To be honest, we didn’t even know there was beach in Poland..
A town I still don’t know how to pronounce, but I thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless, Gdansk is where we began our five-month trip through Eastern Europe. It’s also a place where you can get a flight from London for £12 on Wizz Air, not that that influenced our decision (it definitely did). The old town of Gdansk is quite wonderful, as is a jaunt up the St Mary’s Church clocktower, and nearby Malbork Castle is a great first Eastern European castle to whet the appetite, before you get castle fatigue and balk at even the mere mention of a stony fortress.
Old town: The old town of Gdansk is exactly how we envisage a Dr Seuss book set in the communist era: colourful, a bit zany, but with strict building codes. The old town is always alive with energy and commotion, and there’s plenty of (overpriced) restaurants and cafes if that strikes your fancy.
Grab a map of the area and get a hostel helper to mark out the must-sees of the town, it should include: St Mary’s Church, Mariacka Street, the buzzing Motlawa River Embankment, Neptune’s Fountain, Piwna Street, and the Golden Gate (not the bridge in San Francisco, nor the lodge in Cromwell, NZ) at least for starters.
Day trip to Sopot: We say day-trip because we couldn’t afford to actually sleep there. Sopot is Gdansk’s classier and much harder to please, filled with a fancy town centre with upmarket shops and $7 gelato cones. The esplanade along the beach is lovely though, and if you envisaged your Polish vacay to be spent reclining on a golden sandy beach in the relative heat (not synonymous with Poland, but it does exist!), you’re in luck. If you’re game for a dip in the ocean, the ocean is perfectly fine (if you’re covered in blubber, actually a fur seal, or cold-blooded).
Malbork Castle: If this is your first castle on your European jaunt, it’s a good one to kick things off. The largest castle in the world measured by land area (so there’s that, too) is a huge, orange brick structure that sits just outside Gdansk in Malbork (of course). There’s a direct train from Gdansk to Malbork which takes less than 30 minutes, and from the train station it’s a short meander through the small town to the castle; you can’t miss it, it basically dwarfs the township. The castle was built by the Teutonic Knights in the early 1400s, and in the proceeding several hundred years it changed hands numerous times – with everyone from the Polish royals, to the Swedes occupying it at some point. It sustained heavy damage in World War II and was renovated, as recent enough as 2016, and these days serves as one huge, terracotta museum. We highly, highly recommend a. getting the audio guide, b. paying the measly fee to clamber up the tower for an excellent view over the whole complex and c. setting aside the best part a day for this mammoth task.
Pierogarnia Mandu: If you haven’t fallen in love already, get ready to consider your significant other a Polish dumpling. This is the pierogi to end all pierogis, the holy grail of gyoza, the dumpling pis-de-resistance of the entire world, if you will. Located a bit out of town (but right next to Oliwa Park, so two birds one stone, we say), this dumpling restaurant is worth every inch of the short jaunt to get there. In fact, we’d go as far as to say it’s worth a hike up Everest (if they ever relocated to Nepal). While perusing the extensive menu, filled with every glorious dumpling you could ever hope for, the workers will be at the bar behind you, making dough and rolling up dumplings. Try mushroom-stuffed pierogi smothered in white sauce, bacon pierogi, chicken mince pierogi, spinach pierogi… basically, there’s a dumpling for every letter of the alphabet. And, just when you think you couldn’t look at another dumpling due to your protesting waistbands, you take one look at the dessert menu and contemplate a tactical vomit in the toilets (but you don’t because while we advocate for eating until you feel sick whilst traveling, we don’t condone bulimia) to fit more in. Dessert dumplings are really where the party is at, too, with chocolate sauces, everything from fruits to sweets to more chocolate stuffed inside, all washed down with a damn good Polish beer. Although it’s a smidge more expensive than your typical milk bar, you’ll still pay less here for four plates of dumplings, and a beer, than you would for a starter at home.
Bar Turystyczny: We know communism largely gifted society with more problems than solutions, but if it’s one lasting testament to the wider world is milk bars – it’s something we can get on board with. These glum, cafeteria-style eateries, complete with gruff Polish women in hair nets, are seemingly where dreams go to die – but also where dreams are born from the ashes, in the form of delicious, cheap and hearty fare. The bigos, goulash and kotlet schabowy at this joint are a fairly standard affair, but when they’re slopped on your plate, overflowing to the brim in a scene straight out of a communist period film for less than the price of a loaf of bread, there’s reason enough to get excited. This is the best canteen we found in Gdansk (and believe us, we got borderline addicted after our first experience and refused to eat anywhere else), and the kotlet will leave you with enough energy (read: calories) for the rest of the day.
La Guitarra Hostel Gdasnk: A quaint spot right on the river, La Guitarra is the best mix of budget, clean, and value-for-pennies breakfast you’re going to get in Gdansk. Plus, it’s pretty quiet, probably due to its proximity (a short 15-minute walk out of the centre), but for the cheap price and outlook over the water its worth the amble. The best part is undoubtedly the breakfast, which as far as hostel breakfasts go is pretty standard fare, but the selection of meats and cheese, cereals and breads is enough to keep us happy.
Price for a dormitory bed: Euro 11