City Guide to Gdansk

Gdansk

Main Town Hall in medieval Gdansk

OVERVIEW

Gdańsk – a diamond in the rough. History taught me to imagine this city on the shores of the Baltic Sea as an industrial nirvana of shipbuilding, rambling harbors, stubborn workers staring down the menacing tanks of a Communist government, and pollution-spewing factories. Gdańsk is an industrial harbor city. But it is also the guardian of a secret – a beautifully preserved medieval core that transports you back to Gdańsk’s Golden Age at her pinnacle of power as a Hanseatic port city ruled by the merchant class.

To truly understand this complex city, bear witness to both Gdańsk’s gritty modern industrial legacy and her medieval glory of wealth and prestige. Wander the compact Główne Miasto and gaze upon the architectural hodgepodge of a Middle Ages building boom. Discover the untouched ruins of a bombed-out shell of a warehouse from World War II. Step into the hushed white heart of the world’s largest brick church and stand at the gates of the shipyard where Lech Wałęsa once climbed the wall to let the world know
that Solidarity was facing down the giant of Communism.

You cannot veer further from the overbeaten tourist path than Gdańsk. Refreshingly free from crowds of tourists, Gdańsk belongs to the locals and the few in-the-know souls willing to make the long trip north. If you decide to be one of the few, spend at least two days here to make the long train ride worth it. With surrounding gems within easy reach of local train connections, like the surprisingly hospitable sands of the Baltic Sea, the medieval home of Copernicus at Torún, and the imposing fortress home of the Teutonic Knights at Malbork, Gdańsk is an intriguing home base for exploring the northern reaches of Poland.

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HISTORY

A history lesson is unavoidable if you visit Gdańsk, a community that has found itself at the intersection of historic forces throughout the last few centuries and into the modern 20th century. As a critical port city with access to both the Baltic Sea and the region’s major rivers, empires and power players have always eyed Gdańsk as a treasure to be coveted.

The city was once unusually diverse, a mix of German, Polish and Flemish, born out of the medieval melting pot of foreign conquest and Hanseatic trade. In 1308, the local bad boys, the Teutonic Knights, took control of the city and renamed it Danzig, a name the locals loathe today because of its Germanic roots. Under their rule, Germans flocked to the city to grow wealthy on the trade of the Vistula River. Joining the powerful Hanseatic League in 1361 connected Gdańsk to a continent-wide web of rich and powerful trading communities. The merchant class ruled Gdańsk and political life centered on the Town Hall – built to dominate the cityscape – and the Artus Court – the meeting hall of the city’s numerous trade guilds – rather than a royal castle or palace.

As their power grew, the people of Gdańsk turned on the Teutonic Knights, driving them out in 1454 and throwing their monetary support behind the Polish king. However, Gdańsk was never fully controlled by the Polish monarch – a cautious part of the kingdom, but always exercising their autonomy born out of their power as a key trade link in the region. They paid a small tribute to the king and flourished in their own Golden Age in the 16th and 17th centuries, attracting German and Flemish merchants and inspiring a building boom that shaped Główne Miasto as it stands today.

Even when Gdańsk fell under the rule of Prussia in the 18th century, the city continued to maintain a separate and distinct identity. With the end of World War II, Gdańsk became an autonomous city under the Treaty of Versailles, the Free City of Danzig, as a way to punish the Germans by denying Prussia a key industrial asset and allowing the recently revived nation-state of Poland access to the Baltic Sea. Germany never forgave the Allies for stripping them of what they saw as an ethnically German city. When Hitler commenced World War II with the invasion of Poland, Germany reclaimed Gdańsk. A prime industrial target for Allied bombings during the war, Gdańsk suffered massive damage, much of which has been rebuilt and cleared away today.

