Journeys, Travel Guides

Gdansk, Europe’s Best Hidden Gem

Gdansk makes you feel like a treasure hunter who’s just discovered an old wooden chest full of amber jewelry.

Set on the Baltic Sea Coast, the city has a unique vibe, lush scenery, and a splendid architecture that reminded me of Amsterdam.

Amber shops sit on top of each other, rows of colorful houses adorn every picturesque street, and medieval churches rise their long neck towers in the horizon.

Gdansk is more than your average port city. It’s one of Europe’s best hidden gems! 


Discovering Gdansk

Gdansk City Guide - Poland Trip

Gdansk, Poland

We got off the train to a marvelous railway station bathed in sunlight and tried to find a bus to our hotel.

You know you’re off the beaten path when you can’t find a city’s transport options on Google Maps. 🙂 It’s the first European city where we couldn’t tell how to get to our hotel from looking at our phones, so we took a cab.

7 minutes away, a meandering road led us to a small forest, and so our adventure in Gdansk began.

Amber Hotel, an emblematic name as I would later find out, sits on a hilltop overlooking a lush forest beyond which Gdansk shipyard cranes rise in the misty horizon.

The air was chilly and skies were clear, and so we hurried to the old city center, passing a pond on our way to the bus station like we were out on a walk to pick up some forest mushrooms.

10 minutes away, we found Gdansk’s Old City touched by the warm autumn light, inviting us to aimless wanderings.

The warm weather got locals out of their houses and on the charming streets of Gdansk. After all, it was a Sunday.

We walked the beautiful Ul. Piwna, took a few moments inside the imposing St. Mary Basilica, and then visited the Old Port of Gdansk. Here we found one of city’s best known landmarks – The Crane, a tall black wooden building that was used to facilitate loading merchandise on ships passing through Gdansk.

Discovering the city on foot is pretty easy, since the most beautiful streets are parallel to each other. And so we arrived on Long Lane, the main promenade street, bathed in soap bubbles and full of joyful people.

Ratusz Glownego Miasta, the Main Town Hall, is the highlight of this street, but amber jewelry shops and colorful houses are the ones which stopped me every 2 minutes, making me experience the childish euphoria of new discoveries.

The afternoon spent in Gdansk was so rewarding because I hadn’t properly researched this Polish city before the visit, so every house and street looked fascinating.

We spent the afternoon walking around the glowing and misty streets of Gdansk, paid a visit to the old port, and left the city center after sunset.

With so many amber shops around, it was hard to resist the temptation of buying jewelry, so I got some wonderful earrings for me and my sister.

Pretty hungry after 3 hours of walking, we arrived in a dim lighted pierogi bistro by 7.30 p.m., where we experienced what would be the hardest food tasting so far.

Eating in Poland is a commitment (no tapas portions here), so we found ourselves unable to finish the delicious pierogi plates.

The food experience at Pierogarnia Mandu is one to look after, if you’re visiting Gdansk. They serve fresh handmade pierogi, as you’ll see through their kitchen window.

Pierogi---Pierogarnia-Mandu-Gdansk

Pierogi Plate at Pierogarnia Mandu, Gdansk


The Fierce Rainstorm

Next morning, we woke up to one of the fiercest rainstorms I’ve ever seen. And we had a front row seat from our window overlooking Gdansk’s shipyard. The tall cottonwood tree in front of our window was bending all around and the wind was constantly whistling through unseen cracks in the walls.

“Oh, my, I think we’re going to be stuck in this storm for hours!” was the phrase playing on repeat in my head.

It took some courage to get out of that soft and cozy bed at Amber Hotel and head downstairs for breakfast.

Amber Hotel’s traditional Polish breakfast was a welcomed surprise. Tasting duck & goose pates, smoked fish and Polish cheeses made the rainstorm outside a distant thought, at least for a while.

But once that was finished and we were back to our room, we had no idea what to do next – leave for Warsaw by train or try visiting other beautiful spots in Gdansk.

Streets of Gdansk

Streets of Gdansk on a rainy day

view-Gdansk-from-above---Long-Lane

Gdansk from above on a rainy day


The Lizard Trapped in Amber

At 10 a.m., we decided to see the lizard trapped in amber at the Amber Museum and take it from there.

Before entering, we bought some umbrellas, since we forgot to put ours in the travel bag.

Gierlowska-lizard---2nd-lizard-inclusion-in-amber-in-the-world

Lizard trapped in amber

Amber Museum is a fascinating place, where you get to see lots of amber trapped insects, the cute lizard and many amber sculptures, even furniture made of this beautiful material (fossilized tree resin).

Insect-Amber-Inclusion---Amber-Museum-Gdansk

Insect Inclusions – Amber Museum Gdansk

While going up to visit each room in the museum, Vlad kept asking me if I feel that smell of some wires burning.

