Magiczne Miasta/Magic Towns is my series that brings you a genuine real life foreign tourist backpackers account of Polish town, village and city life. This place, Starogard Gdański in Pomerania Province, left quite the impression on me. Just look at its pretty square!
Starogard Gdański – I headed here after my time in the beautiful city of Gdańsk, I knew Gdańsk wasn’t quite off the wall enough in Poland for me. I needed another Polish city with a few less tourists and some new discoveries away from the commercial tourism that runs through the major cities. This adventure was a bit more whackpacking instead of backpacking! #StarogardGdański #ilovestg
It was an exciting adventure to visit Starogard Gdański, inspired by my former fake friend Ola Mueller (who pretended we were friends and hit me with a string of lies) who grew up in this town and I hoped that she could meet up, show me around, give me travel tips etc. Sadly Ola was nasty and couldn’t do this for me, so I was off on my adventure alone. She couldn’t even tell me the best bus route or a decent cafe to visit.
Beforehand, I didn’t know much about Starogard Gdański, but in the end, I loved the town. I even compared it to my own hometown of Bangor in Northern Ireland and I’m glad that I was the first travel blogger to properly cover a backpacking visit to it when I first wrote about it in July 2016. It was such a brilliant visit that I got featured on the front page of the local newspaper here, Gazeta Kociewska. When I later returned to the town, local people in bars were aware of my stories and took time to chat to me. I have since developed a love and connection to the town.
Getting to Starogard Gdański
To get to Starogard Gdański most people will head from the city of Gdańsk. I spent six months in Gdańsk and I decided to get the bus, though train is also an option, but the bus seemed easier to me as it goes closer to the town centre of Starogard Gdański and the train seemed less frequent.
There are two bus options as far as I can tell. Both buses have a lot of stops on the way and generally it takes just over an hour from Gdańsk Główny (main station). I hoped my travel friend in the area would have helped me source the bus route but she didn’t sadly:
- Arrivia Linia NR 51
- PKS Linia 400
Either you get the Arriva Linia Nr 51 bus or you get the PKS Linia 400. To mix things up, I got the Linia 400 on the way into Starogard Gdański, but coming back I got the Linia 51. The oddest thing was the Linia 51 is more like a coach – it’s the most comfortable of the two options, but it was the cheapest too! The Linia 51 cost me 6.90 złotys and the Linia 400 cost me 8 złotys.
I was a bit tired and travel weary when I arrived in Starogard for the first time in July 2016.
Where to Stay in Starogard Gdański
In Starogard Gdański, there are no backpackers hostels or let’s be honest, even any backpackers, so I checked into the Noclegi Rekord! This is kind of an odd hotel, as it’s connected to the sports stadium and club – I ended up becoming a fan of the local team, Klub Pilkarski Starogard as they play in green! The same colours as Northern Ireland.
The Noclegi Rekord was a perfect spot for me for 3 days though, breakfast and WiFi included. It also has a kind of mini football museum, inspired not only by the team Klub Pilkarski but by the famous Kazimierz Deyna who hails from the town, making it another ridiculously up my street bed location from my endless journeys.
About Starogard Gdański
Starogard Gdański is an average sized town of about 48,000 people. It is inland but has the river Wierzyca flowing through it. It is in the Pomerania Province. Starogard has been the capital of Starogard County in Pomeranian Voivodeship since 1999, but was previously a town in Gdańsk Voivodeship from 1975 to 1998. For me, the town has a beautiful name and it was a sentimental enchanting journey here.
Starogard Gdański reminded me of my home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland somehow. But I later found out it is twinned with Limerick in the Republic of Ireland! The name Starogard, you can work out – it means “old city” or “old stronghold” in the Pomeranian language. Again interesting as I have been to lots of cities and towns with a similar name – even Machu Picchu translates as “old mountain” and weirdly again, my birth town is the opposite – its name is Newtownards – the “new town in Ards”.
The reason they added the word Gdański in the 20th century is because Gdańsk is the largest nearby city, therefore this differentiates Starogard Gdański from other cities also known as Starogard. Literally, as someone learning Polish this translates as the Starogard of Gdańsk. There is also a Starogard near Szczecin, it is known as Stargard only though apparently, until December 2015, its official name was Stargard Szczeciński. I have so far visited Szczecin on my Poland adventures, but not yet Stargard Szczecinski.
So without further ado, and without the help of serial liar Ola Mueller, these are my top 25 things to check out when you visit Starogard Gdanski.
1.Rynek (Main Square/Market Square)
The Rynek is of course the main square and heart of this town. It has a happy vibe and there are very rarely tourists here. Around the Rynek are some cool bars, cafes and shops. There are also two of the churches on this list, plus the Ratusz – the Town Hall.
The square is of perfect size, 107 x 107 metres. Allegedly the Town Hall is connected to dungeons and subterranean ways behind the city wall. There’s a little mystery in the air.
