It's around that time in the earth's orbit where things start getting a little colder, darker and stormier here on the Baltic, and most businesses in Tri-City (Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia) will shorten their opening hours or just close altogether...
The weather in Gdańsk averages around -1.3°C in winter, and at least a small amount of snow is expected, though climate change has been draining the fun for a while now! These shouldn't be taken as signs that life itself is coming to an end, rather that life is simply adapting to the change of season and, in our opinion, the Tri-city does it very well!
Winter activities in Gdańsk that rely on sub-zero temperatures make up for the less-appealing weather. Those travelling with young children can get some extra ideas from our feature on Activities for Kids in the Tri-City. There are also several advantages to visiting Gdańsk in the winter: there are fewer tourists, less crowded restaurants and museums and, all-round, prices are much lower. As foreigners living in Poland, we also notice that customer service greatly improves in the off-season, which is no doubt an indicator of less stress and more equal customer-to-staff ratios. Those from the Southern Hemisphere (including Yours Truly) have the opportunity to experience a classic European Christmas and New Years Eve in the snow, much like the ironic decorations of your local western shopping centre in the sweltering heat of summer.
It doesn't end there! Passing through the Golden Gate and back down ul. Długa, many more Christmas lights and stalls adorn the main strip, all the way down to the big Christmas tree on Długi Targ! Outside of the Old Town, the Christmas markets in Sopot and Gdynia are also worth a look, and while they lack the historic backdrop, they are still full of the same charm and spirit!
Sightseeing during Gdańsk in winter
Many people avoid travelling to Europe during winter, not wanting to deal with the cold and shorter daylight hours. In our opinion, Gdańsk is at its most picturesque from late November until the end of February. Gdańsk Old Town is a pleasing mash-up of Germanic and Baltic architecture, coated with a fresh layer of snow (or glossed with light rain, depending on the weather report) that enhances the weird-and-wonderful gargoyle drains and naked greco-roman nymphs and hero poses on townhouse reliefs.
ul. Mariacka is always photogenic, especially when the lights come on in the mid-afternoon, as is the glitzy west end of ul. Piwna and the main strip. Snow on the iconic Crane on the Old Town's long waterfront looks particularly stoic when it's dumping hard, and really adds to that Baltic maritime feeling that many associate Gdańsk with.
In Gdańsk, as well as the neighbouring cities of Sopot and Gdynia, you'll find no shortage of illuminations in each centre (We're glad we don't have to pay the electricity bill!). By far, however, the best Christmas lights can always be found in Oliwa Park, 20 minutes north by train from the Old Town. Running around the same period as the Christmas markets, the historic park is lit up between 16:00 and 22:00 every evening, with stunning arrangements that truly knock you off your feet.
The park has numerous sections with different landscape arrangements, and the accompanying lights vary from year to year. However, you can always guarantee to find certain fixtures, that locals and return visitors can't seem to get enough of! Our personal favourite is the fairy-esque light walls that bolster the trees on Aleja Lipowa (ENG: Linden Avenue) and always make for good insta photos! The water canals known as the Prince's View (PL: Książęcy Widok) usually sport some sort of boat and swan motif, whilst the grounds near the Anglo-Chinese Garden are always pleasantly-lined with luminous features, including a recreation of the fountain's water beams.
For more fun related to the 'holiday season', read our article on Christmas in Gdańsk.
While you might not be able to guarantee three feet of snow in the city, you can guarantee that the temperatures will fall far enough that skating rinks will be open until at least the end of February. You'll find an ice skating rink just outside Gdańsk Old Town in front of the Forum Gdańsk shopping centre. While it's not the most picturesque backdrop for winter naffness, you’ll find an outdoor rink in Sopot next to the iconic pier! On top of that, inside the mighty Hala Olivia close to Gdańsk Przymorze SKM station. Those hanging out in Gdynia have a decent option on Aleja Piłsudskiego.
Strap on the Skates
From the range of traditional Polish cuisine that you'll find at the Christmas Markets, servings of Oscypki (ENG: Smoked Cheese), Pierogi and Grilled Meat from one of the BBQ stations are standard fixtures. On the latter, hardcore meat-lovers may want to enquire about Kaszanka (ENG: Black Pudding / Blood Sausage). If you want something a little more balanced (fibre is important on evenings like this), try some Bigos (ENG: Hunter's Stew) which is actually not as wet as it sounds - shredded sour cabbage with chopped meat. On the sweeter end of things, steamy wofts of Gofry (ENG: Waffles) Hungarian Kurtosze (ENG: Chimney Cakes) are a dizzying complement to your hearty main. You can, of course, find Americanised-standards like burgers and fries... however, we'd love you to be adventurous!
