Ok so it’s not as dramatic as it sounds and a bit of an exaggeration but we have recently returned from a trip to Poland and visited a place called Hel which is located on the tip of the Hel peninsula 21 miles from mainland Poland.
We flew out from London Stansted to Gdansk on Ryanair for a long weekend to celebrate our anniversary and booked through Expedia as a package deal. This isn’t something we normally do as it generally works out cheaper to build your own packages however we managed to secure a 3 nights/4 day break for £300 for both of us.
We had visited Poland before (Krakow)and found it to be a really lovely place; the people were friendly and accommodating and the beer was cheap (approximately £2 a pint although we found a bar which sold a pint or vodka shot for 4zl which is approximately 71p!) The food wasn’t bad either and we became quite partial to pierogi ruskie (polish potato dumplings with cheese served with fried onions). With a 3 course meal for both of us costing approximately £15 and being slightly skint we agreed it would be a great time to explore a different part of the country and headed for Gdansk.
Gdansk is part of the Tricity which is also made up of Sopot and Gdynia and each city offers something different. We stayed at the Hotel Mercure Gdansk Stare Miasto in the Old Town and this was roughly 20 minutes by a shuttle service prebooked with the hotel for 15zl each (approx £.2.60). We were lucky enough to have a private car shuttle on the way due to being the only passengers arriving for the hotel on our flight. The hotel was very nicely presented and the staff were friendly and helpful with a quick and easy check in. The room was as described and not too small with tea and coffee facilities and we were lucky enough to get floor 6 which was high enough to give a good view across the city. The main perk of being in a high rise hotel is that it is easy to spot if you get a bit lost; something we did a few times! We didn’t have any breakfast, meals or drinks at the hotel as we were too busy exploring but we were also put off by the price of the breakfast which was £9 each! Instead there is a shopping centre just slightly up the road with a Subway, an american diner, a Costa coffee and a supermarket which is where we visited in the mornings.
So after we arrived off we went to explore Gdansk Old Town We stumbled across a 4zl beer and vodka bar called Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa on the way which was an added bonus! – well it would be rude not to!
Walking towards the main street in Gdansk (Dluga Ulica) there were plentiful restaurants serving anything from burgers to traditional polish food however there was a distinct lack of bars. At the top of the main street there is an irish bar and if you wander enough you will come across more but they are few and far between. The time of year we went meant that many restaurants would let you stop and have a drink however in the height of summer this may be different. Nevertheless there is no denying the beauty or ambience of the Old Town and the busyness of the street. Gdansk does not have a main square as such but Dluga Ulica is the place to be and is buzzing with life. After some more Piwi and Wodka and some Perogi Ruskie we headed back to our hotel for some well earned rest.
The next morning I had a bit of lie in to sleep off the Piwi and Wodka whilst Nigel headed off to the Solidarity Museum which was just a few hundred metres from the hotel. The Museum has the aim of being a symbol of the Solidarity movement thanks to the power of people uniting with each other and the permanent exhibition is dedicated to the history of Solidarity and the opposition, which led to the democratic transformation of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. He found this a really interesting place to visit and would have spent longer there if he had the chance.
Following a recommendation from a work colleague who is Polish we headed for an afternoon to visit Hel. This involved negotiating the train system which was quite an adventure but the station was only 400 metres from the hotel and it was relatively pain free to buy a ticket.
A single ticket cost 6 zl to Gydnia where we were required a change to get to Hel; unfortunately Gydnia had several train stops and we were unsure which one we needed and therefore we guessed and got off at a station in the middle of nowhere – in hindsight we learnt that “Glowny” meant central station but we struck lucky as station we stopped at (Gdynia Wladyslawowo) also led to Hel! After a short wait, some piwi, more Pierogi Ruskie and a challenge buying our continuing tickets from the ticket office due to our poor Polish language skills we finally got on our way! Unfortunately we were approached by a ticket inspector who was able to inform us that we had paid for 3 singles and no return and therefore had to pay a further fare which was 12zl each (approx £2.40) – at least we didn’t get a fine!
Finally we made it! The beach there was golden sand and both of us exclaimed our surprise that Poland has such lovely beaches as it is somewhere not considered a beach destination as such.
We walked along the beach and had a very short visit to the Fokarium (seal sanctuary). This was very cheap to enter (2zl approx 36p) and we were able to get close to some of the seals that reside there. It is very small but all entrance fees go to help rescue the seals and therefore it was worth the walk through. Unfortunately we missed feeding time however it was reported to be at 2pm each day. We walked further down the beach and came across the fishing village and the bars and restaurants most of which were unfortunately closed due to the time of year however I was informed by my colleague that Hel is very busy in the summer and it is difficult to get on the beach. We were lucky enough however to be there just before sunset which was really lovely.
So our visit to Hel wasn’t hellish at all; in fact it was really nice and we were sad when we had to leave to go and get the last train back. Looking at the beach it is easy to see why this is a popular resort in the summer and the narrowness of the peninsula would make traffic and travel difficult when busy. It was well worth the visit.
On our way back we decided to check out Sopot which is known for its nightlife and abundance of clubs, restaurants and bars. We headed back to Gdynia by train (getting off at the right station this time) and then got a taxi to Sopot which cost 60zl; (approx £10). Sopot was in stark contrast to Gdansk Old Town; it was bustling and full of younger groups of people on a night out. What was also apparent was the poverty and begging in Sopot that we hadn’t experienced anywhere else; it was difficult to walk just a few metres without being stopped by someone asking for a cigarette or some money. We had read a guide before our visit and checked out the cocktail bar Cocktail Bar Max which was ok but very busy and also the ‘Crooked House’ which has plenty of bars and restaurants in it – there was football on which meant it was difficult to find a seat but when we returned later it was quieter and ok – we ended the night at an unknown bar/club which played very random music but we had a good laugh. If you’re looking for a great night out with friends or even stag or hen do’s then Sopot is the place to go.
The next day we decided to have a quieter one and explore more of Gdansk including the port area which was really lovely with lots of boat tours and old ships.
We also stumbled across this little gem when we were after a bite to eat. Although it was more expensive than other restaurants the food was excellent and the shandy I asked for was unusual but different; it was beer with lemon juice and elderflower and despite sounding strange was actually amazing! Nigel tried the chicken and I had the boiled bacon both of which were slow cooked to perfection and presented excellently. This was the best meal we had during our visit and highly recommended. It was also frequented by locals which is always a good sign!
On our last day we decided to return back to Sopot to check out the Molo; another recommendation from my colleague and another gem we would have missed without ‘inside information’. The daytime in Sopot is very different than the evening with a chilled out vibe. The Molo itself is a pier and reminded me of somewhere in the UK but it was very popular and we had a lovely day to visit. Again we were also surprised by the beach at Sopot and can imagine this is also a popular destination in the summer with lots of overcrowding. As you can see it was even nice enough for a little sleep and a paddle!
We headed back to the hotel and managed to secure a private transfer back to the airport for 60zl – more expensive than our incoming transfer but we were supposed to prebook (oops). The hotel were however very accommodating with our baggage after we had checked out at 12pm and kept it in a secure room for our return.
In conclusion Poland is a country of surprises; we certainly never realised how much it has to offer in the way of sandy beaches and the Tricity has something for everyone. Our only regret was that we didn’t get the time to check out Gdynia however this is also an excuse to return at a later date. All in all we had an excellent time and would highly recommend a visit to this lovely part of Poland. I have had a recommendation to visit 1000 lakes in Poland and therefore another visit may be on the cards!