For many, a visit to Krakow is like stepping back in time. After all, this historic Polish capital is famed for its medieval market square, labyrinthine backstreets, and eye-catching churches and synagogues. But dig a little deeper and you’ll uncover a contemporary side to this ancient city, with a host of hip hotels, restaurants and boutique shops to discover.
Two words sum up Lwowska 1: quirky chic – with its odd, peaked facade, sleek black reception, eye-popping carpets and bright yellow chairs adding a hint of whimsy. Check in and another word springs to mind: spacious. The lavishly decorated rooms here are lovely and big – a rarity for a city hotel, especially at these reasonable prices.
Vienna House Andel’s Cracow
This gorgeous design hotel is located right at the heart of the city, just a 10-minute walk from Rynek Główny, Krakow’s main square. Each of its 159 rooms and suites is a minimalist design classic, combining sleek lines, robust colours and contemporary artworks with complete comfort and modern amenities.
This elegant boutique hotel, housed in a castle complex, simply oozes history – from its antique paintings to its period furnishings. Each of the seven bedrooms is distinctively decorated and named for eminent locals (the rich-red Madame Walewska suite was named after the Polish noblewoman who was better known as Napoleon’s mistress) while the old basement restaurant maintains the storied atmosphere over breakfast.
Niebieski Art Hotel & Spa
It’s all about uncluttered comfort with big bursts of colour here. Rooms and suites offer a homey atmosphere with a trendy twist, with wood textures ranging from bright white oak to chic dark wenge. The hotel’s spa is the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing, and the ideal amuse bouche to a dinner at its restaurant specialising in Mediterranean-Polish fusion cuisine.
The studio apartments at Cracowdays blend original features (19th-century building, original brick walls and polished oak floors) with modern style and comfort (king-size beds, walk-in showers and well-equipped kitchens). For couples or individuals, Cracowdays also has chic bedrooms with colour schemes inspired by wine varietals.
Albertina Restaurant & Wine
This is fine dining with a touch of hipster. High-end but vehemently unstuffy, this airy, light-filled space is all bright whites, exposed brickwork and wooden beams. Chef Grzegorz Fic’s dishes are exceptional, combining Polish traditions with southern European flavours, and use entirely seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.
Literally translated as ‘under the angels’, this medieval-style eatery offers a real taste of Poland’s past. In the cavernous 13th-century cellar, try old Polish specialities such as wild boar, duck and trout, as well as excellent pierogi (dumplings). Many of the meats are grilled over an open beechwood fire.
Tucked away in an old industrial estate, this chic coffee shop is literally a hidden gem. It’s open for breakfast and lunch (hence its name), with dishes ranging from shakshuka (eggs poached in tomato sauce) to goat cheese salad; we say do brunch – a bagel and a Bloody Mary is a great way to start the day.
Situated in Krakow’s Jewish district, Klezmer-Hois is in a 16th-century building with a proud history as a ritual bathhouse. Today, it evokes the era of pre-war Kazimierz in a different way, as a popular restaurant and cafe serving traditional Jewish and Polish cuisine – everything from gefilte fish (poached minced fish) to beef goulash. Diners will also enjoy nightly concerts of traditional Jewish music.
Andrus Food Truck
Fancy a taste of traditional Polish cuisine on the move? Then stop by Andrus Food Truck, a street food staple in the heart of trendy Kazimierz. This bright-yellow truck, run by chef Kamil Bryś, rustles up a modern take on maczanka (below), the age-old Lesser Poland dish. Expect tender slow-cooked pork loin slathered in gravy and mayonnaise, and served in a freshly wood-fired bun.
Part gallery, part workshop and part retail space, Blazko displays a selection of owner-designer Grzesiek Blażko’s most eye-catching, and usually silver, creations, from rings to earrings, necklaces and bracelets. You will also find specialist pieces such as brooches, cufflinks and even a sparkly USB stick.
Look no further for urban styles that are all about bold blocks of colour and geometric shapes, inspired by street graffiti and skateboard culture. This achingly hip boutique near the Old Town stocks T-shirts, jeans, hoodies and other apparel by some of Poland’s most in-vogue designers.
Mapaya was founded by avid traveller Martyna Wilde with the aim that everything it sells – from beautiful dresses and tops to chic accessories – is handmade by artists all over the world, and embodies the true essence of freedom and adventure.
Krakowska Manufaktura Czekolady
If you’re in need of some edible souvenirs to take home, take a trip to this tempting choc shop. It sells almost every conceivable artisanal cocoa product, from pralines to truffles, slabs to bars, and they are all divine. Claim a table in the cafe for a heavenly hot chocolate (below); a melted blend of dark, milk and white.
Hala Targowa (market hall)
For bargain hunters, there’s no greater shopping experience in Krakow than Hala Targowa (Piaskowa 17). During the week, it’s a regular outdoor market selling fruit and veg, clothes and electronics, but come on Sunday morning for a more highbrow – and far busier – affair. You can haggle over Polish antiques, wartime memorabilia, artworks, period furniture, vinyl records and more.
– TEXT BY JOSEPH REANEY
PHOTOS: LWOWSKA 1, CRACOWDAYS, HOTEL PUGETOW, NIEBIESKI ART HOTEL & SPA, ANDEL’S BY VIENNA HOUSE CRACOW FACEBOOK, ANDRUS FOOD TRUCK, POD ANIOLAMI, ALBERTINA RESTAURANT & WINE, BAL, KLEZMER-HOIS FACEBBOOK, BOOGIE FLOWEAR, MAPAYA, BLAZKO, INSTAGRAM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.