On Poland’s north coast, specifically the Pomerania region, is a much-loved getaway spot within the country. Made up of three cities - Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia - this is known as Poland’s Tri-City because of the proximity each of the cities has to each other. Sopot is a seaside resort bordered by the cities of Gdańsk and Gdynia, and it’ll take about an hour to drive between the furthest ends, with Gdańsk in the south and Gdynia in the north. Though each is their own separate entity, with their own governments and unique histories, their development has seen them become almost like one urban mass.
Poland’s tri-city is a great destination to visit throughout the year, the summer is an especially particular time to come here. Not because you’ll get to enjoy the best of what Sopot has to offer as a summer resort, but there is also St Dominic’s Fair, a summer festival which has its origins in the 13th century and takes place every year between July and August. It’s one of the largest fairs in Europe, attracting visitors from all over the world to its street markets, performances and regional showcases. It is for this reason, and more that you should visit Poland’s tri-city
Know Before You Go
The main way to get to is Gdańsk Lech Wałęsa Airport. This is one of the three busiest Polish international airports and is serviced by budget airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air. Getting from the airport to any of the three cities is easy - in the airport, there are lines on the floor which lead to the bus and train. For the trains, you’ll have to make a change at Gdańsk Wrzeszcz before continuing your journey, though you can take the SKM straight to Gdynia. You can alternatively take the 122 bus to Sopot or the 210 or N3 night bus to Gdańsk. There is no direct bus to Gdynia. You can also arrange a private transfer from the airport to your hotel, though this is an option more for convenience than anything else.
Each city has its own public transport network, with trams operating in Gdańsk and buses throughout the tri-city area. The most reliable way of travelling between the cities is the SKM Gdańsk train line, and downloading the jakojade app is a good way to get your tickets, though you can get them from ticket machines and from the drivers of buses and trams.
Though you can easily walk from one city to another, it is still a bit of a trek. Each location is easily walkable, but renting a car is another decent way of getting around. Should you decide to rent a car in Poland, you must be 21 or over to hire a car, apply for an international driving license, and drive on the right-hand side of the lane.
The tri-city is on the coast of the Baltic Sea, and it has a temperate climate with warm summers and wet, cold and occasionally rough winters. The best time to visit is between May and September, though rain is a possibility throughout the year, and even in summer, it can get cold enough in the evenings to require thicker layers.
The Polish currency is złoty, and while it is very cheap here, cash is king. While there are establishments which are switching to card, carry a decent amount of cash on you.
Considering it is the nearest to the airport and the largest city, the first stop on the tri-city is Gdańsk. This is the capital of Pomerania province, with a rich history dating back a millennium. Though more travellers visit cities like Krakow and Warsaw every year, Gdańsk is getting more popular each year. As one of the largest port cities on the Baltic Sea, its development and history have been influenced by its trade and neighbours, for better and for worse. There are many different tours you can sign up for to see the highlights of Gdańsk, whether that be a cruise along the Motława River, a sightseeing tour by golf cart, or you can do it yourself with a self-guided audio tour.
Where to Eat
If you’re in Poland, you have to try out some Polish dishes. The most popular restaurant in Gdańsk is the Hewelke Restaurant and Bakery. It is relatively inexpensive and does a variety of dishes, both traditional and international.
Museum of Amber
One of the most profitable trades that came from Gdańsk is amber. Fossilised tree resin that is turned into jewellery and other forms of decorative pieces, Gdańsk is sometimes known as the amber capital of the world, and there is even an international amber festival here that celebrates it.
This, in turn, brings us to our first attraction in Gdańsk - the Museum of Amber. This museum catalogues the history of this unique mineral and the city’s history regarding it, as well as displaying pieces from both historical and contemporary designers who specialise in the form. If you want a souvenir, there are also a few stalls and shops which sell pieces of amber.
