In March 2023, I set off on a two-ish-week trip to Spain, Belgium and Poland, which was a much longer trip than intended but I was lucky to visit the places I did. I first spent some days in Spain, where I visited an Erasmus friend, and then my brother. There I also saw my parents, so it was great to have the family back together again. Only a few days later, I was due to fly to Poland to support my dad at the World Masters Athletics, and it didn’t seem logical to fly backwards and forwards for such a short space of time, especially when an airline messed me around with my flight. So, I used the weekend between the trips to spend a few days in Belgium with my boyfriend. All in all, every plan came together perfectly!
Well, almost. I had a small hiccup in getting from Belgium to Poland, but it turned into a fun time.
After a few days in Toruń in Poland, I moved on to Gdańsk. I hopped on a Flixbus – the European student’s international transport of choice – and settled in for the short journey between the cities, spending the journey chatting to one of the athletes who had competed in Toruń. What followed was a relaxed, educational weekend of sightseeing and museums, which constituted my first “real” solo trip since…maybe ever?
Sure, I went to Ecuador alone back in 2020, but I met someone there on my first day and spent the whole week with the same three people. I also wasn’t staying in a hostel exactly, but in a house for volunteers, so it didn’t feel the same. And then, sure, I flew to Sweden on my own, but again, it didn’t feel the same. I met people immediately upon arrival that turned into good friends, and checked into my own flat that night, not a hostel.
No, Gdańsk really felt like the first time I’ve ever spend a whole trip alone, from breakfast to dinner, for multiple days. And I loved it!
Sightseeing and breakfast: Cafe Ferber
On my first day, I spent some time walking up and down the main street (you know the one – with coloured buidlings and Neptune’s fountain), absolutely blown away by the beauty of the architecture. I’d heard Gdańsk was pretty – even seen photos. But I wasn’t quite prepared to be surrounded by such beautiful buildings. Despite the weather (freezing cold and rainy), a good number of people were out and about – mostly tourists posing for finger-numbing photos. I eventually tore my eyes away from the intricately painted brick work and ducked into a cafe that I’d read about for a coffee and a plate of pancakes. As a lover of cafes and coffee generally, I enjoyed researching my breakfasts ahead of time, and I can confirm that it was indeed an excellent cafe – though, not so good that I’d advise anyone to go there above any other option. And let me tell you, the food was value for money. I can eat Nutella until I feel sick, and these pancakes achieved just that. Never before have I paid so little for pancakes absolutely oozing with filling. I couldn’t eat them without it dribbling down my chin, which is inelegant when you’re with someone, and even worse when you’re alone and have no one to laugh it off with.
The Solidarity Centre
Back outside in the cold, I wandered along the street some more and around the surrounding areas, across to the other side of the river, and back. I ended in a shopping centre at one point – not my usual style when in a new place, but extreme circumstances called for an extra layer of clothing. I snagged the smallest sweatshirt off the rail, and continued on my way (and I’ve since received lots of complements). I spent the rest of the day in the Solidarity Centre. It was very interesting piecing together the history of a country I only vaguely know about. I also love stories such as what the Solidarity Centre tells – of working history and of people coming together to fight for change – so reading about the events in the Gdańsk shipyard was just my thing. The final film, silently showing the demolition of the shipyard buildings, was especially evocative. To then see the shipyards next door, the famous Gate 2, and the iconic cranes, added a layer of realism to everything I’d learned. Even the statue of Neptune in the city centre is a symbol of the importance of the sea to the city of Gdańsk. Sadly, I didn’t capture a good photo of the wonderful monument outside the building, which remembers the shipyard workers who died in the 1970 protests.
