GDANSK, Poland » Gdansk offers a chance for visitors to take in scenes of sea, ships and spires set in a magnificently reconstructed Old Town while contemplating the ups and downs of European history, including the famous shipyard strike led by Lech Walesa.
The city, already one of Poland’s key tourist attractions, will see an influx of some 300,000 soccer fans and tourists this month alone when Gdansk hosts several games during the European football championship. The major sporting event is to take place across eight cities in Poland and Ukraine.
Here are five things that visitors to Gdansk can do for free:
» Main town: The colorful facades of stately merchant homes dating back centuries attest to the prosperity of the Renaissance era, when Gdansk was a major European hub for trade. A 17th-century fountain depicting Neptune, the god of the sea, sits in the heart of the main square, Dlugi Targ (Long Market), and has become a city symbol. The historic center is not large, but contains many architectural gems meticulously reconstructed after the devastation of World War II.
» Westerplatte: World War II began in Gdansk, and today many visitors flock to the peninsula of Westerplatte, where the Germans opened fire on a Polish garrison on Sept. 1, 1939, some of the opening shots of the conflict. A monument honors the Poles who fought for seven days against the German artillery attack.
» Walesa’s shipyard: Decades after the war, Gdansk again became a focal point of European history when Lech Walesa led a workers strike at the shipyard in Gdansk. The freedom movement he founded, Solidarity, went on to play a key role in toppling communism across the East Bloc. Outside the shipyard is a soaring monument of three crosses in steel that honors workers killed in an earlier workers revolt in 1970. Inside a museum depicts the rise of Solidarity and the hardship of life under communism. There is an entry fee, about $2.
» Mariacka Street: This small street in the Old Town is lined with shop after shop selling amber jewelry and decorative items. Some of the buildings are decorated with stone gargoyles, adding to the lane’s romantic and mysterious atmosphere. Shoppers can also browse stores selling silver, antiques and art on this and neighboring streets.
» Motlawa waterfront: The marina of the Motlawa River is a great place for a stroll. Ships dock in the water, with bustling cafes and shops with more amber and trinkets creating a lively atmosphere in the shadow of more historic structures. One of them is a 15th-century harbor crane, a massive brick structure with huge ropes and gears.