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The best destination comparison site!

Gdansk or Istanbul a vs city comparison and travel guide

Both Gdansk and Istanbul are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?

We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Istanbul and Gdansk, hopefully making your choice that little easier.

The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the links:
• Introduction to the cities
• Scores and ratings
• Which one should I, friends, or family visit?
• When to visit and weather
• Who is the city suited for?
• The perfect 48hours (with map)
• Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)

Introduction to Gdansk and Istanbul

Salt-washed, industrial-chic and filled with hipsters, Gdansk is one of the most happening cities in Poland. It sits on the edge of the Baltic Sea, proudly showcasing its merchant guilds and mansions, a leftover from the years when this was one of the richest ports in the Hanseatic League.

Like most Polish cities, the focal point is an immersive Old Town (also called the Main City) that beats with life and cafés and boutique shops.

Around that's a newer city where the remnants of Communist rule still pop up in the tenement blocks and the famous dockyards where the Solidarity movement heralded the beginning of the end for the USSR in the 1980s.

On top of all the architecture and culture is a vibey bar scene that's powered by a hefty student population. There are clubs and pubs everywhere, from the open-air boats on the quaysides to the hidden basement bars in the old quarter.

What's more, Gdansk is the gateway to the Polish coast, with Hel Peninsular and its oat-topped dunes close by, or the resort town of Sopot only a short train ride away.

Istanbul is one of the most captivating cities in the world. Situated on the banks of the Bosphorus, it straddles Europe and Asia, offering a unique blend of East and West. The city's rich history is evident in its grandiose architecture, from the 6th-century Hagia Sophia to the 16th-century Topkapi Palace.

You can wander through ancient markets, explore the shadowy streets of the Ottoman Quarter, or relax in one of Istanbul's many parks. With its vibrant culture and stunning setting, Istanbul is a city that will stay with you long after you've left.

Gdansk

The scenic Długa waterfront in Gdansk

Blue Mosque Istanbul

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Gdansk vs Istanbul: City Ratings

Summary
Which city would I go to?
Istanbul
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Gdansk
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Istanbul
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Istanbul
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year - which is detailed later in this article.

The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map).
The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.

We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!

Destination details

How long to spend each city?

Istanbul is a city that you could spend weeks exploring and still not see everything it has to offer. Three days is the best length, however, if you only have one day to spend in Istanbul, you can still see some of its most iconic sights, such as the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar.

With two days in Istanbul, you could visit some of the city's most popular attractions, such as the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia. You can also take a cruise on the Bosporus Strait and explore the city's many markets and mosques.

Gdansk can be done in just a couple of days, but don't expect that to be enough to do everything. You'll likely want to linger longer, if only to beachcomb the Baltic coast, explore the other corners of the Tri-City (Gdansk is just one of three individual towns that are joined together), and sample as many of the cool hipster bars as you can.

Still, city breaks are very much doable here. Just 48 or 72 hours is ample for checking off the historic sights in the centre, the fascinating dockyards monuments, and to get a feel for the unique fusion of Slavic-Germanic architecture that abounds. Expect to do a lot of walking, though, and be ready to hop on inner-city trains and trams to get from A to B.

During the summertime, you could opt to do as thousands of Polish locals do and extend your Gdansk holiday to a week or two. That'll let you head out to the coast and the beaches. They can be surprisingly stunning, especially along the breezy Hel headland.

Beyoglu district in Istanbul

The Beyoglu district in Istanbul with the medieval Galata tower rising above this historic section of the city

Stągwie Mleczne Gdansk

The Stągwie Mleczne was the ancient gateway to the southern side of Gdansk

Gdansk is surely at its best in the warmer months. Between May and September is when most travellers come. They get to enjoy all the al fresco bars along the old port. They can wander the Old Town without worrying (too much, at least) about rain. They can hit the open-air terraces to taste pierogi dumplings. The weather is a little milder than inland Poland thanks to the tempering effect of the Baltic Sea. Average highs in July are in the low 20s, but that's enough to bring crowds to the beaches of Sopot and the north coast.

The winter in Gdansk can be brutal. The Baltic magnetises icy storms and cold winds across the shoreline and the city. It's a time to get cosy in cute cafes and sip warm beers (yes, that's a thing here), but be certain to pack the thermal leggings and snow coats.

When things get hot in Istanbul, things get really hot. In fact, it's not uncommon for summertime temperatures to creep over 30 degrees. What's more, June to August is when the crowds come, packing out sights like the Grand Bazaar.
The upshot here is that spring and fall reign as the top times in the calendar to plan a visit. March, April, September and October tend to be cooler, less busy and less expensive.

