When you think of travel destinations in Poland, Warsaw and Kraków probably come to mind. Maybe you know a thing or two about the country’s violent and tumultuous trek through the 20th century, or associate it with difficult to pronounce surnames (at least for English speakers). Less likely, you’ve heard about Poland’s Tri-City area, distinguished by lavish seaside resorts, excellent nightlife, and a thriving student scene.
Located on the Baltic Sea, the Tri-City comprises three industrial port towns – Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Sopot. They were once key strategic points during World War II and then major hubs of resistance under the Soviet Union. Today, they stand as totally underrated student cities with vibrant culture.
The cities are well-connected by train and located only about 10 kilometers from each other, so it’s easy to visit all three within a few days.
I started my trip in Gdańsk and made it my home base throughout my stay. Arguably the most is happening here, especially when its namesake university is in session. My favorite way to explore was to rise early and walk the Dukla Targ, Gdańsk’s old town – iconic for its intricate, colorful facades and Romanesque statues.
In the evenings, I wandered the city’s winding, cobbled side streets and strolled along its many canals. During the day, I hung out in cafes on Ulica Mariacka, a street lined with gargoyles and people selling objects made of amber, or by people-watching along the city’s bustling pier. I also visited Gdańsk’s two major historical foundations: the Museum of the Second World War, which offers a Polish perspective on the area’s war-torn past, and the European Solidarity Center, which presents a heroic tale of dockworker’s resistance against the once-mighty Soviet Union. This museum is also host to an impressive cultural center with a lively program of events to watch out for.
Evening Gdańsk is set aglow by bars filled with cool, intellectual types. I loved it! If this is also your scene, Josef K should be at the top of your list. Crowded with students and expats, there is often live jazz playing, and the crowded atmosphere makes it an easy place to meet new people.
For dancing, the shipyard turned shabby-chic artistic venue, Ulica Elektryków was unanimously recommended to me by locals. Cocktail aficionados will like Flisak 76, where you can sip Goldwasser – a liqueur native to Gdańsk – in what looks and feels like a medieval catacomb. Lamus is good for local craft beers and Literacka for wines.
Gdynia has a more residential feel, but it gave me a glimpse into daily life for people living in the Tri-City. For what it lacks in the colorful, historic buildings of Gdańsk’s Dukla Targ, it makes up for in Soviet-style apartment blocks and its massive port where locals gather on weekends to enjoy family time together and to celebrate special occasions.
I would suggest only making a day trip out of Gdynia rather than staying there for multiple nights. I started my morning at Tłok, a third-wave coffee spot with great Polish pastries. Then, I walked to Kosciuszko Square and meandered through an enormous covered market called Hala Miejska Gdynia where residents come to shop for produce, pickles, and fish.
From there, I took a bus to Orłowski Cliff, a gorgeous forested lookout point jutting over the Baltic Sea where you can watch massive cargo ships glide along the horizon.
It’s especially great if you like to get a little physical activity on your vacation, and I felt like the only foreigner around.
The convenient thing about Orłowski Cliff is that it’s located about midway between Gdynia and Sopot, so you can end your day trip in Gdynia by arriving in Sopot around dusk. Once an extravagant holiday resort town host to moneyed Poles looking to flash their cash, the city’s seaside skyline is still dominated by the massive yellow Grand Hotel Sopot, which truly looks like something straight out of a Wes Anderson film.
Walk the wooden pier as the sun sets and the reflection of street lights begin to dance across the water, an experience that genuinely took my breath away.
Then make your ascent onto Monte Cassino Street, which feels like a Polish version of Atlantic City in the 1920s. There are tons of bars and restaurants to choose from for dinner or drinks. I finished my last night in the Tri-City at Sopot’s 3 Sisters Club near the Grand Hotel before heading back to Gdańsk to catch my train in the morning.
The Tri-City is well connected by train lines extending from Warsaw as well as Berlin. It’s an easy, affordable getaway and possibly an even better spot to consider if you’re looking to study abroad.
You’ll be rewarded with an enriching and memorable experience on a road less traveled.
About the author:
Lily Cichanowicz is an American freelance writer and journalist currently based in Berlin. In the form of cultural analysis, her writing is a critical exploration of everything from the personal to the political, and her aim is to share the insights she has with readers.
On her website, you can find a curated selection of her favorite pieces.
You can read more of her Dispatches posts here.