The River Wierzyca runs through Starogard Gdański and you have many options to cross the river. There are lots of bridges and canals. I actually was staying on an island – Noclegi Rekord is on a mini island in the city! But you wouldn’t really know that when you are on it. You can go canoeing on the canals or jogging in leafy parks alongside the river.
3.Kościół sw Katarzyny (St. Catherine’s Church)
St. Catherine’s Church is easily the most distinctive church in Starogard Gdański, right on the corner by the Rynek and appearing in most photographs to promote the town. The city centre has a holy and pleasant feel and this church gives the place a real peace. It was quite soothing walking past this one every day.
At a guess, I’d say it’s also the highest building in the city.
4.Parafia Rzymskokatolicka św. Mateusza (St. Matthew’s Church)
The Oldest Church in Starogard Gdański is St. Matthews. Inside it has a huge mural and outside a few plaques. I went into this one to pray during my time in Starogard Gdański and also attended the impressive Christmas Catholic mass here.
The Gothic features decorate from outside the inner forms, with baroque furnishings inside. It is considered to be the most valuable monument of medieval architecture in the town.
5. Kazimierz Deyna Stadium
A really cool yet surprising fact is that one of Poland’s greatest ever footballers came from Starogard Gdański, Kazimierz Deyna, an outstanding Poland international who died tragically in 1989. The local stadium is named after him and I was staying beside it! From my hotel room I could see the pitch and there was a huge tribute section to him there too.
In the stadium grandstand you can meet Deyna himself, wearing a Polish national football team T-shirt, holding a football, looking at the pitch and encouraging young footballers who train there! Yes he has a statue in the stands!
Unfortunately it is only the monument to the famous sportsman. It is of life size and it was made by a local artist and put on the grandstand to underline that one of the Poland’s greatest football players came from Starogard Gdański, this little known town. I was told that the team that play here, Włókniarz Starogard Gdański are now in the Polish fourth division. However there was also some confusion about the name of the team in this town, Wikipedia had it down as Wierzyca Starogard Gdański. Yet on Facebook and an internet search, all I could find was the green team I chose – Klub Pilkarski Starogard!
6.Ratusz (Town Hall)
The Town Hall is of yellow paint and red brick and distinctive in the heart of the Rynek. On the gable flies a flag of 1339, the year when Starogard got its coat of arms. Yes, this is an old town.
I also visited at Christmas and the decorations outside are superb. This is a really pretty place.
7.Urząd Miasta (City Hall)
Confusing? The odd thing about the name Urząd Miasta is that it means “City Hall” rather than Town Hall and yet there is already a Town Hall in the Rynek. This building is bigger and about 7-8 minutes walk north from the Rynek. It’s more like a council building but a pretty one none the less.
You probably will have noticed that every now and then, I whack a shopping centre into my top sights. The reason for this is I love to contrast the old to the new. I’m not totally against commericalism of course. I just prefer small businesses doing well for themselves.
Galeria Neptun does have Subway and some brand name shops like H & M, but this Northern Irish dude loved the coffee shops for blogging. Free Wi-Fi, cheap coffee and only a few minutes walk from the Rynek. A big Carrefour nearby gets your shopping needs.
9.Browar (Na Rynku)
I did a separate Piatkowe Picie on Starogard Gdański’s top bars as I did some cool partying here but if you only have time for a quick beer – Browar by the square is the one! A bar that sells its own locally brewed beer, has a nice interior, friendly staff, Wi-Fi and good food! Try the pierogi z spinakiem i serem and a good old pint of Starogardzie!
Thanks to Gregorgz, Paulina, Marta and Ola for your hospitality! I will be back…
Right next to my hotel was this place – at first I didn’t give it much notice, but when I read up on it I realised this was an elaborate place that sadly is no longer open. You can only admire it from the outside.
It was built by Franz Wichert in the 19th century. It’s an eclectic villa with a huge entrance arch and five statues at the front. It is also one of the sights on Starogard Gdanski’s tourist trail (all of which I “ticked off” of course).
11.Baszta Gdanska (Gdansk Bastion)
You could be forgiven for walking past this and missing it, the Baszta Gdanska (Gdansk Bastion).
It is a relic of gothic architecture from 1325 and was a strong defence point for the old city. Today the bastion defends and presents the treasures in the museum next door.
12.Muzeum Ziemi Kociewskiej
This museum (next door to the Bastion) gives you the history of the region Kociewie, an ethnocultural region in the eastern part of Tuchola Forest. Check out the webpages at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kociewie and http://www.muzeum-kociewie.gda.pl/historia/historia.htm
Buildings with character are notable on your walk through the city. This one, the Sąd Rejonowy is the district court house. It’s on the tourist trail as well and worth checking out.
There are quite a few War Memorials in Starogard Gdanski so I’m putting them in as one sight here.
For some brilliant ice cream and waffles, head to Słodka Dziupla which has tables by the river in an idyllic setting. The ice cream is hugely popular.