Scene from 1970 strike

Under Communist rule during the 20th century, Gdańsk became an industrial powerhouse, famous for its shipyards. However, not all was well in the notoriously independent-minded city. Worker strikes, especially at the shipyards, plagued the local Communist government in 1970, leading to a bloody confrontation. 1980 was a pivotal year, marking the beginning of the domino effect across Eastern Europe as Communism began to weaken and crumble. With a shipyard strike in Gdańsk and the birth of the Solidarity movement, the Poles began to vehemently protest working conditions, restricted rights and chronic shortages of basic goods, like bread and butter. A local hero, future Polish president, and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize recipient emerged out of the 1980 strikes in the colorful character of Lech Wałęsa, a local shipyard worker who took part in the negotiations with the Communist government. He climbed over the gate daily to inform the gathered crowd of the unprecedented events – a Communist government actually negotiating with a worker’s union. The Communists finally agreed to and signed Solidarity’s 21-Point Agreement, giving the workers the right to organize and strike. Quickly Solidarity became a country-wide movement, with upwards of 1 in 4 Poles joining before the Communists outlawed the movement in 1981. Even though Solidarity was pushed underground, they continued to organize and work against the Communist government, and served as an inspiration to the rest of Eastern Europe. With the collapse of Communism and the first free elections in 1990, Solidarity candidates dominated the results, including Lech Wałęsa as Poland’s new president.

LODGING

To be honest, my worst lodging experience ever was in Gdańsk. I am sure there are some wonderful and comfortable places to stay, but I did not find them. Instead, I opted for shockingly inexpensive and a chance to experience an old-school Polish throwback – the Communist-era Polish youth hostel. So while I single out this particular lodging option, think carefully about staying here. It is unforgettable, but not for the usual reasons.

Dom Harcezca – ulica Za Murami 2-10, Główne Miasto. Bunk bed dorms 30-40 zł and private rooms 50-120 zł. Cash only.

A classic Communist-era Polish hostel, this musty option is not for everyone, especially if you have a chronic health condition. This place is a culture-shock for a pampered American. The staff is dour and unhelpful beyond taking your money and handing you a room key. The building can be inundated with loud school groups running up and down the halls. I visited in the brisk and cold off-season of October and the dank seeped into my single room, even when I was wrapped up in bed. My single room was basic and spacious with a real bed, but reeked of smoke, even though a non-smoking sign was clearly posted. The bathrooms down the hall are as basic as it gets – gritty concrete and toilets with an overhead tank to create water pressure that actually threatened me with a shower every time I pulled the string to flush. The shower rooms were large and included plenty of racks to dry hand-washed clothing for the budget traveler, but the showers themselves were unpredictable – would I have hot water today? If you decide to brave all of this for the attractions of a US$15 a night place to lay your head, bring flip-flops for the scary bathrooms and earplugs to screen out the noise. The upside? Location, Location, Location. Step outside and you’re within seconds of Główne Miasto attractions.

FOOD & RESTAURANTS

Budget Eating

Self-catering is a snap in Gdańsk and the key to eating healthy on a budget, especially important when you’re managing your health. Book accommodations with a kitchen or assemble a quick picnic at the markets where the locals shop. Everything is within an easy walking distance. Pop into a small corner convenience store for a limited selection of fruit and fresh-baked breads or explore the Market Hall for a larger selection, a quick 5 minute walk from ulica Długa in Główne Miasto. For a convenient grocery store, an Esta is located in Targ Drzewny, just outside Główne Miasto. Some of my grocery standbys are bananas, fresh fruit, muesli mixed with a drinkable yogurt for breakfast, freshly baked breads, pasta and tomato sauce.

Eating out in Gdańsk can be surprisingly affordable, as long as you know where to look. Seek out a typical Polish milk bar (see my Country Guide to Poland for details) and you’ll eat traditional Polish fare with the locals for a fraction of the price you’d spend in a tourist-filled restaurant. There’s a milk bar in Główne Miasto, centrally located on ulica Długa. If you need a break from Polish fare and want a cheap taste of home, a surprisingly posh McDonald’s is located in the central train station with some unique Polish treats among the burgers and fries.

Bar Mleczny Neptun – A typical milk bar with an unusually friendly staff. You’ll be eating with locals in the know on cheap, filling food. Point at the dish you want in the display and they will cook it fresh. If you need to communicate, be prepared for a staff that doesn’t speak English. I found myself carrying on an entire conversation with the girl behind the counter using facial expressions and hand gestures. After navigating the communication barrier, take your food on a tray to the cashier and find a table. My lunch of sauerkraut-filled crepes, seasoned mushrooms, and a soda not only satisfied, but cost an astonishing 12 zł (US$4). (ulica Długa 33-34, Główne Miasto. Main dishes 4-6zł.)