Gdańsk Old Town
Many notable cities in Europe have an old town district, and Gdańsk is no different. To the north of Gdańsk is Gdańsk Old Town, the oldest part of the city. This city has its origins dating back to the tenth century, and Old Town has seen a lot of history. During the Second World War, 90% of the buildings here were destroyed but would eventually be rebuilt in their former style.
There are many different attractions in and around Old Town, and depending on how much time you have to spare, you can easily just spend a full day here, wandering up the many cobbled roads like the heart of Old Town, Dulga Street.
As a medieval town, Gdańsk needed its defences. Though most of the walls which surrounded Old Town no longer exist, there are several gates still standing in the city of Gdańsk. The Green Gate is one of the most notable tourist attractions in the city. Originally built as a palace for the Polish monarchy, this gatehouse concluded construction in the late 16th century, and was designed by an architect from Amsterdam, which is partly reflected in the design.
Situated by the Green Bridge on the way to Gdańsk Old Town, this building is now owned by the National Museum in Gdańsk and is host to the Gdańsk Photo Gallery. There are other notable gateways, some well-known and some falling into obscurity. As well as the previously mentioned gates, these include but are not limited to:
- Chlebnicka Gate
- Cow Gate
- Stągiewna Gate
- Trader's Gate
- Upland Gate
- Zulawy Gate
- St. Mary's Gate
As these surround the Old Town, trying to find each gate makes for a good way to get yourself acquainted with the area.
If you’re interested in historical monuments, then you need to check out Malbork Castle. About an hour’s drive outside of Gdańsk and an hour and a half by public transport, this 13th-century Teutonic castle makes for a great day trip, as not only is it a UNESCO world heritage site, but it is also the largest castle in the world by land area.
Though this castle is open year-round, you might want to take note of when you arrive. There are certain parts of the castle which are only open during holidays and Mondays, and it makes for an especially lovely adventure during the summer. For information on tickets to the castle, click here.
European Solidarity Center
We briefly talked about Poland’s history as part of the Soviet Union in our itinerary in Krakow, and if you are interested in this historical period, then the European Solidarity Center is for you. Located near the former Lenin Shipyard, this museum specifically documents the history of movements that challenged Communism in the country, like the Polish trade union and the civil resistance movement.
The name comes from the Solidarity movement, which was the first independent trade union to come out of the Western Bloc when the Gdańsk Agreement was signed. This, along with other significant historical events, helped contribute to the fall of the Soviet Union. This period is illustrated in the European Solidarity Center through permanent exhibitions, including photos and documents. There is also a monument nearby, dedicated to the striking shipyard workers who lost their lives in December 1970, when the Soviet regime fired upon them.
Museum Of The Second World War
It isn’t just Soviet history which is remembered here in Gdańsk. Poland had a significant part to play in the events of WWII, and these are displayed at the Museum of The Second World War. Set in a huge modernly designed building, this museum is split into blocks, with the main area displaying the three permanent exhibitions - The Road to War, The Horrors of War, and The War’s Long Shadow. There are also temporary exhibitions, which you can look up here.
As previously mentioned, Gdańsk has a rich history behind it, and a tour around the city isn’t complete without visiting this museum. There are other attractions which are dedicated to this long and bloody conflict, but this museum is a good first step to take. You can buy your ticket here.
St Mary’s Church
Poland is a predominantly catholic country, and as such, there are a few religious buildings worth seeing. Chief among them is St Mary’s Church. Formally known as the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this giant Gothic church is one of the largest brick-built churches in the world. It also had a significant part to play during the Solidarity movement - its massive capacity meant that it was a key refuge during a period of martial law between 1981 and 1983.
There is a lot to explore in this church, like the clock dating back to the 15th century, but what is definitely worth checking out is the 78-metre tower. The top offers one of the best views of the city of Gdańsk, but you got to climb 408 steps to get up to it. Might as well get that cardio in! Entry is ticketed, and in addition to its opening hours, you can’t visit it during mass.
