Elblag has never been very high on my list of places to visit in Poland. I knew some basic facts about the city, mainly that it was badly destroyed during World War 2, but it never seemed interesting enough for me to go all the way there.
But when summer 2020 kind of forced me to stay in Poland and rediscover my home country, I ended up visiting Elblag.
However, the city itself wasn’t the reason why I went there. It is the starting point of the boat cruise on the fascinating Elblag Canal – a masterpiece of engineering from the 19th century.
But, to my great surprise, Elblag turned out to be a really nice city and I enjoyed it so much more than I expected, even if there are not all that many things to do in Elblag!
Where is Elblag, Poland
Elblag, the city of around 120 thousand inhabitants, is located in the northern part of Poland, not far from the border with Russia (Kaliningrad region). Gdansk is only 60 km away and Warsaw, the capital of Poland, is almost 300 km south of Elblag.
How to get to Elblag
Getting to Elblag isn’t really difficult as there are numerous train and bus connections, including a few direct ones from Gdansk.
If you are coming from Warsaw you can take the direct bus but it takes almost 5 hours so better go by train to Malbork and change for the train to Elblag – it should be faster and you can visit the spectacular Malbork castle on the way.
The bus and train station in Elblag are located next to each other, around 2 km away from the central part of the city.
Where to stay in Elblag
There are a few fine accommodation options in Elblag and I recommend staying in the center, close to all the attractions. Here are the best places to stay in Elblag:
What to see in Elblag
Even if Elblag is one of the oldest cities in Poland (or Germany since it was founded by the Teutonic Order), dating back to the early 13th century, there are not too many monuments or remnants from the glorious past times. Before World War Two this was one of the grandest and most beautiful cities in the area, packed with attractions, but disastrous fights in early 1945 turned the place into ruins and only a very few buildings survived that period.
Today you will find the majority of Elblag attractions in the central part of the city, between Rycerska street and the Elblag river. It’s a really tiny area so you don’t need the whole day to see all it has to offer, 1-2 hours would be actually enough.
But it is a nice place and a few nice cafes and restaurants located along Stary Rynek and near the waterside make it charming enough to just chill there and enjoy the place.
The whole area is lined with the townhouses that pretend to be old but actually were built only recently (and you might still find some empty spaces between houses). But even if these are not centuries-old houses, they still are really pretty and make the whole place to be really pleasant to wander around.
The prettiest houses are on Mostowa street (the complex of brick buildings there has actually survived the war) where you will also find a charming medieval lane with arches above. In the past, you could walk this lane through the whole central part of the city, today only a small part remained.
This tiny part of Elblag Old Town really reminded me of the beautiful Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia.
Of all the buildings in the central part of the city, there is one you simply won’t miss – St. Nicholas Cathedral. This 13th-century Gothic church (destroyed by the fire and the war, then renovated) towers above the area with its 97-meters tower, one of the highest in Poland.
It has an impressive Gothic interior but you also might want to go all the way up to the tower to see the view of the surrounding area. Just keep in mind you need to walk up the stairs and there are many of them, considering the tower’s height. Sadly, when I visited it was closed, I still regret I could go up there.
But there is another viewpoint from where you can see Elblag from above (however, not from that high). The city gate (Brama Targowa), located at the end of Stary Rynek, dates back to the 14th century and is the remaining part of the former city walls.
Between May and September, you can visit it inside (free of charge) and from the upper part of it, you can look at Elblag’s Old Town. The rows of townhouses look really lovely!
Next to the city gate, you will find my favorite attraction of Elblag – the former St. Mary’s church turned into the art gallery. In Poland, where the Catholic tradition is so strong, we don’t really find another purpose for the church other than religion so it was really refreshing to see this place.
The Gothic church, originally from the 13th century, was obviously destroyed during WW2 and once it was rebuilt a few years later, it was used for culture. In 1961 Galleria EL was opened here and still today you can enjoy modern art in the historical setting.
The combination of the sacred and the profane is really interesting and I can guarantee this will be one of the most unique galleries you will ever see. Even if you are not really into art you shouldn’t miss this place.
If you have time you should also visit the local historical museum where you will see the great legacy of this centuries-old city. Apparently, this is one of the best and most interesting museums of that kind in Poland and I really regret it was closed when I visited the city (oh the joy of 2020 travels).
And once you are done with visiting the Old Town go for a walk along the Elblag river since it is another really pleasant area. You might even be lucky and see one of two bridges being opened.
Day trips from Elblag
While there are not all that many things to do in Elblag (as you can see above), the city can be a good base to see some interesting places nearby.
Elblag is the starting point of the cruise on the Elblag canal – the outstanding engineering work from the mid-19th century and one of the Seven Wonders of Poland. What makes it so special is the system of inclined planes between the different levels of the canal – it feels like you are drifting on grass!
The cruise departs daily between May and September and takes a few hours. It’s better to buy tickets in advance as they sell out quickly.
Another place that is located only 30 km away from Elblag and can be visited as a perfect day trip is Frombork – a small town known as the “Jewel of Warmia”. It is packed with attractions, including the 700-year old Gothic cathedral, the place of the final rest of the famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. You can easily get there from Elblag by local bus.
You might also use Elblag as the base to visit Malbork Castle (also 30 km away from the city) – one of the most splendid castles you will ever see. It was built in medieval times by Teutonic Order and is the largest castle in the world, listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Final thoughts of visiting Elblag
Even if Elblag was supposed to be only a base for visiting Elblag Canal and Frombork, I enjoyed the city much more than I expected. Sure, it might not be as interesting as nearby Gdansk (although it is said it was more beautiful than Gdansk in the past) but still, it is a very pleasant place, perfect for chilling out on the warm summer day.
And even those few attractions that Elblag has were cool enough to get me more interested in the city. So if you are nearby don’t dismiss Elblag too, you might enjoy it as much as I did.
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