One of Europe’s best kept secrets is Gdańsk, Poland’s principle sea port. Bursting with culture and not stag-do in sight; it is literally a breath of fresh air.
On a frozen February 2014 my mum and I visited my Dad (a marine engineer) as he worked in Gdańsk. We stayed in an apartment with views of the river and echoes of clock chimes.
These chimes led us to beautiful buildings, eclectic art and cheap cuisine.
So here’s my recommendation for finding the best of the city.
To cast your eye over Gdańsk’s heritage there is no better place than the Main Town Hall (Ratusz Głównego Miasta). This public building (restored from WWII bombing) is part art gallery, part domestic museum.
After crossing its threshold a multi lingual guidebook explains its Gothic Renaissance paintings, sculptures and wooden replica ships.
This mix of high and low brow art continues as you move upstairs, into an antiquated household, complete with vintage clothes and kitchen items.
Finally a photo exhibition of Gdańsk, pre and post WWII leads you to the exit.
Old and new meet again in the Amber Museum (Muzeum Bursztynu) as contemporary jewellery showcases with historical. Here visitors can see amber finely carved into items, from around the globe.
Muzeum Bursztynu documents Gdańsk’s connection to the material, sourced in Baltic countries and circulated through its hub of merchants. This attraction is a must see for anyone who appreciates sculpture.
Aesthetic treats are not confined to galleries; Gdańsk’s streets are awash art and architecture that deserves a walking tour. Moving through them, visitors can’t miss Neptune’s Fountain (Fontanna Neptuna) an icon of the Greek sea god, holding his trident poised.
Neptune is situated in the heart of the ‘Long Market’ a bustling street of cafes and stalls, flanked by the Golden Gate on one end and the Green Gate at the other. Like most of Gdańsk architecture these Gates have Mannerist and Dutch influence that transports you back to a grander time.
Alternativly, for a working class tour, take the ferry across the river to The Crane. One of Gdańsk’s iconic symbols, the Crane was once used to transfer cargoes, erect ship masts and defend the city gates.
Defending the city from ideological attack was the Solidarity (socialist) movement. This movement, which saw shipyard workers fight for better living conditions, is recalled in the Maritime Museum (just next to the Crane).
While these attractions are a wandering distance from the town centre, further ones can be reached via the town’s metro. With cheap tickets, regular trains and colour co-ordinated maps, the lines are easy to navigate.
Just as easy to navigate are Gdańsk’s eateries; with cafes and bars on every street, all cheaper than their UK counterparts.
The best bargain my mum and I had was at the service of the Pyra Bar, on Garbary Road. This Ikea chic diner transformed potatoes into masterpieces. Its portions were big and included saucy casseroles, potato pancakes and stews. We ordered two casseroles and three pints of beer, getting change from 56 złotych (a tenner).
Then, for fancier fare, we headed to Goldwasser, a bistro overlooking the river. With outdoor seating, lanterns and a gothic interior, it was the perfect place to fine dine. Named after the famous liqueur (containing gold flakes) the aperitif was the perfect end to a seafood chowder starter and steak main. And if all the rich food is too much, you can walk it off – as we did – along the promenade.
Directly across the river from Goldwasser was my Dad’s working accommodation, where my mum and I stayed during our trip. However, if you stay on the Goldwasser side of town, and walk into its centre, there is a horde of accommodation to choose from, ranging from hostels to hotels.
With so much to see, eat and drink, Gdańsk really does spoil its visitors.