Winter can bring snows. Photographers will adore the city when it's blanketed, as the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque look simply stunning under a sheen of the white stuff. However, the months from November to February can be bitterly cold, so off-season visitors will need to wrap up warm and forget having al fresco Turkish coffees on the street side.

There's no doubt that Istanbul is one of the more adventurous and unusual breaks for European travellers. Most folk come to Turkey on package holidays, with pre-booked hotels by the sea. But this destination forgoes all that in favour of enthralling Ottoman history and heady bazaars.
It's a place that will help you break out of the comfort zone and push your boundaries a little.

Those keen on seeing a city that's walkable and compact should certainly steer clear of Turkey's largest. At 15.5 million strong and covering two separate continents, this isn't a bitesize destination by any stretch.

Gdansk has got loads going for it on the travel front. Melding enthralling medieval history with sobering tales of wartime and the proud trade union movement, it's a gem for those looking to unravel the history of Central-Eastern Europe. Shoppers get to delve into Amber shops galore – the city is hailed as one of the best places in the world to buy the glowing fossil. Hedonists get everything from basement bars to wild clubs in old bunkers that stay open all night. Sightseers need only look to the historic Old Town and its grand churches and squares.

Adding to all that, Gdansk has beaches. A quick train to Sopot will reveal one of the nicest in the region, with a long pier that juts out into the Baltic. A little further and you can get to Puck, which sits at the base of what is arguably Poland's finest length of coastline.

Neptune's Fountain Gdansk

Neptune's Fountain in the historic centre of Gdansk

Grand Bazaar Istanbul

The lively and chaotic Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

You can unearth some seriously jaw-dropping sights, taste some unforgettable food, and get a grounding in Turkish history with only 48 hours to spend in Istanbul.

Day 1: There's really nowhere else to begin but Sultanahmet. This is the Istanbul you will have seen on the postcards; the land of minarets and mighty mosque domes. The kingpin of it all is the colossal Hagia Sophia.
In its long life of more than 1,500 years it's been an Orthodox cathedral and a mosque. It's now a museum containing gorgeous mosaics and frescos, although the star of the show is still its dome, flaunting an amazing 30-metre diameter.

Sitting opposite just to the south is the majestic Blue Mosque. Built in the early 1600s, it's still in working order. And even more history awaits in the Topkapi Palace Museum, which is a few blocks northwards. That sprawling complex reigned as the home of the Ottoman sultans. It's now a UNESCO site and occupies a stunning perch above the Bosphorus.

A pitstop at the Tarihi Sultanahmet kofta house is a must for those keen on trying traditional Turkish meatballs – the joint's been in operation since the 1920s!

From there, it's not far to the Grand Bazaar. One of the largest markets on the planet, it's a haven for haggling and souvenir shopping, where lantern sellers converge on sari stalls and shisha houses.

Galata tower Istanbul

Galata tower is at the heart of the Beyoglu district

Day 2: Big, modern Taksim Square starts day two with a sighting of what 21st-century Istanbul is all about. Be sure to take a glimpse of the honorific statue at its heart.

That's the Republic Monument, made to celebrate the foundation of the Turkish state in 1928. Nearby Istiklal Street has abundant choices on the food front, no matter if you're craving a gritty Turkish coffee or a regional breakfast spread of mezze cheeses, flatbreads, and olives.
It's also a busting artery of the city, with high-street shopping and a classic trolley car running its length. One thing you can't miss – literally! – here is Galata Tower. Built by the Genoese to protect their European strongholds from the east, it's a mind-blowing fortification that boasts sweeping panoramas from its top floors.

Your afternoon session should be dedicated to exploring the Bosphorus. There's really no better way to do that than on a boat. Some cruises even offer stops in Asian Istanbul and meals with the sunset to boot.

Blue Mosque

The entrance to the Blue Mosque

Beylerbeyi Palace Istanbul

The Beylerbeyi Palace was the summer residence of the Sultan

48hours in Gdansk
Gdansk has big-name sights like the iconic dockyards and its Old Town. But it also has secrets up its millennia-old sleeve. This 48-hour itinerary covers both, with a little bit of partying and beachside living thrown in for good measure…
The interactive map below shows a suggested route for the 48 hours in Gdansk, with day 1 highlighted in green and day two in yellow.

Day 1: Make for Cafe Libertas for breakfast. It's a popular spot with fruit bowls and artisan coffee that will fuel you up right in the heart of the Old Town. Stepping outside the door, you'll find quaint Chlebnicka street, which you can stroll between grand townhouses with Flemish-inspired façades.
At one end is Chlebnicka Gate, still flaunting its original medieval crest from 1450. Beyond is the riverside and the iconic Żuraw Crane. Now a branch of the National Maritime Museum, it's a great detour to make if you want to learn all about the history of shipbuilding in Gdansk.

