Discover Poland’s coastal delights with our guide to Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Sopot

Discover Poland’s coastal delights with our guide to Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Sopot
Grand Hotel in Sopot. Image: Maciej Mazan

Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Sopot offer lively atmosphere, historical architecture, and coastal calm. There’s no better time to see Poland’s three seaside cities than in summer.

9 August 2019

Situated on Poland’s Baltic coast, the “Tricity” of Gdańsk, Sopot, and Gdynia are three closely located but completely distinct popular tourist destinations. Within the space of one day it’s possible to see the birthplace of the history-making Solidarity movement in Gdańsk, dig one’s toes into the pristine white sand of Sopot’s four-kilometre stretch of beach, and watch the world’s biggest music acts at the annual Open’er festival in Gdynia. Of course, most people give themselves at least a weekend to take in the many sights and attractions of the Tricity, but the frequent SKM rail link that connects the three destinations, makes even such ambitious an itinerary a possibility.

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Gdańsk is the oldest of the three cities and Poland’s largest port. A member of the Hanseatic League, it flourished during medieval times trading in Baltic amber, and thanks to its location on the Vistula river, became a prominent trade route. Its later history is marred by difficulties, however – during the Partitions of Poland in the late 1700s, Gdańsk became part of Prussia, and later, Germany. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles it enjoyed the status of a “free city” in the interwar years, developing a unique cosmopolitan character, which continues to define it.

Flanked by upmarket bars and restaurants, Sopot’s coastline attracts a sophisticated crowd too, and is perhaps the most quintessential seaside destination of the trio, boasting the longest wooden pier in Europe and a long history of health spa facilities. Gdynia, with its modern harbour, distinguishes itself as the youngest of the three cities and is a children’s paradise with fairground rides, an aquarium, and museum ships to explore. But there’s plenty for the adults as well, with several festivals throughout the summer months.

Gdansk Old Town. Image: Andrea Anastasakis / Unsplash

Gdańsk

If you’re arriving by air from Europe, that question takes care of itself, with Gdańsk the most well connected airport in the area. If another Polish city is your first port of call, all the destinations of the Tricity are easily and cheaply reached by rail.

Take the short stroll from the railway station via the John Hevelius monument celebrating one of the city’s most prominent brewers, and you’ll arrive at the Old Town’s cobbled Piwna Street, where, as its namesake suggests, you’ll find many a beerhouse serving ale from local breweries such as Amber. If cocktails are more your thing, make your way to the popular bohemian Józef K café, where Franz Kafka-inspired drinks are served alongside homemade cakes. From here, Gdańsk’s many famous landmarks such as Neptune’s Fountain, situated at the heart of the Long Market, are within very close reach.

Amongst the colourful old merchant houses you’ll also quickly locate the city’s iconic Gothic-Renaissance architectural feats, because they are two of the tallest buildings in the Old Town. Head to the Town Hall to visit the Historical Museum of Gdańsk, and to St Mary’s Church for great views of the city. As one of the largest brick-built churches in the world, it’s an imposing structure, but within its whitewashed inner walls, you’ll find calm. Light a candle for a loved one, or, if you’re visiting during the summer months, take advantage of the concerts taking place as part of the International Festival of Organ, Choral, and Chamber Music. Finish the day with a meal at nearby Pierogarnia Mandu on Elżbietańska Street, where you’ll find the biggest selection of Poland’s famous dumplings.

A 15-minute walk from the Old Town’s main thoroughfares, The Royal Way and St Mary’s Street, is the European Solidarity Centre, which commemorates the trade union which kick-started the fall of communism in Poland. It’s an architecturally ambitious structure, whose co-founder was the late Gdańsk Mayor Paweł Adamowicz, tragically murdered in January 2019. Inside the impressive ship-like building, whose lush inner foliage represents freedom, you’ll find an interactive exhibition where you’ll likely spend many hours learning how Lech Wałęsa went from electrician to trade union activist and Poland’s first post-communist president.

Gdańsk is also where the Second World War began when, on 1 September 1939, Nazi Germany attacked a Polish military outpost on the Westerplatte peninsula. Visit the site by taking the F5 water tram or join a guided tour cruise courtesy of the Museum of the Second World War. Within its impressive 17,000-square-metre building you’ll find interactive displays such as a replica of a wartime street and a concentration camp-bound train carriage.

Ulica Elektryków/Facebook

History is not Gdańsk’s only draw. Not far from the European Solidarity Centre on the site of the old shipyard you’ll find industrial buildings and shipping containers repurposed for streetfood, bars, and entertainment. Go to 100cznia or Ulica Elektryków for a buzzy evening atmosphere then check out the superclub-sized B90 and Protokultura for alternative music programming such as the Soundrive Festival. Meanwhile, student/hipster area Wrzeszcz is where you’ll find Klub Ziemia, a multipurpose DIY-style venue with a progressive approach to putting on events — expect VJs to hold as much importance as selectors.