Pierogi for dinner
Before leaving, having skipped lunch and feeling absolutely starving, I ordered Pierogi from Pierogiarna Mandu, then walked back to my hostel. I justified this decision to myself in two ways; first, it was a Saturday evening, and none of the highly recommended Pierogi restaurants would possibly have empty tables without a booking. Second, I had spent the previous two weeks doing precisely none of the very much work I had to do, and so it was in my best interest to get back to my hostel as early as possible. But this decision also had the bonus of allowing me to avoid eating alone in a restaurant, which is possibly my biggest issue with solo travel.
I very much enjoyed my dumplings. The work, less so. But it was improved by the good food, and the ability to make myself a cup of tea in the hostel kitchen.
Cafe Z Innej Parafi
The next morning, I braved the cold again, once more layering as much as I possible could to step into the bitter weather. I’m not sure why I found it so cold. Perhaps I’d grown accustomed to the luxury of my Big Coat, which didn’t go with me on this trip (packing for 2 and 22 degrees in one backpack is difficult). This day was crisp and sunny; no less chilly than the previous, but much prettier, with a clear blue sky and no rain to be seen. I went to a cafe by the water, Z Innej Parafii, and enjoyed breakfast oats with a coffee. The breakfasts in these Gdańsk cafes were proving exceptional. I loved the view from this window, and stayed there longer than I strictly needed to, but eventually dragged myself back out. Along this waterfront was the relatively new swing bridge, so I stopped to watch that in action before continuing on my way.
Museum of the Second World War
This day’s fun was the Museum of the Second World War, not far from the cafe, and although I knew it wouldn’t be fun at all, I felt I couldn’t skip it. Also, when better to do such things than when alone and with plenty of time to reflect. I spent hours again in this museum, absorbing as much information as I could, until I couldn’t possibly consider each artefact sufficiently and it started to feel…almost gratuitous? When you don’t have the mental capacity to truly appreciate the stories behind each exhibit, it does become a kind of highlight reel of gore. I did nearly make it all the way through, and only started to skim the very last post-war sections. I have to say both museums were excellently organised, with thorough information, striking exhibits and brilliant audioguides. They’re not exactly family feel-good fun, but a lot of effort has been put into telling stories accurately and sensitively. I also managed to pass by the post building which was one of the first places to be attacked during the invasion of Poland, a silent, stoic, piece of history.
Dinner in Stacja food hall
As previously mentioned, dinner alone is something I find particularly challenging, and I walked around aimlessly for a while trying to decide what I wanted to eat and/or pluck up the courage to just walk into a restaurant. The city was a bit busier than I expected and I was getting a bit frustrated with myself. But then I came across a groovy food hall, which meant lots of restaurants to choose from in one place, and a very easy place to sit alone. I chose a Greek place and had some chicken skewers with chips and salad. It wasn’t the best food I’d ever had, but I did enjoy the atmosphere and a little bit of people watching.
My final day began with breakfast at cafe Drukarnia, a funky coffee place close to the centre. Again, there was a great selection of breakfasts and good coffee, and the service was friendly. It’s clearly a popular place, as there was a constant turnover of customers and not a single table stayed free for long. I was a bit jeaous of the people with the window seats overlooking the street below, but I enjoyed myself just fine with a bit of people watching. I then wandered to the central bus station, via a market, and waited (and waited some more) for the bus to Westerplatte.
Westerplatte peninsula and memorial
This is the only point at which I started to get a little bit less positive, as the long wait coupled with the cold wind made for an unpleasant time. But eventually the bus arrived, and I took great pleasure in validating my ticket in the little on board machines. The only other time I was also a bit fed up was when I couldn’t find a public toilet anywhere, with lots requiring coin payment or being completely locked, including those in the station. I can’t remember what I did in the end!
