The Essential Guide to Poland’s Baltic Coast and Pomerania

Poland’s Baltic coastline spans nearly 480 miles, with Gdańsk at its center. The area, along with the adjacent Pomerania region, holds many treasures, including the imposing Malbork Castle, the lovely town of Toruń (famous for its gingerbread and Gothic architecture), and, on the far western edge, the new, beautifully sculpted Philharmonic Hall Szczecin. If you only have time to visit Gdańsk, be sure to see Długi Targ (the Long Market), the European Solidarity Center, and Oliwa Cathedral with its famous pipe organ.

Długa, 80-826 Gdańsk, Poland
At just over 540 yards, Długi Targ, which translates to “the Long Market,” isn’t really all that lengthy. Still, it makes for a lovely walk, stretching from the Green Gate at its eastern entrance through the medieval city of Gdańsk to the Golden Gate at its western end. Lined with cafés, restaurants, and souvenir shops worth a stop, the route is also home to picturesque architecture, including historic tenement houses that were renovated after World War II. Be sure to stop at the elaborate 17th-century Neptune Fountain (which represents Gdańsk’s ties to the sea) and, just behind it, the 15th-century Artus Court (a medieval hall fantastically decorated with hunting trophies and models of tall ships hung from the ceiling). A tiny detour down Kramarska Lane behind Artus Court will take you to St. Mary’s, the largest brick church in the world. In this enormous space, which can accommodate as many as 25,000 people, you’ll find a 500-year-old, 25-foot-high astronomical clock, as well as several Baroque statues of angels playing musical instruments. If you’re not afraid of heights, consider climbing the 409 steps to the top of the church tower.
Biskupa Edmunda Nowickiego 5, 80-330 Gdańsk, Poland
Northwest of the Old Town in the Gdańsk-Oliwa district stands a magnificent cathedral founded in the 13th century by Cistercian monks. Go inside and you’ll discover the world-famous Rococo organ, designed by Johann Wilhelm Wuff (also known as Brother Michael), constructed from 1763 to 1788 and further improved upon by organ masters over the next several centuries. Today it includes 96 registers, more than 6,000 pipes, five manuals, a pedal, and, when a special mechanism is activated, gilded wooden angels that ring bells and blow trumpets. Decorated with a wooden star climbing toward a wooden sky, it’s a spectacle to behold. Stick around for a demonstration, given several times a day to immerse cathedral visitors in the organ’s deep, clear sound.
Kaprów 19d, 80-316 Gdańsk, Poland
A short walk from Oliwa Cathedral lies the veritable pierogi paradise Mandu. Pierogi are a sacred part of Polish cuisine—a simple dish that everyone remembers from childhood, usually with a hint of nostalgia—and Mandu respects that tradition while also devising new, creative variations. In addition to classics like minced beef with onion and bacon, Mandu serves international versions such as spicy, deep-fried Korean dumplings with pork, tofu, kimchi, ginger, and leeks. Everything here is made fresh to order, meaning you might have to wait during busy times. Instead of getting impatient, use the few extra minutes to watch the skilled cooks work in the open kitchen.
2 Plac Zdrojowy
Sopot is one of Poland’s favorite leisure destinations, and Sopot Pier (Molo w Sopocie in Polish) is its center. An extension of lively Monte Cassino Street—Sopot’s entertainment, dining, and shopping promenade—the pier stretches over a third of a mile into the Bay of Gdańsk. Built in 1827 as part of the local harbor, it was reconstructed after the wars and renovated several times since, gradually becoming the fashionable leisure facility it is today. Since the very beginning, the pier has featured an international dimension—it was conceived by a Frenchman on Polish land belonging to the Kingdom of Prussia; became a popular destination for Europeans during the 19th and 20th centuries, thanks to railway and sea links; and continues to draw travelers from all over the world. When visiting today, you’ll hear several different languages being spoken, and see flags from various countries on the yachts moored on the side deck, which serves as the marina.
