Heaven or Hel? Why Poland’s divine Baltic coast has both

Photo of Jacob LewisPhoto of Jacob Lewis
By Jacob Lewis

4 January 20245 min read

Aerial view of the Baltic sea coastline and wooden pier in Sopot, Poland

Think 'Baltic' and you’re probably picturing icy winds and shivering cold, but surprise – Poland's coast, including the stunning Hel peninsula, is actually a haven of sun-drenched sandy beaches in the summertime.

Poland’s Baltic coastline, long a popular domestic tourism spot, is having a moment in the sun.

Lonely Planet just gave Poland a big thumbs up with a Best in Travel 2024 award in the budget destinations category. The kudos coincides with the Polish tourist board reporting a 68% increase in UK visitors from January to August 2023, compared to the same period in 2022.

TUI is even jumping on the bandwagon, with plans to beef up their holiday offering along Poland's golden coastline. TUI CEO Sebastian Ebel said that as a result of climate change, travellers will soon begin looking outside of the Mediterranean for their summer holidays and that TUI plans to invest in more package holidays around the Baltic Sea.

Here, we explain why a beach holiday to the Polish Riviera could be the next big thing and where you should visit first.

Sopot – sun, sand, and sophistication

Sopot, born as a spa town in 1819 with its first public baths built over natural springs, has maintained its allure over the years. In contrast to many English spa towns that shone brightly in the late 19th century before losing their lustre, Sopot has clung to its timeless charm. Its standout feature is the wooden pier, which outlasted many of its UK counterparts to become the longest in Europe.

The premier hotels in Sopot, many over a hundred years old, have been tastefully modernised. The crown jewel is the 5-star Grand Hotel Sopot, facing the pier and steeped in a rich history. It has hosted a parade of notable figures including Charles De Gaulle, Fidel Castro, Greta Garbo, and Prince Albert. Its guest list also bears a darker mark with Adolf Hitler staying there for a fortnight during the 1939 German invasion of Poland.

The beaches in Sopot are a delight with fine sand, ample space, and a relaxed atmosphere. They offer everything from children's play areas to saunas. Water activities abound, including boat tours and speed boat adventures.

The main drag in Sopot is Bohaterów Monte Cassino Street, a blend of historical charm and modern entertainment. Named to honour the Allied victory in Monte Cassino, Italy during World War II, the street is a culinary hotspot. Highlights include Phuket for Thai and Billy's American Restaurants for grilled and vegetarian dishes. For a laidback locals experience, stroll five minutes inland to Małe Piwko Sopot Beer & Pizza House, where local Polish beers, tasty pizzas, and a cosy patio await.

Hel – the heavenly peninsula with a unique culture

Hop on a short ferry ride from Sopot, across the Bay of Puck, and you'll find yourself at Poland's Hel Peninsula, a gorgeous sliver of land stretching 35km (22 miles) from Władysławowo to the town of Hel. This place is all about stunning, untouched beaches, cosy resorts, and charming little Kashubian villages. The local Kashubians are super interesting with their Slavic roots, unique language, traditional costumes, and folklore. And you’ve got to try the food – think potato pie and herring in cream sauce.

The village of Jurata, established in 1928, quickly became the go-to luxurious summer retreat for the who's who. Today, it still has that fancy vibe but feels a bit Mediterranean too, with all the lush greenery and peaceful scenes.

The town of Hel, perched at the peninsula's tip, offers chill beach activities and some neat cultural stuff. For rainy days there is the Fisheries Museum or the Coastal Defence Museum. There's also a seal sanctuary and you can’t miss the Hel Lighthouse for views that stretch all the way to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Gdansk – a medieval treasure trove of history and cuisine

A short train ride south-east along the coast from Sopot is Gdańsk, Poland’s largest coastal city, and a haven for history buffs. It's the cradle of the Solidarity trade union movement, which was pivotal in the Iron Curtain's fall, and has a rich history as a city-state and part of Prussia.

Strolling through Gdańsk is like walking through a museum, but with way better food. Sample the fresh Baltic herring, a regional specialty, or indulge in pierogi (dumplings) at one of the many quaint eateries, where a beer to wash it all down with will set you back just £1.50.

Don't miss out on exploring the Main Town and the picturesque Long Riverbank. The city's history with amber trade means you'll also find exquisite amber crafts in local markets.

Malbork Castle – an immersive journey to the past

A further 25-minute train ride south from Gdańsk brings you to the imposing Malbork Castle, the world's largest castle by land area. Built by the Teutonic Knights, its red brick walls and towering spires and moat are a breathtaking sight. Every summer, the fortress comes alive with the ‘Siege of Malbork,’ a spectacular event that transforms the castle into a mediaeval city with knight duels, horse shows, and a craft fair. A special area for children features theatres, jugglers, and workshops.

Pomorskie Province – more than just the beaches and battlements

Zoom out to the wider Pomorskie Province and you’ll find more than just beaches and battlements. With one-third of Poland’s most north-eastern province occupied by green spaces including two national parks, nine landscape parks and 127 nature reserves, it’s an outdoorsy person’s paradise. Think birdwatching, canoeing, and trails that make you feel like you’re in a nature documentary.

Away from the coast, strawberries reign supreme, particularly when Truskawkobranie, the annual strawberry-picking festival, rolls around each June. Imagine a vibrant fair bursting with artisanal crafts, local music, all set among strawberry fields that roll down to a serene lake. Competitions at the festival, which is held annually in the Kashubia Protected Landscape Area, feature awards for the most delicious strawberry pie and the largest strawberry.

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