Top sights in Gdansk
Gdansk was once a financial and cultural power house in the Baltic region. During the golden years of the Hanseatic League, most trade went by sea and access to a port meant bucks - big bucks. You can get a sense of these former riches in the extravagant architecture in the renaissance houses and grandiose city gates, but ultimately, Gdansk's success became its Achilles heel. Everybody wanted a piece of the action in the free city which became the object of numerous power struggles between Germany and Poland, Sweden and Russia, where everybody fought for a share of the cake.
Gdansk was so important, that it became the pretext for Hitler to invade Poland in 1939 and in so doing, trigger the Second World War.
However, another major 20th century drama played out in Gdansk. At the city’s shipyard in the early 1980s, Lech Walesa and the trade union Solidarity took up the fight against Communist rule with strikes and demands to form free unions, and paved the way for the uprising in the East that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Gdansk is both an historic and modern city today, with excellent new museums, good restaurants and a big choice of bars.
The Old Town
The old city of Gdansk is a classic must see with pretty streets, Hanseatic architecture and huge churches. However, it’s also something of a tourist trap, where everyone hopes to make money from visitors. On a summer day, the wonderful main streets of Ulica Dluga (the Long Lane) and Dlugi Targ (the Long Market) can resemble an obstacle course with street musicians, portrait artists, living statues and bad restaurants, but the side streets offer a bit more peace and authenticity – e.g. Piwna, with delightful small stores, cozy cafés and a charming little old toy museum.
The City Museum (inside the Main Town Hall)
It is not as noticeable today, but Gdansk had a very tough time during the Second World War. 90% of the city center lay in ruins when the Red Army left in 1945, and enormous reconstruction work awaited. The German population were shown the door and everything was to be made Polish again. You can see how this was done in the thought provoking, historic exhibition in the City Museum in the City Hall, that also depicts what life was like in Gdansk before the war.
Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Gdanska. ul. Dluga 46/47
Waterfront & Ferris wheel
Dlugi Targ ends in style at Brama Zielona, a renaissance building in the Rosenborg style, that leads down to the mouth of the Motlawa River. Here, you’ll find plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants and on the opposite bank of the river, an enormous modern Ferris Wheel (seasonal opening), from which you can see the whole of Gdansk. You can also take various boat trips of a more or less touristy character – from a trip on the pirate ship The Black Pearl to an outing to Westerplatte, where the invasion of Poland started in 1939.
European Solidarity Center & Gdansk shipyard
The European Solidarity Center is a fascinating, ultra-modern museum, close to the shipyard, where the events took place. There’s not much else to see in this area, but it’s well worth a visit. It’s a must see for everyone who would like to learn more about Lech Walesa and Solidarity and the start of the raising of the Iron Curtain. The shipyard area with hundreds of cranes and factories is a fascinating industrial landscape in its own right.
Plac Solidarnosci 1, Gdansk
The Emigration Museum in Gdynia
Over the generations, the political and economic situation in Poland has triggered large emigration waves. Millions of Poles and their descendants live in the US, Argentina, Australia, England and many other countries today. Many departed from Gdynia, and the new Emigration Museum provides an idea of what it was like to leave friends and family behind in search of a better life in the big, wide world.
ul. Polska 1, Gdynia
Museum of the Second World War
Gdansk will become the home of yet another state-of-the-art museum, when the Museum of the Second World War opens at a yet to be announced date in spring 2017. The Museum’s mission is to tell the story of the war that began here in 1939 and ultimately cost the lives of 55 million people.
The aim is for the museum to become a research, education and culture center. The exhibition area covers 7,000 square meters so expect to spend most of the day here.
Text: Lise Hannibal
Published: May 20, 2017