Narrow cobblestone streets, architectural gems, huge green cranes, and the smell of the sea in the air. Both by day and night, Gdańsk is a wonderful city to explore on foot. I was lucky enough to spend two amazing months in this historical port city, and wanted to share some of my highlights with you. So pick your favorite walking shoes, get yourself some Lody (ice cream), and start exploring!
Długi Targ Square (Old Town)
It’s impossible to visit Gdańsk and not spend some time at Długi Targ Square! All of Gdańsk’s beauty seems to accumulate in this old market square, making it a very photogenic place full of life. With its beautiful buildings, fountain, gates, street artists, many restaurants and bars, Gdańsk’s main square of the Old Town is anything but dull.
It is here that you can truly feel the magical atmosphere of Gdańsk. The square is surrounded by numerous charming, unique buildings and monuments, like the Green Gate, King Arthur’s Court, Town Hall or Neptune’s Fountain. Not surprisingly, this part of the city was inhabited by the influential and richest families of the patriciate of Gdańsk, mayors, rich merchants and shipowners.
The oldest preserved houses were built in the Middle Ages, but most of the buildings are from modern times. Their narrow facades are crowned with gables or attics, richly decorated with coats of arms and allegorical figures or figures of ancient heroes. The colorful houses, magical architecture, souvenir stores and charming cafes make Długi Targ Square definitely one of the best places to walk in all of Gdańsk.
St Mary’s Church & the Astronomical Clock
Strolling away from the main square, you will stumble upon a huge church: the Bazylika Mariacka. The construction of this large church began in the 14th century; today it’s one of the largest churches in Poland! Visitors come here to see the valuable medieval works of art (the altar, the chapel, and the painted Ten Commandments).
The most impressive part of the St Mary’s Church, however, is the Astronomical Clock. The clock consists of a calendar, a planetarium and a theater of figures, featuring the figure of Mary and Jezus in the center of the calendar.
It was built between 1464 and 1470 by Hans Düringer, and operated until the mid-sixteenth century. In an attempt to preserve the clock, it was dismantled during the Second World War and taken outside of the city. Luckily, most of the clock survived the war, and has now been reconstructed since 1987.
Ulica Mariacka (St Mary’s Street)
Time for your next stop on your walking tour: St Mary’s Street! This popular Old Town street can be found next to—you guess it—St Mary’s Church, and is THE place to buy jewelry with real amber.
The Dutch influence on the architecture in Gdańsk is uncanny, and St Mary’s Street’s elegant buildings are giving off some strong Amsterdam vibes. The plenty of cosy stores and galleries make it the perfect place to browse for souvenirs, so get shopping!
lf you take one of the boat tours down the Motlawa River, you will pass this unique and striking building which dates back to 1444. Hundreds of years ago, the quay was a very busy place where dozens of ships docked. The Zuraw (Crane) was used to hoist heavy cargo from the ships and contained two human-sized hamster wheels.
Now that this crane has been restored to its former glory, you can also visit it! The crane is part of the Maritime Museum but can be visited separately (you can buy a ticket in the museum), giving you a unique insight into how the crane was operated in the past.
Museum of the Second World War
This museum is definitely one of the highlights of Gdańsk. Walking towards the entrance, the unusual shape of the building is impressive in itself. That modern museum gives you a good overview of how WOII started and where it began (the location is less than 10 kilometers from Westerplatte, which I will also talk about), and they also have a large collection of objects such as tanks and airplanes.
It is especially fascinating to hear war-time stories from the Polish perspective, giving you a clear image of what the Polish people and the Jews endured during the war, which made this visit a very impressive and touching experience.
The museum is huge, and you can spend a good portion of your day there (if possible, plan your visit on a rainy day!). If you want to read all the information you will need about 5-6 hours.
Westerplatte is the place where WWII began on September 1, 1939. The war is a part of history that is inextricably intertwined with Gdańsk, destroying around 90% of the city. Along with the Museum of the Second World War, a visit to Westerplatte gives a deeper understanding of the history of Poland and the brave soldiers who stood their ground here for so long.
From Gdańsk several boats sail to the landing-stage at Westerplatte. As an alternative, you could get there by car or take bus 106 or 138 from the city center. Upon arrival, you can walk all the way up to the huge monument that was established in commemoration (this takes about 20 minutes). There are signs on the way there, providing you with old photos and information about what happened here 80 years ago.
