Take a tour of Poland’s Tri-City area of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot to catch the summer sun.
The Tri-City is a cosmopolitan metropolis with soft sandy beaches, breathtaking monuments, hundreds of local bars and restaurants and a unique atmosphere, thanks to its friendly, vibrant people. This is Poland’s seaside jewel. Although each of these three cities on the Polish coast has its own character and style – the traditional, 1,000-year-old Gdansk (Gdańsk), the charming party town of Sopot or the young, fast-developing Gdynia – they co-exist harmoniously, attracting people out for a relaxing and fun time. Begin with the traditional, dignified Gdansk and meander the colorful streets of the Old Town. Stroll down Długa Street, which opens onto a view of the Motława River, then pop into Mariacka Street, hidden behind St Mary’s Church, a breathtaking cathedral and the largest brick church in the world. If you dare, try climbing the 400 stairs of the Mariacka Observatory Tower – a bit of vertigo never killed anyone and the view is spectacular.
Once you’re back down, you can always reward yourself with a big mug of a delicious Polish beer or take a quick ferry ride to the other side of the Motława River and visiting the Brovarnia brewery, in the 18th-century granary, for some home-made beverage. Mariacka Street is also known as the Amber Alley, with its famous amber and silver workshops. The street and its trade has long since framed the merchant fortunes of the area. For some local colour go to Piwna Street, where you’ll find an abundance of charming little café's, modern bars and cozy pubs. While you’re in the city center and suffer from mid-week party cravings, the Green Fairy will help you break the ice before raising your blood pressure – in Café Absinthe, in the Wybrzeże Theater building on Ducha 2, you’re likely to end the night dancing on one of the tables.
History geeks ahoy! If you want to find out more about the Solidarity movement, don’t even think about leaving Gdańsk without visiting the European Solidarity Center on Doki Street 1. The Tri-City region offers much more than monuments and landmarks, though. Local artist Małgorzata Synak sees the city as a place of many artistic initiatives. The Wyspa Institute of Art, Łaznia Culture Center, Żak Gallery and Culture Center gain more attention every year and show not only local, but also many international artists. Let’s be clear, however. You can’t come here and not have a perfect beach day, so set aside at least one for some "fun in the sun". Northern Poland enjoys a mild climate and sunny, warm summers with occasional rain showers, so if you wake up in the morning and notice that the sky is clear blue, pack your beach bag and get cracking.
For a truly great beach experience, head for Sopot. Jump on the local train and within 20 minutes you’ll find yourself on the lively Monte Cassino promenade, among art galleries and restaurants. Let the street artists go with you on your walk to the beach and you’re sure to notice the Gaudilike Krzywy Domek (the Crooked House), which houses shops, restaurants and bars, on your way. If tanning on the beach is not your thing, take a walk down the longest wooden pier in Europe or walk around the charming streets of the upper Sopot. Numerous fresh seafood restaurants near the beach will win your palate and if you’re wondering where to stay, the super-stylish pastel kitsch LALALA Art hotel should be your first choice. Sopot, once a destination for pre-war artists and actors, has regained its splendor and is now known as the summer party capital of Poland. You can dance your feet off in the Atelier or the 3 Siostry clubs or opt for the relaxing, mellow atmosphere of the Kafkaesque Cafe Józef K or Spółdzielnia Literacka. Known as the Baltic Sea health resort because of its clean, health-inspiring air, Sopot also famous for its beauty centers, so how about a little spa-hopping? Beautifully tanned and well-rested, you can finally go boutique shopping.
The partly reconstructed seaside 8th - 10th century stronghold is just a few minutes’ walk from Sopot Pier on the Baltic coast. It has wooden fortifications and medieval huts. Archaeological surveys have revealed that local inhabitants sold their handmade pottery, textiles and amber jewellery to Scandinavia and Byzantium. The museum is open from 1 May through October.
Museum of the Second World War
Eight years in the making and costing a reported EUR 100 million, Gdansk's new Museum of the Second World War documents the role of Poland and Eastern Europe during the conflict. There are more than 25,000 objects on display, which help tell not just the history, but countless personal stories as well. Most of the collection is housed underground, in an incredible 5,000 m2 of exhibition space.
