Jewels of the Baltic: Stockholm & Gdansk

The final installment of our Baltic cruise tales. Missed the first two? Check them out here and here!

Stockholm

Sweden’s capital is spread over 14 islands with 57 bridges to connect them all. In Stockholm you’ll find trend-setting design, inventive cuisine, great museums, and plenty of green space with the pristine forest that surrounds the city.

Must-do’s while in Stockholm:

Get a bird’s-eye view– climb the 365 steps to the top of City Hall Tower for fantastic city views and to really get an understanding of Stockholm’s archipelago layout. This is also the place to get the best view and photo op of Stockholm’s ochre-colored old town of Gamla Stan.

Stop for fika– meaning “the Swedish coffee break.” Wander the winding, cobblestoned medival streets of Gamla Stan and grab a cup of joe with a kanelbulle aka Swedish cinnamon bun.

Get out on the water– After wandering through the old town, catch a ferry to Djurgården island, home to some of the city’s top museums including the Vasa Museum, a maritime museum displaying the world’s only almost fully intact 17th-century ship that has ever been salvaged. The 226-foot-long Vasa warship sank in the middle of Stockholm a mere 20 minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628 thanks to its poor top-heavy and lopsided design. For ABBA fans, there’s an interactive museum dedicated to the city’s favorite ’70s pop group.

See how the Swedes once lived– Check out Skansen, the world’s first open-air folk museum with around 150 traditional houses and other exhibits creating a little ‘Sweden in miniature.’

Gdańsk

Poland’s northernmost port city and once considered the autonomous “Free City of Danzig” following World War I, belonging neither to Germany or Poland. This was hands down Dan and I’s favorite port of the cruise. Colorful architecture, amazing food, and rich history — we enjoyed Gdańsk so much, we decided then and there to make a second trip to Poland in the near future to explore further afield in the southern region of the country.

Must-do’s while in Gdańsk:

Explore a castle– Check out one of Poland’s oldest castles, the UNESCO-designated medieval fortress of Malbork Castle. Dating back to 1274, the giant red-brick fortress was built by the fearsome Order of Teutonic Knights, and boasts dungeons, mazes of tunnels, and twisting towers.

Take a walk– Stroll down Gdańsk’s stately, colorful main promenade known as the Royal Way because, as with Poland’s other main cities of Krakow and Warsaw, the king would follow this route when he was visiting town. The city was once Poland’s wealthiest during the country’s Golden Age of the 16th and 17th centuries and was left completely in ruins following the destruction of World War II and carefully reconstructed in the ’50s thanks to detailed drawings and photographs.

Lunch with a view– Enjoy lunch along the Motława River at Baryłka. The hot shrimp appetizer, pierogies, and the traditional Polish zurek soup were the best dishes we ate the entire trip! Afterwards, walk down the embankment a bit to see the city’s rare monstrous 15th-century wooden crane, a remnant of Gdańsk’s status as an important merchant river port during its Golden Age.

Go shopping– Leading from the embankment, head towards the romantic and photogenic “Amber Row” aka Mariacka Street, stopping to browse the many jewelry and souvenir stalls and enjoy a cup of coffee outdoors on one of the cafe porches that overlook the coming-and-goings of the street.

Go to church– At the end of “Amber Row,” look up at one of the city’s treasures, the massive St. Mary’s Basilica, the world’s largest brick church, with room for over 25,000 worshippers!

Get schooled– Gdańsk’s shipyard is considered the birthplace of the Solidarity Movement and played an important role in ending Communism’s stranglehold on Eastern Europe. Learn more about the pivotal role the city and labor activist, Solidarity founder Lech Wałęsa, played in the early ’70s by visiting the Solidarity Square and Monument and the European Solidarity Center.

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