While I mentioned that the Museum of The Second World War is a good place to start your WWII tour of Gdańsk, if you don’t have time to visit everything in the city, then you have to go to Westerplatte at least. By the time the Second World War concluded in 1945, millions of people lost their lives, but it arguably started here, in Westerplatte. This is the site of the first battle of the war when the Nazi forces invaded Poland.
For those of you unfamiliar with Polish resistance during the Second World War, this is actually, in part, due to a narrative crafted by the Allied Forces to reinforce how dangerous the Nazi threat was, which has since become the popular version of events. In reality, the Polish armed forces were the fourth largest Allied Forces in Europe, after the Soviet Union, United States, and Britain, and they saw some especially bitter fighting in the war. Westerplatte is dedicated to those first Polish defenders. As well as a monument, there is an open-air museum which documents this battle.
Tri-City Landscape Park
Sitting outside of Gdańsk and its neighbour Sopot, the Tri-City Landscape Park is a protected area established in 1979. As a 20,000-hectare park covered mostly by forests and valleys that were formed after the Ice Ages, there are many different natural reserves in this one park, and in addition to hiking, you can also birdwatch the many species which call this park home.
The urbanisation which has given the tri-city its name is also putting pressure on the local flora and fauna of this area as these cities continue to grow. But who knows? Maybe in the coming decades, when the cities have grown, this landscape park will be a patch of greenery that will rival the likes of Central Park in New York or Mount Royal in Montreal.
Stutthof Concentration Camp
Though Auschwitz is the most infamous of all the Nazi concentration camps, there were many more. When it comes to what we consider a concentration camp, there were 23 main camps and around 900 subcamps. Some of these sites were destroyed, typically by Nazis trying to hide evidence of their crimes, and others were preserved and turned into memorials.
Stutthof Concentration Camp was just one of the latter camps. Stutthof is the German name for the nearby town of Sztutowo. Over the five years this camp was in operation, 110,000 people were kept here, while 65 thousand of them died in the Stutthof camp or during its evacuation and consequent death march at the start of 1945 when the Red Army was approaching. It wasn’t opened up as a museum until 1962. To get to Stutthof, take the 870 bus from Gdańsk. Entrance here is free, but there is a small cinema room which shows a short film at five złoty.
Where to Stay
Budget - 5 pokoi
If you’re going to stay in Gdańsk on a budget, these homestays are the place for you! With private parking and an attached garden, these rooms are both convenient and comfortable.
Mid Range - MONTOWNIA Lofts & Experience
Less than a kilometre away from the WWII Museum, this hotel offers private apartments, and if you’re travelling as a family, it even has an indoor playground area.
Luxury - NAP Apartments Długa Grobla
These apartments sit in an ideal location in the city, with opportunities to hike on one side and Gdańsk and its main attractions on the other.
Next up in the tri-city is the seaside city resort of Sopot. Well, it’s more of a large town than a small city, but the double-city-and-a-town of Poland doesn’t quite roll off the tongue in the same way. With that being said, Sopot is ideal if you want to take a break from its busier siblings. With its sandy beaches, the pier that stretches into the bay and the many spas around the town, Sopot is the best place to go if you want to put your feet up and just chill. Even though it is best enjoyed in the summer, there are still things to enjoy about Sopot in winter - an ice rink opens up next to the pier, and you can even go winter swimming if you’re feeling brave enough!
Where to Eat
If you want a restaurant that serves Polish seafood and has amazing views, then while there are many different places to eat out in Sopot - especially on Monte Cassino - then check out Bulaj.
The first stop in Sopot is probably its most iconic landmark - the Sopot Pier. At just over half a kilometre long, this is the longest wooden pier in Europe. First opened in 1827, the origins of this pier and many of the spas in Sopot came from Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.
Originally a Major and a medical officer in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, Jean Georges (some places have it as Georg) Haffner settled in the region after the army retreated to France, buying some land by the beach and developing projects to help develop Sopot from a small fishing village into the town we see today. Among those projects was the pier. Haffner was especially lucky - of the 600,000 troops Napoleon sent into Russia, only 100,000 made it back out again. Kind of interesting to think that this pier in a summer resort town is actually a reminder of the Napoleonic War.