16.Beer Garden in Rynek
Perhaps this was a summer line only, but I was able to relax on deck chairs in a mock beach, sip beer and listen to live music in the square. Seriously amazing!
At night there were movies on here and loud live music, including pornography some night. A raunchy bunch these Starogardians!
With the meaning “Wardrobe Cafe”, this is a cosy place to relax and drink coffee. It’s only a few minutes walk from the Rynek and also has WiFi, good food and serves wine.
18.Parafia Rzymskokatolicka św. Wojciecha (Wojciech’s Church)
This church is south of the town centre and a leisurely dander through a park which also features a statue of Pope John Paul II. I mistook this for a Russian Orthodox Church at first due to the shape, but it’s definitely a Roman Catholic Church. The road here is also named after the hero John Paul II, Polish pope who died in 2005.
A second Bastion on the list is called Baszta Tczewska. Rather than red brick, this is a white and black building attached to where the old town walls once where.
20.Wrzoskiewicz Lodziarnia Ice Cream Parlour
I hope I have spelt this correctly. While walking through the city centre, I encountered the Wrzoskiewicz Ice Cream Parlour so I went in for coffee and ice cream. The lady working here, Claudia let me try some beetroot ice cream, which was good! This is probably the first time I have included two ice cream parlours in a top 20 post, but the bars will be in a separate article, this Thursday so look out for that!
21.Kazimierz Deyna Mural
As well as my visit to the football stadium, I also went to the Kazimierz Deyna mural, situated on the wall of his childhood home.
22.Areszt Śledczy – Prison
As bizarre as it sounds, slap bang in the middle of the town, sandwiched oddly between a swanky modern shopping centre (Galeria Neptun) and the Sąd Rejonowy is this huge unmissable prison. With barbed wire all round and grotesque windows on a grey and silver building, it incites not touristic love affairs, but it’s still one to walk past and stare into a world you don’t know. Here is the website – http://www.sw.gov.pl/pl/okregowy-inspektorat-sluzby-wieziennej-gdansk/areszt-sledczy-starogard-gdanski/index,44.html
As featured in my “Piątkowe Picie” series, Browar Kociewski is the coolest place in the town for a beer, despite its location away from the town centre. It is a brewery housed inside the swanky Hotel Ren (which I will also review) and has its own beer on tap in a cosy lounge area.
Sadly Projekt PRL is now closed, it was a cool socialist style bar with quirky decor including old records and gramophones on the wall and items relating to the communist era in days gone by in Starogard Gdanski. A favourite bar of mine from my visit and also recommended (too late) by Ola Mueller. I also included this in my list of PRL style bars.
The coolest cafe in town which sadly closed in 2016 and was a favourite of Ola Mueller, though she told me too late and didn’t want me to visit it.
26.Sobieski Vodka Factory
Although not a fan of Vodka, I did head to the famous Sobieski Distillery. Yes, it’s true – the birthplace of vodka can be found in Poland dating back to the early Middle Ages. And vodka (Polish: wódka), is not only the official national drink of Poland, it is the centerpiece of Polish life, enjoyed at most every celebration and occasion. In fact, in this land where vodka began, Sobieski is the number one premium vodka and it all began here in Starogard Gdanski!
As you can tell that was a top 26, but there are 2 other sights for next time – which I will check out.
27. Kocborowo (Szpital dla Nerwowo i Psychicznie Chorych im. S. Kryzana)
For a mental home, the psychiatric hospital here has a sad history – Kocborowo, provincial mental hospital “Kocborowo” – in the 1939-1944 era, Germans murdered 2842 patients, of which 1680 were shot or killed by deadly shots by the ss of the so-called “SS Heimwehr Danzig ” in the woods near Gdansk Starogardu (September 1939-January 1941) with continued exterminations, during the years 1942-1944, again the grotesque nature of the German and Russian influences on Polish history, I aim to cover more, and have also done in my writings on Westerplatte, Stutthof and Auschwitz.
A cool new business in Starogard Gdański, dedicated to interesting food recipes and nuts. Worth checking out their website – WRC Fitline and Facebook Page. It is a brand created with passion for healthy eating and sporty lifestyle.
Here are some more photos of Starogard Gdański, as you can tell I really enjoyed my time here. I made a lot of new friends here and one of my travel buddies actually hails from a village nearby here (Kokoszkowy) so it was also cool to check out her town, though sadly she, Ola Mueller wasn’t able to meet me or help out when I visited her town – she didn’t care. She was the first ever “friend” from my 14 year journey to disrespect my professionalism, my blog and my story to her town. I had to make some new friends instead and managed to get front page in the local newspaper too. Nearby, I also visited the village of Rywald, the town of Tczew , famous Malbork and holy Pelplin.
My trip to the town of Starogard Gdanski was inspired by Starogard girl Ola Mueller who played a big part in my journey to this town. She faked a move to Poznan in July 2016, the day of my trip, but I hope to meet Ola someday for a drink in her town as we didn’t get the chance on this trip.
Here are some videos from my time backpacking in Starogard Gdański: