Manager @ Krakow Urban Adventures. Busy mother, traveller, and lover of local customs and culture. Happy about constant changes in lifestyles and the fact that the Earth still runs.
No one knows local life like our guides. That’s why we’ve asked them take us around their favourite ‘hoods and offer their insider tips on seeing the city like a true local. If Kazimierz sounds like your kind of place, local Krakow guide Monika and her team can show you around with a private tour.
I moved to Krakow from Lodz 15 years ago, and Kazimierz become ‘my place’ from the very beginning. It was so different from the elegant, historical buildings all around Krakow’s Old Town that I fell in love at the very first sight. It has something to do with my attitude to life in general — things (and people and places) that are too perfect always seem artificial and a bit frightening to me. Kazimierz, with its neglected buildings, imperfect pavements, graffiti, and local bars and street food corners is much more natural and local. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not and I love it for this. All my friends know I would never go for drinks or to eat in an elegant restaurant where you have to be quiet for fear of disturbing others. On the contrary, I like to be visible. I want to visit places where people recognise me. I want to drink my morning coffee and talk to the café owner about the weather or politics. I want to say ‘how are you’ and smile to all the people I know walking around the streets of my favourite neighbourhood.
The Kazimierz district used to be a separate city and even now, you get the feeling it is totally different from other parts of the city. Even within, it has two different parts: Catholic and Jewish. It is the simplest division, but in reality there are even more faces of Kazimierz. Religious Kazimierz with its synagogues and churches is for the tourists, but for locals Kazimierz is a bohemian and hipster place to express yourself.
I discovered this neighbourhood many years ago thanks to international friends. We used to study Spanish together and after our lesson, together with our excellent professor (Javier Domingo from Argentina), we would spend our evenings and nights eating, drinking, dancing, and exchanging opinions on different topics. On these nights, we explored many of the nearby bars and hidden places, and I met hundreds of interesting people — both artists and typical Kazimierz semi-artists (who live here feeling like artists, but often without actually producing anything…).
Immerse yourself in Kazimierz, the most local and beloved district in Krakow. This is the former Jewish quarter of Krakow, where every single home and building has its own fascinating story to tell – stories that we’ll discover as we explore, eat, drink, and mingle with locals.
I love this place because it is totally different throughout the day. In the early mornings, you can still see people rushing home after all-night parties and at the same time, locals in pajamas walking their dogs or going to the nearest greengrocers for fresh bread and milk. Later, around 9am, there are tourists who arrive, interested in Jewish monuments of the district, but you mostly only see them gathered around one street, Szeroka (which is, to be honest, more Jewish-inspired with its Jewish-style restaurants and souvenirs, than actual Jewish for orthodox believers).
At lunchtime, you can see both locals and tourists eating at the many restaurants — from elegant ones on Szeroka Street to the small local bars and gastronomy vans located through the whole district. In the evening, you’ll see locals going to workshops and classes, or exhibits at cultural spaces, as well as Jews attending evening services or meetings at the Jewish Community Centre.
But nighttime is definitely queen of the district, as the whole place becomes crowded with people having late dinners or just hanging out. It is the most magical moment, as after darkness falls, you can see the real mix of Krakow society here: students, artists, businessmen, locals sitting in front of their houses and observing passers-by while commenting on life with a cigarette or can of beer… The whole world can be seen in the micro scale of Kazimierz’s streets and squares.
Why you should visit Kazimierz
To escape the tourist crowds
Apart from along Szeroka Street during the day, everything in Kazimierz is local, giving you the opportunity to observe the true city of Krakow, with its wonderfully imperfect citizens.
To visit New Square
New Square is the most classic place for locals to hang out. Wherever you look, there is a bar or restaurant, and many locals spend the entire night in this one spot. You could meet up with friends at one corner of the square and then spend hours visiting the different bars around it. Every Sunday morning there is a huge flea market, where I often go to look for vintage furniture, old records, or handmade pottery.
To see the murals
As Kazimierz is a bohemian part of Krakow, it’s also full of different street paintings and murals. Some of them are connected with the history of the district, some are just graphic commentaries on world issues. (Read more about Krakow’s street art scene.)
To shop for authentic local products
This neighbourhood is also packed with small, local shops and galleries where you can buy mostly handmade souvenirs from Krakow at reasonable prices. Check out Jozef Street in particular, which looks exactly like it did in pre-war times and offers many hidden spots for good local shopping. Check out Monika’s guide to must-buy local souvenirs in Krakow.
To see traces of Krakow’s former and current Jewish culture
Kazimierz is said to be the Jewish city and although it is only partly true (as the city was always inhabited by different people, firstly Roman Catholic, later both Catholic and Jewish), there are a lot of special Jewish monuments to see throughout the district. I would suggest to go off the beaten track; for example, visit the new Jewish cemetery instead of the old Remuh one that’s frequented by all the tourists, then have a falafel sandwich in the only really Kosher fast food joint, in front of the Isaac Synagogue.
