Warsaw or Gdansk is a choice between two beautiful Polish cities. It’s a tough decision because both destinations have plenty to offer. From great sights and attractions to fantastic day-trip opportunities and vibrant nightlife on top, these two options have a lot up their sleeves!
On one hand, there is Warsaw, a bustling capital city with tall skyscrapers on the horizon. It has oodles of high-quality restaurants, hipster cafes, and buzzing nightclubs alongside museums and historical sights. On the other hand, there is Gdansk, a romantic port city in the north. It’s the gateway to the sandy beaches along the Polish seaside.
This guide to Warsaw or Gdansk will talk about different travel aspects of these two destinations, all to help you decide which one to visit next. There’s lots of helpful information on basic things such as getting there and around, alongside a guide to the nightlife, the food, and lots more.
Warsaw or Gdansk for the ease of travel
Warsaw is the capital and the largest city in Poland. It’s home to the biggest airport in the country, which is a hub for the national carrier, LOT. Warsaw Chopin Airport has flights all over Europe and a couple of long-haul connections to the USA and Asia. A smaller airport, a little further away from the city, Warsaw Modlin, handles short-haul, low-cost connections. Warsaw is also well connected by railway, so if you’re not a fan of flying you can get in by train from many European cities – Berlin, Budapest. There are also plenty of bus routes available from other Polish towns.
Warsaw is the only city in Poland with a metro system. With only two lines, it might not be comparable to the likes of London or Paris. That said, it makes getting around the congested capital significantly easier. There is also an extensive bus and tram system, so there’s no real need to use taxis.
Gdansk is a port city in northern Poland and one of the biggest municipalities on the Baltic coast, so there is more than one way to get there. Most visitors arrive at Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport, which is a few miles to the west of the city. It’s got flights to many European destinations, but there are no long-haul routes. That means visitors from across the ocean might need to stop in Warsaw first. Other ways to get to Gdansk include train, ferry, or bus.
Gdansk is much more compact than the capital, so it’s easy to get around on foot. There are also buses and trams if you need to get out a little further. Plus, there’s a regular railway connection between other cities within the Tricity – Gdynia and Sopot.
Warsaw or Gdansk for sights and attractions
There is no shortage of POIs in Poland’s most popular coastal city, so you won’t have much trouble filling your itinerary in Gdansk. The majority of attractions here are within the romantic Main Town and the historical Old Town. Expect cobbled alleyways lined with colorful medieval townhouses. The highlights include a grand Town Hall, the Neptune Fountain, and Artus Court – a Dutch-style building that houses a branch of Gdansk’s historical museum. We recommend taking a stroll along the Long Bridge, an embankment on the Motlawa River. It’s one of the most iconic parts of the city. You will also get to see the Żuraw crane there, which is the largest medieval crane in Europe.
There is lots to see in the capital, too. A huge art-deco clock tower that you’ll instantly see when you arrive at Warsaw’s main station is the Palace of Culture and Science. It’s a good example of the Soviet past. Most of the city’s attractions, though, revolve around the Old Town. It’s known to the locals as Starówka…
This part of Warsaw was destroyed in WWII, so what you’ll see there is an incredible reconstruction of the colorful medieval stone houses that stood before 1939. One of the highlights is the Royal Castle, a grand palace that was once a home to Polish monarchs. You can also visit their summertime residence at the Royal Lazienki Palace. It’s a beautiful building surrounded by a vast park with neat gardens and lakes. You can also head to Praga, a formerly grim neighborhood that suffered the least destruction during the war. It has recently become an artistic hub with lots of cool cafes and bars.
Winner: Draw. Both have lots to offer.
Warsaw or Gdansk for nightlife
When it comes to Polish nightlife, Warsaw is hard to beat. There are oodles of places all around the city, but the slight drawback is that you might have to hop in a cab to get from one to another. That aside, whether you’re looking for underground techno joints, glitzy cocktail bars, craft beer breweries, or LGBTQ+-friendly spots, you won’t have trouble finding them in the capital. There are lots of places around Srodmiescie (downtown), especially in the buzzing Nowy Swiat Pavillions and dotted along the lively Mazowiecka Street. If you’re looking for high-end cocktail bars, look no further than Panorama Sky Bar, a glitzy spot on the 40th floor of the Marriott Hotel.
The good news is that Gdansk is not far behind the capital. That said, things tend to go quiet much earlier than in Warsaw. Stay around Main Town if you want to sample Gdansk’s best nightlife. There are plenty of places, from casual beer gardens to buzzing nightclubs. They are the best in the summer when most people holiday in this beautiful port city. Head to boho Winston Bar for the best cocktails or visit the basement of Labeerynt for craft beers. If you want to go dancing, visit stylish Sassy Gdańsk. You can also take a 30-minute train to the glitzy beach resort of Sopot. It’s well known among the youngsters for its pulsating club scene, especially during the summer.