Restaurants

Restaurants in Główne Miasto are touristy, but the food is still high quality. If you’re used to the overpriced mediocrity of Krakow’s Old Town, you’re in for a treat. As always, the fare is heavy on meat and starches, but with a seaside Baltic twist of herring, cod and other freshly-caught seafood. If you happen to abhor seafood, there’s always the pierogi.

Pierogarnia u Dzika – A fancy step up for the budget traveler with classy white tablecloths and a hushed atmosphere. They serve up hearty Polish food, including all the classics. I tried the Russian-style pierogi, filled with potatoes and cottage cheese and perfectly complimented by a local delicacy called borscht. Often associated with Russia, borscht is a local specialty in the Baltics, a beet soup served in multiple variations all along the Baltic coast. While I was nervous to try the red soup after an unfortunate childhood incident, I bucked up to the challenge (after all, travel is about experiencing the local culture!) and discovered I rather liked the creamy soup, laced with aromatic spices. (ulica Piwna 59-60, Główne Miasto. Pierogi 15-25zł. Borscht 4-6zł. Main dishes 30-45zł. Website in Polish only.)

Bar Pod Rybą – A tiny place packed with locals. Come with a ravenous appetite for the large servings of steaming hot monster baked potatoes stuffed with toppings of your choice. Order at the register, find a seat, and the staff will deliver an incredible value for your złoty. If you want to sample the local seafood, the herring with pickled sauce is a flavorful choice. (Długi Targ 35-38, Główne Miasto. Daily 11-7. Baked potato dishes 10-25zł. Website in Polish only.)

ENTERTAINMENT

Gdańsk may have a rocking party scene, but it must be far from Główne Miasto. Instead, spend your nights strolling romantic medieval streets and sipping coffee in cozy little cafes. The historic core is safe, well-lit and full of other people with the same idea. If you’re looking for a raucous nightlife scene and it is the summer season, head to the resort town of Sopot, only 40 minutes away by commuter rail. I didn’t personally experience Sopot’s non-stop summer party on the sand, but the stories are legendary.

Cafes

Pikawa – This tiny coffee shop is always packed with locals. Order a coffee and one of the delectable desserts at the counter, then attempt to find a seat in the cozy back room. The décor is eclectic – antique furniture, balls of woven branches hanging from the ceiling, fish tanks in the walls, and piles of magazines to peruse. The coffee is strong and the desserts to die for. (ulica Piwna 5-6, Główne Miasto. Coffee 5-8zł. Open until at least 10:00 p.m.)

If you are hankering for an American style café, there’s also the European coffee chain Costa, with big mochas and large plush chairs. (ulica Długa 5. American-style mochas/lattes 8-12zł.)

MY SIGHTSEEING MUST-SEES

Główne Miasto (Main Town) – The entire medieval core of Gdańsk is an underrated delight to explore. The neighborhood is compact, ruled by pedestrians, and easily seen in half a day, though a full day to absorb the atmosphere is highly suggested. I packed away my map and let my senses guide me. The majority of actual tourist sites are located on the main drag ulica Długa, but the side streets hold their own glimpses into Gdańsk daily life, past and present.

Uphagen House

Most of what you’ll see was meticulously rebuilt after World War II. Be sure to look up at the building facades – a riot of colors, decorative friezes, and painting flourishes, many depicting medieval motifs. For a peak into the everyday life of a Hanseatic merchant, stop into the Uphagen House, open to the public as a museum and concert venue. Homeowners were charged property taxes based on the street frontage. As a result, residents built their houses tall and skinny, reaching far into the back, to maximize their space at the least tax expense possible. You’ll step into a grand reception area in the front of the Uphagen House and follow a narrow corridor of rooms into the back’s everyday living spaces. (10zł. Closed Mon in off-season. Ulica Długa 12.)

