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Self-Guided Tour of Gdańsk

Posted by on June 10, 2011

After getting off the train I wandered around and found an open McDonalds. The great thing about these is cheap coffee in the morning and inevitably, free Wifi. I double checked the directions for the hostel while sipping my coffee, and strode off – it was about a 30 minute walk whlie semi-confused, as the hostel directions they’d emailed disagreed strongly with my Google directions, but in the end down a long street, hidden behind a church and scaffolding I found Hostel Zappio.

The Golden Gate

The Golden Gate


The girl on the front desk seemed mildly surprised to see me, and more so when looking me up, until we found I’d booked for the wrong night, which was easily fixed, thankfully. The rooms weren’t ready and it’d started to rain outside, so I hopped into the kitchen to recharge and do some writing.

It seemed like the hostel had a big night the previous night, as most people getting up looked the worse for wear. I did start to wonder if I was the only guy at first – as the first 10 or so to rise were all female. Perhaps us guys are just better at sleeping in. There were quite a few French, some American and Spanish, followed by some English later on.

Neptune sculpture on main street

Neptune sculpture on main street


Gdańsk, also known by its German name – Danzig is in a way three cities in one, combined with Sopot and Gdynia – and is claimed to be the most beautiful city on the Baltic Sea, known especially for its architecture. The weather had finally eased up, and although it still looked pretty sour outside I decided I needed to get out and see this beautiful city, as I had little intention of staying more than a day.

A very handy website – The Visitor has walking guides for some cities, including in this case, Gdańsk. So I followed the directions to the first point of interest – the Wyzynna Gate (Upper Gate) – the first of the buildings on the Royal Route, built in 1588 as part of the fortifications around the old city. Again I’m amazed how old places in Europe are – this alone being over three times as old as the oldest buildings in Christchurch.

The main street and town hall

The main street and town hall


From there I walked down past the Executioner’s house and the Prison Tower, the Golden Gate – meant to hold sculptures as allegories of the city inhabitants’ virtues – Peace, Freedom, Wealth, Glory. On the other street are more signifying Prudence, Godliness, Justice and Harmony. No modesty here!

From here, Dluga and Dlugi Targ streets – part of the Royal Route between aforementioned Golden Gate and the Green Gate are considered the most beautiful streets in Gdańsk – having the same role as the Market Square in Kraków. 84 tenement buildings down the streets, some dating to Medieval times are all examples of the Gdańsk architecture – tall and narrow facades with ornaments, crests and reliefs on their typical roofs.

St Mary's - so big, my wide angle lens can't capture it all :(

St Mary's - so big, my wide angle lens can't capture it all :(


The most characteristic building is the Main City Hall (not that I ever found a non-main one). It’s meant to have a spectacular view, but I had another viewpoint in mind, so I pressed on, briefly stopping at a coffee shop for some cake and coffee, and obligatory wifi access. I’d found out at this point that Danny was between Vilnius (Lithuania) and Riga (Latvia), so I was slowly catching up with him.

Dlugi Targ Street’s most significant and well known feature is the momument to Neptune, now almost 400 years old, with a fountain and railings added a couple of decades afterwards. Just past this it’s worth looking out for the Golden House, considered to be the most beautiful in Gdańsk.

The giant crane

The giant crane


Ahead was the Green Gate, originally for noble guests to the city. Through this gate it opens up on part of the port, with a promenade along the banks of the Motlawa river which enters into the sea here. This is mostly full of slightly overpriced restuarants and tourist shops, but does also have ‘The Crane’ – the biggest Medieval port crane in all of Europe, its present form built in 1442!

The final attraction I’d wanted to see since I first read about it back in Berlin was the St Mary Basilica. It’s the largest brick built church in Europe and the largest church in Poland. 105m long, 66m wide and 33m high with a tower of 82m, it was originally a wooden 12th century church, with the current structure added between 1343 and 1502. Inside it was all whitewash walls, which in some ways added to the feeling of the immense space, and includes a 13m high astronomical clock.

A view from the highest tower of St Mary's

A view from the highest tower of St Mary's


At this point I knew I had to go check out the tower. I got there and found a guy at the entance, who told me it would cost. As I write this I’ve forgotten how much it was – and therein is a lesson – that in days, weeks or months afterwards you forget the cost, but you never forget the experience. So after initially walking away I considered this fact, and returned, paid and charged up the stairs. After the usual initial winding stone staircase, it opens into the large, wide tower, around the edges of which the staircase climbs, as you pass the giant bells, up towards the loft and the final few of the more than 400 steps to the top. Outside, the view of the city, the port and all around is spectacular, and well worth the hike to the top.
Looking down on the tall, thin buildings of Gdańsk

Looking down on the tall, thin buildings of Gdańsk


Back at the hostel I’d ended up somehow with a twelve bed dorm with just myself and one other. In the kitchen, I got chatting with a Latvian girl, an English guy and a Spanish guy. Once again I was thankful that the international hostel language is most often English. We headed out briefly to get some local food – which was fine except I had no idea really what I was ordering – but ended up with a delicious kebab of sorts, and it was cheap. We headed back and I hit the sack, as after discussing with the staff worked out there was one directish train the next day to Bialystok, and it was at 8.30am…

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3 Responses to Self-Guided Tour of Gdańsk

  1. Piotr

    I’ve read this interesting text about Gdańsk and I have one remark: the biggest church in Poland is in Licheń – small village in central Poland. It was built between 1994 and 2004 so it’s not a monument, but it is bigger :)

    • Mark Mayo

      My understanding is that it comes down to how it was made – St Mary’s is the largest *brick* church – arguably in the world.

  2. Piotr

    Yes, it’s of course the biggest brick church, but from the text I understood that it’s the biggest church in Poland in general, no matter how it was built. But english is not my native language, so maybe I didn’t understand it correctly.

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