Recommended excursion itineraries
- The Royal Route
- The Polish Venice
- Heavenly churches
- The walls that came down - the Solidarity route
- The land of amber
- Treasures of the middle ages - Malbork castle
- Kashubian Switzerland - paradise landscapes
- Windy paradise - The Hel Peninsula
- Pleasures of active living
1. The Royal Route
The Royal Route - the most popular tourist destination that thanks to Gdansk's history, numerous historic monuments, its unique ambience and the music played by buskers is a must for any visitor to Gdansk.
The Royal Route took its name from the role it played in the past centuries. This used to be the way for the Polish royalty to enter the city. The royal entourage proceeded through the Upland Gate, and then through the Golden Gate opening onto Długa Street, where hours on end were spent entertaining the king with performances by tightrope walkers, street acrobats or with knights' tournaments. It was here that kings listened to the city mayors' welcome speeches.
The Royal Route takes visitors from the Upland Gate and the Prison Tower, through the Golden Gate up to the Green Gate seated by the Motlawa river. The Royal Route is lined all along with quaint historic town houses owned in the old times by Gdansk's wealthiest citizens, mayors and merchants. Each of the houses has its own unique and rich history, secrets and legends.
As we walk onto the Royal Route, our attention is drawn by the Gothic and Renaissance building in the distance, adorned with an elegant clock tower. This is the Main Town Hall - the most significant secular building in old Gdansk. In the historic times, it was the seat of the city authorities and nowadays it is house to the Gdansk History Museum. Its interior - with the emblematic Great Council Hall, also known as the Red Chamber, is an example of one of the most opulent town hall interiors in modern history. The chambers, richly decorated with paintings by the most outstanding Dutch artists, with "The Apoteosis of Gdansk" taking the lead, each year attract hundreds of tourists willing to travel back in time, with the eyes of their imagination, to the age of the city's splendour and prosperity.
Another highlight that catches the eye is the beautiful building of Artus' Court, with Gdansk's symbolic feature - Neptune's Fountain - nestled right at its entrance. The figure of Neptune, the ancient Roman god of the seas and oceans, symbolizes the close ties between the city and the sea. The fountain is Gdansk's major landmark and its most popular photo spot. There is a legend associated with the fountain that explains the invention of Gdansk's famous liqueur called Goldwasser. The legend has it that centuries ago Neptune got upset about the coins that were thrown into the fountain and he struck his trident onto the water smashing the gold into fine flakes. Ever since that time golden flakes add glitter to this delicious root and herbal liqueur of Gdansk, which used to satisfy the palette of King Louis XVI of France and the Tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia. Until the present day, this beverage containing small flakes of 22 and 23 carat gold suspended in alcohol, is solely associated with Gdansk and represents its flagship product.
The name of the magic Artus' Court is closely related to the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In the historic times, the court provided an important venue for merchants, craftsmen, tradesmen and the wealthy residents of Gdansk who, similarly to the Knights of the Round Table, gathered in guilds. Artus' Court played the role of an exclusive, high profile socializing venue for the local élite who, surrounded by its beautiful interior richly decorated with paintings and tapestries, entertained themselves with music and with a variety of acts from singers and jugglers. The most valuable part of the interior decoration, which enraptures with its artistic beauty, is the world's largest ceramic-tiled stove, which is 11 metres high and weighs 13 tonnes and is covered with 520 colourful tiles.
The Green Gate, according to legend, took its name from the abundant seaweed and moss that used to densely cover its originally wooden structure, giving it its green colouring. The direct vicinity of the Motlawa river may attest to this story. The gate is one of Gdansk's water gates and was designed as the royal residence for the Polish kings to stay during their visits to Gdansk. It also provided the main premises to the Nature Society and the Museum of Nature. Nowadays, one of its halls is the office of the former president of Poland and the co-founder of Solidarity - Lech Walesa.
We would like to recommend this short 900-metre itinerary abounding with Gdansk's most important and beautiful historic monuments to all those who wish to see the very heart of historic Gdansk.
2. The Polish Venice
Leaving the Royal Route, immediately past the Green Gate, the fairy tale view of the Gdansk waterfront can be seen, with many historic houses perched on the Motlawa river, which can easily remind visitors of Venice. As is the case with the "city of gondoliers", the houses appear to grow out of the water which, especially in summer, is crisscrossed by pleasure boats and galleons packed with tourists keen to get a taste of a sea adventure.