Artus Court

Artus Hall, across from the Neptune Fountain, was the meeting hall for all of the city’s powerful trade guilds. In a city where trade was king and merchants wielded the political power, guilds served an important role in the everyday functioning of the government. The star of Artus Hall is the large, elaborate tiled furnace. Each tile depicts a unique recognizable individual from Gdańsk’s medieval society. The tiles were saved during World War II by locals who dismantled them to hide away for the duration of the war. The wall paintings are not originals, but actually photographic reproductions of the originals, which were damaged during the war. (10zl. Długi targ 43/44, by the Neptune statue.)

While the Town Hall was not open to visitors while I was there due to restoration efforts, it may be open for your visit. Built during Gdańsk’s glory days, the tower stretches dizzyingly into the sky and dominates the cityscape, much like a castle often dominated medieval towns. It is another example of how the local merchants wielded the power in Gdańsk, not kings and queens. (10zł. Ulica Długa 12.)

Gdańsk, like most medieval cities, once had a wall that encircled the entire city. Parts of that wall still exist, as evidenced in the many gates in Główne Miasto. Gates were often sponsored by individual guilds, such as the surviving Bread makers Gate. The most ornamental of these is the Golden Gate, displaying the coat of arms for Gdańsk. Just outside the gate are the Upland Gate and Prison Tower, once part of a series of moats and gates visitors were required to cross to enter the city. As you enter the city through the Golden Gate, turn left onto Tracka to find the Armory, an eye-dazzling example of Dutch Renaissance architecture.

Green Gate

At the other end of ulica Długa, after you pass beneath the glass and brick Green Gate, lies the Motława River, a tiny branch of the Vistula River. The riverfront walk is especially enjoyable in the late evening, as the rich golden colors bathe the World War II ruins of a granary in a golden halo and flocks of birds put on an aerial show. The giant wooden tower that dominates the line of riverfront buildings is actually a unique medieval relic that exists nowhere else in the world – a 15th century crane used to load and unload ships. Step inside and look up – the two giant round cages were worked by men just like hamster wheels to operate the crane.

St. Mary’s Church – The largest red-brick church in the world, located only a 5 minute walk from ulica Długa. Stepping inside this Protestant church took my breath away. The interior is an example of the “hall-style”, in which the vaulting of the side aisles is the same height of the central nave’s vaulting. The walls and ceiling are blindly white, infusing the space with an effortless quality that makes the building feel as if it is stretching into the heavens, light as air. The ornamentation is spare and functional, allowing the large stained glass window behind the altar to dominate the space, a dazzling riot of colors set against stark white. Find a seat in a humble pew and allow yourself to take in the drama. (Free, donation requested. Dominates town from ulica Piwna.)

Solidarity Sites

If you are a student of history or just want to better understand the momentous history of Gdańsk’s shipyards that sparked a movement and reverberated across the Communist bloc, you’ll want to head north from Główne Miasto. All of Solidarity’s sites are grouped close together, a 15 minute walk away.

Shipyard Gate & Monument – While the shipyard is now silent, the weeds taking over and the gate locked, a pilgrimage here is still unforgettable. The shipyard gate is covered in flowers, letters and photos, including a photo of Polish hero Pope John Paul II. Peer through the metal gate into the shipyard. The rectangular building on the right is where the workers of the shipyard staged their sit-in strike and union leaders negotiated with the Communist government for the right to unionize and negotiate for safer working conditions. It was on this gate that they hung their 21 Points which outlined their demands of the Communist government. It was also this gate which Lech Wałęsa climbed to speak to the throngs of people outside, turning him into a Polish hero.

Just outside the shipyard gate stands a towering monument to the workers and civilians who died in the 1970 workers strike. The monument, three huge anchors stretching into the sky, depict scenes from the 1970 strike – including women in jail and Communist tanks firing on the crowd. The fence behind the monument is covered in plaques of solidarity from people and unions all over the world; a man ducking the bullets stands in front. Amazingly, this monument was built in 1981, when the Communist government was still in control and during the height of Solidarity’s power before the union was outlawed and the government declared martial law. (Intersection of Wały Plastowskie and Łagiewniki. Easiest to reach from ulica Długa by taking ulica Tkacka north, following the street as it becomes Rajska. When it reaches Podwale Grodzkie, turn right to find Wały Plastowskie. 15-20 minute walk.)

