The wind whipped my ponytail across my new Polish sunglasses and into my mouth – which was open because I was laughing. In spite of the brooding sky and rapidly approaching cloud formations, I was at one of the Gdansk beaches. The beach. My happy place.
Poland has something that most of the other land-locked countries in Central Europe are lacking: beaches. Sure, I love the Old Town squares lined with pastel patrician buildings, medieval cathedrals, rich culture, and tumultuous history, but when visiting that part of the continent, it’s difficult to call my trip complete until I set foot on at least one beach.
But it was the last stop in Gdansk that I truly fell in love with Poland. The city that was decimated by the Nazi bombings in World War II and then subjected to Communist rule has risen above both in a way that is both admirable and joyful. Gdansk is the birthplace of the Solidarity movement in the 1980s that led to the overthrow of the Soviet Union.
Tourists flock to Gdansk’s Old Town in the warm summer months to stroll by the Motlawa River, visit the museums, or enjoy the festivals along the Royal Promenade.
Gdansk quickly became my favorite city in Poland, and one of my favorites in Europe. And one reason is the beaches along the Baltic Sea, known as the Polish Riviera. It seemed a bit odd to me that you’d find a “Riviera” which accumulates snow in the winter, but so be it. The miles of white sandy beaches, festive boardwalks, lively outdoor cafes, and a plethora of sunbathers and swimmers are similar to what you’d find in the Mediterranean or Caribbean…but without the high price tag.
Gdansk has beautiful, clean beaches, thanks to the ecological efforts of recent years. Here are some reasons to visit the Polish Riviera — the most popular beaches in the Tri-City area.
1. Brzeźno Beach
The golden sands of Brzezno Beach are the closest to the Gdansk city center. After parking our car, we walked to the beachfront, passing a line of small shops selling ice cream and souvenirs. At Brzezno, there are also bars and small restaurants closer to the beach.
The beach town dates back to 1323 when it was under the control of the Cistercian Monks, where it remained for over 600 years. While new cycle paths and two new hotels have been built, the area is primarily a seaside escape for the residents of Gdansk.
The sky was overcast when we arrived at the beach, but that didn’t dampen my spirits at all. I could easily imagine the sun beating down on the water, turning it even more of a glistening green. About half an hour into our stay, ominous gray clouds hastened their approach. We only made it halfway to our car before the rain began pelting us, but had experienced enough of the beach to want to return another day.
2. Nowy Port Lighthouse
Make sure you stop at the Nowy Port Lighthouse on the route from Gdansk to Brzezno Beach, the only privately-held lighthouse in Poland. Built in 1893, it is said to look like the lighthouse in Cleveland, Ohio. The lighthouse holds an important place in history…it was from here that the shots by German armed forces on Westerplatte began the Second World War.
We climbed the spiral staircase for the panoramic view of the port of Gdańsk, Westerplatte and the entire Bay of Gdansk as far as Gdynia and the Hel peninsula.
3. Sopot Pier
Sopot is about a 15-minute drive from Gdansk. This swanky beach and spa resort is Poland’s popular summer capital. It’s the “it” place for both tourists and Pols, famous for its upscale nightclubs and parties.
I have bragging rights that I walked all the way out on the longest wooden pier in Europe (1678 feet). Built in the 1800s, the pier is anchored on the beach and then stretches out into the Baltic Sea. Looking back at the shore from the lighthouse’s viewing platform is the highlight of walking the pier. The castle-like Grand Hotel with red tiled roof is the perfect contrast to the blue water of the Baltic. At the other end of the pier are rows of lavish yachts tied to the moorings.
The main promenade, Bohaterów Monte Cassino, is named after World War II heroes. In the small downtown area, we stumbled upon an odd building known as the Crooked House, another popular Instagrammable spot.
4. Aperol Spritz
If you have a chance to experience Sopot’s lively beach bars, do try the Aperol-Prosecco Spritz. Aperol is an Italian apéritif made of gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona. Make sure they make it by pouring the Prosecco first to avoid the Aperol settling at the bottom.
5. Gdynia City Beach
Plaża Miejska (City Beach) is the northernmost of the Tri-City, located right in the heart of the charming seaside city of Gdynia. There are a marina and seaside promenade at this popular beach which gets very crowded during the high season. Gdynia also has a port for cruise ships.
Although it can get overcrowded, Gdynia City Beach is a great option for families. There’s a big, colorful playground with slides, monkey bars, swings, and merry-go-rounds, right on the beach. Overlooking the playground is the Del Mar restaurant, where parents can relax over a coffee or cocktail while still keeping a close watch on the kiddos.
6. Go to Hel
And if you don’t like any of these Gdansk beaches, well, you can just go to hell. Um, I mean Hel. Hel is a peninsula across from the Sopot, reachable by ferry, and arguably one of the best kite-surfing spots in Europe. The beach has powdery white sand framed by pine forestry and purple heather.
Have I convinced you to make your next vacation the Gdansk beaches, aka the Polish Riviera? If not, how about this…
7. Treasure Hunt
Poland has a rich history of mining Amber, dating back as early as the Neolithic period. The golden fossilized resin is used to make stunning gemstone jewelry sold in Gdansk. Also called “Baltic gold,” the shiny raw material is known to wash up on shore after a storm. Who knows, you may return home with more treasure than just your memories!
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of JayWay Travel during her stay in Poland, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.