When we travel to popular cities like Rome or Paris, we have certain expectations. When we travel to a lesser-known place, we can truly be surprised. And boy, did Gdansk in Poland surprise me!
Wondering what things to do in Gdansk? Here’s what I did there, a full program including activities, sights, restaurants and where to stay.
3 days in Gdansk, Poland
Day 1: wander through the streets of the Old Town
Gdansk’s Old Town is a beauty and you can easily spend your first day in the city wandering its streets. When I was visiting, the St. Dominic’s Fair was on and it took over many of the streets in the Old Town.
The St. Dominic’s fair is one of the biggest open-air cultural and trade events in Europe. In 2017, it took place from July 29 until August 20 and it’s most noticeable to visitors because of all of the stands selling crafts and foods in the Old Town. There’s also a cultural program with both small and large, indoor and outdoor performances.
As around 6 million people visit the fair every year, you can imagine it was a bit crowded in the city, so if you want to avoid that, it’s best not to go when the fair is on. Otherwise, it’s good fun.
I kind of ignored all the other people that were there and let myself get swept away by the beauty of the city. When I told people I was going to Gdansk, they often responded with something like: “That’s in Poland, right?”. That and the fact that I barely heard any other languages than Polish while I was in Gdansk, shows how this city is yet to be discovered by many.
And discovered it should be.
I love just wandering through streets and don’t necessarily need to visit attractions like museums to enjoy a city. Gdansk is perfect for that. The many colorful buildings, the little alleys and the canals coming from the ocean make this a place to simply be.
Here’s a little route you could follow:
You’re probably hungry from traveling, so head into the Old Town via Panska, Weglarska and Kolodziejska. There are plenty of restaurants on these streets and according to Google Maps reviews, they’re all pretty good.
Turn left onto Piwna, which also has plenty of fun restaurants, to get to the St. Mary Basilica. When I was there, the building was partly in scaffolding for restorations, but you could still go inside to visit it.
Walk around the church to get to its back and reach Mariacka. This is a cute little street full of amber – typical for Gdansk – jewelry stores and cafes.
At the end of Mariacka, you can go through a gate to reach the water, but I recommend keeping the water for later and first turning right. You can walk through Chlebnicka, the street parallel to Mariacka, but our real goal is Dlugi Targ. It’s a beautifully maintained historic square with colorful houses, the town hall, and the Neptune Fountain. At the end, you’ll reach another city gate, a public square, some museums and the Theater.
Really, there are so many sights in the Old Town that you probably won’t even recognize them as such. I simply used Google Maps as it indicates all the sights to decide where I’d walk to next.
Head back to the beginning of Dlugi Targ and go through the Green Gate to reach… the water, yaay! I always love it when a city has rivers or canals. They create a kind of peaceful ambiance.
The water you see is the river Motlawa. It converges with the Matwa Wisla and runs all the way to the ocean. From the Old Town, several tour boats take you for trips along the river, past Gdansk’s shipyard and to the Westerplatte Memorial.
You should definitely stick around to see the pirate ship. Yes, there’s a pirate ship! It’s probably a bit touristy and overpriced, but it’s a gorgeous ship and it’s pretty cool to see it coming in or leaving.
I’d intended to take the water tramway – a cheaper option than the tourist boats – to Westerplatte, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the time. The journey there takes about 30 minutes by tour boat but almost an hour with the tramway (or so I read) one-way so it’s a bit of a time investment. I think that next time I’m in Gdansk, I’ll take the boat there and an Uber back.
But back to where we were! At the Green Gate, you can cross the water onto Stagiewna to reach Gdansk’s own big Ferris wheel, the Amber Sky. Aside from that, there’s not that much to see or do on this little island, but the path that runs parallel to the water, Chmielna, does offer great views of the water front so I recommend just walking around it until you reach Stagiewna again and can cross the bridge on the other side to see the marina.
The marina along Szafarnia is just a small marina, but it’s worth it to walk to its end, where you find the bridge to cross to the National Maritime Museum. From there, you get a good look on The Crane. It’s part of the museum and was at one point the biggest working crane in the world. It was also used as a defense tower.
Google Maps doesn’t show a route, but you can walk around the Maritime Museum and follow the river north on this side of the water until you get to the bridge. Important to know: the bridge is open half an hour, then closed half an hour. I actually arrived there at 4 p.m. as it just opened and then saw the sign saying that it was open for the boats every hour to half hour past, and closed to let pedestrians cross from every half hour past to every hour.
If you cross the bridge to get back to the side you came from, you can get onto Most Wapinnieczy which offers you a great view of the shores.