Roads to Freedom Exhibit – A museum about the Solidarity movement that is a tad tricky to find. Look for the Communist-era tank on the sidewalk – the museum is down the stairs inside an old bunker. The museum, recently built, is an excellent look into daily life under Communism, the 1970 strike and government crack-down, the Solidarity strike in 1980, the period of martial law, and the role of Solidarity in bringing down Communism in Poland. The film footage is thorough and subtitled in English – the negotiations, protesters marching and singing, speeches by Solidarity’s leaders, and the violent crackdown, including some disturbing footage of a tank running over a protestor. A well-crafted museum that left me with a better understanding of Poland’s struggle under Communism and Gdańsk’s role in Communism’s collapse. (6zł. Closed Monday. ulica Wały Plastowskie 24.)

DAY TRIPS

Gdańsk is a strategic place to base yourself and explore the Baltic region of northern Poland. A number of easy day-trips can be reached by train. I only had time for Sopot, a Baltic Sea resort town, and Malbork Castle, medieval base of the Teutonic Knights, but numerous other options are worth considering, especially Torún, the birthplace of Copernicus.

Sopot

A resort town on the Baltic Sea, just a quick 20 minute train ride from Gdańsk. In the peak of Poland’s short summer season, Sopot is crowded with vacationers lounging on the sand, swimming in the brisk Baltic waters, dancing the night away in clubs, and licking ice cream cones in the carnival atmosphere of the huge pier jutting out into the sea. If you miss the crowds of summer, still visit in the shoulder season for gorgeous views, a brisk windy walk along the beach, and a sense of ghost town isolation.

This is a resort town, so the main drag of Monte Cassino Heroes Street (ulica Bohaterów Monte Cassino) is a see-and-be-seen stroll through town and out to the pier. In the summer, expect to see fashionistas, a hip club scene, and trendy boutiques and restaurants. If you visit in the fall, like I did, the street mellows out, with more families and a laidback sleepy vibe. I prefer to skip the shops of Monte Cassino and spend my time out on the pier, which stretches way out over the chilly Baltic Sea. This is one of Europe’s longest piers, and I imagine in the summer it is a carnival of booths, food, music, and people-watching worth an entrance fee. In the off-season, it is a deserted lonely expanse, with hardy souls soaking up the sun as the brisk salty wind tousles your hair and compels the swans to tuck their beaks into their feathers as they drift on the waves below you. Dress warmly in the cooler months with scarf and gloves. On one side of the pier is an Art Deco lighthouse. The elegant resort on the other side of the sand is the Grand Hotel Sopot, once host to Marlene Dietrich and Adolf Hitler.

To get to Sopot from Gdańsk, take the SKM commuter train from Gdańsk’s main train station. Securing your ticket can be confusing if you do not speak Polish. In case the ticket machine on the train platform refuses to take coins, find the SKM ticket window inside the station and purchase a ticket from the agent. Be sure not to go to the PKP ticket window – they are two distinct train systems. Once you have your ticket, find your platform (when I was there in 2009, SKM trains departed from platforms 3-5) and remember to validate your ticket in the yellow validation box before boarding your train. Ask a fellow passenger if you need help finding it. SKM regional trains run every 15-20 minutes and cost around 4zł to Sopot.

To return to Gdańsk, walk past the train station to the SKM platform. On the right down a little side street is a kiosk where you can buy your return ticket. Make sure the kiosk is labeled “SKM”, as the PKP platforms are nearby. Then take the staircase up to the SKM platform.

Malbork Castle

Tickets 29-47zł, depending on season. Open 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. in summer, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in winter. Closed Monday. http://www.zamek.malbork.pl.

Even if you never play-acted epic battles with swords or dreamed of being a knight as a child, Malbork Castle, as the largest surviving brick castle in the world, will spark your imagination. As the home base of the Teutonic Knights in the Middle Ages, this castle has seen its share of historic drama.