It took a while, but then I realized there was this amber flavored smoke coming out of the vents at each floor, like that of incense sticks. Unfortunately, amber is not the kind of scent you want to play with, but I still appreciated the ambient branding initiative.

One other thing you can do at Amber Museum is to climb the tower and get a panoramic view of Gdansk from above, even if only through a set windows.

The city looks charming from above, rainy day or not, offering a fabulous perspective on Long Lane, the main street of Gdansk, but also on Saint Mary’s Church, whose 700 steps tower discouraged us from visiting it.

Out of Amber Museum, the rain stopped. Remember those umbrellas we bought? 🙂 And so we had the opportunity to see the most beautiful street in Gdansk.

The rainstorm was back in less than 45 minutes, and we decided that our visit in Gdansk had to end.

Heading towards Gdansk’s beautiful railway station, we found some lovely street artworks and gorgeous buildings in the unexplored parts of the city.

Streets of Gdansk

Streets of Gdansk


Top Attractions in Gdansk

Gdansk’s main attractions revolve around its charming cobbled streets, full of colorful architecture reminding me of Dutch canal style houses in Amsterdam, but also grandiose medieval buildings that made me call it Ghent way too many times. 🙂

St.-Mary,-Artus-Court,-Fountain-of-Neptune,-and-Ratusz---Gdansk,-Poland

Top Attractions in Gdansk: St. Mary, Artus Court, Fountain of Neptune, Ratusz

1) Piwna Street

Ul. Piwna is my favorite street in Gdansk, bordered by cozy pubs and two amazing buildings: the gothic St. Mary Basilica (14th century) and Wielka Zbrojownia w Gdansku, the most beautiful Mannerist building in Gdansk (17th century).

Piwna is one of the best going out places in Gdansk, where you can have coffee, lunch and dinner with a view. We chose a restaurant off the beaten path – Pierogarnia Mandu, but any pub on this street will offer a bohemian atmosphere.

Wielka-Zbrojownia-w-Gdansku-on-Ul.-Piwna-in-Gdansk,-Poland

Wielka Zbrojowni on Ul. Piwna, Gdansk

St.-Mary-Basilica-in-Gdansk---view-from-Ul.-Piwna

St. Mary Basilica – Ul. Piwna, Gdansk


2) Długa StreetLong Lane Gdansk

Apart from the colorful architecture, Long Lane is the most touristic street in Gdansk, home to the Main Town Hall –Ratusz Glownego Miasta, Artus Court, Fountain of Neptune, and bordered by Green Gate, and Golden Gate on each side.

Gdansk Town Hall – Ratusz Glownego Miasta – built in Gothic – Renaissance style, has this fabulous tower dominating the street and the medieval merchant guild houses.

Long Lane Gdansk

Long Lane Gdansk

Long Lane and Main Town Hall in Gdansk

Long Lane and Main Town Hall in Gdansk

Artus-Court-and-Fountain-of-Neptune-in-Gdansk,-Poland

Artus Court & Fountain of Neptune, Gdansk


3) Mariacka Street

Ul. Mariacka is considered the most beautiful street in Gdansk and it’s filled with amber jewelry shops.

At one end, its bordered by St. Mary Basilica, and it ends in Frauentor (also called Brama Mariacka / St. Mary’s Gate) , the arched building leading to the waterfront (Stara Motława).

Mariacka Street is also the place where you’ll find the oldest house in Gdansk (last pic in the gallery below).

Mariacka-Street-Gdansk

Mariacka Street Gdansk


4) Stara Motława & The Old Port in Gdansk

The waterfront of Motława river is the most bohemian part of the city.

A tall black wooden building called the Crane (Zurav) is the only testimony of Gdansk’s Old Port, reminding of the flourishing past of the city as a merchant center.

Gdansk Postcard - Old Port

Gdansk Postcard – Old Port


5) Amber Museum – a good place to see Gdansk from above

Gdansk is the capital of amber, also called the Baltic Gold, and is home to a few hundreds amber jewelry shops. This isn’t just a place for craftsmen and jewelry makers; the city also does local sourcing from amber surface mines and the beaches at the Baltic Sea.

One of the cool places to visit in Gdansk is Amber Museum.

Its pride is, of course, the lizard trapped in amber. “Gierłowska lizard”, named after its finder, is one of the few lizard inclusions in the world and the 2nd one in the world (2).

Gierlowska-lizard---2nd-lizard-inclusion-in-amber-in-the-world

Gierłowska lizard – the 2nd lizard inclusion found worldwide

There are lots of beautiful sculptures, jewelry and even unique pieces of amber furniture within the museum, along with lots of insect inclusions (in the photos below). The latter reminded me about an ant caught in amber I saw many years ago, at the Amber Museum in Romania (Colți -Buzău county).

