Gdansk is a considerably smaller city than both Krakow and Warsaw so I was a little worried about finding things to do to fill 3 days, but luckily, the history of the beautiful, rebuilt city of Gdansk kept me busy. Gdansk is one of the oldest cities in Poland and in the 1300’s it was ruled by the Teutonic Knights, whose mark you can still see in much of the architecture of the city (including some phallic imagery on top of the town hall building – they were not modest). If you go to this idyllic town by the sea, here are my must-sees:
Take the “Solidarity” and “Old Town” walking tours: In every city in Poland there’s a donation-based group of students who given walking tours regularly every day. I must’ve gone on 3-4 tours each in both Warsaw and Krakow. In Gdansk, though, these walking tours are a must. You will learn the history and see everything that you need to see. The solidarity walking tour ends in the shipyards (where the movement to bring down communism first began in 1980) just outside the European Solidarity Center which was closed by the time I got there, but I’ve heard it’s amazing.
Walk to the top of St. Mary’s Church: I’ve walked up a lot of rickety staircases but this was by far the most questionable. For the first couple hundred steps there was no railing whatsoever. St. Mary’s Church is right in the center of the Old Town of Gdansk and it’s believed to be the largest of the only 2 or 3 brick churches left in the world. Yes, it is MASSIVE. The 400 or so step walk up the top some would call dangerous, but it’s totally worth it for the view.
What some of the stairs looked like up to the top.
Go to Westerplatte: I somehow found my way to the Westerplatte peninsula from the city of Gdansk via public transport, but it was tricky (thanks, Polish, for being the 2nd hardest language in the world to learn!). Westerplatte, if you don’t know, is the port where the Germans invaded Poland and World War II began on September 1st, 1939. It’s a pretty desolate and gloomy spot on the Baltic Sea, but there are a few monuments and a lot of rubble from the barracks that were destroyed. Although Poland had not been an independent nation for very long and so it didn’t have a large army, the army that it did have didn’t surrender to the Germans. They attacked the Germans twice that day and the Germans suffered more losses than they thought they would. Fun fact: Poland never surrendered to the nazis. They were just overtaken. There’s an interesting monument dedicated to the fallen Polish soldiers that day and in big letters there’s another piece of art that says “NEVER AGAIN WAR” in Polish. It was a cloudy day so there weren’t a lot of people around but the area is so huge that you could not have seen anyone anyways.
The monument for the fallen Polish soldiers (left) and “Never Again War” with multiple country’s flags from around the world (right).
Another memorial to fallen soldiers (left) and the ruins of barracks (right).
Visit Neptune and the Artus Court: In the Old Town, you’ll find a famous fountain of the sea god Neptune surrounded by a steel gate in front of the Artus Court. Artus Court was a meeting center for merchants back in the day but now it’s a museum about the era and it’s super pretty. But the Neptune statue actually faces the residence where the Polish kings used to stay. There is a lot of mythology about Neptune but the one that I remember is that he used his triton to create a well-known Polish beer (though it’s not very popular anymore) and there’s a gate around him because people used to steal the coins out of his fountain and he “would use his triton to strike” people.
Neptune! (In front of City Hall.)
Visit the Memorial to the Polish Postal Workers: Back to September 1st, 1939, when the German’s invaded they headed to the main Gdansk Postal Office which was also the base of Polish defense and spy operations. The 57 postal workers held the German’s off for 15 hours somehow and after they were overtaken, the 57 postal workers were executed. This memorial is for them.
Two of the four memorials.
The Polish Post Office
Buy Cat Treats and Feed Gdansk’s Feral Cats: Okay, so this one is sort of silly but I was astonished at how many feral cats I saw on the street in Gdansk. I bought cat treats at a pharmacy and treated all the cats that I saw to some nibbles. On my last morning, I met a woman who was feeding a few feral cats and she gave me a post card for her organization, Kotangens. You can read about them here.
To say I loved learning about the history of Gdansk would be an understatement. This beautiful city is rich with culture and history going all the way back to the 1300’s and should definitely be on everyone’s itinerary if you’re going to Poland.