Unless you are new to my blog, you will know that there are two types of tours I always do whenever I am somewhere new: a food tour and a free walking tour. In my opinion, there is no better way to get under the skin of a city than by seeing it through the eyes of a local, which is exactly what Walkative offers. Although we didn’t have time for a food tour, we did fit in a brilliant free walking tour in Gdansk.
Over the course of a couple of hours, Pawel, our guide, brought to life Gdanks’s fascinating history through entertaining stories delivered with a good dose of humour. We visited all the key sites in the city and understood the significance of everything we had been walking past over the previous 24 hours. As choosing the right tour can sometimes be a minefield, I wanted to share my honest review of Walkative’s free walking tour in Gdansk. And by the way, this blog post is in no way sponsored!
Before we jump into the review though, let’s start with the basics:
What is a free walking tour?
Let’s start by talking about the elephant in the room. Is a free walking tour actually free? It is, in the sense that you are not contractually obliged to pay, but at the same time, no, it is not free because you are expected to tip the guide at the end. A more appropriate name would be “pay what you want” walking tour, which is a great notion as you will only ever have to pay what you feel the tour is worth, and you can tailor it to fit perfectly within your budget!
We opted for a free walking tour in Gdansk to understand the city’s history. It’s easy to wander aimlessly and admire the beautiful architecture on your own, but you really need someone in the know to bring a place to life. You want someone who can point out the smaller details, who can make history enjoyable by telling it through memorable stories, and most of all, I always enjoy a guide that can make me laugh!
What are the benefits of a free walking tour vs a traditionally paid tour?
I have done more walking tours than I can remember. However, joining free walking tours is something I have only started doing recently. For whatever reason, I had assumed they would be of lesser quality. It was something in that word “free” that put me off. If the guide is working for peanuts it must be because they aren’t good enough to get a job with a “proper” tour company. The fact that they always seemed to attract large groups was another reason why I often opted for small groups or private tours. What I have learned in recent years though, is that I couldn’t have been more wrong!
My experience with free walking tours has actually been the complete opposite. Because they only get paid based on how good they are, I find their delivery to be significantly better than a lot of traditional guides. They need to impress to bring in bigger bills, so I feel they put more effort into it. They are more charismatic, often funnier, and their stories are more engaging.
Is the group size a problem?
As for the group size, yes, usually there is a large group of people on free walking tours. But then, that can also be the case with other group tours unless you specifically pay extra for a small or private tour. So far though, this has always worked to my advantage since I often travel solo. For example, I met two lovely girls in Copenhagen during my “Politically Incorrect Walking Tours“. I joined them later that evening to watch the Handball World Cup Semi-finals. So not only have the tours been super informative and entertaining, but it has also allowed me to meet other travellers. And as you know from my stories, I love nothing more than meeting people!
As I’m sure you can guess, my vote goes to free walking tours, and Gdansk was no different!
How much should I pay for a free walking tour in Gdansk?
The million-dollar question! How much should you tip? Well, it depends on how much you enjoyed it and your financial situation. It also depends on what country you are in. For example, £10 in Copenhagen is worth less than £10 in Bangkok!
I tend to search the cost of similar paid-for tours to get an idea of the going rate. I then use that as my base. If the tour is OK, they will get whatever the going rate is. However, if the tour was bad (never happened), they will likely get less. But if the tour was great, I will pay more.
Of course, I am lucky enough to be in a situation where I can afford to do that. However, the beauty of these tours is that you can adapt that same principle to suit your budget.
Everything you need to know about Walkative’s free walking tour in Gdansk
Now that we know everything about free walking tours, let’s talk about Walkative.
Waklative has been in operation since 2007 and currently offers tours in 19 countries and 42 cities across Europe, with over 100 guides at their disposal! If you check Tripadvisor for tours in any of the cities they operate in, you will see that they are always one of the top-ranked companies, and for good reason: they are great! Over 3 million happy tourists have enjoyed themselves with Walkative’s local guides across Europe.
How to choose the best free walking tour for you?
Walkative offers 3 English-speaking free walking tours in Gdansk:
Main Town Gdansk Tour: The perfect tour if you are looking for an overview of Gdansk’s history. This is the tour that I chose, so I will talk about it in much more depth below.
Nazi Terror Tour: This would have been my first choice of tour; however, due to our flight times, we couldn’t make it work. As the main Nazi hub and the site of the first war crime of WWII, there is no better place to learn about that period of history than Gdansk. I may have to return just to do this tour!
Gdansk Shipyard Uncovered: Explore the Gdansk Shipyard and discover its role in the fall of communism in Europe.
What was the Main Town of Gdansk Free Walking Tour like?
When I booked my trip to Gdansk I knew very little about the city. I had seen the beautiful photos of the immaculately preserved buildings, but that was it. My friend and I had spent the day before purposefully getting lost admiring the architecture, sampling all the various coffee shops, and sampling the best doughnuts ever known to humanity. But little did I know that what I was seeing was all a façade.
Throughout the tour, Pawel, our lovely and hilarious guide, took us through Gdansk’s turbulent history. Having been an independent state and changing hands between Germany and Poland on various occasions, Gdansk was bursting with history. More than I ever expected!
So what did we learn?
