One of my standout favourite destinations from my visit to Poland was the magnificent city of Gdansk. This port city on Poland’s northern Baltic coast is home to some incredible architecture and waterfront scenes. Once known as the german city of Danzig, the city’s storied past is reflected in its magnificent sights.
Despite the considerable destruction rained down upon it during World War II, the city has been rebuilt paying homage to its illustrious past and visitors will certainly reap the reward of that effort. While Gdansk is a large, sprawling city of 460,000 people, most visitors explore the Śródmieście district or as its known in English, “Main City”. This includes the most popular tourist areas, including the actual old town and the part that people mistake for the old town.
What follows is a virtual tour of sorts, showing you the many picturesque spots through this marvellous city.
It’s likely that at first, your visit to the main town is going to start with one of the two imposing gates that bookend the lively Long Lane. The names of both gates may come across as a little confusing as neither fully embodies their colour. On the western end by the Prison Tower you have the Golden Gate and on the far end by the waterfront, the Green Gate can be found. To help you remember, you’ll notice various golden touches on the Golden Gate, while the Green Gate’s windows do have a green tinge to them.
Fun story, the Green Gate was actually the local residence for the visiting Polish royalty. The fiercely independent citizens of Gdansk were not overly fond of the monarchs, so when they were forced to provide them an official residence in the 16th century, they made this gate directly above one of the busiest and loudest spots in the city. Subtle, no?
Connecting these two wonderful gates is the main vein of the city, Long Lane. This long pedestrian thoroughfare is seemingly always busy with tourists, and particularly day trippers from cruise ships. End-to-end it one beautiful street that will have you always looking up to admire the incredible architecture on display in this open air museum of sorts. A key landmark is the spire of the city’s Town Hall that stands proudly on the street, in my mind completing the view.
As 90% of the buildings were destroyed in WWII, most are reconstructions but that doesn’t stop them from being any less incredible. What is particularly fascinating (to me at least) is the Dutch-Flemish Mannerist style in which the buildings were built. In the 16th century Gdansk was at its most prosperous and hired architects from the Netherlands and Flanders to come and design many of its most iconic buildings. So if you see these photos of Gdansk and it reminds you of Amsterdam or Antwerp say, that’s why.
As you follow Long Lane east towards the Town Hall, you reach the very heart of Gdansk, Long Market Square. While it may not seem all that much wider than the similarly named lane, this is very much the nexus of all sightseeing in Gdansk. As with Long Lane, there are plenty of gorgeous buildings to admire.
One of the more striking buildings is the notably different Artus Court. Built as a meeting place for merchants and distinguished visitors to the city, it now houses a museum and its exterior is not to be missed. Right in front, you’ll find another iconic spot in the Fountain of Neptune.
Back at the Golden Gate, if you choose to venture away from Long Lane and take the first street north after passing through, you’ll come across perhaps my favourite building of Gdansk, the Great Arsenal. This incredibly ornate building used to be the armoury for the city for several centuries. From the Arsenal, you can walk along the lively Ulica Piwna, or “Beer Street“. Finding a place to grab a drink isn’t tough here. Beer has played a big part historically in Gdansk. In fact, the brewers were one of the first guilds founded in the city back in the day.
One street north of Beer Street is the possibly even more scenic Ulica Mariacka or “Amber Street“. This cosy street owes a lot of its attraction to the large, traditional porches that protrude out from the buildings into the street. Many of the porches are embellished with carved stone figures and greenery. Aside from its looks, it is also the home to the local amber trade, with plenty of stands selling local jewellery and amber.
While Long Lane, Beer Street and Amber Street are probably the most trafficked streets, there are plenty of other beautiful streets to wander down. North of Amber Street, there is the strikingly different Świętego Ducha Street. Whereas the above streets are quite confined, there is a long park running along Świętego Ducha Street, where I believe another street used to once run. Seemingly each house along this more subdued street has its own story to tell and was home to one renowned historical figure after the next.
There’s also plenty of streets to explore, including all the cross streets and little lanes found in the city’s nooks and crannies.
From one of Gdansk’s most defining features is the city’s spectacular waterfront along the Motlawa River. Here you’ll continue to find beautifully rebuilt traditional houses all by the stroll-able waterfront promenade. The waterfront isn’t shy on landmark features from the House of Naturalists that looks more like a castle than a house, to each of the gates that lead to the pretty interior streets.
Of course there also the incredibly iconic landmarks too, like medieval Crane that has become a firm symbol of the city. Slowly growing in fame also is the much more modern addition in the Gdansk Eye, providing patrons panoramic views from the far bank of the river.
Across the Motlawa River you’ll find the far less busy but still interesting Granary Island. The island between the Motlawa and Nova Motlawa rivers used to be where the silos of grain were stored for the outgoing ships. Today it has some parts that reflect that heritage, but is also seeing considerable development and gentrification with projects like the above Gdansk Eye.
A part of Gdansk that is possibly less seen that is the actual Old Town to the north of the main tourist area. Compared to the above streets, the Old Town is nice and spacious, with plenty of green spaces and canals. Scattered throughout the area are old, traditional buildings with a far more simple, reserved architecture to them. However, many of these buildings are still in use, like the Culture Centre and Food Market. It really is a far cry from Long Lane, and yet only walking distance.
Probably the most beautiful spot of Old Town is at the Millers House over the little canals that flow through the area. This beautiful building has a distinctively different look to much of Gdansk and its surroundings make it only that much more pretty. The house is attached to the now closed Great Mill of Gdansk, which is just as much a landmark, having been built by the Teutonic Knights in the 14th century.
Lastly, for a superior look at all that Gdansk has going for it, there’s the views from atop the belltower of St Mary’s Church. After winding your way up the massive tower and its endless flights of stairs, you’re treated to a full 360° view of the city and its magnificence. No one standing at the top of that tower could deny that Gdansk is one beautiful place.
Have you visited Gdansk before? What were your favourite spots? If you haven’t visited, where would you head first? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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