Full of moody cafes and bearded Bohemians, Kazimierz has been Krakow’s hip spot for nigh on two decades. Despite development, more cool bars seem to open than close, whilst the district’s melancholy soul is as captivating as ever…
For centuries Krakow’s Kazimierz district was the cultural, spiritual and physical home of the city’s Jews – some 64,000 before the Second World War, to be exact. This is why it’s known as the city’s Jewish Quarter to this day, and the place to go to visit historic synagogues, some of which are holding regular services again, and to witness the revitalization of the Yiddish community at the Jewish Community Centre.
Since the 90s, Kazimierz became known as the hip, laid-back alternative to an Old Town overrun by tourists, and many of its cafes and bars have become local icons.
But there’s more to Kazimierz than its Jewish past. After the war devastated the local population, the neighbourhood gained a reputation as the rough part of town, but low rents and its proximity to the Old Town soon attracted brave artists, writers and other assorted bohemians. Since the 90s, Kazimierz became known as the hip, laid-back alternative to an Old Town overrun by tourists, and many of its cafes and bars have become local icons. Today, Kazimierz is no longer the hidden jewel in Krakow’s crown due to huge international events such as the Jewish Culture Festival, which draw tens of thousands of revellers every summer, but it is still a place where life moves a little more slowly than in the rest of the city.
The charm of Kazimierz lies in its many cafes and shops that are still frequented by locals. The best place to get a taste of this lifestyle (because Kazimierz really is a lifestyle, just ask anyone who’s lived there for a few years), is at the market on Plac Nowy. It’s busiest on the weekends, when more vendors are trading, and you can buy or browse through everything from fresh fruit and veggies to vintage records and clothing, and not forgetting Soviet-era postcards and other memorabilia.
Kazimierz really is a lifestyle, just ask anyone who’s lived there for a few years…
If you’re more in the mood to sit and take in the surroundings, grab an outside or window-adjacent table at Kolory on the same square. This à la française café boasts an eccentric mix of clientele as well as delicious cakes to go with your cappuccino.
Of course, to get the full Kazimierz experience, you should at least get a taste of its Jewish past, and the best way to do that is by visiting some of its historic synagogues, such as the Old Synagogue or the Remuh Synagogue and cemetery and the one time central square of Szeroki street (now home to several Jewish restaurants of varying quality). Whilst the revival of Krakow’s Jewish community is one of the most important developments in Poland’s recent history and the best place to experience it is at the Jewish Community Centre, which regularly hosts events open to all, Jew and Gentile alike. Music lovers should also keep eyes and ears peeled for a klezmer, or even “new klezmer”, concert. Check out our report for more.
Kazimierz has tons to offer at night, from clubs and bars that run until the morning hours to more family-friendly entertainment like bowling or pool. Most of it happens on Plac Nowy, the district’s central square, which is where you’ll find the perfect starting point: Alchemia. This legendary café, bar, venue and now restaurant is where generations of Cracovians have been meeting for decades, whether for a drink or to see one of the town’s local bands play on its basement stage.
One very recent and definitely welcome development in Kazimierz has been the abundance of craft beer bars popping up. A great place to sample both Polish and foreign specialty brews is Omerta, which not only features a Godfather theme to it, but also has two separate two bars, one only serving Polish beers, as well as a selection of flavoured vodkas (nalewki in Polish), and a second selling a selection of foreign brews that would put most bars to shame. Other locales specializing in craft beers include newly-opened independent brewery and pub Ursa Maior, Strefa Piwa with its 20 taps, or Stara Zajezdnia, which is a brewpub housed in an old tram depot.
One very recent and definitely welcome development in Kazimierz has been the abundance of craft beer bars popping up.
The newest (and some would say hippest) part of the district to become popular is the stretch of Mostowa Street leading from Plac Wolnica to the new footbridge crossing the Vistula. There you’ll find such gems as Marchewka z Groszkiem, which has some of the best Polish food in town, Hospudka u Nas, where you can try some Czech beers or snacks, or Mostowa ArtCafe, where you can discuss the local art scene while sipping on a locally roasted coffee, sampling organic cakes or trying regional ciders and beers.
Dara, 29, is a writer and museum educator that has called Kazimierz home since 2011. You can find her regularly working at one of the district’s many cafes (where WiFi is abundant, of course) or joining in for a Shabbat dinner at the JCC.
“I love the abundance of cafes, bars, and walkability/bike-ability of the neighbourhood and city in general. The aesthetics of the preserved pre-war architecture brings history to life in a unique way.”
As for drawbacks to the neighbourhood? Well, there is one big one: “I find it very easy to stay in Kazimierz for days at a time without going to the centre of the city, which is the only thing I dislike: that my friends complain I rarely leave the hood when I’m in town.”
“When you live in a neighbourhood like Kazimierz, it’s not surprising you never want to leave! Especially when all of the best places are practically on your doorstep: Some of my local favourites are Cafe Satori for working, which has a cosy window seat and reliably plays peaceful Swiss jazz. I often eat veggie grub at Momo during the day, which is something I miss about the US: widespread healthy fast food — I’m determined to bring my favourite NYC salad restaurant and juice bar to Poland.
Mlezcarnia is a favourite in the winter and summer, where I love warm hot chocolate on chilly nights in the cosy vintage-style bar, and chilled cider at the outdoor beer garden in the summer. I adore the neighbourhood so much that I’m working on a guide called Hyperlocalist that’ll be out later this year.”
Staying on the square that’s the heart of Kazimierz is as authentic as it gets, and staying above the legendary Kolory Café just adds to the charm, which is why Kolory B&B is a great choice as a base to explore the district. If a bed and breakfast is a bit out of your price range, Kazimierz offers dozens of hostels, such as Momotown Hostel right on Miodowa Street, the Free Hostel (not actually free), or the kitschy Good Bye Lenin, conveniently located above a bar.