- darkometer rating: 3 -
UPDATE: this chapter has to be regarded as seriously outdated by now.
I went back to Gdansk for a short trip in the summer of 2019 and saw for myself how much the city has been tranformed. Moreover, two major new attractions have joined the city's dark tourism portfolio: the massive new Solidarity Centre that replaced the Roads to Freedom exhibition and the all new WWII Museum, both of which are highly impressive. Moreover, parts of the formerly off-limits shipyard areas have been opened up to the public and offer yet more sites associated with the Solidarity movement. And at Westerplatte, there have also been changes, and yet more are in the pipeline. But there have not only been additions, also losses. The "regeneration" of Granery Island meant that most of the WWII ruins that were still to be seen there on my first visit have disappeared or been turned into hotels or luxury appartments. I guess such "gentrification" was inevitable given the prime location.
I had intended to embark on writing the updates and new chapters sooner, but things got in the way and had to be given higher priority, not least my forthcoming book. But work on that is now nearly finished so I should soon be able to start closing these gaps for Gdansk. Please bear with me a little longer.
A Hanseatic city on the Baltic Sea in the north of Poland
, also known by its German name of Danzig. In the inter-war years the city had the status of a 'free city' but was effectively part of Germany
(with a 95-98% German population). This was the cause of continued tensions with Poland – which retained a special status in the city too, including a military depot at Westerplatte
in the city's vast harbour.
It was here that World War II
was eventually started by the German Nazis
, which resulted in the quick conquering of the whole of Poland. At the end of the war, however, the entire province was (re)integrated into Poland, including Danzig, now renamed Gdansk.
The city also played a crucial part in the downfall of communism
in the Eastern Bloc
and the end of the Cold War
, namely in that it was here that the Solidarnosc
movement formed at the city's shipyards. This pioneered organized resistance against the regime in the 1980s and started a domino effect that brought a whole era to an end. That's quite some historical significance!
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
What there is to see:
There are basically two reasons for a dark tourist to visit Gdansk: A) the fact that it was here that World War II
started, which is commemorated at three separate sites, and B) the fact that Gdansk’s shipyards were the epicentre of the Solidarnosc
movement (together with Krakow
’s Nowa Huta steelworks) which started the beginning of the end of communism
in the Eastern Bloc
. This is especially celebrated at one of Poland
's best museums. See the following separate entries:
Other attractions that may also (partly) be of interest to dark tourists include the following:
The general historical exhibition in the City Hall also has a small section about Gdansk’s suffering in WWII
. Photos of 1945 Gdansk in ruins give you an idea of the scale of reconstruction work that was necessary to recreate the city’s picturesque look of today.
Possibly of interest may also be the (war) ruins of old warehouses that still remain, quite visibly so, right opposite the touristy side of the inner city's waterfront. To reach the other bank with the ruins cross the Most Zielona bridge and turn left. Some of the ruins can even be partly explored from the inside.
[UPDATE: this is no longer so ... the whole area has undergone a massive refurbishing programme; so the relevant photos below will have to be regarded "historic" by now ...]
Finally, inside Gdansk's huge St Mary's church there are a few noteworthy memorial plaques as well, involving some rather drastic imagery and thus worth a look too.
in the north of Poland
, by the Baltic Sea, and in fact one of its major ports. It's a bit over 200 miles (330 km) north-west of Warsaw
, and a good 300 miles (500 km) east of Berlin
Access and costs: Easy, but not necessarily as cheap as one might expect.
Details: Gdansk has good transport links of all kinds, by road, rail, air and sea.
The city has its own international airport, named after the city's "hero" and ex-president Lech Walesa. It has international connections (including budget airlines) to a few cities in Europe, as well as domestic connections to Warsaw
There are good and frequent rail links to Warsaw. Road access to Warsaw and Lodz has been improved/upgraded. And finally there are also ferry connections to Sweden
– and in summer even to the Russian
enclave of Kaliningrad.
The city's increasing popularity means that prices for accommodation, food and drink have caught up more or less with Western levels; although there are some budget options still to be found – e.g. there's the fairly basic Hotel Gryf right by Plac Solidarnosci
To cover the city's dark sites/sights you won't need more than two days, plus another day if you want to add a visit to Stutthof
as a day-trip excursion. It's worth allowing a bit of time for the city itself too, though.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
An excursion to the concentration camp
memorial of Stutthof
can be done as a day-trip from Gdansk, otherwise a wider itinerary could combine Gdansk with e.g. Warsaw
, which is easy to reach by all means of land transport or domestic flights, and provides the perfect hub for further travels in Poland
, e.g. Krakow
If driving straight east along the Russian
border, Gierloz with the Wolfschanze
is only about a day's drive away. Going west, the border with Germany
isn't so far, and e.g. Berlin
can be reached fairly easily from Gdansk.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Gdansk is a prime mainstream tourist destination in its own right. It's in particular the fine reconstructed Hanseatic architecture that attracts visitors. Much of this isn't as old as it appears – remember that the city was largely destroyed in WWII
, but here the level of reconstruction is somewhat more convincing when compared to e.g. Warsaw
's "old" town.
A particular attraction is the inner city's waterfront – which can get extremely busy with tourists. A special gem is also the gigantic St Mary's church, the world's largest brick church! In summer, much of the inner city turns into a sprawling flea market, interspersed with countless beer and food stalls. Peace and quiet it is not.
Gdansk can also serve as a springboard to various places on the Baltic Sea, or to Elblag to the east (see under Stutthof
South of Elblag, a quirky but immensely popular tourist attraction beckons: the Elblag canal, where boat tours partly go overland! Explanation: boats, with passengers remaining on board, are put on rails and are pulled up (or lowered down) by ropes along slipways – these cover some greater differences in elevation between sections of the canal, which good old-fashioned locks couldn't cover – it's a pretty unique tourist draw indeed.
To the south and south-west of Gdansk lies the area of Kashubia, home to an ancient minority, and a land of lush lakes and undulating hills.
- Gdansk 1 - City Hall
- Gdansk 2 - church of St Mary
- Gdansk 3 - cathedral interior
- Gdansk 4 - memorial inside St Mary church
- Gdansk 5 - war ruin in the old harbour
- Gdansk 6 - fortress in the harbour
- Gdansk 7 - shipyard