Delve back into the maze of streets to the west and try to find the St. Mary's Church. It shouldn't be difficult – it's among the three largest brick-built churches on the planet! Past that is bustling Długa. The main drag of the city, it's awash with amber shops, bars, eateries and more.
Stop to sample some pierogi dumplings or grab a beer, and then move on to lovely Long Market square. That's where the famous statue of Neptune beckons, hemmed in by pastel-painted guilds. As evening arrives, return to Długa or Piwna street for basement bars that gush with vodka and cheap beer.

Złota Brama Golden Gate Gdansk

The Złota Brama (Golden Gate) is lined with figures depicting the qualities of the ideal citizen

Day 2: Morning of Day 2 takes you out to the legendary Gdansk Shipyards. If you haven't heard of these already, then buckle in for a history lesson in the fall of Communism. It was here, in 1980, that the powerful Solidarity movement first took route under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa. It would go on to fuel revolutions across the Eastern Bloc, which finished with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Russian dominion in Europe.

There's nowhere better to uncover all that than at the European Solidarity Centre. A visit is likely to take a few hours, especially if you want to drop by the striking Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 next door. For the afternoon, it's time to explore the Tri-City.
That means hopping on the SKM railway line from Gdańsk Główny. The ride to Sopot is only 15 minutes. It takes you to a lively resort area that's positively brimming with bars and eateries. It's also on the beach, so you might want to spend the evening here, moving between the music venues to famous Sopot Pier.

European Solidarity Centre

The European Solidarity Centre commemorates the Polish civil resistance and trade union which began in the Polish shipyards and ultimately led to the collapse of the communism in the USSR

Sopot beach

Sopot has a beautiful beach and is an enjoyable destination during the summer season

The modern Istanbul New Airport is the main hub serving this big city. It handles the largest amount of air traffic in Turkey, so expect to find lots of connections in from Western Europe and beyond. Regular shuttle buses link the terminals with the downtown in around 50 minutes to one hour, but, be warned, travel times can vary greatly depending on traffic. The smaller Sabiha Gokcen International Airport hosts most of the services coming in from across the Middle East. It's over on the south side of the metropolis.

Public transit in Istanbul is just what you might expect from a vast, consistently expanding megacity. The best way to go about getting from A to B is to bag yourself an Istanbulkart. It's an all-in-one pass to the town's multi-faceted transport networks, allowing holders to use buses, trams, trains, metros, and even a few of the ferries. You'll need to buy your card from a kiosk and then top it up with credit to make journeys.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Istanbul's tourist areas suffer from the same scams as many other European cities. Fake guides, pickpockets and unregistered taxis are particularly common, so be sure to have your wits about you when sightseeing. Be wary when converting cash in the Old Town area too, because extortionate commission rates and even fake banknotes have been reported.

Choosing a hotel in Istanbul really depends on what you want. Sightseeing in Sultanahmet is what most people come for and there are loads of hotels to pick there, even if paying a premium is normal. Beyoglu is better if you're after chain hotels and boutique stays, and it's right on the more modern and happening part of town. Asian Istanbul will likely be cheaper, but also a ferry ride from the most famous attractions.

Getting to Gdansk by plane is easy because of the countless short-haul and low-cost carriers that now fly into the local Lech Wałęsa Airport. A mere nine miles outside of the centre, you can get to the terminals on the 210 bus from the main train station. There are often problems with scam taxi fares to and from the airport, so always agree a rough price beforehand (the normal rate is between 60-80 PLN).

Gdansk's Main City is a joy to walk. The streets of Długa and the quays are all connected by loads of hidden alleys and paths. It might pay to have a tourist map at hand because getting lost is almost inevitable if it's your first time in town.

To travel to the beaches, the shipyards, and Sopot, you'll need to make use of the trams and inter-city SKM trains. The former cost 3.2 PLN per ride. Tickets are available from vending machines at most stations. Be sure to validate as you board.

Gdansk Glowny train station

Gdansk Glowny - the main train station of Gdansk

The best location for a hotel in Gdansk is certainly in the Old Town area. There, you'll get boutique lodgings and stylish aparthotels set in centuries-old buildings. An alternative for those who favour beaches and nightlife would be to bed down in Sopot, where resort hotels with swimming pools and stylish restaurants are the norm.

Gdansk is among the most liberal and welcoming of Polish cities. It's got a vibrant LGBT scene and incidents of racism and crime are relatively rare. Still, there are still tensions in Poland and it's wise to be on your guard, especially if out at night in the bars of the Old Town.

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