As the tower in St Mary’s Church offers grand views of Gdańsk, so too does the viewing platform at the Sopot Lighthouse offer a stunning panorama of the town. Interestingly, when the architect designed the lighthouse, it had a double purpose. Completed in 1904, this lighthouse and viewing platform was built to hide the chimney attached to the boiler that heated the rooms below.
It wouldn’t even technically become a lighthouse until the 1970s, when the boiler room became modernised, making the chimney redundant. It was rebuilt with a light source placed on it. You can still access the viewing platform, which has 360-degree views of Sopot and the Baltic Sea. A normal ticket is ten złoty, but you can get a cheaper group ticket at six złoty per person. It is also open until 9pm, so in the summer, you can watch the sun descend from the best view in town.
City of Sopot Museum
We’ve covered a little bit of the history of Sopot, but if you want to learn more about the town, then you’ll have to visit the City of Sopot Museum. Formerly owned by the Classen family, this small museum hosts exhibitions pertaining to the history of Sopot, as well as regularly changing temporary exhibitions.
Before you visit though, it should be noted that if you are going to visit, none of the exhibitions are in English, so either see about getting a guide or download a photo translate app.
Monte Cassino Street
You’re more than likely to pass through here on your way to other attractions in Sopot. Stretching from the nearby railway station at one end all the way to the pier at the other is Monte Cassino Street. Known as Monciak by the locals, there are many different cafes and restaurants here and during the peak of tourist season is one of the busiest places in town.
On this street is a particularly intriguing piece of architecture. Built in 2004, the Crooked House in Monte Cassino is part of a shopping centre on the inside, but guess what it looks like on the outside. It’s definitely the most aesthetically interesting point of this street and is worthy of a photo.
Where to Stay
Budget - Hipnotic B&B
This bed and breakfast is the best place to stay in Sopot in the budget range, with additional services, including airport transfer and bicycle rentals.
Mid Range - Willa Old House
Though it is in the mid-range section, this 19th-century mansion is a luxurious stay, with free bicycles and transportation to tourist attractions.
Luxury - BH Properties, Apartament Meriwa
This modern one bedroom apartment sits close to Sopot’s beachfront, and is only a short walk away from the town centre.
Last but not least in the tri-city is the northern city of Gdynia. Smaller than Gdańsk, but dwarfing Sopot, Gdynia has the strengths of both and is a great place to go if you want to integrate beachside chilling without sacrificing urban convenience. It is also one of the youngest settlements in Poland - though there is mention of it as far back as the 13th century, it’s recorded in 1789 that there were only about 20 houses. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the city evolved into its current form, and there are a few buildings that are reminiscent of this period. Since then, it expanded vastly thanks to the newfound demand for shipbuilding, and it is now a quite modern city, hosting the Polish Feature Film Festival every year as well as having a wide array of nightclubs and restaurants.
Where to Eat
Before you leave the tricity, visit Restauracja Oberza 86. They do Polish food and offer gorgeous meat dishes as well as vegetarian and vegan options as well.
The first attraction in Gdynia is the Orłowo Pier. Originally built in the First World War, this pier was built in the resort town of Orłowo, which eventually became a part of Gdynia. Similar to how Jean Georges Haffner largely developed Sopot, Olowo significantly developed thanks to one Witold Kukowski.
This town actually started competing with Sopot for popularity, expanding the original length of the pier from 115 metres to 430 metres in the 1920s. However, while the Sopot Pier has been around for a century and a half, the Orłowo Pier wasn’t so lucky. Half of it got destroyed in a storm and didn’t get renovated until the 1950s, when it was restored to its former glory, but at a much shorter length.
Polish Naval Museum
Gdynia has a couple of locations specifically dedicated to its maritime history, and the first one worth visiting is the Polish Naval Museum. Though not all the exhibitions are available in English, there is a wealth of information (or download a photo translate app). They also have a garden outside for when the weather is nice, where they have a collection of planes and artillery equipment.
