Cruise passengers who step ashore in Gdansk will find a sophisticated city that offers a mixture of the new and the old.
With its roots in the 8th century, Gdansk seems to always have kept up with the times. The city has adapted continuously throughout the centuries, changing nationality no less than six times. Poland’s sixth largest city (population: 460,000) has also belonged to Germany, then known under the name Danzig.
The changes can be followed by looking at the architecture of the city. This is perhaps particularly true of the houses in the Old Town – considered a must-see by many of those who have experienced Gdansk during a cruise or on a land tour.
Many of the houses date back to the time when the city was a member of the Hanseatic League. Gdansk joined the north European economic alliance of trading cities in 1358.
Merchants were not quite as widespread here in the 1900s as they were 500 years earlier. For a good part of the 20th century, Gdansk was not the commercial center of the world. This has changed, however.
The Solidarity movement, which marked the beginning of the end of socialist rule in Poland and elsewhere, began in this city on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Ever since the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe, the city has been quick to regain a business-related mindset.
Today, Gdansk is a major Polish center of economy and administration – and the capital of Poland’s Pomeranian region. The yard industry is important: the Remontowa yard is one of the most significant rebuilding yards in Europe. The port is one of Poland’s primary seaports, visited each year by hundreds of ships of various types – including, of course, cruise ships.
Together with the neighboring cities of Gdynia and Sopot, Gdansk is part of a conurbation called the Tricity (Trójmiasto, in Polish). The area is the fourth largest metropolitan area in Poland, counting more than a million inhabitants.
Most cruise ships moor at the Oliwskie Quay. Some ships can also be accommodated in other areas of the port, such as the nearby Westerplatte Ferry Terminal. The bus transfer to central Gdansk takes approximately 15 minutes.
- Situated some 4.9 miles (7.9 kilometers) from Gdansk’s main cruise ship quay, the Grodzisko Fort (also known as Gdansk Fortress) keeps an eye on the charming Old Town from the Gradowa Hill. The construction of the fortifications started in the 17th century. Street address: 3 Maja 9
- Not far from where most cruise ships tie up in Gdansk is the Wisloujscie Fortress. From the fortress, it was (and still is) possible to keep an eye on the ships entering and leaving the port. Street address: Stara Twierdza 1
- In direct proximity to the fortress is Gdansk’s Main Town Hall, Miasta Gdanska. Built in the early 1300s, this Gothic-Renaissance building once was the city’s main municipal building. Nowadays, exhibitions presenting the city’s history are held in the Town Hall. Street address: Stara Twierdza 1
- The Dluga Street and the Dlugi Targ Street. Generally considered some of the most beautiful streets in Gdansk, these streets are flanked by interesting houses built by some of the wealthiest noblemen that have called the city their home. The two streets are also known as Gdansk’s “Royal Route.”
- The Oliwa Park is a must for anyone with an interest in gardening. Dating back to the 18th century, the park contains plant specimen originating from almost all over the world. The Gdansk Zoo, one of the biggest zoological gardens in Poland, is found nearby. Street address (Zoological garden): ul. Karwienska 3
- The Gothic Cathedral in Oliwa. Built in the 13th century, the cathedral features one of the most famous rococo organs in the world. Street address: ul. Cystersów 10
Gdansk offers several museums, covering many different areas.
- A city that lays claim to being the world’s capital of amber (petrified resin from coniferous trees) of course has to have its own Amber Museum. One aspect of the exhibition is the importance of amber to Gdansk, where the first guild of amber craftsmen was established in 1477. Street address: ul. Dluga 46/47
- The Tower Clock Museum has on display a collection of tower clock mechanisms. The setting is suitable: the tower of Saint Catherine’s Church, dating back to the 12th century. Street address: Profesorska 3
Shore excursions in and around Gdansk include:
- Malbork Castle, Europe’s largest Gothic fortress, traces its origins to the early 14th century. Sometimes referred to as “the largest heap of bricks north of the Alps,” it is situated some 38 miles (61 kilometers) southeast of Gdansk.
- Touring Gdansk’s Old Town, with the many buildings that reflect the city’s rich cultural heritage. Some tours will also include the old port and the historic Long Wharf. Another available option is Roads To Freedom, an exhibit that provides an insight into Poland’s struggle for freedom in the 1970s and 1980s.
- Sampling Sopot. Often referred to as the summer capital of Poland, Sopot features long and sandy beaches.
- The Kashubian Lake District. Situated west of Gdansk, the Lake District is recognized for its rich nature as well as for its culture and traditions.
Gdansk is situated 214 miles (344 kilometers) from Poland’s capital, Warszawa and 313 miles (504 kilometers) from Germany’s capital, Berlin. The distance to Russia – in the form of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad – is only 101 miles, or 163 kilometers.
Contributed by Andreas Lundgren