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Pocket Guide: Gdansk

This lively port city on the Baltic Sea has had a fascinating – if tumultuous – history over the past 1,000 years. One of the great trading cities of the Middle Ages, Gdansk has been passed back and forth between Polish and German hands over the centuries, with both cultures leaving their mark. It was where the Second World War started – and where communism began its decline thanks to the Solidarity movement.

As you walk through Gdansk’s historic quarters, you would have little clue that Gdansk was virtually destroyed in 1945. Its reconstruction is extraordinary, making the main town (Glówne Miasto) look pretty much as it did 400 years ago.

There’s also the Old Town (Stare Miasto), which wasn’t reconstructed but includes the handsome Old Town Hall. The River Motlawa winds through the city from the Baltic Sea, and the waterfront area is a bustling promenade lined with colourful Baroque houses, cafes and shops.

Things to Do in Gdansk

Start in Gdansk main town and head for the cobbled pedestrianised Long Market (Dlugi Targ), which is the heart of the historic centre. Lined with 18th-century townhouses and filled with bars, cafes and shops, it hums with activity all day and evening.

Nearby Ulica Mariacka is one of the most attractive streets in the city, a narrow cobbled lane where Baroque houses hang over cafe terraces. Walk through St Mary’s Gate to the waterfront promenade, where you’ll find more places to eat and drink..

Carry on along Gdansk’s waterfront and take the ferry that goes to the National Maritime Museum, a large complex on the river island of Olowianka. It’s one of several maritime museums in the area, highlighting how important seafaring has been in shaping Gdansk’s history.

The beaches of the Baltic Sea are within easy reach of Gdansk, particularly around the Westerplatte peninsula. Just west is the popular seaside resort of Sopot, a favourite summertime haunt for locals.

Where to Stay in Gdansk

Gdansk has a wide range of hotels in the city centre, as well as its suburbs. Choose an elegant old-world hotel in Gdansk’s main town, where you’ll find the city’s Medieval gates and main museums. You’ll have attractive cobbled squares on your doorstep. There’s also a selection of hotels near Gdansk Medical University, the largest in northern Poland.

Where to Eat in Gdansk

Enjoy hearty Pomeranian cuisine in Gdansk’s cosy restaurants in the historic centre. Feast on succulent goose dishes and fish from the Baltic Sea. You can also taste regional Kashubian cooking, which takes much of its inspiration from the sea. If you want simple Polish fare, try one of the milk bars (bar mleczny) in the centre, where you can dine cheaply on pierogi (potato dumplings) and rich stews. Or go upmarket in one of Gdansk’s innovative restaurants for exquisitely crafted haute cuisine.

Shopping in Gdansk

If you’re a fan of amber, you could spend hours checking out the countless shops and stalls selling the stones. Because Gdansk lies on the ancient amber route from the Baltic states to Italy, you’ll be spoilt for choice.