Setting out from the Green Gate, from the very beginning our attention is drawn to the characteristic round-shouldered structure of the Great Crane emerging from the background, which until the 19th century was the biggest operating port crane in the world. It was right here that centuries ago the very heart of the port in Gdansk used to pulse. During the port's operation in the centre of the Old Town, all houses stood right on the Motlawa river. Today, the front walls of the buildings are separated from the river by a stone riverwalk called the Long Embankment. From the very beginning, the Crane played a double role of a defensive city gate and a port operating crane, powered by human muscle. Nowadays, the Crane is part of the National Maritime Museum in Gdansk and frequently visited mainly thanks to its interesting driving mechanism inside its structure. It is comprised of two pairs of step wheels trodden by erstwhile port workers who used to set the mechanism in motion, making it capable of lifting goods weighing up to 4 tonnes.
Opposite the Great Crane, the historic Granaries accommodate the National Maritime Museum presenting old Gdansk through the lens of its former flourishing and vibrant port city life. The museum is situated on Lead Island and can be reached from under the Crane by a ferry. Lead Island owes its name to the port granaries and warehouses that were located here and used for storing lead, among other goods.
Walking along the Long Embankment, we pass by the city's beautiful, historic water gates - Bread Sellers' Gate, St. Mary's Gate - opening onto St. Mary's Street leading to the magnificent St. Mary's Church - Holy Spirit's Gate, St. John's Gate, and Vendors' Gate, until we reach the scenic Swan Tower that closed the Main City.
A stroll along the river bank makes for great relaxation. It is lined by amber jewellery shops and galleries offering beautiful and unique amber works of art by renowned Gdansk artists and jewellers, and inviting passers-by to step in and buy the unusual items of amber jewellery. A step further, we can take up an offer to enjoy a cruise on the Motlawa river or to the scenic Hel Peninsula. A tasty meal while on a boat trip to the accompaniment of sailors' music is a must of any sightseeing itinerary in Gdansk.
3. Heavenly churches
Thanks to its one thousand years of history Gdansk abounds not only in secular buildings, but also in shrines. There are three most significant churches that deserve special attention: St. Mary's Church, Oliva Cathedral and St. Bridget's Church. The latter made its name as a memorial to Poland's recent history related to the Solidarity movement, and also thanks to its unique amber main altar.
St. Mary's Basilica, also called the "crown of Gdansk", is the largest Gothic brick church in the world. This is the only Polish church with its length marked on the floor of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Its modest interior houses such works of art as the Gothic stone sculpture called the "Gdansk Pieta", the copy of Hans Memling's "Last Judgment" (the original can be found at the National Museum in Gdansk), or the largest Gothic astronomical clock world wide, measuring 14 metres in height - a "medieval computer" showing the abridged calendar of fixed holidays, the New Moon's dates, the position of the Sun and Moon in relation to the Zodiac houses and many other features. Following the tour of St. Mary's Basilica, we recommend to climb its 80-metre high tower with a vantage platform at its top which affords a splendid panoramic view of the city. The Basilica towers over the exit of the most beautiful street in Gdansk - St. Mary's St. - with dozens of amber jewellery shops. The street is lined on both sides with quaint Gdansk town houses, most of them reconstructed after the destruction of the Second World War. It is worthwhile to stay in the city centre and walk to St. Bridget's Church, which thanks to its location in the close vicinity of the Gdansk Shipyard played a significant role in the 1980s during the world-famous Solidarity strikes and during the Marshal Law. The numerous historic items collected inside remind visitors of those memorable events when the Gdansk shipyard workers, with the Solidarity movement, launched the chain reaction of political transformation not only in Poland, but also in other European countries.
St. Bridget Church is also famous for its amber altar - a work still in progress - but already today recognized as the largest amber altar world wide. Once completed, the altar will be 12 metres high, 9 metres wide and will cover a surface of as much as 120 sq. metres.
Another historic monument recommended in this itinerary is Oliwa Cathedral renowned mainly thanks to its 18-century pipe organ, considered to be the largest instrument of this type in Europe at the moment of its being built. With a length of 107 metres, this shrine is the longest in Poland. It is surrounded by a beautiful park landscaped on the grounds of the former abbey orchards owned by the Cistercian monks. In the middle of the park the Abbots' palace is located, which nowadays has been adopted as a Contemporary Art Museum. The park is abundant with plants, trees and vegetation brought here from all over the world. The scenic alleys of neatly trimmed treetops and bushes, the shimmering of the cascades of the Oliwski Stream, as well as the sumptuous flower beds lead the way towards the soaring Oliwa Cathedral popular with visitors due to its organ music concerts. During the summer season, concerts are held on an hourly basis and in the low season the sound of its unique pipes can be heard at least once a day.
