There’s a stiff breeze in the air as we venture to the train station in Warsaw for a three day jaunt up to Gdansk at the ungodly hour of four in the morning. The train ride in an old compartment wagon allows us to rest all the way to Warsaw Central Station, a whole 10 mins and one station away! As the sun rises over the farms the train sways past the town of Malbork with its fortress in the distance. Stopping at a platform we watch youngsters drinking beer at 08:30 on a Monday morning as we make way into Gdansk.
We love Gdansk
Once known as the Free City of Danzig it’s one of the prettiest towns in Europe though it’s often not thought of a tourist destination. Yet the gorgeous buildings, superb setting on the Motlawa branch of the Vistula River and the historic importance of the city all combine to make Gdansk one of the most interesting places in Europe.
Arriving at the exceptional train station from our 04:00 start in Warsaw coffee was the main priority if any sightseeing was to be done with enthusiasm. Walking through the Old Town we instantly take to the beauty of the city. We’ve chosen the Riverside Hostel for the three nights and are immediately happy with the choice. Being early the friendly reception staff happily let us leave our backpacks there whilst we venture out in search of a caffeine fix.
Grabbing a map from Tourist Information across the road we sit at one of the chain coffee shops to use the WiFi, gain our bearings and transcribe our googlemap pins to paper. It’s still early in the morning so as the city is waking up we stroll up the famous Dluga Targ Street, past the Artus Court with the Fountain of Neptune out the front, stopping to check out the Fahrenheit monument (Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit was born in Gdansk) before heading out the Golden Gate and Prisoner’s Tower at the end and ending up in the Christmas markets.
Strolling back towards the train station there’s a quaint park with a tribute wall to astrology along with the Old Town Hall, Clock Tower Museum and the Churches of Joseph, Catherine and Bridget. The Great Mill houses remains of a 12th century settlement as well as being a mini shopping mall.
Looping back into town past more impressive architecture in the Tower of Jack and the Targowa Market its lunch time and yet again we’ve hunted out a cheap Soviet canteen style joint the Bar Turystyczny. Filled with anyone but us two tourists the queue is long in thisa fresh and tasty local’s hangout. With all the dishes in front of you to choose as well as pictures above it’s a no brain in getting the dish you want.
Back out into the chilly December afternoon we head down Piwna (Beer) Street and just ‘happened’ to stumble onto our first craft beer bar Browar Piwna. Serving a weisse (a good shot at it too), a porter and a pilsner we sit down with a group from Liverpool and shoot the breeze until well after sundown when hunger strikes again.
Having a friend from the City of Gdansk she’s given up the insider’s tips on some of the better places to go and what to eat. Conveniently located more or less across the road from Browar Piwna is Bistro Kos, a place that serves up traditional Polish fare in a homely environment. We’d been recommended to try one of the famous Polish dishes, Zurek, so we dive straight in. A creamy white sausage soup served in a hollowed out loaf of bread is soon dripping down to our elbows as we realise why it’s our friends and her voracious Aussie husbands favourite place to eat when they’re in town.
The fog has set in overnight though the view from the 10 bed dorm at the hostel is still gob-smacking as full height windows look out over the waters of the Motlawa Canal. The hostel also has a great vibe where the rest of the guests actually talk to each other instead of being buried in their phones. With a funky interior, good sized kitchen and some dining and chill out space the Riverside ticks many of the boxes for a great stay. It even ticks the breakfast box serving up four different varieties of hard and spreadable cheese, salami, toast and Turkish coffee.
Walking up Chlebnicka through the amber stalls the Basilica of the Virgin Mary looms tall. The third largest brick structure in the world its impressive interior is worth seeing as it has the enormous Astronomical Clock by Hans Düringer of Toruń in it.
Deciding to wander through the streets north of the Old Town we stumbled upon a memorial out the back of a post office. Not realising what we’d discovered until later we found there’s also a museum dedicated to the brave men who defended the Post Office from the Germans in simultaneous attacks that became the precursor to World War II, the other being on the Westerplatte (more on this later). If you’re wondering why the post office? It was due to the strategic importance of communications that it held.
Heading back out to the water there’s more impressive construction going on in the building of the momentous memorial to the battle of World War II, as we said there is much significant history to this area. Hugging the water passing more remarkable architecture such as the Swan Tower, the Straganiarska Gate and through the Swietojanska Gate we arrive at Jacobsen Restaurant. A mystical interior is accompanied by a cheap menu full of hearty classics as we order the delicious tomato soup and a plate full of cheese filled fried pierogis.
Back along the water front the red brick Swan Tower holds a commanding position and is one of the finest examples of medieval construction that’s still intact. It has also acted as city gate and a defense tower in times of trouble. Continuing over Green Bridge to Granary Island you get the best views back onto the Old Town. A short walk around its circumference reveals decrepit buildings which at one time housed up to 340 granaries, now just crumbling remnants from the war. Plans are still underway to redevelop the island more than 70 years after it ended.
