Gdansk Travel Guide
Gdansk is a historical city and seaport (aka Danzig in times of German rule) located on the Baltic Sea coast of Poland. With an excellent natural harbour, it has been a site of settlement since the 8th century AD.
However, warfare and strife have defined much of its recent history. In this guide, we’ll highlight the museums and historical sites that will help you make the most of your visit.
In 1939, the citizens of Gdansk were the first to suffer the ravages of World War II. On September 1st, Luftwaffe planes provided cover as the first column of Nazi troops poured into Poland. Today, Westerplatte marks the spot where they first breached Polish defences.
This granite monument memorializes those who gave their lives. Standing more than 80 feet high, it resembles a bayonet plunged into the ground. At its base, seven flames honour the seven days that Gdansk’s Polish battalion held off invaders.
To learn more not just about this battle, but the entire conflict, head to the Museum of the Second World War. Opened in 2008, this attraction features stunning post-modern architecture, with a 40-foot tall “leaning tower” with a ceiling-to-floor glass curtain wall.
For the most part, this institution focuses mostly on the war in Poland. In particular, galleries chronicle the fate of ethnic Poles and Jews. To make the most of your visit, get an audio guide at reception. Also, allow four hours to explore all this attraction’s exhibits.
Hardship in Gdansk didn’t stop after WWII ended. Soon after, a Communist government friendly to the Soviets rose to power. In the decades that followed, security services continue to repress everyday people. Learn more about this at the European Solidarity Centre.
In its displays, you’ll learn about various resistance movements. Don’t miss the exhibit on Lech Walesa, a shipyard electrician that led pro-democracy protests in the 1980s. After the Iron Curtain fell, he became Poland’s first president.
Lastly, be sure to check out St. Mary’s Church. Built by local authorities in the 16th century, it is still among the top 3 largest brick churches in the world. Its astronomical clock, stained glass, paintings, and bell tower views all make this spot worth seeing.
Want to check out another church? Swing by the Oliwa Cathedral. Built near the end of the 16th century, this minor basilica occupies a special place in the hearts of locals. Once complete, leaders dedicated it to the Virgin Mary, The Holy Trinity, and Saint Bernard.
Inside, you’ll find many Baroque, Renaissance, and Rococo elements. But you won’t just find them in the architecture, but in its altars and art too. Ask the tourism board about organ concerts, as musicians frequently hold them here.
Make time to check out the Oliwa Zoo. At over 123 hectares, this zoo is easily the largest in Poland. Here, you’ll find a variety of animals such as wolves, camels, and tigers.
However, of all the exhibits, the lion enclosures are perhaps best of all. Mimicking the savannah that is their native habitat, it allows them to have a peaceful day-to-day life. After checking out all the animals, burn the remainder of your kid’s energy at the climbing park.
If you need a place to unwind during your time in Gdansk, spend some quality time exploring Oliwa Park. Located on the grounds of the Abbots Palace, it boasts all the exquisite shrubbery you’d expect a noble to have. With loads of beautiful flowers and shady old trees, it’s an amazing place to linger.
As you relax, watch ducks as they waddle to/from ponds, and red squirrels as they feverishly collect food. To reach this wonderful green space from elsewhere in Gdansk, get off at the Oliwa tram stop.
End your time in Gdansk at Dluga Street. Located in the heart of Gdansk Old Town, you’ll find the city’s best architecture here. After sightseeing, take your seat at a cafe and watch locals and tourists go about their business.
What To Eat
At most Polish restaurants in Gdansk, you’ll have the option of having Pierogi as a side or entree. Despite their popularity throughout Central and Eastern Europe, Poland is thought to be the origin of these dumplings. Stuffed with potatoes, cheese, onions, meat, it’ll be a challenge to not have too many.
Golabki is another common entree in Gdansk restaurants. To prepare this dish, cooks take cabbage leaves and stuff them with ground meat and rice. Lashed with a sour cream sauce and served with mashed potatoes, it’s quite the filling meal.
Beer is well-loved in Gdansk bars. But before you start your evening, have a shot of Goldwasser. Germans may produce this herbal liqueur currently, but Gdansk was this drink’s birthplace. It offers hints of cinnamon, mint, and licorice, and yes – each bottle still comes with flecks of gold.