4. The walls that came down - the Solidarity route
Poland, and especially Gdansk, gained its world-wide fame thanks to kick starting the collapse of communism in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It was especially in the 1980s that Gdansk became the arena for the Gdansk shipyard workers struggle for freedom, which was closely observed and seconded by the rest of the world. This itinerary's name - "The walls that came down" - is inspired by the song from Poland's famous bard of Solidarity, Jacek Kaczmarski. This song was regarded as an anthem of all those who identified themselves with the fight for democracy that was taking place in Gdansk.
The itinerary "Walls that came down" is designed as a step-by-step presentation of all the sights that more than 30 years ago bore witness to those memorable events. We recommend that this tour should be started at the Solidarity Square towered over by the 42-metre high Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers. Composed of three crosses with anchors attached, it was erected as a commemoration to the killing of the shipyard workers. To date, the monument is one of the most important memorial places in Gdansk where high-ranking international politicians, presidents, heads of governments, royalty as well as the pope John Paul II all paid their tribute to the victims.
Behind the monument, Gate No. 2 is located leading to the grounds that have been partly opened to the public for the sightseeing of the Gdansk Shipyard. The main objects include the symbolic gates shaped as a ship's bow cut in half, a fragment of the Berlin Wall torn down in 1989 - a gift from the city of Berlin, a fragment of the Gdansk Shipyard wall, as well as a military armoured personnel transporter used by the communist riot police to disperse street demonstrations. The admission ticket, designed in the form of a ration card that made it possible to purchase food products, also includes the entrance to the famous former Health and Safety at Work Hall, which decades ago provided the venue for the negotiations between the shipyard workers and the communist regime. As a conclusion, we recommend a visit to the multimedia exhibition - Roads to Freedom - featuring a 1970s shop interior, the pen with which Lech Wałęsa signed the August Accords with the communist government and the ply-wood tables containing the hand-written demands of the striking shipyard workers - an item that has been listed as a UNESCO Memory of the World.
5. The land of amber
Gdansk is a city at the crossroads of the historic and contemporary amber routes. The ancient amber route by the Vistula river led from Gdansk to southern European countries, towards the Black Sea and also to Rome and Greece.
The Amber Route played an important role at that time not only due to its economic significance, but also culturally since it provided a channel by which to disseminate science and culture.
The turn of the 16th and 17th centuries was called the golden age of Gdansk. Work was in full swing at the local workshops busy producing beautiful amber objects to meet the orders of wealthy Gdansk burghers, gentry and also the royal and princely courts all across Europe.
This "Baltic gold", as amber is often called, has played an important role in Gdansk until the present day. There is an abundance of amber shops and workshops in the Old Town of Gdansk offering unique items of jewellery, highly appreciated and admired by tourists visiting Gdansk.
"The land of amber" tour is especially recommended to those willing to have a closer look at the most outstanding pieces of amber art and to learn about the history and technology of amber and its processing by the Gdansk-based artists and craftsmen.
The best place to start this itinerary is the Amber Museum housed in the Prison Tower presenting an extensive collection of amber works of art, including the 2.5-kilogramme world's biggest female sculpture - "The female act" - made from a single chunk of amber. Another venue well worth visiting is the Archeological Museum holding a permanent display "Amber throughout the centuries". This exhibition presents the origins and the history of amber, as well as historic objects of amber art. Additionally, it is possible to attend a session showing the processing of amber and to find out about the history of the Amber Route in ancient Europe.
The mastery of the Gdansk artists working with amber can be also admired at St. Bridget's Church where construction work is now in progress on the largest amber altar in the world. Currently, the pieces of the altar and the amber monstrance are on display (more about St. Bridget's Church in the itinerary "Heavenly churches").
While visiting Gdansk, it is also worthwhile turning your steps to the amber workshops and galleries that abound in the Old Town of Gdansk. In addition to purchasing beautiful pieces of amber jewellery, tourists can observe up close the processing of precious stones and silver, and how amber jewellery is manufactured.
6. Treasures of the middle ages - Malbork castle
Less then 60 km away from the centre of Gdansk, at the nearby town of Malbork, the largest medieval castle in Europe is located, which is also the largest brick castle in the world. The castle, placed on the list of the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites, made Malbork famous not only in Poland but also abroad. From the 13th century onwards, this formidable castle compound built on the Nogat river provided the headquarters of the Order of the Teutonic Knights, who in the 14th century relocated their seat here from Venice and established Malbork as the capital of the Teutonic state.
