17 things to do in Kazimierz, Kraków’s Historic Jewish district

Just a short walk from the hustle and bustle of Old Town will bring you to Kazimierz, once the thriving historic Jewish district of Kraków. For centuries, Jewish and Polish cultures coexisted peacefully as many Jews relocated to the area and opened businesses, restaurants, and synagogues. During World War II, much of Kazimierz was destroyed by the Nazis as Jews were sent to concentration camps, never to return. After the war, Kazimierz fell into disrepair. At the end of the 20th century, new interest in the rich Jewish culture which was once located here led to a revitalization of the area.

Today, Kazimierz is an interesting combination of hipster culture, creative restaurants, food trucks, and edgy bars mixed with historic synagogues, cemeteries, and museums.

No visit to Kraków is complete without a visit to Kazimierz. Here is a list of 17 things to do in Kazimierz:

1 – New Jewish Cemetery (Nowy Cmentarz)

The New Jewish Cemetery (Nowy Cmentarz) was established in 1800 as the burial ground of Kraków’s distinguished Jews. It contains the graves of those Jews of the 19th and 20th centuries.

During World War II, the Nazis vandalized the cemetery and sold many of its finest tombstones to stone cutters. Some stones were used for the construction of concentration camp roads.

After the war, some of the recovered tombstones were returned to their original sites. Damaged tombstones were used to create the mosaic wall and Holocaust monument seen on the right hand side as you enter the cemetery.

Today, the cemetery holds an estimated 10,000 tombstones ranging from the elaborate to the modern. The older graves were created using simple stones while the modern graves are more elaborate and larger. Many of the modern graves, with older dates, were put in here by relatives of the dead after the communist era. Written on these tombstones are one of four languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and German.

2 – Szeroka Street (Ulica Szeroka)

While Szeroka Street (Ulica Szeroka) looks more like a square, it’s actually an elongated street surrounded by Jewish-themed restaurants, hotels, museums, and synagogues. Where you are standing in now is the heart of Kazimierz. Locals and guides call this area “Broad Street.”

In the 12th century, Ulica Szerok was the center of a small village known as Bawół. The village was incorporated into Kazimierz in 1340. Jews started relocating to Kazimierz in 15th century after they were expelled from Kraków. Over the years, Kazimierz became a thriving Jewish community.

Many important sights surround this street. This includes the 15th-century Old Synagogue, the 16th-century Remuh Synagogue and Remuh Cemetery (Old Jewish Cemetery), and the often missed 17th-century Popper Synagogue.

This street is also home to many traditional Jewish restaurants and cafes with outdoor tables. At the northern end of the square is Hamsa Hummus & Happiness Restobar with modern Israeil food. Just around the corner from the restaurant, leaving Ulica Szeroka to the north, is a row of old, rustic Jewish shop fronts. These shop fronts, which are today restaurants, are a reminder of what Kazimierz looked like before the Holocaust.

3 – Kazimierz Monument

This small monument is known as the Kazimierz Monument. The monument honors the 65,000 Polish citizens of Jewish nationally who resided in Kraków and surrounding areas who were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust of World War II. These citizens made up more than a quarter of Kraków’s pre-war population.

When the Nazis arrived, they sent most of Kraków’s Jews to the ghetto of Lublin in eastern Poland. Those who remained were forced into the walled ghetto at Podgórze, just across the river to the southeast. Many of the Jews’ buildings and cemeteries were ransacked, defiled, and destroyed. Around 1942, the Nazis sent Kraków’s Jews to concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Płaszów, not far from Kraków.

At the completion of the war in 1945, only a few thousand of Kraków’s Jews survived. This monument honors all of Kraków’s Jews before and after World War II.

4 – Remuh Cemetery (Old Jewish Cemetery)

Established in 1553, the Remah Cemetery, also called Remuh Cemetery or the Old Jewish Cemetery of Kraków, is one of the most important and historic Jewish cemeteries in Europe. Over 100 of Kraków’s important Jewish intellectuals who lived between 1550 and 1800 are burred here. In 1800, this cemetery was replaced by the larger New Jewish Cemetery (Nowy Cmentarz) just down the street.

In the 19th century, the cemetery fell into disrepair. When the Nazis arrived, much of the cemetery including most of its graves and tombs were desecrated. Most of the tombstones were sold to stone cutters or were used for roads at concentration camps.

After the war, the cemetery was excavated and repaired. While many of the stolen tombstones were recovered, most were damaged beyond repair. These tombstones were used to form the mosaic wall which surrounds the cemetery.

