It's no secret, December in Gdańsk, (as well as the neighbouring cities Sopot and Gdynia) is all about Christmas! As with Poland in general, the week following Dec 24th (Christmas Eve, the season's most important day for Poles) are various cultural and religious observances that climax on New Year's Eve. The seasonal buzz really begins at the end of November with the opening of the Christmas Market in Gdańsk Old Town. So how does it all look?
What happens during Christmas & New Year's in Gdańsk?
The increasingly-popular Gdańsk Christmas Market is centred around Targ Węglowy and runs down Długi Targ to the waterfront. Christmas lights in Gdańsk are spread all over the Old Town, notably on Długi Targ and Granary Island, and also out in Oliwa Park, a visit to which is highly recommended! Furthermore, ul. Elektryków Gdańsk's shipyard district will be hosting its own version of the Christmas Markets with more of a 21st-century flair on Dec 16. Christmas lights in Sopot run the length of Monciak and plenty of holiday naff - including an ice rink - can be found in Plac Zdrojowy and Plac Przyjaciół Sopotu. Christmas lights in Gdynia are centred around Plac Kaszubski and the Leisure Pier, with plenty of low-key displays on ul. Świętojańska and ul. Starowiejska. New Years' Eve celebrations and fireworks in Gdańsk are also very popular and can be viewed from Targ Węglowy.
If you're visiting the Tri-city around this time and are unsure of what else is you can do in the cold weather, Check out 'Things to do in Winter in and around Gdańsk'.
Traditional Polish Food & Celebrations in Gdansk
Not surprisingly, Poland celebrates Christmas Eve by eating! Wigilia, the feast of Christmas Eve, officially starts when the first star in the sky is spotted. Bad news if you don’t like Polish cuisine: dinner consists of 12 courses – one for each apostle. Abstaining from meat consumption, with the exception of seafood, is a notably-Catholic observance at various times of the year and, for this reason, you'll see plenty of fish on the Wigilia menu as well as cabbage, mushrooms and dumplings. Fortunately, coastal Pomerania has access to wonderful Baltic fish, so there's no better place in Poland to celebrate Christmas! In Kashubian households, a traditional 'whitewashed' fish soup with sour cream and noodles is served instead of Barszcz (Beetroot Soup) and later a sweet birch soup from dried cherries, pears, apples and plums is served.
The more you eat, apparently, the more prosperous you’ll be in the coming year. Depending on who you are with, this rule can also apply to the consumption of vodka, though more traditional households will frown on heavy drinking. Before dinner can begin the family shares the Christmas wafer. Each person breaks off a piece before sharing it with the others. It’s an intimate moment, and one cherished by many Poles. The centrepiece of the feast is the carp; usually served cold the beastly fish is often kept swimming in the bathtub in the run-up to Wigilia. It’s down to the head of the family to gut the fish, though nowadays enterprising carp salesmen enjoy a roaring trade slaughtering the fish on behalf of those not man enough to the task.
Unlike the west, where Christmas dinner is usually followed by a bottle of sherry and watching The Great Escape, Poles tend to head to the nearest church for midnight mass, known as 'Pasterka'.
New Years Eve in Gdańsk 2023
Traditionally, Poles hole up at house parties and then appear just before twelve absolutely slaughtered to celebrate. This is best witnessed in Sopot where thousands of natives descend on the beach and pier come midnight. A word of warning here, the beach quickly turns into something resembling a war zone as gangs of tanked up teenagers attempt to decapitate each other with fireworks. Stay away from anyone stumbling around with a bottle of vodka and a Chinese dragon and you should survive the night.
In Gdańsk, two free concerts (22:00 start) have been organised - in Jar Wilanowski Recreational Park with Pop Diva Sylwia Grzeszczak headlining, and on the pier in Gdańsk Brzeźno featuring a DJ set by Polish electronic artists Gromee. you will, of course, find other celebrations happening on ul. Długa and pl. Teatralna, while Skwer Kościuszki is where you’ll find local Gdynians bearing booze and fireworks. Pub and club tickets tend to sell out a couple of weeks in advance, so check our 'Events' page for up-to-date listings closer to the time.
Tickets should cost no more than 100zł, and this usually wins you free alcohol for the night, though it is up to you if you think you can drink 100zł worth of vodka. Other popular options include hiring a boat to take you out into the Bay of Gdańsk, or renting a seaside villa. If you’re here on holiday the chances are you’ve left your Speedo swimming trunks at home. Silly you. Every Sunday, 11:00 on the dot, a collection of hardcore fitness fanatics meet on Gdańsk’s Jelitkowo beach for an icy winter dip, tenuously claiming this is good for mind, body and spirit. Formed in 1975 ‘The Walrus Club’ numbers over 150 members, with the highlight of their year being the New Year’s Day swim (13:00), followed by hot drinks on the beachfront. New members are always welcome, just bring swimming trunks and nuts of steel.
Check out what's going on over Christmas and the New Year by taking a look at our 'What's On' chapter!
Christmas Attractions in Gdańsk
In Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia, you will find the centre of each city lit up from Mikołajki (St. Nicholas' Day, December 6th) onwards! From early December until February in the new year, the extremely popular Oliwa Park is lit up in glorious fashion from 16:00 until 22:00 every evening. In Gdańsk, cruise around the Old Town and prepare to be dazzled, particularly by the holiday season centrepiece - the big Christmas Tree on Długi Targ - whose current lighting set-up has reduced carbon emissions by 60% percent! In Sopot, Monciak will have its own share of bling. In Gdynia, head on down Swiętojańska and Starowiejska streets, as well as the Leisure Pier, to feel the festive spirit!