjoy in the northern region of Poland along the Baltic Sea. Perhaps most popular is the Tricity area and we decided to make Gdansk our base while we explored the surroundings. Gdansk makes up one third of the Tricity which also includes the neighbouring cities of Sopot and Gdynia. Much of Gdansk was actually destroyed during WWII but has since been rebuilt, beautifully restored and continues to grow and entertain visitors.
Our guide to Gdansk also includes suggestions and tips that our viewers shared with us in the comments of our YouTube videos. This visit to Poland was made significantly better with their support and we've linked 3 travel vlogs below from our fun adventures in and around Gdansk:
BY BUS: Because we were travelling to Gdansk from Torun, we opted to take a bus with Polski Bus which offers routes to Gdansk from most major cities in Poland. The bus station in Gdansk is called PKS Gdansk and is in the centre of town by the railroad tracks directly opposite Gdansk Glowny.
BY TRAIN: Trains from neighbouring cities will arrive at Gdansk Glowny which is the principal station in the city. The building has a very beautiful exterior as well as washroom facilities, small shops, a McDonald's and KFC. The station is within walking distance to the old town.
BY PLANE: Named after a leader of the solidarity party, the Gdansk Lech Wałęsa Airport is the only airport that services the Tricity area and is about 17 km southwest of Gdansk. Bus line 210 will take you from the international airport to Gdansk Glowny in about 40 minutes.
Where We Stayed
We really enjoyed our stay at Grand Hostel in Gdansk and would recommend their dorms for anyone travelling on a budget. The hostel is new and so centrally located that I could see the river and ferris wheel right from my bunk! Internet was great, washrooms were very clean and we definitely made use of their laundry and kitchen facilities. Private rooms are also available AND they have fresh waffles at breakfast :)
ON FOOT: Since Gdansk is relatively small, you can easily navigate the streets of the old town on foot. A walk from the main train station to the Motlowa River in the old town will take roughly 20 minutes and nearly all the main attractions in Gdansk are within walking distance.
UBER: We were pleasantly surprised to find that Uber operates in Gdansk. The service is relatively new here but we had no problem getting an Uber to take us to Gradowa Hill on a day when we were pressed for time. We actually found that most of our Uber trips in Poland were around the same price as 2 bus tickets so we used it as often as we could.
BUSES AND TRAINS: The SKM network runs frequent service between Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia which makes it easy to explore the Tricity. There are automated ticket booths at Gdansk Glowny where payment can be made by credit card and English instructions are available. Tickets range between 4-6 PLN depending on the distance travelled but you may benefit from buying a 24 hour ticket to cover all transport within the Tricity for about 23 PLN (or 72 hours for 46 PLN).
WATER TRAMS: During the summer months, water trams provide cheap and efficient transport from the old town with several stops on the way to Westerplatte. Tickets are 10 PLN each way making them more affordable than guided tours and the views along the river are very enjoyable.
Where To Eat In Gdansk
It's no secret that Wes and I are on a budget here and luckily Gdansk has a variety of options for the budget traveller. Most days we would get groceries at a popular supermarket chain (Biedronka) and cook meals at our hostel to save money. There is also fresh produce available at the small market hall. The city has a huge selection of bars, restaurants and coffee shops and here are some of the places we enjoyed without going over our budget.
PIEROGARNIA MANDU: With pierogi dishes starting at 13,50 PLN, Pierogarnia Mandu offers a twist on authentic Polish dishes perfect for the budget traveller. You know the food is fresh when you can actually see ladies making dumplings from scratch in the restaurant kitchen. After much success at their location in the Oliwa district, a new location has opened in the centre of Gdansk at ul. Elzbietanska.
ORIGINAL BURGER: We would definitely recommend stopping in for a burger at the quirky, vinyl-themed Original Burger which is conveniently located right at ul. Długa (Long Lane). Often times, Wes and I are drawn in by a sign that reads 'Burger + Beer Special' and that was certainly the case here during our first night in Gdansk. For 25 PLN, we were treated to a gourmet burger, a large beer, excellent service and live classical music from the buskers nearby.
