At the start of April, I spent three days in the Polish city of Gdańsk. Situated in the northern Polish region of Pomerania, the city lies on the shores of the Baltic Sea, making it an interesting place to visit both in summer and winter. Historically important, Gdańsk has changed hands many times throughout the centuries, and briefly became a “free city” between 1920 and 1939. Known as Danzig whilst under German rule, the city shipyards played host to demonstrations and protests that eventually led to the downfall of Polish communism in 1989, ushering in a new Poland.
Although small, the colourful and vibrant city centre makes for a great location to escape for several days and with most sights within easy walking distance or buses, it couldn’t be easier!
The Długi Targ (main square) of Gdańsk acts as the centre of the city. The colourful buildings were heavily reconstructed following damage during the second world war, many being modelled in a distinctive Dutch style. Today the town hall hosts a historical museum, with period features and historically accurate official rooms.
As Gdańsk is not an overly popular tourist destination, the array of restaurants that line the Długi Targ and the waterfront are not overly directed toward foreigners. Small coffee shops and cafes lay hidden down side streets, and many facades hide the fact that something interesting lies inside. Investigate everything in Gdańsk!
Stretching from the Golden Gate at one end, to the rococo dazzle of the Green gate at the other, Długa street is traffic free. In warm weather the atmosphere becomes distinctly Mediterranean, not at all in keeping with the frigid Baltic looming further north.
The Żuraw is the name given to the 16th century crane which stands on the banks of the Motława river. Once a beacon of great power in the city, the crane was one of several used throughout Europe for trade. Gdańsk was a prosperous city and a key member of the Hanseatic league, making it an attractive prize for major powers in Europe. The roof was heavily damaged during the second world war, but has since been rebuilt. The crane and surrounding buildings now house the national maritime museums.
At a slow pace it takes no longer than five minutes to cross from one side of the city centre to the other. Although many would be put of by the seeming lack of sights, there are many hidden out of sight. A number of galleries, museums and curiosity shops are scattered throughout the city, such as an archeological museum, art gallery within the Golden gate, and a locally popular toy museum. Visting Gdańsk is about taking it slow, and trying something new!
The city was the stage for one of the opening battles of the second world war. Whilst few physical scars remain today as a result of large scale rebuilding, the legacy of the Polish spirit is immortalised throughout the city in a number of memorials and statues. Gdańk’s role in the overthrow of communism is also told in the European Solidarity Centre.
The architecure of the city is varied and visually intriguing. The blend of architectural styles make it appealing for photographers both professional and amateur alike. The clock tower of the Basilica of Saint Mary is worth the arduous climb for panoramic views of the city and its surroundings. On a clear day the Baltic Sea can be seen to the north.