The Battle of Westerplatte was the start of the invasion of Poland, initiated by German forces firing on the military depot there. Over seven days, a disputed number (only a couple of hundred or less) of Polish soldiers defended the depot from the onslaught of fire from German troops, before eventually surrendering, with impressively few casualties. On the peninsula today, you can see the remains of one of the guardhouses, bombed out and crumbling, looking as through it will finally collapse at any moment. You can step inside too, at your own risk. I wish I’d taken a photo of the sign. I was more than satisfied standing outside though, looking at this eerie remnant of history from 85 years ago, knowing that just a little bit below ground level in that building, injured soldiers camped out for a week, refusing to give in. There is also a cemetery to remember the soldiers lost in the incident, and a particularly interesting bit of information about how the site was commemorated through the Soviet era. Another unpleasant but very moving place to visit, and there’s far more to the story than what I’ve written here.
Milk bar Turystyczny
I took the bus back to the city after spending a while exploring the various monuments in the area, and headed to a “milk bar” (bar mleczny) – which come highly recommended by absolutely everyone, so I couldn’t leave without trying one. These cafeterias began in the communist era as a way of supplying government-subsidised meals to workers. They mostly went bankrupt after the fall of communism, with regular restaurants taking their place, but they made a comeback thanks to nostalgia (as an aside, nostalgia for the era of the People’s Republic is itself an interesting reading topic). Now they are back and very popular. It reminded me of school dinners – not the best, but technically good food, and very cheap. I don’t know any Polish, so panicked and pointed at one of the pictures behind the counter when I was served, but people can ask specifically for what they want, as it’s all out on display. I uttered a quick “yes” or “no” to various veg options, and made my way to the till and then a table. I can definitely understand – even without the nostalgia argument – why these are popular; they’re tasty, cheap, and quick. It’s the perfect meal for a day of sightseeing, or to quickly feed hungry children, for example! Interestingly, the Wikipedia page says they’re once again state-subsidised.
So now, a little bit sleepy but very satisfied (it wasn’t a small portion) I went for one more walk around the city before getting on a bus to the airport, and finally, after two weeks and one solo weekend, returning to Gothenburg. I really, really (really) enjoyed my time in Gdańsk. It’s a beautiful city filled with rich history and friendly people. If I went back, I’d love to enjoy more food and drink, as the bars and restaurants seem to have a lot to offer. I’d also go for a walking tour, and find out a little bit more about all of the buildings. Those with more time (or more efficiency) visit the neighbouring cities of Gdynia and Sopot, but thanks to the weather and my energy levels, I was happy to take it easy. There are also tons more museums than the two that I did, but I’m happy that I got those ones done, as I think they cover two very fundamental periods in the city and country’s history. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them to everyone (particularly the war museum) but it’s such an historic city that I would suggest that anyone who visits understands the basic facts. It’s certainly student-friendly, with lots of accommodation and food options at affordable prices, and I’d say it’s also a great option for solo travel – if this timid young female traveler can do it, I’m sure anyone can!
Below you can find everything I spent whilst in the city, and some links to blog posts that I used to plan my time.
Activities & Prices
All prices accurate at time of stay, March 2023
Sightseeing – free! Walking tours are available.
Pancakes and coffee in Cafe Ferber – 36 PLN // £6.82
Pierogi from Pierogiarna Mandu (Uber Eats) – 88 PLN // £15.29
Oats and coffee in Z Innej Parafii – 26 PLN // £4.93
Meal and beer from “Great Greek” in Stacja foodhall – 50 PLN // £9.47
Smoothie bowl and coffee from Drukarnia Cafe – 39 PLN // £7.39
Meal from milk bar Turystyczny – 27 PLN // £5.12
Solidarity Centre – 45 PLN // £8.53
Museum of the Second World War – 22 PLN // £4.17
Westerplatte memorial – free *is there a museum here
Uber from bus station to hostel – 11PLN // £2
Bus to and from Westerplatte – 9.6 PLN // £1.82
Bus to airport – 4.8 PLN // £0.91
Card payments were accepted everywhere, although of course carrying some cash (and change) wouldn’t hurt.
These people very kindly linked their blog posts when I asked for Gdańsk travel tips, and I used them to inspure my itinerary.