Warsaw or Gdansk for day trips
Warsaw is in central Poland with almost equal distance to the Baltic coast up north and the mountains down south. That means it’s a great base for exploring what this central European country has to offer. Warsaw is well-connected by railway and bus networks, so it’s easy to travel to nearby destinations without renting a car.
For starters, you can visit Zelazowa Wola, the birthplace of the famous composer Frederic Chopin. You can even hit the museum there that was once his home. If you’re looking for a peaceful escape from the hustles and bustles of the busy capital, head to one of the nearby nature reserves. Kampinos National Park and Bolimów Landscape Park are both top. They offer plenty of forested hiking and biking trails within an hour from the city. You can also take advantage of the high-speed railway and visit historical Krakow in little more than two hours.
Gdansk brings you closer to the Polish coast and some of the best beaches in the country. It’s also in a perfect location to explore the other two places that belong to the Tricity: Sopot and Gdynia. There are frequent and quick trains that travel between the three, so you won’t have much trouble getting from one to another. Sopot is a popular beach resort with a long pier and fancy hotels. Gdynia, on the other hand, is a port city with an old shipyard and Maritime Museum.
Nature enthusiasts will enjoy a trip to Slowinski National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It’s home to a unique landscape that includes wind-shaped dunes, coastal lakes, and sandy beaches. You can also visit Hel, a long and narrow peninsula at the northern tip of Poland with popular beach resorts. Gdansk is also very close to Poland’s most impressive castle, Malbork Castle. You can get to this grand UNESCO site in around 30 minutes by train.
Winner: Gdansk for the beaches and nature.
Warsaw or Gdansk for food
There are hardly any better places in Poland for foodies than the capital. Warsaw has established itself as a playground for young, talented chefs, so it’s no surprise that you can find some of the most imaginative joints here. Although no restaurants have yet earned Michelin stars, lots of places are mentioned in the Michelin guide. From modern dishes washed down with vodka in Elixir by Dom Wodki to veggie-filled tasting menus at Szostka, there are plenty of venues in the city renowned for great quality food. There is also no shortage of cheap diners with Polish delicacies alongside those serving international cuisines.
Gdansk is a great dining destination offering an array of flavors, from hearty Polish cooking to fresh sea delicacies. Unlike in the rest of the country, food in northern Poland strongly revolves around fish and seafood. Butter-fried cod or salmon soup are only a few of the typical dishes that are available in this region. Cozy restaurant Rybakowka or riverside Rybka na Wartkiej are some of the best spots to try those. If you’re looking for high-end eateries, look no further than chic Motlava Restaurant.
Winner: Warsaw, but Gdansk is better for seafood.
Warsaw or Gdansk for hotels
There is no shortage of comfy accommodation with waterfront vistas in the port city of Gdansk. One of them is Podewils Old Town Gdansk ($$$), a five-star hotel in the marina. That has traditionally decorated rooms with panoramic views over the river. If you’re on a tighter budget, we’d recommend Kamienica 22 Stare Miasto ($). That has simple but modern rooms a short walk from the old town. Families with children will enjoy the proximity to the beach at Villa Bałtycka ($$).
Warsaw has oodles of great stays that suit all budgets, from luxury, five-star pads to affordable stays for backpackers. If you’re looking for high-end lodges, it doesn’t get better than the stylish H15 Boutique Hotel ($$$) in the center. Their chic rooms will cost you big dollars, though. If your budget doesn’t stretch quite so far, Warsaw Hostel Centrum ($) is a good, low-cost option. Those with children can go for Hotel Arche Geologiczna ($$), a mid-range option with plenty of family-sized rooms.
Winner: Draw. Both have lots of great hotels.
Warsaw or Gdansk for price
Central-Eastern Europe is considerably cheaper than the western side of the continent, and Poland is no exception in that regard. That means that whether you choose Warsaw or Gdansk, you won’t have to budget anywhere near as much as you would for trips to cities in the likes of Italy or France.
That said, Warsaw is the most expensive city in the country, so you will have to set aside more spending money for a trip there. Everything from accommodation to food to entertainment costs more in the capital than in the port city of Gdansk. That said, a mere amount of $70 should see you through the day. That’s if you go for mid-range stays and restaurants. It won’t cover boutique hotels in the prized Old Town, though.
Even though things often cost premium the closer you get to the Polish seaside, a trip to Gdansk should cost you less than one to the capital city. People usually spend around $40 a day on everything, from accommodation to food and transport. That said, Warsaw offers more choices of hostels and budget guesthouses, so backpackers might do better there during the peak season.
Warsaw or Gdansk: the conclusion
If you’re planning a weekend getaway to Poland, you might come to a decision between Warsaw or Gdansk. Both cities have plenty to offer in terms of sights and attractions, so neither will disappoint. Warsaw is bigger, more modern, and easier to reach. The capital has also got some of the best nightlife and food scenes in the country. Gdansk is smaller, so it’s a perfect place to explore on foot. It’s also a great base to visit some of the best Polish beaches. Plus, it’s cheaper by just a touch.