In September my girlfriend treated me to a surprise birthday getaway. With bags packed, we took a 3am cab to Stanstead Airport where she finally revealed where we would be heading. Keen to show me a special place were her family originated, we were destined for the Sopot, Poland.
Having never ventured further east in Europe than Germany, I had no idea what to expect, a feeling I relish about travel. So, from crooked houses to one of the prettiest streets in Poland, here are some surprising things to do in Gdańsk and Sopot.
Sopot is the fashionable seaside retreat that many in Warsaw flee to in the summer months, King Wilhelm II even had his summer home here, which gives the place a regal prestige. While you might not immediately think of a summer by the Balkan Sea, the water can actually be temperate during the warmer months, when the beach fills up with people from all over nibbling on waffles, making sandcastles and strolling on the pier.
Relax on the beach
The main draw of Sopot is its beautiful white sands. We visited the beach at the end of the summer, so we caught the sun and the temperature but missed the rush of peak season. Make sure you also wander along the pier, it’s worth the small charge.
Become a pirate!
This beast of a ship was moored on the Sopot Pier. Offering voyages to those brave enough to step on board, you’ll be yo-ho-hoeing till you next make port, or someone makes you walk the plank. I’m not ashamed to say I was pretty excited to see this moored by the pier – unfortunately I can’t say first-hand what sailing on a pirate ship was like, I was vetoed in my choice to become a rum swilling vagabond by a sensible landlubber. Next time perhaps…
Visit a Crooked house
An iconic sight in Sopot, this bizarre house looks like something out of Roald Dahl’s imagination. Known as Krzywy Domek, which literally means ‘crooked house’ in Polish, the designers Szotyńscy & Zaleski were inspired by various fairy tale drawing to create this unique work of architecture. Unfortunately the magic doesn’t continue inside, as the house is actually the front of a shopping centre.
Eat an unmeltable Ice cream
These ice creams are made with an ingredient that for some magical reason does not melt in the sun. These ‘strong’ ice creams are everywhere, you can choose to have it all one flavour, either chocolate or vanilla, or just blend them together. As you can might guess, these were a big hit with locals and visitors alike.
Gdańsk owes its wealth and good looks to its status as an important maritime city. Despite being heavily bombed by the Germans in WWII, the city was rebuilt, based on photographs of the area, to a near perfect reproduction.
Walk down some of the prettiest streets in the world
A few minutes from the train station, Long Market was once the residence of the wealthiest citizens in the Royal City of Gdańsk. Nearly all of the town houses here were rebuilt after the war, each a different pastel shade. As you can see, it’s ridiculously photogenic and lined with boutique stores, restaurants and cafes.
Ulica Mariacka or Mariacka Street is known as the prettiest lane in the city. Hidden away behind the main bustle of Long Market, the cobbled street is home to a number of amber stores and charming coffee houses where you can linger and watch the world go by. The place with the best patio is a little cafe called Kamienica, an arty, bohemian sort of place with some fascinating artwork on the walls and excellent coffee.
Visit the largest old brick church in the world
St Mary’s Church is currently the largest brick church in the world. The Gothic style church began it’s construction in 1329, and wasn’t completed until 1502. Like much of Gdańsk, St Mary’s Church was also severely damaged in the war, caving in the upper parts of the tower and shattering all the windows and has been repaired constantly since. Inside, you can view Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque artworks on display before ascending the many steps to the viewpoint at the tower’s peak. My favourite piece is the astronomical clock (below), a gift from the French in 1470. Cited to still be one of the largest wooden astronomical clocks in the world, the incredibly complex dials show the phases of the moon and sun in relation to zodiac signs.
Eat something that literally tastes of Christmas
For a truly Christmassy snack, which is also good whenever you try it, visit Kopernik and buy some pierniki. The Polish equivalent of gingerbread, this stuff is absolutely heavenly. Bite into a pierniki and you’re treated to a jammy centre and soft gingerbread, lightly coated in chocolate. I wish I was born in Poland so that this is what Christmas reminded me of.
Eat more sausage than you weigh
If there is one thing I have learned from dating a Polish girl, it’s that the sausages from this country are incredible. Sausage making in Poland isn’t just for fun, it’s a fine art, and many men will linger at the meat counter of the supermarket, hands behind their back, fussing over the best quality meat on offer. At present, a thin kabanosy is my sausage of choice. Usually made from pork -but sometimes chicken – these sausages are smoked, dried and eaten at room temperature, a perfect snack or appetiser while wandering around the city.
Get drunk for figuratively nothing
Yes the booze is cheap, very cheap. As you can see above, the price listed on this side street bar offers beer and vodka for 1 Euro respectively. As long as you stay away from the tourist bars, you can drink for a fraction of the price of London. One of my favourite bars was No To Cky, a buzzing little spot in the old town full of locals with a games console and drinking games etched into the bar tables.
What I really loved about visiting Poland was that it smashed all of my misconceptions and prejudgments about what the country would be like. Far from being the haunt of stag dos and freezing cold all year round (note: terrible misconceptions) it was honestly one of the most aesthetically beautiful cities I have ever visited, full of life, culture and history.
While the things to do I listed above were surprising to find, the real surprise is why so few people have heard of this tri-city emerald by the Baltic Sea. I urge anyone inspired by this post to visit Sopot and Gdańsk now, in case the inevitable rise in tourism lessens the magical combination of qualities it currently holds.
*Pin it For Later*
Fancy exploring more of Eastern Europe? Check out my time in the beautiful Estonian capital of Tallinn.