The museum was free on the day of our visit (Monday), but the entrance to the tower was 10 pln per person.


See Gdansk from above

If amber inclusions don’t fascinate you as much, maybe the panoramic view of the city from Amber Museum’s Tower will convince you to visit it.

Sure, you can also see Gdansk from above at St. Mary Basilica, but my estimation is that it will take three times the effort since the basilica’s tower has 700 steps.

view-Gdansk-from-above--St.-Mary-Basilica

Gdansk from above – St. Mary Basilica

view-Gdansk-from-above---Long-Lane

Gdansk from above – Long Lane

6) Old Town Hall & the Great Mill

One of the first places I visited in Gdansk was the Great Mill / Wielki Młyn and its enchanting park. The Mill was built by Teutonic Knights in 1350 and it was the largest industrial plant in Europe during the Middle Ages. (1)

Across the street, we found the beautiful Ratusz Starego Miasta, the city’s old town hall, built in a Dutch Mannerist style.

*I know this might sound confusing, and before exploring the city, I was also puzzled about the location of their town hall. In fact, Gdansk has 2 town halls – the old one, called Ratusz Starego Miasta, and the “main” one, called Ratusz Glownego Miasta.

Great Mill Gdansk

Great Mill Gdansk


7) Street art in Gdansk

Street Art scene in Poland is a fascinating one and I wish I had more time to explore it.

Since we only spent one full day in each city, even if we were there for 5 days (long train rides between the cities + an unfortunate air travel schedule), we couldn’t dedicate the deserved attention to street artworks in Poland. Still, I found some interesting murals in each city.

Here are some of the beautiful random finds in Gdansk:

Poseidon---Neptun-Mural-in-Gdansk

Poseidon/Neptun Mural in Gdansk

Street Art Gdansk

Street Art Gdansk


Places to visit on my next trip to Gdansk

– 3 museums: Polish Post Office Museum, WW2 Museum and Archaeological Museum

– Gdansk Beaches: Jelitkovo, Sopot, Stogi

– Oliwa cathedral

– Gdansk Shipyards

– Krzywy Domek (crooked house, 15 min out of Gdansk )

– Sobieszewo Island

– Murals Gdansk Zaspa


Travel tips for visiting Gdansk

Weather & Best time to visit Gdansk

Well, I think the best time to visit Gdansk and Poland is summer – the hotter, the better. It was a big mistake to postpone the trip until September because 15-20 degrees Celsius don’t feel the same as in South-East Europe. So even with autumn clothes, sweaters and jackets, it was still way too cold for my taste.

The weather is that cold that I overheard a waiter telling a British tourist that it’s one of the main reasons Gdansk doesn’t get so many tourists.

So just visit Poland in July or August, when the temperatures are higher. Gdansk has a few sandy beaches, but my guess is only locals have the guts to take a bath in the Baltic Sea.  Still, it might be a fun beach walk.

How to get around Gdansk & Optimal visit duration

The best way to see the city is on foot, and the Old City Center is small enough to be visited in a day. Two days would be even better because there are lots of beautiful things to see and experience.

Keep in mind that Google Maps doesn’t show buses or any other transport options in Gdansk. And you’ll probably need them to reach your hotel.

We took a cab that solved this issue, but taxi fares are pretty expensive in Gdansk and Poland. They have weekend prices, so prepare to spend around 20 PLN for a 2 Km ride.

Once you reach your hotel, just ask the clerk to tell you the best ways to get to the city center. You can buy tickets from the bus driver, but this is only an option specific to Gdansk (doesn’t work in Warsaw).

Accommodation

The best accommodation we found in Poland was the one in Gdansk. We also visited Warsaw and Poznan, but the hotels were really a disappointment compared to Hotel Amber in Gdansk.

The room was cozy and warm (Very Important in Poland), they served traditional Polish breakfast (huge plus), everything was clean, and the staff very helpful.

The setting of Hotel Amber is a gorgeous one – on a lush hill, with a beautiful panorama of Gdansk’s Shipyards, but pretty far from it to ensure a peaceful sleep.

Eating out in Gdansk: Pierogarnia Mandu (Address: Elżbietańska 4/8, 80-894 Gdańsk, Poland).

Souvenirs

Well, you can’t leave Gdansk without buying gorgeous amber jewelry. It’s affordable and beautiful, so that’s the only good souvenir to take home with you.  

There are many amber shops, but I bought mine from Mariacka Street and Long Lane. Don’t know the names of these shops, but they offered quality certificates for their jewelry.

I’ll surely come back to revisit picturesque Gdansk, but only during a summer holiday. 🙂


Poland Trip: Poznan, Gdansk, Warsaw | September 2017 | All Photography ©Ana Matei > Follow me on instagram: @MateiAna


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