Its beautiful cloisters, mighty towers and numerous refectories and courtyards make up a castle compound with a total volume of more than 250,000 cubic metres. Each year, usually in the second half of July, a spectacular show "The siege of Malbork castle" is staged to commemorate the events of several centuries ago when the Polish and Lithuanian troops under the command of the Polish King Jagiełło captured the castle in Malbork. In honour of that occasion, the fortress becomes a stage to numerous hosts of knights clad in their glittering armour, beautiful horses, siege machines and huge banners, which together create a unique atmosphere taking spectators on a journey back in time to the 15th century. This event is accompanied by knights' tournaments, fencing and craftsmanship training, performances showing the knights' way of living, archery and horse riding tournaments, as well as a variety of other attractions.
Another interesting event is the light and sound performance staged everyday during the summer season and showing the castle's beauty and its unique value by night. Its cloisters, courtyards and chambers, illuminated with colourful lights can capture the imagination of even the most skeptical among the spectators.
The sightseeing of Malbork castle, due to its enormous floor area, may take a whole day that will undoubtedly remain a memorable experience to all visitors.
7. Kashubian Switzerland - paradise landscapes
Kashubian Switzerland is the itinerary showing one of the most spectacular regions in Poland - Kashubia, which is often called Kashubian Switzerland thanks to its scenic charm and unique landscapes. The association with the Alpine country of Switzerland comes naturally when looking at the many postglacial lakes surrounded by rolling hills, which add to the stunning Kashubian landscapes.
One of the must-see locations in this region is Wdzydze Kiszewskie which is home to the oldest open air museum in Poland, presenting on an area of 22 hectares a wide variety of buildings and structures typical of Kashuby and the neighbouring Kociewie, including farm houses, mills, inns, barns and outhouses, workshops and other structures illustrating the erstwhile ways of country living in this region. A walk around the outdoor museum surrounded by picturesque Kashubian nature, and a look inside the reconstructed farm houses equipped in many cases with the original fittings and furnishings dating back to the past times of this region, such as the famous Kashubian embroidery, affords a fascinating adventure while exploring a cultural history of northern Poland, the land inhabited by the Kashubian people, who until the present day have preserved their unique identity, their own language and a variety of vivid customs.
At a close distance of less than 30 kilometres away from Wdzydze there is another interesting place of Kashubian Switzerland - Szymbark - nestled at the feet of Wieżyca, the highest hill on the Central European Lowland.
For several years now this location has enjoyed special popularity with tourists thanks to the one and only Upside-down house. As the name indicates itself, the house has been built in reverse order, with its roof anchored firmly one metre into the ground. Visitors to the house walk on the ceiling and the floor is over their heads. The initiators of this concept created it as a memorial to the toppling of communism, when the life in Poland was based on values that were considered turned upside down. The house is a symbol of those times and allows visitors to experience an odd feeling, which literally and figuratively evokes dizziness and strange emotions. While in Szymbark, it is well worth trying to wander briefly in the underground tunnels and visit the Bunker of Pomeranian Gryffin where a war sounds performance can be heard. A short, 2-minute audio recording played with the lights off takes listeners into the whirlwind of terrifying war combat, exposing them to the sound effects of whizzing bullets, roaring bomber plane engines and shelling. This performance will make a huge impression on those who only know about war from their ancestors' accounts or from books. Emotions will be also running high while visiting the Siberia Exiles' Home, which was brought to Szymbark in parts and then reconstructed to provide a venue for this Regional Education Centre of high merit.
Szymbark has also been frequently mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records since it is house to the longest plank in the world, the longest table in the world and the biggest concert piano in the world, weighing nearly 2 tonnes.
A visit to Szymbark is a great opportunity to taste, perhaps for the first time ever, the fish that was earlier on caught by ourselves. Some other local specialties include Kashubian beer brewed exclusively in Szymbark according to the special Kashubian recipe.
The district's natural attraction is its lakes, with rental shops offering kayaks, boats and water bikes. The Kashubian lakes provide ideal conditions for windsurfing and other water sports that, thanks to the fairytale surroundings, will surely gain a fresh new dimension.