Back in town walking up Dluga Targ we head to another recommendation Tekstylia Café. This used to be a textile shop and our Gdansk friend still remembers when her mother used to take her there. After a coffee hit in the trendy environs which doubles as a bar at night we slip back to the hostel for a much needed rest.
While on the subject of coffee we should probably mention Cafe Ferber further along Dluga Targ. If your after something a little different you’ll find an elaborate menu of coffee concoctions and cocktails, including Matt’s choice of cherry vodka latte complete with a cherry on top. The romantic red decor and lighting make it a great date night starter. Just don’t order the cherry vodka coffee, looks can be deceiving.
Half the fun of visiting Europe at this time of year is for the Christmas lights and Gdansk doesn’t disappoint. Starting our evening back on Granary Island the fog adds a shroud of calm to the scene. With the cold biting a lot quicker at night we skip yet again up Dluga Targ to the Christmas Markets for some more night shots of the atmospheric lights and merry-go-round.
That night we decide to eat out again, this time at Original Burger on, you guessed it, Dulga Targ. A plethora of movie posters covers one wall and the chairs at our table once adorned the interior of an old car. Matt reckons the cheese burger was one of the all-time best he has eaten so choose this over the veggie burger you on-the-fence vegetarians or you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Spending three nights in Gdansk we also managed to fit in a visit to the Westerplatte, the staging point of the German invasion in the north and thus the beginning of World War II. Taking the bus from town we were deposited at the beginning of the peninsula with a short walk to the first of five guardhouses that held out against the invading Germans for seven days (they were only meant to hold out for 12 hours until reinforcements arrived).
You’re able to enter this guardhouse as it’s been stabilised and makes for some great photos. Outside the the guardhouse stands the symbol of Poland carved into stone that used to hang above the entrance gates. Walking onwards through the trees leafless there’s an eerie feeling of appreciation of what the Poles went through in those remarkable initial days of resistance.
On the end of the peninsula you now get a feeling of the hemmed in location in which the Polish forces found themselves. Across the water the Historic Lighthouse, considered one of Northern Europe’s finest, is where the first shots of the war were fired on that fateful day of September 1st 1939.
Walking back along a different path there’s a visual display of the events that occurred here as well as those leading up to and beyond the capture of Westerplatte with very informative information in English. We also chose to walk out to the north side of the peninsula for a look out to the Gulf of Gdansk and the Baltic Sea beyond. Back at the bus stop we arrived just as the bus was pulling into take us back to town.
Back the hostel we meet an American traveller and invited him out for a little bar crawl. Without too much arm twisting we have another craft beer lover in tow as we hit the non-craft beer place Pijalna wodki i piwa, an identical franchise of the one we frequented in Warsaw. Introducing our friend to 4 zloty (€1) vodka shots and beers soon has us ready for the freezing night air.
Moving along to our next destination, Degustatornia Multitap is located right next door to the High 5 Hostel (knew there was reason Sarah wouldn’t let us stay there). With more of an organic feel Degustatornia has both taps and bottles though in the middle of winter it was unfortunately a little quiet for such a great little pub. Knocking a few back we shuffle back towards the hostel dropping into the basement bar of LaBeerynt. This too was a little quiet though has some great brews on tap including a hard to find in Poland sour. Now we’ve not tried sours before though our American buddy swears by them and some people argue that they may become the new IPA.
Suffice to say Matt thought it was worse than sucking on lemons
By the end of a full pint Mr. America also thought that it was a little much. Take a chance on the Earl Grey instead, you’ll be very surprised how drinkable it is. Finishing up here we’d passed the basement bar Flisak ‘76 on Chlebnicka earlier that day and couldn’t resist. With some of the strangest cocktails on offer we just had to try the Margarita, a cocktail courageously combining tomato, basil and parmesan cheese, with a vodka base of course. We can recall that it was a very tasty cocktail indeed….we think.
The following day as we walked to the train station through a city steeped in over 1,000 years of history we looked at each other barely needing to say how much we loved our visit to the City of Gdansk. But we’ll say it anyway. We love Gdansk!
Click on any of the above images to check out more photos of our time in Poland including the awesome time we had in the capital Warsaw.
Tips for Gdansk
- Getting to Westerplatte is quiet easy. Opposite the Prison Tower on the main road there’s bus stop and from here you take the #106 which will terminate at Westerplatte. Check the timetable at Westerplatte when you arrivve as the buses are not so regular coming back and may leave you stranded for a couple of hours.
- Do get out and take some night shots of the Old Town as it’s so gorgeous, especially at Christmas time.
- Eat, eat, eat. There are so many great restaurants in Gdansk.
- If you happen to be here in the summer get up to Sopot for some nightlife action.
- Check out http://www.gdansk.pl/en/ for more inspiration or visit one of the Tourist Information offices, they’re a friendly, helpful wealth of Gdansk knowledge.