Gdańsk is the only of the eight host cities located close to the sea. And even though the city is not directly situated on the Baltic Sea coast, its influence is clearly visible throughout the city.

From the middle of the second millennium Gdańsk developed into one of the prime seaports and trade centers of the Baltic region. It still boasts the main port of Poland, has a large history in shipbuilding, and significant industrial activities.

Others may know the city from Lech Wałęsa’s Solidarity trade union, rising out of the shipbuilding docks. Its resistance to Soviet rule led to the first free elections of the country since the Second World War.

Gdańsk is the sixth-largest city of Poland, but is part of a larger urban area called the Tricity, which also includes port city Gdynia and Poland’s main beach resort Sopot.

The centre of Gdańsk is located about 7 kilometres inland from the Baltic Sea.  Its centerpoint is the splendidly restored old town. The relatively small space between the railway tracks and the Motława river is filled with small cobblestone streets, churches, courtyards, and beautiful facades. The main square is the so-called “long market square”, though it lacks the allure of its equivalents in Poznań or Wrocław.

The official Fan Zone is located a bit away from the old town, on Zebran Ludowych Square on the other side of the railway station (north-west of the old town). The walk will not take more than 15 minutes though. Gdańsk’s Fan Zone will be able to hold a total of 30,000 fans, and a host of activities are planned among which a concert of Noel Gallagher.

The great advantage of Gdańsk though, is that there are a lot of possibilities to get away from the city. Which is true for the beach buffs as well as the cultural types. No one has to be afraid to be stuck in Gdańsk for a week without anything to do.

The stadium

PGE Arena Gdańsk – 42,105 seats

The PGE Arena Gdańsk, shortened to Arena Gdańsk for the tournament, is arguably one of the most eye-catching stadiums of Euro 2012. Its most striking features are its amber-coloured exterior and roof, which shine brightly in the sunlight.

The roof looks just as spectacular from the inside, and with its light-green-coloured stands that sit close to the pitch you have a perfectly fine stadium.

The stadium, which opened in August 2011, is the normal home of Lechia Gdańsk. Lechia is not considered to be one of the top teams in Poland and has led a struggling existence. After a spell in the second division it recently moved up to the top league again, but this year only narrowly avoided the drop.

The stadium has been a success though, as attendances have risen significantly in the new home.

The Arena Gdańsk is not located particularly close to the centre, lying about 4.5 kilometres toward the north, but is very easy to reach with various public transport options (more later).

Who’s coming?

The Spanish are the lucky ones that are going to be able to call Gdańsk their home. The Euro 2008 champions get to play all of their group matches at the stadium.

They will first receive the Italians and then entertain the Irish. The group stage will be concluded with their encounter with the Croatians.

The three guests will play their other two matches in Poznań, which is a considerable train journey away.

Gdańsk is also the fortunate second Polish city to host a quarter-final match. No Spanish in this match though – they will have to move to the Ukraine -, but the winners of group B (coming from the Ukraine) and the number two of the Polish group A will square off along the Baltic coast.

The team that has made Gdańsk its base though, is Germany, who play all of their group matches in the Ukraine. Their hotel lies just outside the city at only 5 kilometres from the beach.

From that point of view the Irish squad has a better deal as the Sheraton Hotel they’re staying at lies right off the beach of Sopot. Quite a risky move with so much entertainment around. They will train at the new ground of second division team Arka Gdynia.

The third team that has made the area its base is, of course, Spain. They will stay at the small town of Gniewowo, which lies further north, not far from the city of Gdynia.

How to get in and around

Though being one of the most isolated Polish cities, there are plenty of options to get to Gdańsk.

Gdańsk’s airport, named after Lech Wałęsa, is particularly well-served by low-cost airlines. The city is an important destination for both Ryanair and Wizzair. Relevant connections include Dublin, Girona, London, Barcelona, Bergamo, and Rome.

Apart from the low-cost airlines there are a significant amount of domestic connections served by LOT and newcomer OLT Express. Fares can be competitive with a train ticket.

If fares for a direct flight to Gdańsk get too high for the Euros, you may want to consider catching a flight to Bydgoszcz. The train ride from Bydgoszcz to Gdańsk is a very reasonable two to three hours.

