Whenever I visit a new city, one of the first things I like to do is to get an idea of the layout from the highest point.

In most European cities and towns, that means climbing the cathedral belltower.

Gdansk, Poland/ Kimberly Sullivan

That’s why, on a recent visit to Gdansk, Poland, my family and I raced desperately against the short daylight hours to climb up the rather grueling belltower steps at Gdansk’s cathedral – St Mary’s.

The initial steps are narrow and incredibly windy. Luckily, at a certain point the tower grows wider and easier to navigate. Although, at several points, it did seem the stairs would never end.

Helpfully, all FOUR HUNDRED of the stairs are numbered to motivate or torture you — depending on whether you are a glass half-full or glass half-empty church tower climber.

Gdansk, Poland/ Kimberly Sullivan

I can promise you that the views from the top are well worth it, once you emerge out onto the small observation deck. Luckily, we managed to do so before Gdansk was plunged into its winter solstice darkness at mid-afternoon.

The cathedral is located right in the heart of the old town, so there are impressive views out onto the fairytale-perfect streets.

Gdansk, Poland/ Kimberly Sullivan

And yes, for explorers like me who like to have a lay of the land, you quickly get a blueprint of the city layout.

I loved our views over the charming row houses and colorful edifices of downtown Gdansk. A perfect way to catch my breath after the challenging climb up. (Later, I would reward myself with a lovely mulled wine at the Christmas market)

Enjoy the birds’ eye views in Gdansk.

Gdansk, Poland/ Kimberly Sullivan
Gdansk, Poland/ Kimberly Sullivan