Both Madrid and Gdansk are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This website will provide our unbiased opinions of Madrid and Gdansk, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit. The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Salt-washed, industrial-chic and filled with hipsters, Gdansk is one of the most happening cities in Poland. It sits on the edge of the Baltic Sea, proudly showcasing its merchant guilds and mansions, a leftover from the years when this was one of the richest ports in the Hanseatic League.
Like most Polish cities, the focal point is an immersive Old Town (also called the Main City) that beats with life and cafés and boutique shops. Around that's a newer city where the remnants of Communist rule still pop up in the tenement blocks and the famous dockyards where the Solidarity movement heralded the beginning of the end for the USSR in the 1980s.
On top of all the architecture and culture is a vibey bar scene that's powered by a hefty student population. There are clubs and pubs everywhere, from the open-air boats on the quaysides to the hidden basement bars in the old quarter. What's more, Gdansk is the gateway to the Polish coast, with Hel Peninsular and its oat-topped dunes close by, or the resort town of Sopot only a short train ride away.
Which city would I go to? Madrid
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Madrid
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Gdansk
Which for my food obsessed friend? Madrid
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.
Gdansk can be done in just a couple of days, but don't expect that to be enough to do everything. You'll likely want to linger longer, if only to beachcomb the Baltic coast, explore the other corners of the Tri-City (Gdansk is just one of three individual towns that are joined together), and sample as many of the cool hipster bars as you can.
Still, city breaks are very much doable here. Just 48 or 72 hours is ample for checking off the historic sights in the centre, the fascinating dockyards monuments, and to get a feel for the unique fusion of Slavic-Germanic architecture that abounds. Expect to do a lot of walking, though, and be ready to hop on inner-city trains and trams to get from A to B.
During the summertime, you could opt to do as thousands of Polish locals do and extend your Gdansk holiday to a week or two. That'll let you head out to the coast and the beaches. They can be surprisingly stunning, especially along the breezy Hel headland.
For Madrid, the length of stay greatly depends on how much you want to devote to visit the three famed art galleries (Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía), or immerse into Spanish culture. The city can be seen in two days of sightseeing, and a third day is often given to the galleries.
There are many outstanding day trips from Madrid and a trip can be easily extended to 5 or 6 days. A selection of the best day trips includes the medieval town of Segovia, charming Toledo, and the magnificent El Escorial. Madrid makes for a good base from which to explore the region, and is served by inexpensive public transport
Gdansk is surely at its best in the warmer months. Between May and September is when most travellers come. They get to enjoy all the al fresco bars along the old port. They can wander the Old Town without worrying (too much, at least) about rain. They can hit the open-air terraces to taste pierogi dumplings. The weather is a little milder than inland Poland thanks to the tempering effect of the Baltic Sea. Average highs in July are in the low 20s, but that's enough to bring crowds to the beaches of Sopot and the north coast.
The winter in Gdansk can be brutal. The Baltic magnetises icy storms and cold winds across the shoreline and the city. It's a time to get cosy in cute cafes and sip warm beers (yes, that's a thing here), but be certain to pack the thermal leggings and snow coats.
The major consideration for Madrid, is to avoid August, when the entire city shuts down (most restaurants, cafes and independent shops) and everyone heads to the coastal towns. Late spring and early autumn (Jun/July and September) are the best seasons.
Madrid can be surprisingly chilly in the winter, but is comparatively dry to the rest of Europe. As Madrid is in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula it tends to get more extreme weather than the coastal cities.
Madrid is one of the finest cities in Europe. The city may not have the iconic monuments and attention-grabbing tourist attractions, but in reality, there is a lot to see during a city break.
Much of Madrid’s tourist literature focuses on the museums and galleries (which are world-class), but this should not deter you; this is a fun-loving city, which has the best nightlife in Europe. No matter your style of trip, there will be something to love about the Spanish capital.
Madrid excels as a long-stay destination, and if you are able to work here, the city offers perfect work/life balance.
