Poland’s Baltic seaside city of Gdańsk has sat in the background for years as one of the most underrated cities in Europe. For a long time, this sleeping giant went unnoticed, until recently when the city suddenly became hugely popular with tourists. Gdańsk is a city is steeped in history and brimming with activities all year round. If Gdańsk isn’t yet on your list of cities to see before you die, these 12 reasons should cement its appearance on that list.
The district of Zaspa has over 50 striking wall murals
The Gdańsk suburb of Zaspa has Europe’s largest neighbourhood collection of residential wall murals. Almost all of the residential blocks of flats in Zaspa have had their walls painted in extraordinary ways. These massive murals document some of Poland’s political history and the fall of Communism, and other walls are just painted for passion with no political messages. Lech Wałęsa was Poland’s President from 1990 to 1995, and he used to live in Zaspa, he has a mural of his own. The official website for Zaspa’s murals has all the details and while the murals are free to visit, guided tours can also be arranged.
Ulica Długa is one of the most beautiful streets in Europe
Be ready for one of the most beautiful streets in Europe. Gdańsk’s Długi Targ is basically the main square, although it translates into English as ‘Long Market’. Leading down to it is the Ulica Długa, or ‘Long Street’. Put simply, it is one of the most photographed streets and squares in Europe and is a feast for anyone’s eyes on your first glimpse.
Solidarnośc happened here
The Gdańsk shipyard was the location for a severe turning point in European history, now remembered in glorious detail in the city’s marvellous European Solidarity Centre, which is dedicated to the ‘Solidarność’ (Solidarity) movement of the 1980s. This Trade Union movement led by Lech Wałęsa grew to a membership of ten million and sowed the seeds for a new future, being pivotal in the fall of Communist rule.
Gdańsk has its own ‘Beer Street’
Gdańsk is a drinker’s paradise, too, especially since there are over 30 bars in one tight area in and around the city’s famous ‘Ulica Piwna’ – yes, you guessed it, it translates into English as ‘Beer Street’. Here on Beer Street, you can find some of the best bars in Gdańsk, all with their own quirky appeal, including old-style PRL pubs and Irish pubs. Be ready for one of the most surprising nights out in Europe.
The Last Judgement painting is housed in the National Museum
The Last Judgement is a famous painting by German artist Hans Memling. It is housed in the National Museum in Gdańsk, which makes the list of ‘must-see attractions in the city’. In Polish, the painting is known as Sąd Ostateczny and is a stunning triptych representing heaven, earth and hell.
St. Dominik’s Fair has been running since 1260
St. Dominik’s Fair happens in Gdańsk every summer, and has been in operation for a whopping 750 years. This successful fair dates back to the year 1260, when it was established by Pope Alexander IV. The streets are full of market stalls selling food, drink, souvenirs, clothes and basically anything you can think of. At night there is live music, and fireworks to celebrate when the festival comes to an end. St. Dominik’s Fair spans across many streets in the centre of Gdańsk.
You can go see the original Fahrenheit thermometer
A real gem to check out is the original Fahrenheit Thermometer, which is situated in the heart of Gdańsk, opposite Neptune’s Fountain in the Długi Targ. If you’re wondering why it’s here in Gdańsk, well, it’s simply that the guy who invented it, Daniel Fahrenheit, grew up in Gdańsk!
The Second World War started in this city
On September 1, 1939, Hitler and his troops started the Second World War when they simultaneously launched attacks on Westerplatte, on the Polish Post Office in Gdańsk and on the town of Tczew. You can now visit the Westerplatte peninsula, parts of which still contain the ruins from the battle of Westerplatte in 1939. There is an outdoor museum detailing all the events leading up to and during the Second World War as well as a peace monument dedicated to the victims of the war. It’s a poignant and sad trip, but another reason why Gdańsk should be on your list.
Remains of the Berlin Wall and Shipyard Wall sit side by side here
Gdańsk is the only city in the world that features a memorial with remains of both the wall that separated East from West (i.e. the Berlin Wall) and the wall at the Shipyard where the Solidarność movement began. Both monuments have plaques describing their significance, before leading into a ‘walk of freedom’ path that takes you to the shipyard itself.
St. Mary’s Basilica is one of the three largest churches in the world
St. Mary’s Basilica in Gdańsk is an enormous Roman Catholic church (located on the aforementioned Ulica Piwna) that contains more red bricks than any other church in the world. In its time, the church was used by Protestants and Catholics and contains a lookout platform at the top – you must walk up the steps as there is no elevator, but the views from the top are tremendous.
Gdańsk has one of the most iconic harbourfronts in Europe
Take a stroll along Gdańsk’s beautiful harbourfront, and you may just fall in love with this city. Pretty colourful buildings reflect against a river amidst a flurry of local street musicians and aromas from popular restaurants, and in the background boats cruise to and from Hel, Gdynia and Westerplatte.
There are beaches to suit all tastes
Amidst all the history, churches, significant buildings and bars, there is something often forgotten –Gdańsk has a beautiful coastline and there is no shortage of gorgeous beaches here. From the beach and pier in tranquil Brzezno to the waters of Jelitkowo, to the moving sand dunes at Łeba to the party beaches of Sopot to the sunrise at Stogi, you can now see why this city has so much to offer and deserves a visit. At least once in your lifetime.