Like its better-known neighbour, Krakow, Gdansk boasts a cornucopia of cafes, bars and restaurants to provide shelter and sustenance on those cold winter trips. Add to that, stunning streetscapes of beautiful buildings with intricate facades, and your Instagram feed will be, well, well fed. The city centre’s beautiful architecture is all the more evocative as Gdansk was rebuilt in the 1950s and ‘60s following its major destruction at the hands of the Allies.
In fact, the city’s turbulent 20th century story bears witness to two pivotal periods in modern history. The first shots of WW2 and the beginnings of the fall of the Iron Curtain can both be traced to this battle-ravaged city. And visitors can absorb themselves in each story at Westerplatte, on the outskirts of the city and Gdansk’s European Solidarity Centre.
The former is a desolate peninsula and former military depot on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Flowers and memorial stones mark the site where , on 1 Sept 1939, Polish troops deployed to hold the depot came under fire from Hitler’s army. Fifteen of their men were killed and the troops eventually surrendered when it was clear that no support from the Allies was forthcoming.
A permanent outdoor display and, in summer, a small museum in Guardhouse Number 1 recounts their valiant efforts. And the 25metre high granite Statue to the Defenders of Westerplatte looms large on a hill overlooking the expanse. But perhaps the most evocative sight is that of the bunkers and buildings left to nature’s unyielding destruction.
Back in Gdansk city, the European Solidarity Centre recounts the incredible story of the rise of Lech Wałęsa and the Solidarity movement that lead to the collapse of Communism. The Centre’s five-storey rust-toned exterior reflects the industrial timbre of the nearby shipyards. Opened in 2014, the award-winning space contains an extensive exhibition, library and archives, conference rooms, concert venue and viewing terrace overlooking those historic Lenin Shipyards.
If history’s your thing, another must-see attraction is the Emigration Museum in Gdynia. Just five miles from Gdansk, Gdynia forms part of the area’s ‘Tri-City’ that also encompasses the seaside resort of Sopot. Gdynia is an important seaport and, thus, the embarkation point for millions of Poles across the decades. This newly-renovated building was the starting point of thousands of those life-changing journeys. The hugely impressive exhibition recounts the Polonia’s reasons for leaving their homeland, from the 19th century, through two World Wars and Communism, to the opening up of the EU. Its personal stories and state-of-the-art displays are reminiscent of our Titanic Belfast and Ulster American Folk Park.
Lying between Gdansk and Gdynia, Sopot provides the perfect al fresco balance to your historic sojourn. Its landmark wooden pier is the longest in Europe, and the vibrant town’s sandy beach and myriad cafes and bars reflect its prominence as one of Poland’s top holiday destinations. Yet even in winter, Sopot's Baltic backdrop provides a dramatic seascape for bescarved visitors. And you can warm up in one of its top-class spa resorts; we opted for the Sheraton Spa with its sparkly swimming pool, hydropool, steam rooms, saunas and Rasul Steam Room treatment - a bit of Moroccan mud-slinging never did any harm!
So if you’re considering a fascinating city break, and outside the ever-costly Eurozone, order your Zloty and head to Gdansk. For details on Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot hotels, attractions, restaurants, bars, and other great info, visit gdansk.inyourpocket.com or download the In Your Pocket App.