A bit further north lies The Museum of the Second World War. I haven’t visited it, but it’s quite a modern structure and cool to see or shoot some photos of.
Of course, you could also visit some of the museums you come across when exploring the old town, but I’m not much of a museum person and as the weather was nice, I wanted to take in as many sights outside as I could. If you do want to visit some museums, take into account that you’ll probably need more than a day for the Old Town, then.
Day 2: get out of the center
Gdansk is part of Tricity, the metropolitan area consisting of Gdansk, Sopot, and Gdynia as well as smaller towns in the area. It’s quite easy to move between the different cities using the local SKM trains and so on the second day, I took the train to Sopot, a beach town.
Sopot really only has one main street and it’s a minute away from the train station’s exit. You’ll pass some cafes and stores before you get to the park on your right, the beach in front of you and the square of the Sopot Pier to your left.
It’s a bit of a shame that you have to pay to get on the pier – I believe it was 8 Zloty per person – and as it didn’t seem that spectacular, I decided to should look at it from, the beach.
The beach was wide, clean and not too crowded when I got there in the morning. If it’s hot in summer, I can imagine this is a great place to come to just chill for an afternoon and cool down in the water.
Oliwa is mostly known for its cathedral, though. That’s famous because of its large organ and while I did want to see that, I was at the church a bit too early to do so. I’d checked opening hours beforehand and so I knew that the cathedral is open all day from Monday until Saturday, but only opens at 2 p.m. on Sundays. I’d tried to time it a bit but arrived half an hour early and didn’t feel like waiting for the doors to open.
While the park is cool and the church is a famous site, my favorite thing about Oliwa was Pacholek Hill.
Pacholek Hill offers some cool views, both from atop the hill and from atop a big viewing tower that you can climb. I wish I could have found how many steps there are up the hill but I don’t know if it’s simply not recorded anywhere, or if I couldn’t find it because I don’t read Polish. In any case: there are many.
At the top, there’s a nice little area with some benches where you can enjoy the view and I enjoyed just sitting there for a bit and gazing over the landscape.
The Millennial Cross and another hill
Back in Gdansk, I didn’t exit the train station on the side of the Old Town, but exited through the back to climb Gora Gradowa or the “Hail Mountain”. There you find the Millennial Cross.
From the Cross, you get great views of Gdansk’s Shipyard, but there’s more to see on the mountain. The entire top consists out of old army bunkers and when I was there, they were all open and used as exhibition spaces for a historic audio-visual exhibit. Unfortunately, all the videos were in Polish and without subtitles, so I couldn’t really figure out what they were about.
I later learned that they’re all part of the Centrum Hewelianum, an educational center putting up these exhibitions. The center has its main building on the ground just below the bunkers.
Day 3: dive into history
My last day in Gdansk wasn’t a full day as I needed to get to the airport to catch my flight back home, so I’d planned to visit the European Solidarity Center, the Monument of the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 and the famous Shipyard Gate N°2. These are all located at the same square.
The European Solidarity Center is dedicated to telling the history of the rise and the evolution of the Solidarity movement in Poland that led to democratic reforms both in Poland and in other Eastern European countries. It also has a library, accessible archives, a reading room, a restaurant, an observation deck and conference spaces.
I’m not quickly impressed by museums, but I was by this one. The spacious rooms of the permanent exhibitions lead you through the history of Solidarity by use of images, video footage, testimonials, objects and information panels.
Each visitors also gets a very elaborate audioguide included for free in the entrance ticket. The guide allows you to listen to information at specific points in the exhibition, but you can also simply let it talk about everything you see in a chronological matter or look up extra information on it.
If you’re into history, this is a place where you can easily spend several hours.
Good to know:
When I was there, they had an issue with accepting card payments. If that happens, there’s an atm when you leave the building, go right and cross the square to Nowomiejska. It’s a bank and you’ll have to go in for the atm.
There are lockers and if you have a backpack with you, you’ll need to put it in a locker. Small handbags are fine to take in. You need a 2 Zloty coin for the locker, which you’ll get back when you take your stuff out again. There are also coat racks which you can use for free, but which are unguarded.
Restaurants in Gdansk
Gdansk is a great place if you love eating out. Yes, there are quite a few restaurants offering traditional Polish cuisine, but you can also have Italian, Mexican, Japanese… and there are even restaurants dedicated to healthy cuisine.
I usually always check the reviews on Google Maps before taking a seat somewhere and I noticed that most places that I looked up in the Old Town got really good comments – not something that often happens in a tourist area.
For Western travelers, Poland is really cheap when it comes to food and I had some great, filling meals for just a few euros.
This is where I went.
