How to live like a Local in Kraków, Poland

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Lonely Planet Local Amy Hornsby has lived in Kraków for two years, where she spends her time soaking up the old world charm of eastern Europe and luxuriating in the slow, romantic pace of life.

Learning more about Kraków through its museums and galleries, indulging in its amazing food and vodka, enjoying literary festivals and cosy book shops, and finding new underground cellar bars help to keep the city a fresh and exciting place to live.

Image of Kraków’s main square showing the Town Hall Tower and Cloth Hall, with crowds of locals and visitors.Kraków’s main market square with the Town Hall Tower and the Cloth Hall © Amy Hornsby / Lonely Planet

When I have friends in town… I like to show off the architecture with a stroll around the city centre, dropping into some of its churches, such as the impressive Church of St. Anne or quaint Church of St. Adalbert. At the main square we’ll take a steep hike up the Town Hall Tower then move onto some browsing and bartering in the Cloth Hall. On a sunny day, a quick drink is in order at Cafe Szał, before getting some fun snaps inside Igor Mitoraj’s sculpture Eros Bendato (also known as The Head). Milkbar Tomasza serves up hearty Polish food, and tucking into a batch of pierogi (stuffed dumplings) is a must before heading to cosy Camelot for dessert.

When I’m out for some drinks…I’ll head to Kazimierz – the Jewish Quarter – and stop at a couple of shot bars to warm up with some flavoured vodka. On Miodowa, my go-tos are Oliwa Pub for excellent music, and Habana Bar for a South American feel, chatty bartenders, and quirky furniture. Plac Nowy is the final destination; a small square filled with bars including Alchemica and Mechanoff. In the centre is a circular building serving up zapiekanki (open baguettes), a must at the end of a night.

Close-up image of a <em>Zapiekanki</em> open-faced sandwichZapiekankisandwich from Plac Nowy’s market © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet

For cheap eats… You can’t go wrong with a quick stop at a milkbar for some pierogi or gołąbki (stuffed cabbage rolls) served up by no-nonsense Polish women. I can never resist the incredible potato pancakes with goulash at Smakołyki; low prices and a stellar view of the Jagiellonian University make it my go-to place. I can dress down at Gospoda Koko where I get soup, a main, and a side for a mere 14zl in a spacious underground cellar with real Polish character.

When I’m feeling like a culture vulture… I check out the events calendar at Massolit Books & Cafe, where I can grab a slice of tasty pie or cake and settle in to enjoy a talk in intimate surroundings. I love art galleries, and Palace of the Arts is not only a beautiful building, but a fantastic gallery with frequently changing exhibitions and a low admission fee. For something a little more modern, right around the corner is Bunkier Sztuki – literally ‘Art Bunker’ – which houses contemporary art over three floors. There are also lots of annual festivals celebrating the arts, like the Kraków Film Festival, Miłosz Festival, and Etiuda & Anima.

Interior shot of Massolit Books & Cafe, showing people browsing the books in the floor-to-ceiling bookcases.Massolit Books & Cafe © Filip Stańczyk / Lonely Planet

To splash out… I put on my glad rags and enjoy a fine dining experience at Starka in Kazimierz. This was one of my first discoveries in the city and it has a cosy atmosphere, delectable courses and a free vodka shot to round off the meal. For staple Polish cuisine with a theme, I head to The Black Duck, where courses are served with – you guessed it – duck. Duck pierogi and roasted duck Krakówian style? Yes please.

When I want to get out of the city… I hop on a bus to nearby Ojców or Zakopane. About 40 minutes away, Ojców is a national park that’s best seen at the beginning of autumn for gorgeous colours and some scenic exploration. Zakopane is a little further away from Kraków, but easily visited in a weekend. I pull on my hiking boots and do some (very) early morning walking up to Morskie Oko, then head back to the village for some much-deserved Polish food and vodka.

Image of Lonely Planet Local Amy sitting beside Morskie Oko Lake, with mountains in the background.Lonely Planet Local Amy taking a well-earned rest at Morskie Oko Lake, Zakopane © Amy Hornsby / Lonely Planet

To make the most of summer… I spend it outside with some summer cinema. Grab a blanket and a deck chair and enjoy the warm evening with screenings at Wawel Castle, Forum Przestrzenia, in front of Galeria Krakówska, or on the rooftop of Kino Agrafka. Relaxing in the Planty Park with a book is another of my favourite things to do in summer, and if I fancy some refreshment, I pop into Bunkier for prime people-watching. And it’s not a proper Kraków summer without queueing for the best ice cream in the city at Lody Tradycyjne.

On a rainy day… I hide out at one of many independent cinemas around the city like ARS, Pod Baranami, or Kijów, taking my pick from the blockbuster, indie, and old cult films that are showing. I can easily spend a few hours at the National Museum on Maja street, and Da Vinci’s famous Lady with an Ermine is housed here. Tickets are sold separately for permanent and temporary exhibitions, or you can purchase full admission which you’ll need a full day for.

Image showing the facade of the National Museum in Kraków.The National Museum in Kraków © Agnes Kantaruk / Shutterstock

When I’m in a shopping mood… I browse the many second hand shops – often called tania odzież – which are scattered around the city for a steal or two. Stary Kleparz is a popular market for fresh, local produce, as well as kitchen items, socks, accessories, and clothes. On Sundays, flea market Hala Targowa is at its fullest, with odds and ends from vinyl collections to toys, comic books, jewellery, and everything in-between.

You know you’ve adapted to Kraków life when… You start wearing a face mask to combat the smog, which can be pretty extreme in Kraków when winter rolls around. Next thing you know you’ll be complaining about tram times (or running for one) while snacking on obwarzanek (Polish bagels).

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