When you’re thinking of taking a trip to Poland, Gdańsk might not be the first city that comes to mind. This seaside town is often overlooked for more famous destinations like Warsaw and Kraków. But Gdańsk absolutely deserves to be on your European city trip list!
I’ve taken several trips to Poland before and have always loved my time here. For a while now, Gdańsk had been on my radar. It’s not too far from Berlin, where I’m based, and especially popular among German tourists. So when Wanderful announced that they were organizing their WITS Global Activation Event there in 2022, I jumped on the opportunity to visit Gdańsk.
I absolutely loved my first Women In Travel Summit in Riga in 2019 and was very excited to meet with this amazing community in person again. They truly got me through the initial stages of lockdown and have been incredibly supportive during my journey as a blogger. If you’re a tourism industry professional, content creator, or just a travel lover, I highly recommend joining Wanderful!
And neither WITS nor Gdańsk disappointed! I immediately fell in love with the colorful historic city center, the friendly people, and the delicious food. If you’ve ever been to Poland before, you know how underrated the country is as a vacation destination, and Gdańsk is no different. Gdańsk has history, culture, and cuisine that will blow your socks off. I had a terrific time exploring the city and all it has to see. So if you’re planning a trip to this Polish city, here are some of the best things to do in Gdańsk.
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Learn about Gdańsk history during a walking tour
If you follow this blog, you’ll have noticed that I never stop mentioning my love of walking tours. I think they are the best way to see a city, and they’re always the first thing I do on any trip. Rather than reading dusty history books, a walking tour really brings the stories of a place to life. You learn about the culture and history from an expert, and get context to what you’re seeing, instead of wandering around aimlessly. If you’re a bit navigationally challenged, it’s also a great way to get your bearings.
As part of WITS, the lovely people of the Gdańsk tourism board organized a few activities for us. One of them was a walking tour through the historic city center with a local guide. Our guide, Katherine Czaykowska, is Gdańsk born and bred and her love for her hometown was absolutely infectious. She entertained us with interesting stories and facts while leading us along the highlights of Gdańsk Old Town. She also gave us great recommendations for other things to do in Gdańsk, places to eat, and answered all of our questions.
If Free Walking Tours are more your speed, I recommend the Main Town Gdańsk tour by Walkative. I’ve always had great experiences with them elsewhere in Poland.
Visit the many museums in Gdańsk
It should come as no surprise that a city so steeped in history has a lot of museums. If you’re interested in the overall history of the city, you should visit the Museum of Gdańsk which is situated in the old Town Hall. Close by lies the Uphagen House, a beautifully restored merchant house with original furnishings. Here you can see what life was like for a wealthy merchant during the heyday of Baltic trade.
Seamen and fans of nautical tales should go to the National Maritime Museum. It is located in a beautiful old Granary building in the city center and is dedicated to the maritime history of Gdańsk and Poland at large. Another history museum worth visiting is the World War II Museum. Poland suffered greatly during the war and the museum aims to present a modern narrative on this history. It’s a huge contemporary space which is best visited as part of a guided tour.
The European Centre for Solidarity is a unique space. The huge modern building is a marvel of contemporary architecture. Inside, you find a library, exhibition spaces, and event spaces. The top floor offers a gorgeous view of Gdańsk. The goal of the center is unsurprising: to promote European solidarity.
Shop for amber
The Polish Baltic coast is famous for yielding more than just fish. It’s also a natural deposit for amber. Little nuggets of this fossilized pine resin often wash up on the beaches near Gdańsk. For centuries, people have looked for them and turned them into jewelry. It is nicknamed Baltic Gold or Baltic Magic Stone. If you want to know more about the history of amber, pay a visit to the Amber Museum. Here you can also see some interesting finds, such a piece of amber with a salamander in it!
Gdańsk is full of jewelers who specialize in amber, and amber is one of the most popular souvenirs from Gdańsk. You can find their shops around the city, but especially on Mariacka street. Because it is so popular, many people try to sell cheap plastic knock offs. Always look for a certification of the International Amber Association as a seal of quality. Amber comes in different colors based on the natural elements that were incorporated into the resin, and occasionally even air bubbles or insects. It is mind-blowing to know that these are at least 10 million years old!
Amber also has medicinal properties and can be incorporated into tinctures and creams. It is recommended to wear a piece of amber jewelry in a way that it touches the skin, for instance as a bracelet or necklace. That way, the beneficial health effects can best be felt.
Go to the Baltic seaside
If you want to search for your own amber, rather than buy it, you can do so on the Polish coast. Don’t get your hopes up, it’s unlikely that you’ll actually find something. But if anything, you’ll get to enjoy a nice trip to the Polish beaches, that are a lot nicer than you might expect!
In the summer, Polish and German tourists flock to the Baltic Coast. The Baltic Coast is a surprisingly nice destination for a beach vacation, with pleasant 20-30 C weather in the summer and plenty of sun. One of the most popular seaside towns is Sopot, just north of Gdańsk. People have been coming here for centuries to enjoy the sea, beaches, and spas. Sopot has a beautiful wooden pier that is actually the longest in Europe!
Gdańsk itself doesn’t have any beaches, but it does have a big port and shipyard. Sea trade has been the backbone of the economy of Gdańsk, once making it the richest city in Poland. The port of Gdańsk is still very important, handling over 50 million tons of cargo in 2021.
Eat delicious Polish food
Of course, one of the best things to do in Gdańsk is to eat Polish food. If, like me, you’re a fan of pickles, potatoes and cream, you’ll love it! Easily the most famous dish is pierogi, soft dumplings filled with meat, cheese or potatoes. There are several restaurants in Gdańsk that specialize in pierogi, serving them with all sorts of tasty fillings and sauces. Even sweet dessert versions!
Being a port city, fish and seafood are a big part of the local diet. You can find seafood restaurants with fresh catch of the day throughout the city, and of course in the harbor. Eating local and seasonal food is a great way to make your trip more sustainable!
Of course, eating plants is even better for the planet and Polish food is surprisingly vegetarian friendly, although vegans will have a hard time finding authentic foods to try. Most classic dishes incorporate sour cream, cottage cheese or eggs. Just keep an eye out for sneaky bacon bits or pork fat, and always ask the waiter about dietary preferences and allergies. I recommend checking out Happy Cow for a list of vegan friendly restaurants in Gdańsk.
If you want to cook for yourself or buy some authentic local food snacks, I recommend going to a market. The beautiful old Hala Targowa market hall is a fun place to visit. You’ll find stalls inside selling meat, fish, cheese, bread, and other delicacies. Outside, vendors sell fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
Of course, you’ll want to wash all this food down with something as well. Poland is a beer country, and you can find several great craft beer bars in the city. At Brovarnia Gdańsk, they sell their delicious home-brewed beer in a fun atmosphere. A must-try in Gdańsk is Goldwasser. This local herbal liquor gets its name from the flakes of 23-carat gold that float in the liquid. Cocktails-lovers should pay a visit to Winston Bar, one of the best cocktail bars I have ever been to!
I very much enjoyed my visit to Gdańsk as part of WITS Europe. It is a beautiful city with a rich history and friendly people. The war in Ukraine, COVID-19, and Polish politics have negatively impacted tourism in Poland. That’s why the local people who rely on money from travelers need your support more than ever. Book a trip to Gdańsk and invest your money in the local economy. Which is easy because there is so much to see and do in Gdańsk!
Have you ever visited Gdańsk? What were your favorite activities and sights there? Let me know if I missed any must-sees in the comments.
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