St. Mary’s Church
Some estimations make this colossal church, sitting above the Old Town of Gdansk, the largest Basilica made of brick on the planet. Whether true or not, the fact is it’s a truly impressive sight. It rises up from the middle of the city’s boho bars and cool cafes, topped with spiky turrets and bronze-tipped peaks. Work on the mighty building started in the 14th century, but it was later additions that brought the majestic stained-glass windows and the elaborate Baroque organ within
It’s hard to find a better place to spend your money than the showpiece of Gdynia – the renovated Świętojańska Street. Gdynia is a fairly modern city and a perfect setting for new businesses. Its impressive harbour is the most important economic symbol of the city and the main force propelling its economy. But Gdynia isn’t only about business. It’s also known for its vast woodlands such as the Kępa Redłowska Reservation Park and beautiful coastal routes. Apart from many local attractions, Gdynia is also an excellent base camp for exploring other parts of the coast such as the Hel Peninsula (or, Surfers Paradise) or the charming seaside resort Jastarnia. The charm of Tri-City, though, lies in its constant evolution. Gdansk is a scene of many revolutionary, artistic ventures – a place without borders. The decision to build a port in Gdynia was taken after Poland regained independence in 1918. Transforming a sleepy holiday resort into one of Europe’s most modern ports was, aside from the Central Industrial Region, the biggest Polish investment project during the interwar period, a symbol of the maritime aspirations of the renascent state.
During the communist Polish People’s Republic, Gdynia was a window to the world; it is from here that famous tall ships - Dar Pomorza, Zawisza Czarny, Pogoria - would sail out to sea, a realisation of dreams about voyages and distant countries attainable only by the very few.
“Poland starts here,” reads an inscription on an information plaque at the end of the Southern Wharf. This 630-meter long pier jutting out into the sea is the heart of Gdynia and the most popular meeting and recreation spot. You can spend your whole day here, visiting the Gdynia Aquarium with its displays of marine flora and fauna, wandering around the near-by marina and the municipal beach or walking along the Passenger Ships Avenue paved with granite plaques commemorating the world’s most famous pleasure ships that called at the Gdynia port. But it is two unique museum-ships permanently moored here that constitute the pier’s biggest attraction.
White Frigate Gdynia
Dar Pomorza also called the White Frigate, a beautiful three-mast ship with a noble silhouette built in 1909 in the Hamburg shipyard, is a legend of Polish sailing. In 1929, it was bought with public donations and handed over to the State Gdynia Maritime University. For over half a century, it sailed under the Polish flag, clocking in over a half million nautical miles, completing 105 voyages (in the 1930s it was the first Polish vessel to circle the earth and sail around Cape Horn), calling at hundreds of ports and training 14,000 students. It was Poland’s sailing ambassador, taking part in tall ship races and regattas, a two time winner of the Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Races. In 1981 it sailed off on its last voyage, to the Finnish port of Kotka.
Moored next to it is the ORP Błyskawica, built in 1937, the oldest preserved destroyer in the world. During WWII it participated in many combat operations, e.g. escorting convoys, supplying weapons to the French resistance or sinking German ships and shooting down planes. It was the only Polish Navy ship to be decorated with the Golden Cross of the Virtuti Militari Order (Poland’s highest military decoration for heroism and courage). Since 1976, its role has been representational and it serves as a museum-ship with the original equipment and fittings. The interior of the ship in the engine and boiler rooms make an impression even on those who are not interested in military history. On display is also an exhibition of arms, uniforms, distinctions, documents, photographs and ship models. The soldiers’ personal belongings add a human touch to the military exhibition.
Today it is a jewel in the crown of the National Maritime Museum in Gdansk. The sightseeing route takes visitors to the tween deck, engine room, sails storehouse (Dar Pomorza could unfurl 2260 square meters of sails), cabins and officers’ mess, the commander’s room, steering posts, radio and navigation cabin and a kitchen. Preserved intact, the interiors, photographs, maps and memorabilia tell the history and describe the day-to-day life of its crew.