One of the only tombs to survive the destruction of World War II was the tombstone of Rabbi Moses Isserles. Isserles, who was born in Kraków in 1530, was a Polish Ashkenazic rabbi known as Remah. The cemetery was named after him. His tombstone can be found in the fenced area adjacent to the small white synagogue known as Remah Synagogue. Crammed into his tombstones, and on the ground in front of it, are written prayer papers.

Step inside the Remuh Synagogue (Synagoga Remuh). This tiny synagogue is the smallest in the Kazimierz district. It is also one of only two active synagogues in all of Kraków. Construction on the synagogue was completed in 1557 at the edge of a newly built cemetery. Over the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, the late Renaissance style building was renovated and restored.

Though much of what you see today dates back to a renovation in 1829, some elements of the original 16th century synagogue remain. This includes the painted limestone walls, a collection box near the door, and Torah ark (aron kodesh) which dates from 1558.

5 – Jan Karski Bench Statue

Just outside the entrance of the Remuh Cemetery is a bronze statue of a gentleman sitting on a bench. This is the Jan Karski Bench Statue, which was installed in 2016. Jan Karski (1914-2000), born Jan Kozielewski in Łódź, Poland, was a Polish resistance fighter and World War II whistle blower.

During World War II, Karski performed secret missions and gathered intel of Nazi atrocities including the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust in Poland. Karski would then report to the Polish Government-in-Exile, based in Paris, and Western Allies including the British and U.S. government.

Karski was one of the first eyewitnesses to present credible evidence to the world of the extermination of European Jews in Europe and German-occupied Poland. Karski presented his report to multiple government and civic leaders including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Unfortunately, many of these leaders did not believe Karski’s story which seemed unbelievable.

In 1944, Karski published a book titled Courier from Poland: The Story of a Secret State. In this book, Karski wrote of his experiences and the horrors he encountered during his time in Poland during World War II. By the end of the war, the book sold more than 400,000 copies.

After the war, Karski lived in the United States where he taught at Georgetown University for 40 years.

6 – Wolf Popper Synagogue (Synagoga Poppera Bociana)

From Ulica Szeroka, pass through the gate into the inner courtyard of the Wolf Popper Synagogue (Synagoga Poppera Bociana).

When founded in 1620 by Wolf “The Stork” Popper, the synagogue was considered to be the most beautiful house of worship in Kazimierz. Popper used his wealth to design the synagogue along with purchasing rich furniture and decorations for its interior. After Popper’s death, the synagogue fell into disrepair.

During World War II, the Wolf Popper Synagogue, including its rich interior, was destroyed and gutted by the Nazis. After the war, the synagogue ceased to function as a house of worship.

During the communist era, the synagogue was handed over to the Old Town Youth Cultural Centre (YCC). While its religious role ended, the synagogue now is used for educational activities related to Jewish history and culture.

If you have time, be sure to step inside the beautiful interior of the old synagogue where you will find an extensive bookstore and small gallery.

7 – Old Synagogue (Stara Bożnica)

Dating back to the 15th century, the Old Synagogue (Stara Bożnica) is the oldest surviving synagogue in Poland. It is also an important landmark of Jewish architecture. Up until World War II, the Old Synagogue was the main place of worship, along with being the center of the Jewish community, in Kraków.

You might have noticed how the synagogue is sitting below street level. At the time it was built, Jewish structures were not allowed to be taller than Christian structures. Therefore, many Jewish structures were built below street level for proper proportions.

In 1570, the synagogue was rebuilt under the watch of Polish-Italian Renaissance architect and sculptor Mateo Gucci. During the rebuild, Gucci borrowed ideas from military architecture. He had embrasures, or loopholes, added to the attic. Windows were moved from ground level to high above. Finally, masonry walls were reinforced to withstand an attack. The synagogue is a rare example of a Polish Fortress synagogue, built to withstand attacks and protect those inside.

Like many other Jewish structures in Kazimierz, the synagogue was ransacked and destroyed during World War II. Artwork and relics were looted. For the remainder of the war, the building was used as a Nazi warehouse. After the war, the synagogue was renovated.

Today, the Old Synagogue is not a working synagogue but an informative three room museum displaying exhibits describing the history of Jewish culture in Kazimierz and Kraków. Don’t miss the well preserved prayer hall.

8 – Modern Kazimierz

This pod of food trucks in the shadows of Isaak Synagogue is part of modern Kazimierz. There are three of these food truck pods scattered around Kazimierz offering affordable yet delicious fast food. If you’re hungry, check out of the assortment of food trucks selling hot dogs, tacos, burgers, wraps, smoothies, ice cream, chimney cakes and more.

By the end of World War II, Kazimierz was all but destroyed. With most of it citizens murdered during the Holocaust, this area fell into neglect. This was especially true during the communist era when communist authorities ignored Jewish heritage.

