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Gdansk, Poland

Set at the mouth of the Vistula River where it meets the Baltic, Gdańsk has been a major hub for trade and shipbuilding since the Middle Ages. The strategically located port was also prime real estate for competing powers, trading hands over the centuries between Poland and the Hanseatic League before it was integrated into Prussia as Danzig after the Napoleonic Wars. When Germany lost World War I, Danzig became a free city — until the Nazis used the loss as justification to invade Poland. Renamed Gdansk and beautifully restored after World War II, the Old Town is a trove of Gothic and Renaissance buildings that belie the city’s former wealth and importance. Gargoyles guard over the artisan shops along ulica Mariacka (St. Mary’s Street), which leads to its homonymous, 14th-century basilica — one of the largest brick churches in the world. Housed in the medieval Grand Mill, the Amber Museum explores Gdansk’s role as the capital of amber, aka, “Baltic gold.” The port’s historic shipyards gave rise to the 1980s Solidary movement, which brought democracy to Poland and helped tear down the iron curtain over Eastern Europe.