Gdansk has got loads going for it on the travel front. Melding enthralling medieval history with sobering tales of wartime and the proud trade union movement, it's a gem for those looking to unravel the history of Central-Eastern Europe. Shoppers get to delve into Amber shops galore – the city is hailed as one of the best places in the world to buy the glowing fossil. Hedonists get everything from basement bars to wild clubs in old bunkers that stay open all night. Sightseers need only look to the historic Old Town and its grand churches and squares.
Adding to all that, Gdansk has beaches. A quick train to Sopot will reveal one of the nicest in the region, with a long pier that juts out into the Baltic. A little further and you can get to Puck, which sits at the base of what is arguably Poland's finest length of coastline.
48hours in Gdansk
Gdansk has big-name sights like the iconic dockyards and its Old Town. But it also has secrets up its millennia-old sleeve. This 48-hour itinerary covers both, with a little bit of partying and beachside living thrown in for good measure…
The interactive map below shows a suggested route for the 48 hours in Gdansk, with day 1 highlighted in green and day two in yellow.
Day 1: Make for Cafe Libertas for breakfast. It's a popular spot with fruit bowls and artisan coffee that will fuel you up right in the heart of the Old Town. Stepping outside the door, you'll find quaint Chlebnicka street, which you can stroll between grand townhouses with Flemish-inspired façades.
At one end is Chlebnicka Gate, still flaunting its original medieval crest from 1450. Beyond is the riverside and the iconic Żuraw Crane. Now a branch of the National Maritime Museum, it's a great detour to make if you want to learn all about the history of shipbuilding in Gdansk.
Day 2: Morning of Day 2 takes you out to the legendary Gdansk Shipyards. If you haven't heard of these already, then buckle in for a history lesson in the fall of Communism. It was here, in 1980, that the powerful Solidarity movement first took route under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa. It would go on to fuel revolutions across the Eastern Bloc, which finished with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Russian dominion in Europe.
There's nowhere better to uncover all that than at the European Solidarity Centre. A visit is likely to take a few hours, especially if you want to drop by the striking Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 next door. For the afternoon, it's time to explore the Tri-City.
That means hopping on the SKM railway line from Gdańsk Główny. The ride to Sopot is only 15 minutes. It takes you to a lively resort area that's positively brimming with bars and eateries. It's also on the beach, so you might want to spend the evening here, moving between the music venues to famous Sopot Pier.
48 hours in Madrid is not just the sights but also the atmosphere of the city. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.
Begin in the Puerta del Sol, then wander through charming streets of the El Madrid de los Austrias, which is the oldest section of the city. This leads to the Palacio Real, surrounded by its formal gardens and the Catedral de la Almudena to the south.
For the last part of the day explore the La Latina district and have a delicious tapas meal at one of the restaurants along the Cava Alta or Cava Baja. La Latina boasts numerous bars and is always a great place to start a night in Madrid.
The Gran Vía is the bustling main avenue of Madrid
The morning of the second focuses on the three art-museums, the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía. Close to the museums is the pretty the El Retiro Park.
For the afternoon head down the Gran Vía, the main shopping street of Madrid, and visit the Malasaña district, with its artisan vibe, independent shops and trendy nightlife. For sunset watch it at the Templo de Debod, and then head back to Malasaña for a memorable meal and evening.
For your first visit, you would want to be based in the Centro or Retiro districts, and this will limit accommodation options. If you do wish a more remote, budget option always ensure it is close to a metro station. While exploring Madrid, you will do a surprising amount of walking.
Getting to Gdansk by plane is easy because of the countless short-haul and low-cost carriers that now fly into the local Lech Wałęsa Airport. A mere nine miles outside of the centre, you can get to the terminals on the 210 bus from the main train station. There are often problems with scam taxi fares to and from the airport, so always agree a rough price beforehand (the normal rate is between 60-80 PLN).
The best location for a hotel in Gdansk is certainly in the Old Town area. There, you'll get boutique lodgings and stylish aparthotels set in centuries-old buildings. An alternative for those who favour beaches and nightlife would be to bed down in Sopot, where resort hotels with swimming pools and stylish restaurants are the norm.
Gdansk is among the most liberal and welcoming of Polish cities. It's got a vibrant LGBT scene and incidents of racism and crime are relatively rare. Still, there are still tensions in Poland and it's wise to be on your guard, especially if out at night in the bars of the Old Town.