Oliwa Park & Cathedral
The fastest and most enjoyable route to the futuristic-looking Oliwa Cathedral is by strolling through Oliwa Park. This romantic park offers visitors a green oasis of peace and beauty, is home to many different types of flowers, and even a small waterfall. It’s no surprise that this place is super popular for wedding photography! Note: the park is fenced and has limited opening hours (update 2021: the park is open daily from 5:00 till 20:00).
At the end of the park you’ll discover the Cathedral of Oliwa. An architectural gem on the outside, and even more beautifully decorated on the inside. And even better: this Cathedral houses a world-famous Rococo organ which is played every hour. Sit back and listen to the majestic organ as it plays famous works by Bach and many others.
The old neighbourhood of Oliwa is easily reached either by train or tram from the city center.
I remember walking through Ulica Mariacka towards the embankment, when I suddenly saw a giant pirate ship gliding by. Didn’t expect to see the Black Pearl in Gdańsk! I quickly made my way to the Motlawa River and discovered you can actually take a Pirate Tour to Westerplatte — and back, if you wish (you can also return by bus).
It takes about 45 minutes to reach Westerplatte. Also awesome: on the way there, you will pass the famous Gdańsk harbour and see the historical green cranes. Just be aware that it can be super cold and windy on the ship, so do bring an extra sweater.
All in all, it was such a fun experience, and a great alternative to walking if your feet are sore from strolling through Old Town all day.
The ship departs daily at 11:00, 13:00 and 15:00 from the long embankment (near the Green Gate). A one-way ticket for adults is 35 PLN and 25 for children (return ticket costs respectively 55 and 35 PLN).
Located in the old city prison, this museum possesses an extensive collection of antique amber jewelry, ornaments and utensils, and is a place where you can learn more about the origin of this precious stone, how amber has been extracted and carved over the centuries, and the current position of Gdansk on the world market.
I personally thought the three exhibitions at the beginning were the most interesting, which show insects and plants captured in amber.
Also good to know: this museum is free on Tuesdays!
Need a break from the bustling city center? Jelitkowo Beach is the perfect place for a seaside escape. Just you, the sea and the seagulls circling above your head.
Although Jelitkowo Beach tends to get quite crowded during the summer months, it’s still a very beautiful, scenic place to go for long walks, and enjoy a meal (try the local fish!) and a drink or two. If you’re an avid walker, you can even walk all the way to the famous pier in Sopot.
Imperial Shipyard Route
For this next highlight, we’re staying near the water. The Imperial Shipyard (Kaiserliche Werft Danzig), dating back to the 18th century, is the oldest part of the Gdańsk Shipyard. As it was part of the production area and a workplace for over 18,000 people, the Imperial Shipyard was inaccessible to visitors for over 170 years.
At last, the shipyard opened its doors to reveal its secrets to visitors. Now, you can take the Imperial Shipyard Route, stroll around the oldest part of the Gdańsk Shipyard, see the industrial heritage and discover the fascinating history of the birthplace of Solidarity, the movement that led to the fall of communism in Poland.
European Solidarity Centre
The European Solidarity Centre, located in the former large shipyard where it all began, gives you a good sense of the origins of Solidaridad and the progress of this movement under the leadership of Lech Walesa, which eventually led to more democracy in Europe.
This museum not only pays tribute to Solidaridad and the anti-communist opposition, but also provides a comprehensive overview of the Second World War. Having spent nearly 4 hours in this museum, the European Solidarity Centre has made a huge impression on me, and gave me the opportunity to learn more about the rich history of Gdańsk. The entrance fee is 5 euro, which includes an audio guide.
Day Trips to Gdynia and Sopot
If you have an extra day and want to do some more exploring in the region, Sopot and Gdynia are interesting choices for a daytrip. These seaside towns are just a short train ride away. (Tip for buying train tickets: You can buy tickets at the train station or online. Poland has many public transport apps available but I found Jakdojade to be the easiest and user-friendliest app.)
In Sopot, you can stroll along the boardwalk and visit the beach all year long. The pier tends to get a little bit crowded around sunset, not surprising when you have views like this.
And don’t forget to visit the Crooked House during your visit! This surreal postmodern building on Monte Cassino Street looks like it’s melting, and my brain felt the same way looking at it.
In Gdynia, the harbour is a must-visit. On the pier called Molo Południowe you can find souvenir stores and plenty of places to eat. In the summer, ferries to Hel peninsula and other destinations depart here.
Also make sure to visit the hill Kamienna Góra for beautiful views of Gdynia, as well as Hel peninsula and the Baltic Sea.
Lastly, there’s a beautiful cliff walk near Gdynia that runs through the forest of the Redłowo Nature Reserve, which you can read more about here!