GDYNIA Poland The Baltic Sea conjures up images of cold and ice, but in summer Poland's sister cities of Gdynia, Sopot and Gdansk offer travelers beautiful beaches, bracing sea air, abundant forests and plenty of history.
Known collectively as Tricity - or Trojmiasto in Polish - they have witnessed key chapters in European history from the early years of the Hanseatic League mercantile association in the 14th Century through to the birth of the resistance movement Solidarity, the trade union that played a major role in the collapse of Communism in 1989.
A fierce battleground in World War Two, Gdansk's cobbled roads, grand facades and industrial sites are steeped in history, including the shipyard that was Solidarity's power base.
Gdynia is a jewel of modern architecture, while Sopot, nestled along the coast between the two, is a party town favoured by Polish actors that boasts the longest wooden pier in Europe.
Here are tips for getting the most out of a visit to Tricity from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists throughout the world offer visitors the best local insights.
Founded in the 10th Century and later run by the Teutonic Knights order, Gdansk was part of the Hanseatic League and was once among the biggest ports in Central Europe. It was annexed by Prussia in 1793, was extensively damaged during World War Two and saw massive reconstruction in the post-war period.
A breathtaking view over the Old Town awaits visitors who climb the 400 steps up the tower of St. Mary's Church (Bazylika Mariacka), the world's largest brick basilica.
Strolling along the enchanting Mariacka Street, one can peer at carvings and gargoyles, stop at shops that sell amber and rest at one of the many cafes.
Dluga, Old Town's main street, is lined with traditional painted facades, while on parallel Ogarna a renovation project by the Urban Forms Foundation has transformed frontages into works of art.
Gdynia's strong suit is Polish modernist architecture from the 1930s, while Sopot is dotted with mansions built in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Enter any of the side streets off the main drag Monte Cassino for a walk back in time.
No visit would be complete without a tour of the Gdansk shipyard, the birthplace of Solidarity which, under the leadership of Lech Walesa, helped bring democracy to Poland. An adjacent museum, the European Solidarity Center, is due to open at the end of August (www.ecs.gda.pl).
With the Baltic Sea and beaches on one side and forests on the other, the best time to visit Tricity is during the long summer days when daylight lasts until 10 p.m.
Put on a pair of good shoes or enjoy the sand underfoot to walk the 15 km (9 miles) along the beach from Gdynia to the pier in Gdansk's Brzezno district, passing the Orlowo cliffs along the way.
While in Sopot, don't miss the wooden pier. Originally built in 1829 and extended over the years, it now offers a stunning 515-metre (560-yard) walk out over the sea.
Well-marked trails for walking and biking run through the forest that connects the three cities. Maps can be found in local bookstores.
After a day of beach-combing or hiking, Tricity offers just about any ice cream treat imaginable at the outlets of family firm Grycan, whose cafes can be found in all three cities (www.grycan.pl). For shoppers, the 700-year-old St. Dominic's Fair runs from July through August in Gdansk, offering everything from food to jewelry by independent local designers.
For music lovers, the Open'er Festival is Poland's answer to Britain's Glastonbury, running for four days every July and bringing world-famous stars to Gdynia (opener.pl/). The Festivals of Cudawianki and Globalitca, also in Gdynia, focus on alternative and ethnic music (cudawianki.eu/ and globaltica.pl).
Other events include Streetwaves, the International Street & Open Air Theatres Festival FETA, and the Sopot Film Festival (streetwaves.pl/, www.feta.pl and www.sopotfilmfestival.pl).
WHEN IN POLAND...
Some locals say you cannot go to a bar and drink one beer. A pint and a shot of vodka is the rule - and one usually won't do. No to Cyk in Gdansk is a small bar with drinks, menu and music all inspired by the Communist era (www.fb.com/notocyk).
Cocktail Bar Max in Sopot does custom cocktails. You pick the spirit, the fruit and other ingredients, and bartenders work their magic (barmax.pl/en/).
The list of clubs in Sopot is long and most are on Monte Cassino Street; Spatif is one of the best known (www.fb.com/spatif). Established in the 1950s, it is where Polish actors like Zbigniew Cybulski and Kalina Jedrusik, as well as film director Roman Polanski, used to drink vodka.
For traditional food, Restauracja Gdanska offers genuine Polish cuisine in rooms filled with beautiful furniture, paintings and antiques (gdanska.pl/).
Tupot Mew in Sopot is a modern and cosy restaurant where owner Agnieszka Nerko mixes traditional Polish recipes with flavours from around the world (tupotmew.pl/).
For a memorable stay, the five-star Grand Hotel overlooking Sopot pier dates back to 1927 and is kept in an Art Nouveau style. It served as Adolf Hitler's headquarters for a few days during World War Two (here).
Hotel Gdansk has its own brewery producing one of the best beers in Poland, with beautiful views over Old Town(www.hotelgdansk.com.pl/). In Gdynia, the Hotel Nadmorski lets you relax by the seaside (nadmorski.pl/nadmorski-en/).
(Editing by Ayla Jean Yackley and John Stonestreet)