Beginning in 1274, the knights built this castle they called Marienburg (Mary’s Castle) as their headquarters for marauding through the Polish countryside. Fresh from their role protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land during the Crusades, a Polish duke invited the Teutonic Knights to his land in the hope of using them to convert local pagans. However, the knights quickly became a thorn in the side of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom, terrorizing Polish pagans and Christians alike, and vying with the Polish king for power in the region. To strengthen Poland against the threat of the Germanic knights, the Polish princess Jadwiga married Lithuanian prince Władysław Jagiełło, which created the Poland-Lithuania Kingdom. Growing tension between the Teutonic Knights and Polish monarch led to the Battle of Grunwald on July 15, 1410, a bloody battle that resulted in thousands dead, including half of the knights and the start of the decline of their power in the region. While the castle was never taken by force, the Poles laid siege to Malbork throughout the Thirteen Years’ War (1454-1466) and eventually took control by bribing mercenaries guarding the castle.

The Teutonic Knights were a monastic order, monks who took all the traditional vows of chastity and obedience, but also vowed to fight as knights for Christianity. They were highly skilled and led by a Grand Master who was elected into the office by a council of his brother knights. The castle itself reflects this pairing of monk and knight, with all the features of a strong castle – multiple moats, gates, defensive ramparts and drawbridges leading further and further into the castle – married with all the features of a monastery – the inner cloisters of the High Castle, refectories with long simple tables where the monks communally ate, and chapels for around-the-clock prayer.

Join the school groups and let your inner child come out, exploring the nooks and crannies of this largely intact medieval castle. While the Lower Castle is mostly in ruins, the Middle Castle and High Castle are still intact.

Pay for your ticket at the ticket kiosk, then head over to the main gate at the drawbridge. You are required to enter the castle with a tour, but once inside feel free to split off from the group and wander the grounds at your leisure.

Once you have crossed the drawbridge and its series of defensive gates, you’ll be inside the Middle Castle. Here you’ll find an armory full of swords and suits of armor, even for the horses, as well as an amber museum and the castle furnace. My favorite part of the entire castle also resides here – the sumptuous Grand Master’s Palace. You’ll wander a series of rooms empty of furnishings, but still richly decorated, with light-as-air vaulted ceilings, delicate windows, and ornate fireplaces. In the summer refectory, look for the cannonball still enmeshed in the wall from one of the many sieges Malbork endured. The star of the palace is the Grand Refectory, where the Grand Master held huge feasts. The delicate ribbed vaulting reminded me of palm trees and the restored wall paintings glitter with gold and depict vigorous battles.

Grand Refectory

Head across another series of moat, ramparts and defensive gates into the High Castle. Here you’ll feel the monastic influence the most as you wander the cozy quiet cloisters and peak into spare stone rooms and large communal dining halls. This section of the castle was reserved strictly for the top knights of the order and their supportive staff. You’ll stumble across the Chapter Room, where the council met to discuss business and elect Grand Masters, as well as the large kitchen and the defensive tower with views out over the river. Be sure to seek out St. Mary’s Chapel, still in ruins from World War II bombings.

To get to the castle from Malbork’s train station, you’ll need to walk about 15 minutes through town. From the station, turn right and follow the road to the overpass. To avoid walking across the busy overpass, find the pedestrian route marked by the red staircase going underneath. Once across the overpass, follow the road into town, then turn right onto Kościuszki. This is a main shopping street. Follow it to a fork in the road and turn right onto Piastowska, which will take you out to the castle grounds.

To get to Malbork from Gdańsk, take the regional PKP trains, running at least once an hour and taking around 45 minutes. The train station in Malbork is small, with only 2 platforms, but includes lockers and lies on the main train line to Warsaw, making it an easy stopover if you want to continue on to Warsaw.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

TriCity Area Population (including Gdańsk , Gydnia and Sopot) – (2010) approximately 800,000

Language – Polish and German. As a formerly Germanic Hanseatic city, you may find a basic knowledge of German useful. When conversing with locals in restaurants and shops, I used a mixture of English and German to communicate. Older generations may not understand English, although the younger generations learn English in school. When all else fails, smile, use hand gestures and laugh at yourself.