Gdańsk Airport is located about 13 kilometres west of the city. Fortunately there is a good bus service that brings you to the old town in just over half an hour. Take bus 210 (or bus N3 at night) in the direction of Gościnna and get off at the main railway station (Gdańsk Główny) or the stop after (Brama Wyżynna). There are also several companies offering direct shuttle services from the airport to the old town. These will of course be more expensive.

Arriving in Gdańsk by train will likely mean you travel via either Warsaw or Poznań (with connection to Berlin). From Warsaw it’s an approximate six to seven hour journey, and the somewhat less regular service from Poznań takes between four and five hours. Never leave it to the last minute to arrive in Gdańsk. The Polish railways are notorious for their delays and especially the service between Warsaw and Gdańsk is a disaster.

The main railway station (Gdańsk Główny) is located right on the edge of the old town. The old town is extremely compact and you’ll be able to get anywhere on foot. Alternatively there is a reasonable network of buses and trams to get you to other places. Use the excellent journey planner Jakdojade.pl (in English) to plan your trip.

To get to other destinations within the Tricity (e.g. Sopot or Gdynia) you can use the SKM suburban commuter rail service. There is only one line that connects all cities. You can catch the SKM from the main rail station.

Tram 10 and 14 take you from the main rail station to the Arena Gdańsk. Take the tram in the direction of Nowy Port and get off at stop PGE Arena Gdańsk. The journey takes about 13 minutes.

If coming from Sopot with the SKM, get off at stop Politechnika and change to one of the above trams or tram 4.

Where to eat and drink

Eating and drinking in Gdańsk happens in the old town. There is a wide plethora of bars, restaurants, coffee houses, clubs, and outside terraces that cater for most needs. The best strategy is to just walk around the small streets of the old town and pop into a place that attracts your attention.

Gdańsk’s old town also boats a few typical Polish milk bars (cheap semi-self-service restaurants), and loads of regular restaurants with Polish (try the pierogi) or any other international cuisine. Of course, being located so close to the sea, there is also plenty of good sea food on offer.

Gdańsk’s nightlife remains a bit studenty though, and if you want to do some proper clubbing and hard partying, Sopot is your place. Sopot particularly heats up during the summer weekends when the rest of the country heads up to the town to hit the clubs and beaches.

Most of the action in Sopot is centered round the promenade and pier, and in particular around Monte Cassino street, which runs inland from around the pier.

What else to see and do

First take your time to wander around the old town and Motława river area. The medieval port crane (Żuraw) is one of the key monuments of the city.

For some nice views you can go up the Góra Gradowa hill behind the main railway station (not far from the Fan Zone). The nicest park in Gdańsk is probably Park Oliwski, though it is located rather far out of the centre, actually closer to Sopot (station Oliwa on the SKM train).

Closer to the centre you can find Lechia’s old stadium. It’s far from spectacular, but interesting for the real stadium enthusiasts. And you may even get to see the Germans train there. It’s a 15 to 20-minute walk north-west of the Fan Zone.

Sopot is the beach and party destination, though there are plenty other (and quieter) beaches in the area. The artificial island Wyspa Sobieszewska, for example, has some very fine beaches surrounded by nature. It is located east of the city

More beaches can be found toward the north of the city, for example near Rewa, Puck or at the Hel peninsula. Most of these towns also boast a few nightlife options. There are various trains and buses running that way or you can catch a water tram from Gdańsk or Sopot. The journey to Hel takes about two to three hours. Most sea resorts get very crowded during the summer weekends when traffic can be horrendous.

Of greater natural beauty is Słowiński National Park, with its main asset  the largest sand dunes of Europe. The park, located just west of sea resort Łeba, would be a great outing for nature lovers, or those who like to hike.

If you spend at least a few days in Gdańsk, Malbork castle is a must-visit. Malbork is considered Poland’s most beautiful castle and is definitely worth the one-hour train journey south.

If Gdańsk’s old town has captured you, you might find a trip to such medieval towns as Elbląg, Frombork, or Kadyny a good way to spend a few hours. They lie east of Gdańsk, almost in Kalinigrad (Russia). You need a Russian visa to enter Kalinigrad though.

Gdynia is not the most interesting city, but might be good for a change of environment. It’s located directly at the shore, has a few beaches, a port with a few war ships that can be visited, a museum dedicated to the Polish navy, an observation tower, and an aquarium.

And if you turn your football visit into a longer holiday and stick around until early June, you could catch Gdynia’s Open’er Festival, Poland’s largest multi-day music festival featuring many international acts.