On an early September morning, the sun illuminates pastel colored buildings lining Long Market Street in Old Town, the historic center of Gdansk, Poland. Up ahead, the clock tower of the 13th century Town Hall vies for my attention. I stop to marvel at the old world architecture as I get my bearings. According to Rick Steves, the Polish city “boasts one of the most picturesque old quarters in Europe.” It’s a colorful start to a self-guided Gdansk walking tour that’s perfect for a do-it-yourself Baltic cruise excursion or for those on a land-based travel adventure.
Destroyed during WWII by Soviet and Allied bombings—completely obliterated is a more accurate term—Gdansk, or Danzig as the Germans called it, has a different feel than many of the other European towns I’ve visited that were rebuilt after the war. Gdansk still wears the patina of history. Perhaps it’s because citizens saved original bricks and architectural elements from the rubble for the meticulous rebuilding efforts that were based upon old photographs and drawings.
Walking in the opposite direction of the Town Hall, I leave Long Market Street behind as I exit through the 16th century stone arch of Upland Gate. The Polish king once greeted important guests here with a royal welcome and keys to the city. My reward for walking through this historical entrance? A lovely view looking back at Old Town.
Strolling along the Esplanade next to the Motława River, outdoor cafes beckon. It’s tempting to stop for a cup of coffee and people watch. Across the river, the ruins of a building catch my camera’s attention. Beyond them, new buildings rise in redevelopment. And a boomer-aged woman rows by on the water. Back on this side of the Motława, The Crane—used to transfer goods in the 1400’s—juts out over the river.
I walk through St Mary’s Gate that leads into the Old City again to explore Gdansk’s picturesque Mariacka Street. Wrought iron railings outline the stairs to front stoops of buildings decorated with ornate gargoyled rain gutters. Racks of amber jewelry sit in front of jewelry shops, the sunlight illuminating the amber in a golden glow of shopping temptation. But I resist, continuing the journey to St. Mary’s Church, the largest brick church in the world.
From St. Mary’s, I walk to the Amber Museum. Winding my way up the spiral staircase of the medieval building, I arrive in a display area showcasing amber objects ranging from precious jewelry to an amber Fedner Stratocaster guitar. In a nearby shop, the owner offers a lesson in how to tell real amber—fossilized tree resin— from the fake stuff. Hint: REAL amber floats in salt water.
Before ending my Gdansk walking tour, I return to Long Street for another look at this beautiful thoroughfare filled with history. Now it’s time for people watching and a cup of coffee at one of the many outdoor cafés.
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Disclosure: Airberlin, VisitBerlin and the City of Gdansk provided this travel experience. As always, the opinions are my own.