Shopping for Amber – You’ll notice that the focus of souvenir shops in Główne Miasto is amber, that honey golden resin well-known for preserving prehistoric insects. While you can find amber with insect inclusions for sale, often in the form of necklace pendants, the wide array of amber jewelry and sculpture is overwhelming. Over 80% of the world’s amber is from the region around Gdańsk, which makes this an affordable place to find a unique souvenir. However, beware buying from a street vendor. To ensure your amber is authentic, patronize one of the shops. The hues and colors of amber are surprising, ranging from the more familiar golden orange to yellow, brown, and even cloudy white.

Public Transportation

Gdańsk is well-connected by Poland’s national PKP train system, as well as the regional SKP commuter train system. Both train lines run through Gdańsk’s main train station, located a short walk north of Główne Miasto. To cross the wide, busy street out front, find the staircase down to the pedestrian underpass. Turn left to find the train platforms, turn right to cross under the street.

While Gdańsk also has a public bus system, the central core of the city is made for walking, with all the major sites, including the Solidarity shipyard gate, within a 15 minute walk.

Useful Map Terms

Main Town – Główne Miasto             Old Town – Stare Miasto

Ulica Długa – central street in Główne Miasto

Długi Targ – Long Square on ulica Długa         Central Train Station – Gdańsk Główny

Golden Gate – Złota Brama         Green Gate – Zielona Brama              The Crane – Żuraw

Uphagen House – Dom Uphagena         Town Hall – Ratusz Głównego Miasta

Artus Court – Dwór Artusa                Solidarity – Solidarność

Gdansk Shipyards – Stocznia Gdańska          Sopot Pier – Molo

ADVICE FOR FIBROMITES

After the headaches of exploring medieval old towns throughout Europe with a chronic medical condition, Gdańsk is a breeze. The streets are paved, sidewalks wide and even, and the distances between major sites easy to walk to. Use common sense, wearing comfortable walking shoes and dressing in layers for the cold evening breezes, and you’ll be comfortable.

If you need to carefully monitor your diet, arrange lodging that provides you access to a kitchen. Small family-run hotels are a good option. Cooking for yourself gives you more control over your health. If you despair at the lack of fresh fruit or salad in restaurants, just head to the local grocery store – the strange lack of fresh produce in the restaurants is not due to a shortage.

If you prefer to eat out and still maintain a small budget, seek out a Polish milk bar. The variety may not be what you’re used to, but sauerkraut and cabbage are extremely healthy, especially if you have fibromyalgia. When it comes to pierogi, choose fillings wisely. A little spicy sausage may be okay, but too much is hard on fibromites; gravitate towards fruit-based fillings and spices such as cinnamon.

When researching lodging, do not assume there is an elevator. Most European budget accommodations are in older buildings. Be prepared to lug your luggage up stairs, ask for a first floor room or look for a place with an elevator. It’s important to clarify which floor you are on – in Europe, the ground floor is the first floor and the first floor is actually up one flight of stairs.

While I am typically a cheerleader for hostelling, even with fibromyalgia, Gdańsk is short on hostel options, with only one tired old hostel in Główne Miasto that I would not recommend to anyone with a chronic health condition. See my lodging section for all the reasons to steer clear and find a comfortable budget hotel instead.

To pace yourself (especially important with fibro), relax the way the locals do and make your rest a part of the experience. Find a bench in Długi Targ and watch as people feed the pigeons that swarm the Neptune Fountain. Sip a coffee in a cozy café. Find a bench in a local church from which to contemplate the gorgeous surroundings. Lounge on Baltic sands on a warm summer day.

TO BE CONTINUED

I absolutely adore Gdańsk, and that’s saying something. This is the perfect city for aimless evening strolls and marveling at medieval architectural craftsmanship. It’s also a must for students of history who yearn to stand in the echoes of monumental moments of the past that have shaped our present. I only had a couple days in which to seek out Gdańsk’s Hanseatic glory days and tumultuous recent past as the birthplace of Solidarity, and there is more yet to explore: the Maritime Museum, the nearby shipyard of Westerplatte where World War II started on September 1, 1939, and the medieval city of Torún, home to astronomer Copernicus and a day-trip away. For this amateur historian, Gdańsk is a must-see.

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