For more on traditional Polish food that can be found at Gdańsk's Christmas markets, read our article 'Polish Food: 13 Dishes You Must Try'
What to drink at Gdańsk Christmas markets?Christmas is the season of heated alcohol! A pint of Hot Beer (PL: Grzane Piwno) sounds fairly self-explanatory, though it is curiously-spiced with artificial ginger syrup, clove, cinnamon and other mulling spices. For some an acquired taste, for others an early Christmas present and others still an utter profanity, but an invention necessary for everyone to try at least once. Similarly popular is Grzane Wino – or Sweet Mulled Wine – which you'll find is suddenly okay to drink in public places once the holidays come around and barrels of it dispensed on Poland's market squares. You can also order it at the bar and even buy it in the shop and heat it up at home - a popular brand is Grzaniec Galicyjski. If you're looking for something with a bit more kick, take note of Polish flavoured-vodkas like Nalewki, Krupniki and others here!
For more on the wondrous winter holiday season in Gdańsk and the surrounding area, read our article about Christmas & New Year's Eve in the Tri-city.
Seriously? In Winter? Yes, believe it or not, this is an extremely popular past time in the colder months and even members of the Poland In Your Pocket editorial staff are frequent dippers! Morsowanie (literally translating as 'Walrusing') is the Polish word for 'winter swimming' and what better place to take the icy plunge than in the Baltic Sea. In Polish there is a saying:
Go for a Swim!
„Zimna woda zdrowia doda”
(Cold water gives good health!)
Whether true or not, this popularly held belief is certainly a good way to wake yourself up, and the early morning waters of the Baltic are by far the coldest. Enthusiasts that take the plunge are referred to as Morsy (ENG: Walruses) and there are clubhouses dotted along the coast in the Tri-city area. Having strengthened yourself by eating a meal of insulating Polish food, get out and about and enjoy the invigorating shock of icy Baltic waters!
The Tri-city has a great choice of museums and three of the most impressive in the whole country can be found here. In Gdańsk you have the Museum of the Second World War and the permanent exhibition at the European Solidarity Centre. In Gdynia you’ll find the fascinating Museum of Emigration. There are others but these three alone can keep you busy for a couple of days and will go a long way to improve your knowledge and understanding of Poland and the three cities. See our Sightseeing chapter.
Visit an amazing Museum
This might sound obvious, but do you really consider the cinema when visiting a country with a different language? Polish cinemas show movies with the original soundtrack and Polish subtitles (with the exception of kids’ movies which are mostly but not always dubbed). There are a number of modern multiplexes in the three cities and while tickets are expensive by Polish standards they’re cheaper than at cinemas in western Europe and Scandinavia. Find where your nearest cinema is in Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia here.
Go to the movies
Some might find looking at exhibits a bit boring, especially if you have young people in tow so it’s good to know that the Tri-city boasts two very interesting exhibitions designed not only to educate but also to entertain by allowing you to push, pull and jump around the place. In Gdańsk, you can visit the Centrum Hevelianum, located in the remains of the city’s fortifications, while in Gdynia there’s a purpose-built centre named, appropriately enough, Experyment.
Stay in, play & explore
It’s hardly surprising that one way everyone gets through the long, dark and very cold nights, is by retiring to their favourite hostelry and fuelling themselves with some winter warmers. Poland didn’t stumble across a range of traditional spirits that put a fire in your belly by accident. With increased competition, bars and clubs are putting on more entertainment such as live music or special events to attract the crowds.
Embrace the nightlife
Beer aficionados should mosey along to reliable establishments like Tri-city veterans Brovarnia at Hotel Gdańsk, the uniquely-located Piwnica Rajców in the old councillors' drinking hall, and Browar PG4's picturesque historic setting near the main station. Young alternatives should consider the shifty-looking abodes of Lawendowa 8 and Józef K. Those leaning on the stereotypes of Polish society being fuled by vodka and spirits will find themselves at home at Ministerstwo Śledzia i Wódki, which has recreated a PRL-era drinking establishment for the tourist crowd.