Restauracja Kos has an extensive menu with both snacks and main meals. They also have a wide choice in drinks. Personnel speaks fluent English and the menu is available in English as well. I paid 32 Zloty for 2 delicious tacos and an Ice Tea.
Kult Kebab isn’t your regular kebab place. It ads deliciously grilled vegetables to your kebab and the meat isn’t as greasy as it usually is. This is a takeaway place, but they also have a little terrace outside.
I paid 18 Zloty for a kebab with meat. They also have a veggie option.
Plac Dominikański 1, lok. 10
Naleśnikarnia Fanaberia Crêpes & Cafe
This place just outside the Sopot train station was a fun find. They serve so many different kinds of hearty and sweet pancakes and I’m into just talking flavors. They do spaghetti pancakes, pancake lasagne… It all looked so good! I’m trying to pay a bit more attention to not eating unhealthy all the time when I’m traveling, so I opted for one of their salads and it was delicious. Fresh with a lovely vinaigrette and some yummy tomato bread on the side.
I paid 19.8 Zloty for a salad with bread on the side and a sparkling water.
ul. Mariacka 37/39
Dumpling Mandu Center
When in Poland, one must have “pierogi” or dumplings. I read about Dumpling Mandu Center on a blog when I was doing my research for this trip and as it got raving reviews, that’s where I headed my last night in Gdansk. The place was full when I got there but they took my name and after just two minutes, a table opened up.
They have lots of dumpling options. Some are big dumplings of which you get five, others are “smaller” ones of which you get ten. I opted for a plate of ten dumplings filled with spinach, feta, and sundried tomatoes and topped with a blue cheese sauce.
It took about 45 minutes for the dumplings to arrive, but they’d warned me about that and their menu also clearly states that it can take this long when it’s busy. That’s because all the dumplings are handmade on the spot and you can actually see the ladies making them behind a window.
The dumplings were nice, the place trendy and personnel friendly. The only downside for me was that it was rather loud inside because it was so crowded and also because the music was playing rather loudly.
It’s a fun place to go and try dumplings with some friends, but not ideal for a quiet meal.
I paid 22 Zloty for my plate of ten dumplings and a small bottle of sparkling water.
On my last day, I went for lunch at the Madison Mall as it was close to my hotel and I needed to get to the airport afterward. I actually had lunch at two different places. The first one was Ninja Rolls, located on the top floor. They have all kinds of rice rolls and I had one with chicken for 13 Zloty. It was good and tasted fresh.
The other place I went to was Olimp Restauracje, located right next to Ninja Rolls. It’s a buffet restaurant where you pay by the weight of the food you choose. This probably doesn’t sound really good, but the food was actually really tasty.
I paid 13.49 Zloty for a small burrito and vegetables.
Where to stay in Gdansk
I spent two nights at the ibis Gdansk Stare Miasto, just a short walk from the historic old town. My room was pretty spacious and modern, but as this was an ibis Budget, it didn’t have a fridge or a water kettle or anything. I didn’t mind, though, as I barely spent any time in my room and the things that I did need were there.
WiFi at the hotel was also really good and there was an extensive breakfast buffet from – I think – 6.30 until 11. Check-out also wasn’t until 12, which I always find a plus.
Here’s a tour of my room:
Gdansk Tourist Card and how to get around Gdansk
If you plan on visiting lots of museums and other attractions around Gdansk, you might want to consider getting the Gdansk Tourist Card. It offers free access to a bunch of things and discounts on others.
There’s also the option to add transportation to the card, so that you can make use of buses, trams and trains in Tricity without needing to worry about getting the right ticket or validating it. Which brings me to…
Getting around Tricity
As said, there are buses, trains and trams. I honestly haven’t seen a tram. I think they’re outside the tourist center. I did see the bus station behind the Gdansk train station, but I myself only made use of the local SKM trains. They run between Gdynia, Gdansk and Sopot as well as smaller places in between the three cities.
The SKM website has an English search tool, which is really handy to know which train you should get from which platform at which time. Just Google something like “SKM trains from Gdansk” and you’ll find it.
You can also take a train to get from the airport to Gdansk city center, or a bus. Good to know, the train stop for the airport is called “Gdansk Port Lodniczy”
Getting to Gdansk
If you’re already in Poland, Gdansk has it’s own train station andgoing by train is probably the easiest option.
If you’re coming from abroad, you can fly into Gdansk Airport and then take a train into the city center. For people traveling from Belgium, like I did, there are direct flights to Gdansk from Brussels Charleroi Airtport.
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I was invited to explore Gdansk by the Tourism Board of Poland. As always when I collaborate on trips, I was free to write what I wanted, how I wanted.
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