My top 10 things to do in Kazimierz
1. Eat a zapiekanki at New Square
Kazimierz is famous for its great food. There are plenty of places offering both Polish and international cuisine and a lot of small food trucks selling typical snacks. Be sure to try zapiekanka, an open-face sandwich served in many different variations — my favourite is classic with cheese and mushroom, but there are many optionss for every taste and they are huge.
2. Take a break at Café Satori Bistro
Café Satori, owned by my friend Olgierd Wandzioch, is definitely my place in Kazimierz, and maybe even in the whole of Krakow. Inspiring interior, calm music, and tasty, fresh, handmade food and excellent coffee is everything I need and is all here. The place is located at a stone’s throw from the crowded Szeroka Street, but hidden enough for an undisturbed rest after sightseeing. And if my recommendation isn’t enough, take my husband’s — he’s Italian and he says this is the only place in Krakow where you can get good pasta.
3. Feel time stand still at Kolory
Another great bar located at the New Square, Kolory has a French-style interior, friendly staff, and a stream of regulars. I love it there, as when I’m sitting inside, I have this special feeling that time is not passing at all. Ten years ago, I could see the same people and listen to the same philosophical conversations that fill the place today. Plus, they still serve the same tasty toasts with French cheese and ham, aromatic coffee, and cold vodka. Viva eternity!
4. Listen to jazz at Alchemia
Be warned, they do not like tourists at Alchemia, so make sure you are going alone or with just a few friends, not with some 30 people following you. It’s a super cool place to have a local beer or coffee, with the interior made to resemble a private home still set in the past. Old furniture, passage to another room made out of a wardrobe, candles for lights, and old family portraits all over the walls create the cosy atmosphere. I love to come to listen to live music in the hidden basement. Really cool staff and good musicians — if you like modern jazz, you won’t be disappointed.
5. Grab a kebab at Sami Am Am
Sami Am Am has the best Syrian food and the best kebab in the city, served by emigrants from different Arabic countries. Everything is always fresh, aromatic, and tasty. It is actually the favourite place of my friend Bibi, and he is so crazy about it that if I want to talk to him at any place besides his work place, this is the only opportunity. I’m a frequent client at this small spot, particularly for their coffee with cardamom, tea with meramia, and extraordinary sweets.
6. Catch a view at Mleczarnia
Mleczarnia actually consists of three parts and every single one is amazing. They have the regular bar with a nice interior at New Square, a great open-space café located nearby in the middle of the courtyard where Spielberg filmed Schindler’s List, and, what I like best, a hidden café at the bottom of the Centre of Jewish Culture, connected with the roof garden. You get the best panorama of the whole Kazimierz neighbourhood from there and the best part is that so few tourists know about it.
7. Dance the tango at Kabaret Club
I used to dance tango and although I unfortunately do not have much time for dancing nowadays, I still have a lot of friends who are tango lovers and know where to go. Kabaret Club is a hidden place where you can participate in tango classes and attend a Saturday night millonga party. On other days they have theatre performances, live music, and many other interesting events.
8. Walk the Kladka Bernatka and shop for foodie goodies at Klubczyk
Kazimierz is located on the Vistula River and, as I actually live on another bank of this river, I used to cross the Bernatka Foot Bridge quite often, walking between the Kazimierz and Podgórze neighbourhoods. There is a great panoramic view from the bridge and at sunset it is really, really romantic. And because there are so many bustling bars and cafés on both sides, I sometimes get sidetracked on my way to my destination! Klubczyk is highly recommended, as they have a huge selection of high-quality Polish food products, from organic vegetables and juices to different honeys and seasonal treats.
9. Eat authentic kosher fast food at Shalom
There are a lot of restaurants that claim to be Jewish in Kazimierz, but many are not kosher and the cooks often aren’t Jewish. But there is one great exception: the small and difficult-to-find kosher fast food place called Shalom, located just in front of the big Isaac Synagogue and run by orthodox Jews from the Chabad Lubawitch organisation. They serve the best falafel I have ever eaten in my life — and trust me I know; I’ve travelled through the Middle East and this falafel is better than any I had in Israel or beyond!
10. Attend a cultural event at the JCC
Despite its new hipster vibe, Kazimierz has remained connected with its Jewish history and culture. Many people come here to see the past and how the people lived here before the majority of them were murdered by the Nazis during WWII. Although I’m not Jewish myself, I still often go, either alone or with my international guests, to the Jewish Community Centre (JCC). It’s a great organisation that provides a steady stream of interesting cultural events exploring the past, present, and future for the Jewish community.
Everything that I do, from my work to my private life, is somehow connected with travel. I studied geography of tourism, and later got a PhD in geography and worked as a university lecturer. I was also a tour leader and guide trainer for the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations. Then, four years ago, I started working exclusively for Krakow Urban Adventures, which I co-created with my long-term friend Tomasz Klimek. We are both responsible for the administrative side and the practical guiding side, which gives us a great opportunity to see every single step of our local itineraries’ life – from the idea to the actual tour, led by us or one of seven other guides working with us on the Krakow Urban Adventures dream team.