In 1988, the Jewish Cultural Festival staring holding its annual Jewish festival in Kazimierz. This festival sparked a new interest in Jewish culture. In 1993, Steven Spielberg filmed much of his film Schindler’s List in the area, drawing international attention. The new interest in Kazimierz resulted in revitalization of the area including the renovation of historic sites and the opening of new businesses.

Today, Kazimierz is the center of youth culture in Kraków. It is here where you will find trendy restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, and food trucks. With its cheap rent, unique buildings, and central location, modern Kazimierz has become popular with creative young people, artists, entrepreneurs, and tourists.

9 – Isaak Jakubowicz Synagogue

The 17th century Isaak Jakubowicz Synagogue, also known as Izaak Synagogue or Isaac Synagogue, is one of the largest synagogues in Kraków. This early Baroque building was named after Izaak Jakubowicz, also known as Isaac the Rich, who was a banker to King Władysław IV.

During World War II, the Nazis destroyed much of the synagogue including furnishings such as the Baroque Torah ark (Aron Kodesh). After the war, the building was used for different purposes such as an art workshop, a theater, and storage space. In 1981, the building was damaged by a fire. After a renovation in 1983, and the fall of communism in 1989, the building was given back to the Jewish community as a practicing Orthodox Synagogue.

Inside the synagogue, the walls of the prayer hall are decorated with painted prayers. These prayers were used by worshipers who could not afford to purchase prayer books. Many historians consider Isaak Jakubowicz Synagogue to be the most beautiful and architecturally important of all the synagogues of Kraków.

10 – Plac Nowy

This square, known as Plac Nowy, is Kazimierz’s new square. Plac Nowy has retained its grittiness even with the threat of tourism and gentrification. If you are looking for something different than the Old Town charm, then this is it.

In the late 17th century, the square was incorporated into the Jewish quarter. At the time, the square was known as Plac Żydowski (Jewish Square). It wasn’t until 1900 that the circular brick building in the center was added. This building, known as Okrąglak (Rotunda), was the slaughterhouse where Jewish butchers would process livestock such as chicken.

While butcher shops still occupy the interior of the building, hole-in-the-wall, stand-up eateries have taken over. These small shops, popular with locals, mainly sell zapiekanki, a Polish style street food that can be described as a French bread pizza topped with a variety of ingredients. You can’t leave Poland without trying zapiekanki.

Surrounding the slaughterhouse are trading stalls selling an assortment of goods and crafts including souvenirs, produce, and more food. Several enjoyable craft beer bars and clubs can be found nearby.

11 – Plac Wolnica

When Kazimierz was its own separate town from Kraków, this was its main square. Originally known as Rynek Kazimierski, the square was renamed Plac Wolnica at the end of the 18th century.

When established in 1335, Rynek Kazimierski was similar in size to Rynek Główny, making it the second largest square in Poland. Just as with Rynek Główny, Rynek Kazimierski featured a marketplace with hundreds of stalls, the Kazimierz town hall, administrative and judicial authorities, and a large church on the corner, Corpus Christi Basilica (Bazylika Bożego Ciała).

Today, Plac Wolnica occupies only a small fraction of the square’s original footprint. After Kazimierz was incorporated into Kraków in 1892, the square and town hall fell into disrepair. Thankfully, local Jewish authorities took over the building and renovated it. Today, the neo-Renaissance style town hall building houses the often overlooked Ethnographic Museum, a must visit for lovers of Polish folk culture.

While urban revitalization has been slow to reach Plac Wolnica, many restaurants and cafes have opened up around the square and nearby streets. Unfortunately, since the summer of 2019, the square has been used as a car park.

12 – Schindler’s List Passage (Mrs. Dresner Courtyard and Stairs)

This peaceful courtyard, known as Schindler’s List Passage, is a popular tourist spot after it was featured in a key scene of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, Schindler’s List. In the movie, the final “liquidation” of the Podgórze ghetto is portrayed. Between March 13th and 14th, 1943, the Nazis searched for and captured Jews who were hiding in the ghetto. Those who were able to work were sent to concentration camps. Jews who tried to escape or who were unable to move for whatever reason were murdered in the streets.

This courtyard was used as the backdrop for one of the more memorable scenes in the movie. While the actual events occurred in nearby Podgórze, Spielberg decided to film in the Kazimierz district as it was an authentic Jewish quarter. In the scene, Mrs. Dresner, the aunt of the little girl in red, hid underneath the staircase next to the arch to hide from the Nazis searching the area.

If you are interested in the history of the courtyard, then take a look on the wall near the arch. Here you can view black and white stills from the movie along with historical photos of the courtyard.

