Things To Do In Gdansk: Sunset Kayaking The Harbor
Things To Do In Gdansk: Sunset Kayaking The Harbor
Last Updated on August 26, 2021
Outside the capital city of Warsaw and Krakow, Gdansk is one of Poland’s most visited tourist spots for both locals and foreigners. And for good reason. It’s a beautiful port town with architecture that resembles that of Copenhagen. A large part of the town is still preserved and its charm is the reason it’s a busy and bustling place.
But that’s also one of its drawbacks, in my opinion. Unlike smaller towns like Wroclaw, Poznan, and Lodz, which I absolutely adored, Gdansk can feel a bit crowded at times. Walking through one of the mains gate onto Ulica Dluga and there’s almost as many people as you’d find in the ultra busy streets of Taksim Square in Istanbul and Time Square in New York.
To escape that and see the city from, literally, a different perspective, I decided to explore Gdansk by kayak. And I’ll spoil it for you – it’s absolutely a must do.
We reached out to Around Gdansk to set up a sunset kayaking trip around the Harbor. From the water level, you escape all the crowd and see the town in a whole new way while getting a quick and very digestible history lesson into this historic place.
Owner and operator of Around Gdansk, Szymon, is quite a character. We arrived 15 minutes earlier than our departure time and I immediately took a liking to the guy. His direct manner of speaking had a very real and honest appeal to it and we got a sense that this was not going to be your average run of the mill kayaking trip. Case in point, before starting, he matter of factly disclaimed that he’s not a historian and will tell you what he knows about the city from what he’s heard from just being here longer than we have. That was obvious observation if there ever was one and it was refreshing to just hear him say that before we took off.
Learning More About Kayaking Than We Needed To Know
I’ve done a few kayaking tours in different cities and usually you get a very basic lesson about how to paddle, where almost no one really listens, and ends up doing their own thing anyway.
With Szymon, we spent a good 15 minutes going through different techniques, paddle adjustments and angles, and even more advanced techniques on how to right a capsized kayak and rescuing another capsized kayak. I doubted that we really needed to know this information for such a calm paddle around the harbor, but it was definitely interesting and nice to learn.
Kayaking Around The Gdansk Harbor
After putting on our lifejackets and kayak spray skirt (very nice so that water doesn’t get into the kayak), we pushed off and began to go through the old industrial harbor.
We were a group of 6, not including Szymon himself, and I did wonder how he would corral us all if the skill levels and speed varied amongst the different party. Luckily, his skills allowed him to run laps around us when necessary and he stayed with each group for a bit while pretty much let us go at our own pace.
I like this because, ultimately, I was there to kayak and some other tours have had everyone staying very close together.
Every so often, Szymon would signal for us to get together so he can drop a bit of knowledge about what we were seeing. The information was short and to the point.
Like many other cities in Poland, most of Gdansk was destroyed after WWII. Upon reclaiming the city, the Poles rebuilt and effectively erased much of the German influences and completely renamed the city to Gdansk from its German name, Danzig.
As a result, a lot of the architecture took on other influences and many buildings were rebuilt to the old specifications of the city prior to the German occupation.
Still, some structures, fortunately remained. As we made our way into the heart of the harbor, we approached an ancient, black building that I had seen almost everyday walking out from my hotel. One of the few remaining structures from their golden trading age, the Crane, dates back to 1367. The building was actually the largest operating crane of its time and also served as a defense structure and a gate into the main city.
The crane which would carry cargo from ships onto land was manually operated by two men, effectively using large cranking hamster wheels to pull the cargo onto the port. Apparently, this labor intensive job was one of prestige and was passed down within families from generation to generation.
Since the Crane was closed for renovation while we were there, it was nice to get a bit of history this way. Otherwise, it would have just been another old building to me.
From there, we continued on through the main part of the harbor passing through all the familiar restaurants I’d been walking by all week and going under some of the bridges that we crossed. A few of them were quite low, so that was pretty fun. People on land waved to us, and we waved back.
When we reached the “edge” of town, we turned back to make our way towards the harbor again where we’d get the best view of the sunset. This time, we pulled up right alongside the giant Soldek ship. The ship looked pretty big from land, but right alongside it, it was a towering behemoth.
Once again, we got a bit of history here. Story goes that if the owner of a shipyard offered a ship to the man who would load the most coal. A man by the name of Soldek won, and so they named a ship after him. Not quite the reward he was expecting, but his name has certainly lived longer as a legacy.
Szymon timed the launch and stops perfectly so we would get back in to the harbor in time for the sunset. We got glimpses of it as we passed towards the old harbor. This is where some of the world’s largest ships are brought for repair, not because it’s cheap in Poland, but because they are some of the best ship repair services in the world.
By the time, we got to our spot, it was clear we wouldn’t see an actual sunset. The clouds had something to do about that. Still, the good weather and colors we had during most of the kayaking was more than I expected since it had been raining most days of the week there.
This was one of our favorite activities in Gdansk and it was great way to see the city differently than how we had seen it the rest of our time in Gdansk. You can book directly on the Around Gdansk site or here for about 28 euros.
Another great non-active way of seeing the town by water is on one of the harbor cruises.
If you’re planning a trip to Poland and Gdansk, check out my Poland Guide and Gdansk Guide. For more travel ideas, check out the 380+ items on my bucket list.