For an impressive view, smart setup Panorama restaurant is the spot, where on the menu is a mix of Polish and Italian cuisine. Meanwhile, the Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre is the only such venue in Poland and its annual festival is a key event on the European stage.

View from the Old Lighthouse in Sopot. Image: Kamila Rymajdo

Sopot

Situated between Gdańsk and Gdynia, Sopot is a small city with a population of 40,000. Traditionally a health spa thanks to the bromide- and iodine-rich waters from St Adalbert’s Spring, it’s also popular with bathers due to its warm sea, which it enjoys courtesy of being sheltered by the Hel Peninsula. Sopot is also very picturesque, owning to its centrepiece, the 90-year-old Grand Hotel, whose famous past guests include Marlene Dietrich, Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro, and the surrounding Art Nouveau architecture, which you can admire by checking out the villas along Sopot’s backstreets. It’s this way that you’ll happen upon offbeat bars such as the PRL-themed Retromaniak, as well as curios like the outdoor Qaagallery.

Amber can be bought in all three destinations of the Tricity, and Gdańsk even boasts an amber museum, but Sopot is where you’ll likely find the biggest constellation of traders, offering an opportunity to barter for a better price. The opportunity to shop is also what draws tourists to the city’s main thoroughfare, Heroes of Monte Cassino, and it’s here that the shopping mall-cum-tourist attraction Crooked House is situated.

If culinary delights are what you’re after, then locals suggest you save your hunger for the beachside vendors. Seafood restaurants such as the unassuming but highly regarded Bar Przystań, which has been operating since the early 90s, serve specialities such as fish soup. For a more upmarket experience, try beach club Zatoka Sztuki, a trendy spot that also plays host to exhibitions, concerts, and theatre performances.

To enjoy 360-degree views of the coastline and Sopot’s surrounding woodland, climb the 135 steps of the city’s 1904 Old Lighthouse or visit the Tourist Centre, whose balcony overlooks the sea. Evenings can be spent in many a way: watch a play at the Theatre on the Beach, enjoy a movie at the outdoor cinema on the pier, or go dancing at Sfinks700, situated in the Północny Park pavilion, where the iconic 90s nightclub Sfinks was born.

Gdynia beachfront. Image: Kamila Rymajdo

Gdynia

In a way, Gdynia has the most to prove. What it’s missing in architectural distinctiveness — it only gained its city status in 1926, when it was home to just 6,000 people — it makes up for in entertainment. Now boasting 250,000 inhabitants, it has the infrastructure to host international events such as the annual Open’er festival, world music showcase Globaltica, and the Polish Feature Film Festival. Its reflection of recent history is also evident in the kind of exhibitions it puts on. Currently showing at the Gdynia City Museum is a retrospective charting the career of Polish fashion designer Barbara Hoff, who in 1977 founded the iconic and affordable fashion house Hoffland, and brought stylish designs to the masses at a time when raw materials were hard to come by in Poland.

From here, it’s only a short walk to the beach, where a long stretch of sand provides plenty of space for sunbathers, with playground facilities for children and volleyball nets. Close by is an amusement park, whose ferris wheel draws your attention. Take a cable car up to the viewing platform at Kamienna Góra, where you’ll be presented with a photo-worthy panorama of Gdynia harbour. If tiredness sets in by the time you climb down the steps, have a drink at the Gdynia Film Centre, a smart, modern complex with an exhibition space, bookshop, and restaurant.

Also worth a visit are the naval and emigration museums, while Skwer Kościuszki is a well-maintained open space with a fountain, flanked by modernist tenement houses and restaurants. From here, it’s not far to the ORP Błyskawica destroyer and the 110-year-old sailing ship Dar Pomorza. Children love exploring the ships’ inner mechanisms, which are accompanied by displays charting the vessels’ histories.

For beachside drinks and seafood, Contrast Cafe Gdynia is a good bet — once the hangout of local metalheads, it’s now popular with everybody. You could also do worse than starting your evening at Ogniem i Piecem, a pizzeria which puts as much effort into its outdoor music programming as it does its food. Blues Club Gdynia is an intimate venue which prides itself on being the first such place in Tricity, and puts on blues and jazz jam sessions daily. For punk, rock, and metal gigs, check out Klub Muzyczny Ucho, where you can enjoy the performances from a balcony overlooking the stage. If you’re suffering from a hangover the next day, then make your way to offbeat coffee house Frytel for a laid back, hip-hop vibe, or TŁOK, for excellent coffee and cake.

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