For starters, did you know that all the beautiful historical buildings in Gdansk are not really all that historical at all? The city came under siege on the 30th of March 1945 and was heavily bombed, destroying many of the Gdansk buildings. Over the last 80 years, they have been rebuilding the city, and it is only in the last two years that the waterfront granaries were completed! When restoring Main Street (Dulga Street) and the surrounding areas, they decided to model the buildings back to their 17th-century glory, before the city had come under German command. The result is, of course, beautiful!
The tour took us through Gdansk’s long history, from the earliest settlers through to the hay days of maritime trade, and of course, all the way to WWII. However, it was the stories that stuck with me, and Pawel was a brilliant storyteller. I will share just two though, as I would hate to ruin the tour for you.
Netflix in the Middle Ages
For the first story, I need to take you to the old Jail House, close to the Golden Gates. Pawel was talking us through the early history of Gdansk and the importance of the hangman, not just as a way to control criminals but also to entertain the crowd. As he said this, someone in the group commented, “How could people have been so morbid back then?”. Pawel’s reply was priceless. “Because they didn’t have Netflix. Now we watch crime drama while eating dinner every night and think nothing of it!”. Brilliant!
The second story that stuck with me was that of St Dominique’s fair. The fair has been running since 1260 and is considered one of Europe’s biggest open-air cultural events. It is an event not to be missed! So much so that it still went ahead in 1709 despite the Black Plague. Sadly 28,000 people died due to the fair, but hopefully they had a great time just before they did!
Not wanting to give away too many more of Walkative’s secrets, I’ll stop here. But what I do want to get a cross is the fact that it was a highly entertaining tour that was well worth the €10 we each paid. So if you are in Gdansk, I would highly recommend you join Pawel on a free walking tour.
What else should I do while in Gdansk?
Free walking tour done, but now wondering what else to do? Here are my top 3 recommendations:
Museum of the Second World War
This might not be a particularly joyful activity, but I do believe it is a very important one. The museum was founded in 2008 to honour those who fought during World War II and highlight Poland’s involvement and contribution to events. The museum does a great job of bringing to life the horrors of WWII. If anything, it does too good a job! Beware, there are some very harrowing graphics! There were several times that I teared up walking through the exhibits.
The museum is located within two buildings: one contains permanent exhibitions dedicated to World War II, while the other hosts short-term ones that focus on specific aspects or elements relating to World War II or particular people involved. There are also digital displays installed throughout both buildings (as well as an interactive website) which provide interesting facts such as details about its military forces, political leaders, and civilian population during 1940-1945. This is all supplemented by audio recordings, videos, photographs, and other visual materials related to Second World War events.
It might not be a fun activity, but it is certainly one that I highly recommend. After all, if we don’t learn about our past, how can we prevent it from happening again in the future?
Address: Plac Władysława Bartoszewskiego 1, 80-862 Gdańsk
Opening Hours: Closed on Monday. Tuesdays 10 am to 4 pm. Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm.
Admission Price: 25 PLN (£4.66).
Indulge in the best doughnuts in Europe!
It is no secret that I have a sweet tooth and a fondness for doughnuts. In fact, instead of a wedding cake, we had a tower of doughnuts! That is how much I love them. Until my trip to Gdansk, the US was definitely in the lead when it came to the best doughnuts. However, I think the ones at Dobra Pączkarnia are the best I’ve ever had!
They are a traditional filled doughnuts with a light sugar coating. You can choose from a multitude of fillings, the most traditional one being rose. I enjoyed the rose filling, although the raspberry and the chocolate were better. We went there on two occasions, and both times the doughnuts were freshly baked. You can’t beat a fresh warm doughnut!
If you have a sweet tooth definitely check out Dobra Pączkarnia.
Address: Pl. Dominikański 1, Gdansk
Opening Times: 9 am to 5 pm every day
Cost of a doughnut: 6 PLN (£1.12)
Climb to the top of St Mary’s Church
St Mary’s Church, commonly referred to by its Polish name of ‘Kościół Mariacki’, is one of the most iconic buildings in the city of Gdansk. Founded by the Teutonic Knights during the 14th century and standing at a staggering 105 metres, it has captured people’s attention for centuries! Not only is it the largest brick church in Europe, but it was also the largest temple within Prussia for over 600 years. The church is spectacular enough to warrant a visit. However, the reason I’m recommending it is because of the impressive views you can enjoy if you tackle the 400 steps up to the viewing platform in the tower. You will not find better views anywhere else in the city.
Address: Podkramarska 5, 80-834 Gdańsk
Viewing Tower Opening times: Monday through Friday, 11 am to 4 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm.
Admission: 14 PLN (£2.60)
The one I didn’t have time for: a food tour!
The one thing I wish I had done while in Gdansk that I didn’t get time for was a food tour. There are plenty on offer, and Get Your Guide has a good selection depending on what you want, from Vodka tastings to traditional polish grub! So do check the below link out. Please not this is an affiliate link, so if you make a purchase I will get a small commission at no cost to you. Although I can recommend Get Your Guide, as I use them often, I haven’t been on any of their Gdansk recommended tours, so please read the reviews and make sure it is the right review for you before booking!
All that is left to say is, “have an amazing time in Gdansk”. I’d love to hear if you plan to visit, so do drop a comment below. Also, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.