13 – Ulica Meiselsa and Ulica Bożego Ciała

Before the Nazis arrived in World War II, Jews and Christians lived and worked in relative harmony in Kazimierz. Where you are standing now is the intersection of Ulica Meiselsa and Ulica Bożego Ciała.

The name of these two streets is an intersect of Judaism and Christianity. Ulica Meiselsa (Meiselsa Street) is named after Dow Ber Meisels (1798-1870), the Chief Rabbi of Kraków from 1832 and the Chief Rabbi of Warsaw from 1856. Ulica Bożego Ciała (Corpus Christi Street), is named after the towering red brick Corpus Christi Basilica (Bazylika Bożego Ciała) located nearby.

On the corner, with umbrella in hand, hanging off a drainage pipe, is a mural of Gene Kelly. While the Holocaust was a dark time for Kazimierz, today, things are “happy again.” Located in the area is Hevre, a bar and restaurant which in the 19th century was a Jewish bathhouse. Also located nearby is Mleczarnia, a quirky and cozy spot with a fantastic beer garden.

14 – Corpus Christi Basilica (Bazylika Bożego Ciała)

This massive red brick and stone church on the corner of Plac Nowy is Corpus Christi Basilica (Bazylika Bożego Ciała). The church is one of the largest in Kraków.

Founded in 1335 by Kazimierz the Great, Corpus Christi Basilica was built in stages over two centuries from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The church was intend to be a monastery church which explains its size.

In 1655, during the Second Northern War, the interior of the church was devastated and robbed by soldiers. This explains the Polish Gothic and Polish Baroque interior as seen today. Highlights of the interior of the church include the impressive large gilded Baroque high altar, the boat-shaped pulpit dating back to 1750, and the organ. The church houses the largest organs in the city.

15 – Ulica św. Wawrzyńca

By the 19th century, Kazimierz was not only a Jewish quarter but an important center for local industry. Ulica św. Wawrzyńca (Saint Lawrence Street) was at the center Kraków’s industry. It was here where power and gas plants were located. Continue down the street.

A little more than a block down on your right hand side, with tram tracks leading into its courtyard, is the Museum of Municipal Engineering (Muzeum Inżynierii Miejskiej). In the 19th century, this was one part of Kazimierz’s old tram depot. This charming family-friendly museum features antique trams along with exhibits describing the history of Kraków’s public transportation.

The other half of the old tram depot can be found directly across the street. This building now houses Stara Zajezdnia, a restaurant, beer hall, and brewery. In the summer, the beer garden here is a great place for a cold beer.

Walking another block ahead will bring you to the Judah Square Food Truck Park.

16 – Judah Square Food Truck Park

This small collection of food trucks and stalls is the Judah Square Food Truck Park (Skwer Judah) or Judah Food Market. It is one of three food truck lots in Kazimierz. Food trucks seem to be all the rage these days, and that is no different in Kazimierz.

If you are looking for trendy, affordable street food with a Polish twist, then you are in the right place. Options include Belgian-style fries (frytki belgijskie), burgers, panini, grilled sausages, crepes, baked potatoes, chimney cakes, pork sandwiches, and coffee.

The square gets it name from the large black and white mural watching over. This graffiti mural was created for the 2013 Jewish Cultural Festival by Israeli street artist Pilpeled. The mural depicts a scared young boy with a lion head. The child represents fear and vulnerability while the lion represents the Jewish struggle and strength to overcome fear.

I recommend stopping by the yellow Andrus Food Truck which serves maczanka po krakowsku, a Polish twist on a pulled pork sandwich. All the sandwiches served at Andrus Food Truck are unique. On my visit, I tried the Horseradish (20zł or about $5.35). This sandwich was made with tender pulled pork, village pickles, horseradish sauce, grilled bacon, mustard-pickled sauce, and stewed onions piled on a soft bun. Delicious, filling, and cheap. You can’t go wrong.

17 – Galicia Jewish Museum (Żydowskie Muzeum Galicja)

The Galicia Jewish Museum (Żydowskie Muzeum Galicja), which opened in 2004, was founded to remember the victims of the Holocaust while commemorating the culture and life of Polish Galicia. Galicia refers to a historical region that existed in present-day southern Poland and western Ukraine.

The highlight of the Galicia Jewish Museum is its permanent photographic exhibit, Traces of Memory. This unique exhibit displays contemporary photographs of dilapidated synagogues, neglected cemeteries, and other traces of the Jewish past which is visible to this day in small villages and towns scattered around southern Poland. It’s a somber reminder of Jewish life in southern Poland and western Ukraine.

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