Part 2 of the Poland series (April 2015).
Bordered by the Baltic Sea, the northern cities of Gdansk and Sopot must not be overlooked on a trip to Poland. After spending a week exploring the historic and cultural sites of Kraków and wandering through the lush parks and palaces of Warsaw, I arrived on the north coast of Poland, ready to soak in the sun and sea. Technically, Gdansk and Sopot, together with Gdynia, comprise the Tricity, but I only made it to two of them.
First off, Gdansk is ridiculously beautiful.
Photos and words simply don’t do it justice — local restaurants and cafes in brightly-painted buildings line cobblestoned streets by the Motława River. Eager tourists lap up the boat cruises, while commuter ferries continue their steady gait down the river. Meanwhile, other historical tall ships have been converted into attractions or seafood restaurants.
Gdansk is also very compact and walkable. Most of the city can be seen within a day or two. I stayed at the Hostel Universus, right outside Gdansk’s Old Town (Stare Miasto) where the old blends artfully with the new. Flanked by the Golden Gate on one side and the Green Gate on the other, you’ll find trendy Indian restaurants and burger bars sharing the street with Baroque statues and Gothic architecture — all brightly painted, of course.
There’s no shortage of local watering holes either: Café Józef K. is an eclectic hipster paradise of bright stained glass, vintage furniture, live music, and secondhand books (in Polish).
Meanwhile, the dingy Degustatornia boasts an impressive range of Polish microbrews. To stave off a horrendous hangover the next morning, the latter also dishes up enormous servings of deep-fried pierogi.
Gdansk is also a history nerd’s dream, not least for its proximity to the peninsula of Westerplatte. As you may recall from your history classes, the British had formed a military alliance with Poland, promising to come to its aid if Germany attacked. In 1939, the invasion of Westerplatte spurred the Allied powers to declare war on Germany, marking a turning point for World War II.
These days, Westerplatte is a fairly well-maintained historic site, though it still bears the scars of history: as I gazed out across the Baltic Sea, young children on a field trip scampered past memorials and ruins of barracks and guardhouses. As the peninsula fans out, you’ll come upon the Monument to the Defenders of Westerplatte. It’s a truly interesting site — even if you’re not interested in history, it’s a brilliant spot to soak in some lovely views of the Baltic Sea.
Though it is difficult to tire of Gdansk, take a day to escape to the charming seaside town of Sopot — a mere 20 minutes away on the SKM kolejka (commuter train).
By day, families and couples bask in the sun and enjoy idyllic strolls along the longest wooden pier in Europe; by night, the young, beautiful and reckless revel in Sopot’s reputation as the party capital of Poland. As for me, I bundled up warm and savoured my hot chocolate while eyeing up some of the luxurious yachts docked by the marina — hey, a girl can dream!
On the way from the train station to Sopot’s waterfront, see if you can spot the Crooked House. It’s home to a Costa Coffee and frankly isn’t very interesting, aside from its bizarre architecture which looks like something right out of Dr. Seuss!
I found Gdansk and Sopot very affordable, though I must add a caveat. While Hostel Universus has an absolutely unbeatable location right by the Golden Gate and Old Town, it is definitely the sort of hostel that attracts lads on a stag party. While nothing about the hostel itself was especially objectionable (it’s very clean and tidy with extremely comfortable beds and pillows), don’t expect to get the best night’s sleep.
Train from Warsaw to Gdansk: 50zł
Hostel Universus: 35-40zł for a bed in a 7-bed dorm
Public transit (bus and tram): 3zł for a single trip / 3.60zł for a one-hour ticket
Commuter train from Gdansk to Sopot: 4zł each way
Plate of deep-fried pierogi: 15zł