If you want to escape the crowded cities of Western Europe (and spend less money) head east! Eastern Europe has much to offer backpackers; cheap lodging, with ever more boutique hostels popping up in major cities, low transport costs, great food at a fraction of the price of the west, and of course, beer. You can easily get by on $15-30/day, depending on your location (capitals are obviously more expensive than rural areas), dining habits, and traveling style. We spent a month backpacking around the Baltic, hitting up the coastlines and capitals; here are some of our favorite spots in the Baltic States. Gdansk was our favorite stop on our Baltic tour, we stayed at a little guesthouse called Amberstudio within walking distance from the beach, and spent most of our time exploring the coastline and the surrounding nature, as well as a few trips into Gdansk proper to marvel at the architecture.
Poland is a great place to start backpacking Eastern Europe or the Baltic. Chances are you’ll arrive in Warsaw (flights to Warsaw are inexpensive compared to the price of flying into a Western European capital). Warsaw is a great city with a youthful party vibe, no matter what day of the week you come, you can usually find some university students down to party. Be aware, that unlike much of Western Europe, drinking in the streets is prohibited, and is enforced by stony face cops. Busting tourists who are ignorant of this fact is a popular pastime, so if you want to drink outside and play it safe, head down to the city beach, where you can legally sip a beer on the banks of the Vistula.
Warsaw has great budget accommodations; the cheapest dankest hostels are about 10USD a night, but go ahead and pay a few bucks more and you can find a much nicer hostel. If you are not into hostels, Warsaw has plenty of boutique guest houses with all the services and amenities you require. If you self-cater, food will cost you next to nothing, but off the main streets you can find a meal for around 4USD. Even upscale restaurants are accessible on a traveler’s budget, for instance, a multi-course meal from a traditional kuchina on Nowy Swiat with multiple beers will cost around $35.00. Beer is as cheap as bottled water, even on Nowy Swiat (one of the main touristy streets) you can get a Warka (Warsaw’s regionally brewed beer) for 4zl ($1.30).
Warsaw is great and all, but if you want to hit the Baltic Sea, get yourself down to the train station and get a ticket to Gdansk or Gdynia on the Baltic coast. Warsaw is connected to the Baltic Coast region by both train and bus service.
GDANSK and GDYNIA
Gdansk was ravaged in the wars of the 20th century, but the inhabitants so loved their city that they painstakingly reconstructed it to its former glory. Gdansk is full of evidence of Soviet occupation as well; you can see it in the industrial areas as well as the bloc houses on the outskirts of the city. There are many streets full of beautiful architecture in the city, some interesting museums, and lots of touristy things to do. There is plenty of lodging in Gdansk proper, but if the Baltic Sea is why you came, look for lodging within walking distance of the beach, or in Gdynia. There are trams that will take you from the heart of downtown, up to the neighborhoods that melt into the Baltic.
Gdynia is a small town on the coast just outside of Gdansk. This area is really popular with Polish, German, Russian and British tourists. Most businesses in this area have menus in English and servers that speak English, so if your Polish isn’t great you’ll still be able to get around fine. The coast has been beautifully developed with tourism in mind. There are extensive bike, rollerblade and pedestrian trails that follow the coast from the mouth of the river which runs through Gdansk and empties into the Baltic up to Gdynia. Off these pedestrian trails, those who wander into the forest will find ruins of post WWII bunkers, melting into the earth. Near Gdynia you can rent bikes, kayaks, and more. There plenty of trails following the coast to cruise on a bike. Fresh fish are hauled in daily from the waters of the Baltic, and are cheap and abundant (the dorszcz was our favorite).
Like amber? This region is renowned for it. Storms are said to wash in chunks of amber, buried for eons under the sea floor, hinting at the massive pine forests that covered this region before humans set foot here. If you’re lucky you might find some small pebbles, but the beach is combed daily, so don’t expect handfuls. If you aren’t lucky enough to find any, wander into the resort areas where stand after stand sells amber jewelry glistening in the sunlight. The prices in Gdansk are about the best prices for amber in the whole Baltic region. Shops in downtown Gdansk showcase the finest art jewelry Poland has to offer, along with Tiffany-style lamps made out of amber chunks, and all sorts of creative objects made from this iconic material. If you really like amber, make your way to Malbork, where there is a museum dedicated to amber, showcasing some of history’s finest works of amber art.
So if you’re not totally in love with Poland by now, you might as well head on down the line to the next Baltic State. Fun fact; there are no train lines that connect Poland to the Baltic States, so you’ll need to take a bus. The bus ride is long, but is much cheaper than flying between capitals. Warszawa Zachodnia is the bus station (it is a train station as well) that you will need to get to for departures to Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia. ECOLINES operates buses through the Baltic on backpacker.
Some more photos of Poland follow....
EDITOR'S NOTE: Linguists on the Loose have just released an eMagazine entitled, "The Path Less Traveled", which features lots of gorgeous photos and helpful information on visiting the Baltic region. You can download a copy at this link.