8. Wind paradise - The Hel Peninsula
The Hel Peninsula, with its 200-300 years of existence, is the "youngest" section of the Polish coast, which was once comprised of a string of small islands. With time, as a result of the wind and sea currents activity, sand was accumulated connecting the islands and providing a characteristic and very interesting strip of land in the shape of a scythe, which is a natural barrier separating the Bay of Puck from the Baltic Sea.
The hell Peninsula is composed of a 34-kilometre long stretch of dunes covered with woods. This strip is less then 200 metres wide in some places, affording a view of the bay and the open sea at the same time.
The unique beauty of this area, and its scenic beaches combined with the excellent wind conditions make the Hel Peninsula a "Mecca" for the enthusiasts of water sports and sun bathing.
Each year, the heart of the Seaside Landscape Park is highly frequented by tourists who consider a holiday on the Hel Peninsula, abounding with quaint hotels, guest houses and restaurants serving delicious fish dishes, an ideal getaway from the daily routine.
In the summer season, in addition to the traditional bus service, there are also water trams taking tourists to the Hel Peninsula from the Old Town of Gdansk. A one-and-a-half hour's cruise in the scenic surroundings of the Gulf of Gdansk, with the coastline fading away in the background to the accompaniment of the swooshing of the surf and the delicate sea breeze is a must in any sightseeing itinerary while visiting northern Poland.
A stay on the peninsula is a perfect opportunity to visit the seal aquarium in Hel presenting a variety of marine life, including a species of grey seal that is rare in the Baltic. Another landmark very popular with tourists is the lighthouse in Hel, which affords a panoramic view of the beautiful surrounding landscapes.
Some visitors come here exclusively to enjoy the taste of the freshly caught and meticulously prepared fish, which taste best in one of the many restaurant gardens. Yet others take particular pleasure in spending their free time windsurfing or kitesurfing since water sports facilities are in plentiful here in the heart of the Hel Peninsula.
9. Pleasures of active living
Although a visit to Gdansk can be considered by many as merely the sightseeing of historic monuments, it may as well take on another form of spending free time. All those wishing to try more active forms of leisure and recreation will certainly enjoy the itinerary "Pleasures of active living" offering an alternative full-day's agenda of activities.
One suggestion is a game of golf played on one of the many golf courses available in the Pomerania Region. Some of the venues especially recommended by golf enthusiasts include th Sierra Golf Club, situated 45 kilometres north-east of Gdansk or Postolowo Golf Club - 31 kilometres south-east of Gdansk. Both are 18 hole master class courses with a par of 72, surrounded by the beautiful green areas of Pomerania and specially designed with the most demanding players in mind.
These are some of the longest golf courses in Europe, designated for both professional and recreational players. Perfectly blended in with the surrounding landscape, they are equipped with a modern driving range, including naturally created streams, ponds, hills and bridges.
Both facilities offer state-of-the-art equipment, such as GPS Golf caddies, supporting players with maps, distances, the player's location, scores and other details. These features are but few of the many advantages presented by the recommended golf courses which are decidedly well woth a visit even during a short stay in Gdansk.
Another idea involves actively spending time by the seaside. All along the coastline of the Gulf of Gdansk - stretching from Gdansk to Gdynia - there are beautiful sandy beaches and the seaside boulevard, which represent a great attraction throughout the year. The active visitors will undoubtedly enjoy this alternative form of leisure, including a stroll in the beautiful green area accompanied by the swooshing of the surf, a bike ride or in-line skating on a specially provided trail adjacent to the beaches on the one side and to the green belt on the other, lined with quaint restaurants and coffee bars encouraging passers-by to take a short break over a tasty meal or a cup of aromatic coffee. Half way through the seaside boulevard, the opportunity arises to take a stroll along the famous Sopot wooden pier, which with its length of more than half a kilometer is considered to be the longest boardwalk on the Baltic Sea.
While in Sopot - a world-renowned beach and health resort often called the Riviera of the North - it is recommended to take a walk along the famous pedestrian Monte Cassino street, colloquially referred to as "Monciak", or to take a bath at the Sopot Aquapark.
Horse riding enthusiasts will enjoy the pleasures offered by the local stables, where horses can be hired for group or individual riding trips along the seaside or in the local woodlands.
The itinerary "Pleasures of active living" is but a handful of suggestions offering various forms of active pastime in Gdansk Pomerania. This is one of the most beautiful regions in Poland, boasting the most diversified variety of landscapes. Whether it be a weekend getaway or a holiday, there is certainly a wealth of reasons why so many tourists each year choose Pomerania as their destination of choice.