Aleja Wojska Polskiego 11, 81-769 Sopot, Poland
A local favorite since the 1990s, Bar Przystań is a straightforward fish-and-chips joint located right on the beach in Sopot. It’s always crowded, especially on weekends, with hungry visitors lining up to order cold beers, fisherman’s soup, and fried fillets of Baltic herring, flounder, cod, and more. After placing your order, you’ll receive an alarm tile that will buzz when your food is ready. At that point, head up to the counter, collect your meal, and make a beeline for the sand, then eat under the sun.
Rabiańska 9, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
In the heart of Toruń’s Gothic, brown-brick Old Town—which itself looks like it was built out of gingerbread—lies the Living Museum of Gingerbread, an interactive museum that opened in 2006. Toruń’s gingerbread tradition goes back much further, however, with the first mention of the sweet dating to 1380. At the museum, you’ll learn the story of Toruń’s famous gingerbread while working under the watchful eye of the Gingerbread Master to prepare the dough, bake the bread in traditional wooden molds, and, finally, decorate each loaf. After going through the fun process, you might agree with Frédéric Chopin, who wrote of a visit to Toruń, “Gingerbread impressed me most. Although I have seen the fortifications, and the famous town hall . . . all these cannot surpass the gingerbread, ah, the gingerbread!”
Szeroka 5, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
The charming Róże i Zen (Roses and Zen) is a café-restaurant, located between two neighboring buildings on a somewhat-secret garden patio that can only be described as magical. In this enchanted setting, guests sit comfortably and take their time, whether in the company of friends, chatting with colleagues, or enjoying a romantic date. Beyond its atmosphere, Róże i Zen is known for its short but delicious menu, filled with freshly made dishes and desserts like homemade pastries and cakes. Whatever you choose, pair it with something from the extensive coffee and tea selection.
Starościńska 1, 82-200 Malbork, Poland
When approaching the quiet town of Malbork, whether by road or rail, you’ll catch a glimpse of the towering, orange-red Malbork Castle—one of the most impressive strongholds of the Middle Ages and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. For the best view, however, continue on to the banks of the Nogat River, where you can see the solid brick structure reflecting in the clear-blue water. The fortress was built by the Order of the Teutonic Knights, who settled in Malbork in an effort to establish their own state on the surrounding lands. They named the area Marienburg, which later became Malbork, to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. After the second Treaty of Toruń in 1466, which ended the 13-year war between the knights and the Poles, the castle passed into Polish hands and, for the next three centuries, served as the royal residence for Polish kings during their annual visits to Pomerania. It was half-destroyed during World War II but restored to its former glory after an extensive renovation. Today, it remains the largest brick castle in Europe. The fortress is a repository of myths and legends, making a guided tour particularly interesting. You can easily visit the castle on a day trip from Gdańsk, but there’s a hotel on the grounds should you want to spend the night and try to spot some of the resident ghosts.
Małopolska 48, 70-515 Szczecin, Poland
In 2014, Szczecin, a pleasant seaport town in western Pomerania, received a very welcome addition: the new Philharmonic Hall. Now the unofficial symbol of the city, the magnificent building appears to be built of light. Barcelona-based design firm Barozzi Veiga constructed the building on the exact site of the 19th-century Konzerthaus (which was destroyed by Allied forces during World War II), helping to resurrect Szczecin’s musical spirit. Bright and daring, the award-winning structure is still rooted in a neo-Gothic context, with beautiful interiors and flawless acoustics. In addition to the Szczecin Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonic hosts a variety of top orchestras, ensembles, and bands throughout the year, as well as numerous festivals, competitions, workshops, and educational programs for children. When visiting Szczecin, the building is an absolute must-see—in fact, people have been known to travel specifically for the purpose of visiting the Philharmonic. Time your trip to a concert, or simply take one of the regular tours of the building.
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