As it was coming up to Valentine’s Day we decided to splurge a little and take a trip to the seaside destination of Gdansk in Northern Poland. Gdansk is a beautiful town with a unique place in history, infamous for being the first location in Poland invaded by Nazi Germany and thus sparking the second World War. We stayed in an ultra modern hotel and managed to check in and get access to our room at 7am, which was greatly appreciated after spending hours on a night train from Krakow and enduring a freezing walk from the station.
Gdansk has long been a disputed territory between Poland, and following the First World War was declared an quasi-independent state known as the Free City of Danzig. The city did not belong to either Poland or Germany but rather was under the protection of the League of Nations (the predecessor to the United Nations) and had its own Constitution, national anthem and Parliament. At the end of the Second World War the city was returned to Poland, yet signs of local Gdansk pride and an independent streak are still very much visible around the city.
A coastal town, Gdansk is heavily influenced by Dutch, Danish and Baltic architecture. Strolling down the banks of the Motława River, filled with dozens of small ships and lined by colourful building, you could easily be in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. Like so many European cities, Gdansk is a place best experienced by just getting lost in it, and we spent hours exploring the streets and just following the river.
It was also a place that both Ashlea and I were able to indulge our respective nerdy passions. Due to its significance during the War, Gdansk is home to one of the largest WW2 museums in the world. At over 23,000 square metres, the museum contains two full-sized reconstructions of Polish streets pre and post war, several tanks and planes, Josef Stalin’s own pipe, and hundreds of rooms with amazingly detailed and engaging exhibits. We spent over four hours in the museum, and it is an absolute must do for anyone in Northern Poland, even if you’re not into WW2 as much as Ashlea.
For my part, Gdansk was also the birthplace of the Solidarity trade union movement which ultimately led to the downfall of Soviet rule. It was from the Gdansk shipyards that Lech Wałęsa (first democratically elected President of Poland and hero of mine) organised dock workers to form the first non-communist controlled union in Eastern Europe. The Solidarity union would grow to over 10 million members (approximately one third of all Polish workers), and remains a testament to the strength of workers when united in a common cause. There is a museum which tells the story of the movement, yet another thing to add to your Gdansk to-do list.
Ash and I were both blown away with how much we enjoyed Gdansk. Not knowing too much about the city before we visited, it seemed that every hour we were discovering something new that we loved. From trying out saunas, rooftop bars and hipster cafes, walking through the picturesque old town and soaking up history, there was not a single moment we didn’t love. It was definitely our most memorable Valentine’s Day yet.
Pound for pound one of the most interesting cities in Europe. With postcard views, incredible history and a friendly and spirited populace, there is truly something here for everyone. To beat the crowds try travelling in the winter months, as prices are lower and it can become a very popular beach holiday destination for Polish people in the summer (for good reason).