Gdansk

Overview

Introduction

Gdansk, Poland, an old port city on the Gulf of Danzig about 180 mi/290 km northwest of Warsaw, was established in the 10th century and is one of Poland's loveliest cities.

Allow at least a day to see the ornate row houses in the Old City (Stare Miasto) and to visit the port with its landmark, the medieval port crane (called Zuraw) over the Motlawa river. Don't miss the beautifully restored 14th-century Town Hall (the interior is overwhelmingly ornate), which contains the Gdansk History Museum; the magnificent houses along the Royal Way; the city's gates; the prison tower (and its torture museum); and the huge St. Mary's Church (the largest brick church in Poland). The National Museum hosts the fascinating (and terrifying) triptych Last Judgment, painted around 1470 and attributed to Hans Memling.

Gdansk was almost totally leveled during World War II, which makes the restored buildings and monuments all the more remarkable.

The city is the birthplace of Gabriel Fahrenheit (of thermometer fame), philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, writer Gunter Grass, the Solidarity trade union (a monument to the organization can be found at the shipyards) and its leader, Lech Walesa. Another monument stands at Westerplatte, the promontory at the mouth of the harbor, to mark the spot where 182 Polish soldiers held out for a week against Nazi dive-bombers, troops and a battleship during the opening battle of World War II.

Visit the nearby suburb of Oliwa to see and hear the famous organ in the cathedral. The organ (built between 1763 and 1788) is really something—mechanized angels blow trumpets, ring bells and fly around when the organ is playing.

Two other cities, Sopot and Gdynia, are often included on a tour to Gdansk.

Gdynia is a port city with a large marina and the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium. In September, it hosts the annual Gdynia Film Festival. You may also want to take a minibus or train from Gdynia to the charming Hel Peninsula.

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