While they have permanent exhibitions which display the weapons used in naval warfare from the past century, one of their more interesting exhibits is a multimedia shooting range, where you are put in the position of a sailor defending a ship using a replica of a Lewis M1914 machine gun from the ship ORP Błyskawica, which we’ll talk about next.
While this ship is technically a part of the Polish Naval Museum, this old destroyer is worth talking about in and of itself. Launched in 1936, the ORP Blyskawica is the oldest destroyer in the world. Though it was a part of the Polish navy, it was actually British-built. It left Gdynia a couple of days before the invasion of Poland, and though technically served as part of the British navy, the crews and officers were Polish.
She wouldn’t return home until 1947, when she was outfitted as an anti-aircraft ship when Poland was under Communist rule. It wasn’t until 1976 that Blyskawica - translating into Lightning - enjoyed a newfound life as its own museum, replacing the ageing ORP Burza. This proud national relic remains largely unchanged, with some of its guns being displayed at the nearby Polish Naval Museum.
Though the Blyskawica may be the oldest ship of its kind, it’s not the oldest museum ship in Gdynia. That honour goes to Dar Pomorza, a full-rigged sailing ship that was built in 1909. Originally a German ship, she was bought by the Polish to serve as a training ship for the Polish Naval Academy. She also travelled around the world between 1934-35 and was a pioneer as she was the first ship flying Polish colours to travel around the world, including travelling around Cape Horn in 1937.
During the Second World War, she took refuge in Stockholm and returned after to be used as a training ship and competed in sailing events, her last voyage taking place in 1981 then became an official part of the National Maritime Museum two years later. She now sits next to the Blyskawica.
Polish culture has a wide diaspora. While there are around 40 million people who stay in Poland, there is a further 20 million people of Polish origin that have immigrated to other parts of the world. Though it is impossible to document each individual experience, the Emigration Museum seeks to educate about the general history of those who left Poland to start a new life in another country.
Opened in 2015, this museum covers the last 200 years and is hosted in a transit building which operated between the 1930s and 1979. Throughout the museum’s exhibitions, they explain the how, where and why of the movement of these people. It is also one of the few places that has free access to Ancestry.com records. So if you are among the 20 million, you can come here and learn more about your family and about a significant part of Polish history.
The Experyment Science Centre
This is something for the whole family! Advertising itself as “learning through fun”, the Experyment Science Centre - or Centrum Nauki Experyment - first opened in 2007 as a facility in the city to promote science and support education. This is available to all ages, from workshops for toddlers to lectures for adults.
A lot of the exhibitions are interactive, and the importance of this establishment in its roles has made it a part of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. This makes for a great opportunity to learn about the wonders of science altogether.
Torpedo Launch Station
While the Blyskawica may be a proud reminder of Poland’s role in the Second World War, this final attraction that sits in decay represents the other end of the spectrum. About 1,000 feet off the coast, the Torpedo Launch Station - or Torpedownia - is all that remains of a torpedo testing facility installed by the Germans.
When the Soviet forces claimed Poland after the conclusion of WWII, they took the remaining equipment and blew up the pier that connected the facility to the mainland, with the rest of the pier being demolished in the 1990s. It is a popular destination for urban explorers, but I warn you not to go on - this site is in a state of disrepair and could collapse at any point. So if I were you, sunbathe, enjoy the beach, and take a photo of the station before the sea reclaims it.
Where to Stay
Budget - Olkuska 107 A
Though it is a fair distance away from many of Gdynia’s attractions, the price tag of a stay at this property is too good to ignore, with the additional benefit of free parking.
Mid Range - SQUARE APARTMENTS GDYNIA
Sitting by the Gdynia beachfront, these apartments are especially ideal for couples to stay together.
Luxury - Antares Hotel
The studio at this hotel offers one of the most comfortable stays within Gdynia, with a billiards room and indoor swimming pools to help take a load off after a long day of exploring Gdynia.