Gdańsk, Poland is a 1,000-year old port city with a dramatic history of war and insurrection, and contrasting periods of trade and prosperity.
Walk its beautifully restored streets for a day to pick up its Baltic vibe.
Polish restaurants generally do not open for breakfast, so eat at your accommodation. If you want to try something different, however, head to Bar Mleczny Neptun. This old-fashioned cafeteria is a surviving milk bar (bar mleczny), established in the communist era to provide cheap meals for workers.
Thus fortified, place yourself in the role of a Polish king by walking the Royal Way along beautiful ul Długa (Long Street) and through Długi Targ (Long Market) in the historic Main Town. This route was used for the procession of Polish monarchs and starts from the western Upland Gate. The next gate along, the Foregate, houses the Amber Museum, containing everything you would ever need to know about "Baltic gold".
Pause for a moment to admire the beautiful colourful facades along ul Długa. They may have the appearance of great age, but everything here was impressively rebuilt from rubble after World War II. There are several interesting museums worth dropping into along this street and the connected marketplace, including the Uphagens' House, an 18th-century residence displaying furniture of the era; the Historical Museum of Gdańsk; and the Artus Court, with elaborate interior decoration. The nearby Neptune Fountain is a symbol of the city's maritime history, and folklore says it once flowed with the famous local gold-flecked liqueur goldwasser.
Passing through the Green Gate to the banks of the Motława River, walk north to St Mary's Gate and pass through to ul Mariacka. This beautiful street is lined with old shops fronted by terraces and flanked by gargoyle-decorated drainpipes. It is the hub of the amber jewellery trade, with stands flaunting their wares in front of the shops.
At the end of the street is the massive 14th Century St Mary's Church, which seems out of place with its medieval bulk. At noon small figures parade around its astronomical clock, and there is a lofty tower which can be climbed for city views.
At ul Mariacka 37/39, Kamienica is a good place to take a coffee and cake break while watching the passers-by from its outdoor seating.
At nearby ul Piwna 19/21, the Free City of Danzig Historical Zone is an interesting small museum devoted to the interwar era when Gdańsk operated as a "free city", independent of both Poland and Germany.
After, have lunch at U Dzika (Piwna 59/60), a restaurant specialising in pierogi, the dumplings which are a Polish staple. Classic varieties involve fillings such as pork, mushroom or cottage cheese, and there are also some sweet options on the menu with fillings such as peach.
Though central Gdańsk is an attractive representation of the city as it appeared in its 17th Century heyday, its modern history is also compelling. One way to spend the afternoon getting to grips with its story is to visit the Roads to Freedom Exhibition. This fascinating museum, in the Old Town adjoining the Main Town to the north, documents the rise and fall of communism in Europe, with a focus on the crucial role of the Solidarity trade union.
The logical place to head after this is the Monument to the Shipyard Workers. The communist regime was forced in 1980 to accept the erection of this graceful structure combining anchors and crosses, dedicated to the memory of workers killed in political demonstrations ten years before.
An alternative way to spend the afternoon is to take a return cruise to Westerplatte, at the mouth of the Motława River. It is a pleasant voyage by either regular cruise boat or aboard replica galleons that sail from the quayside in the Old Town. Westerplatte is where World War II broke out on 1 September 1939 when a German battleship fired on a Polish fort, and there is a museum, memorial and ruins there to mark that pivotal moment in world history.
If you would like a pre-dinner drink, drop into Cafe Ferber (www.ferber.pl) on ul Długa. Its sleek red interior is a contemporary contrast to the historic exteriors outside, and it does a good line in cocktails.
The most atmospheric place to have dinner is the Old Town's Restauracja Pod Łososiem ("Restaurant beneath the Salmon"). From 1598 there was an inn and distillery on this location, which later produced the famous goldwasser. Though production ceased in 1945, it is still the location of a restaurant specialising in salmon dishes. It is very much an "old worlde" kind of place, done out in red leather seating, brass chandeliers and gas lamps.
There is a choice of after-dinner entertainment. Firstly, in the centre of the Motława on Ołowianka Island is the Baltic Philharmonic Hall (www.filharmonia.gda.pl). There is almost always something on here, from chamber music concerts to big music festivals. A good place for pre-dinner drink is the river-facing terrace of the neighbouring Hotel Królewski, housed in a former granary.
If you are in the mood for something more lively, head a little further south along the river to Miasto Aniołów ("City of Angels"). This nightclub has plenty of dance music happening within, and out on the Motława River there is a floating deck to chill out on.
How to get there
Gdańsk is well connected by air to numerous European cities, including London, Dublin, Frankfurt, Copenhagen and Rome. Check www.airport.gdansk.pl for full details.
Tim Richards is an author of Lonely Planet guides including the Poland country guide, and the Eastern Europe multi-country guide. He writes a regular travel blog at www.aerohaveno.com.
The article 'A perfect day in Gdańsk, Poland' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.