SWOJSKI SMAK: We came here for lunch one afternoon as recommended by our hostel and were not disappointed. Swojski Smak is not far from the main train station and is an ideal place for either lunch, dinner, drinks or even just a coffee and dessert. They offer weekday lunch specials where you can get a starter, main and beverage for only 19 PLN. Try the compote :)
MILK BARS IN GDANSK: For a more authentic experience of traditional Polish food, may we suggest you try out a milk bar in Gdansk? In short, a milk bar is a cafeteria-style restaurant where you're guaranteed generous portions of home cooked meals at a very affordable price. A word to the wise though, don't expect to find an English menu or particularly attentive service at a milk bar. For us, that added to the fun (especially the first time we went to one!) and definitely made for a memorable experience. We visited several milk bars in Poland but missed out in Gdansk. Both Bar Mleczny Akademicki and Bar Mleczny Syrena were recommended to us and, even though they're outside of the old town, I think they're worth mentioning in our guide to Gdansk!
Things To Do In Gdansk
For an up-to-date list of events, check out this page listing local events in Gdansk throughout the year. It's also worth noting that tourist cards are available in Gdansk for those looking to save on admission to various museums or receive discounts/coupons for activities and restaurants in the city. They can be purchased at the airport, railway station and tourist information centres with options ranging from 60-120 PLN.
EXPLORE THE OLD TOWN: While the old town has some notable highlights (Neptune's Fountain, the Crane/Zuraw, St. Mary's Church to name a few) you'll soon find out that every street is worth seeing. For me, Gdansk is a city where you're guaranteed to stumble upon something funky, impressive or downright beautiful just around the corner.
VIEW FROM GRADOWA HILL: For the best views of Gdansk, head over to Gradowa Hill and enjoy a beautiful panorama of the city, river and shipyard. The hill is within walking distance of Gdansk Glowny and is easy to find if you look for the Millennial Cross perched on top of the hill.
VISIT THE EUROPEAN SOLIDARITY CENTRE: The museum is a unique building in it's own right but also does an excellent job of retelling Polish history in an interactive way for visitors. Tickets are 17 PLN and can be purchased on the ECS website. The museum was also recently recognized with the Council of Europe Museum Prize for 2016.
KAYAK ALONG THE WATERFRONT: The active tourist will enjoy the option of kayaking along the Motlawa River and enjoying the beautiful waterfront views. 1 or 2 person kayaks are available for rent by the hour and affordable guided tours are also available in English.
RIDE THE FERRIS WHEEL: Who says kids get to have all the fun? The ferris wheel is relatively new to Gdansk, is open seasonally and a ride can be enjoyed for 25 PLN.
SHOP FOR AMBER: For those looking to bring back a unique souvenir, head over to Mariacka Street and admire the amber shops unique to this region. There is also an Amber Museum located in the same building as the Torture Chamber and Prison Tower.
Day Trips from Gdansk
WESTERPLATTE: History buffs will be interested in making a trip to the nearby peninsula of Westerplatte. Said to be where the first battle of World War II took place, Westerplatte is an easy trip from Gdansk and worth a visit to see the museum, monument and barrack ruins. Water tram 5 and buses 106 and 138 leave from the old town and head to Westerplatte. I would give yourself atleast 3 hours for this trip including transportation time.
SOPOT: To get a real sense of the Polish seaside, consider spending a day in Sopot where you can enjoy the sandy beaches during the summer or walk along the impressive wooden pier at any time of the year. There's plenty to do on Monte Cassino and keep your eyes peeled for the 'crooked house'.
MALBORK CASTLE: Last but certainly not least, those with time to spare in Gdansk should definitely spend an afternoon touring the impressive grounds of Malbork Castle. Only 40 minutes away by train, a day trip to the castle is both easy and affordable! The trip (without a tour) cost us each less than $20 CAD and you can read more tips on our Malbork Castle post.
We weren't able to see and do it all but some other great excursions from Gdansk include Oliwa Park, Jelitkowo Beach, Brzeźno Beach, Gdynia and Hel.
I hope our guide to Gdansk helps you explore this beautiful city without breaking the bank. If you’re looking for some more travel inspiration, check out our list of 8 other cities you need to visit in Poland.