Hidden in the maze of streets and from tourists’ eyes. Overflowing with greenness, lush secret gardens no map or guide will lead you to. But we will! Having discovered the recesses of old houses, backyards, and outdoor restaurant spaces, we will show you where to find a green oasis and relaxation without leaving the city.
“Drobnerion” and its living legend
The story behind our first discovery originates in a garden of a tenement house facing the Szczepański square (today no. 3). Back in the 17th century, the building used to belong to St. Stephen’s charity hospital before being purchased by a merchant and city counselor Roman Drobner in 1890. One of the new owner’s decisions was to add an extension to the house–a one-story pavilion that would become a café. “Wiosenna”, commonly referred to as “Drobnerion”, opened at the beginning of 1905 as the first purpose-built café in the city. Arguably, since then no other building has been built specifically for a café. Designed by Jan Zawiejski, a tall and spacious Art Nouveau-styled pavilion had an outdoor seating area quite unique for the times. Incorporated into the lush greenery of Planty park, the area was captivating with its delicate metal café tables and chairs, intriguing with its cabanas evoking the atmosphere of the seaside, and eye-catching greenness. Both Paris and Vienna would have been proud to have a café like that. Unfortunately, the building burned before the war, so the café can no longer be visited and marveled at. But the legend–the legend can be carried on! Today, located in the area is the Gallery of Contemporary Art “Bunkier Sztuki” and a famous Bunkier Café.
Meho Cafe. The Jozef Mehoffer House, ul. Krupnicza 26
The Jozef Mehoffer House, a modest Museum branch located in the area well-known to students at neighboring universities for its numerous food joints, usually attracts few tourists. The back of the house treasures a breathtaking garden–like the ones in Mehoffer’s paintings–a fact unknown even to the majority of people who live in Krakow. The garden, designed by the visionary painter himself, is a real gem! Its original design–immortalized by Mehoffer in one of his works from 1943 (displayed in the House)–was meticulously recreated in 2004, with great attention paid to the layout of pathways, shapes of flower beds, and types of plants. Now, like in the past, with spring come flowering lilacs, mock orange bushes, fruit trees, violets, and lilies of the valley. What starts blooming a bit later are peonies, pansies, regal lilies, and–in late autumn–various types of roses. A mighty common oak is towering above everything. This fairytale scenery, with white metal café tables and chairs scattered along gravel pathways drowning in the richness of green hues, invites romantic kisses and confessions. The garden is part of Meho Café where you can eat breakfast or lunch and drink lemonade and wine.
„Krakowskie Zakąski”, ul. Sławkowska 16
We would tell you to stay away from this street full of concrete, tourists, and sightseeing cars if it weren’t for this place. Hidden in the back of an old house is a patch of green land that belongs to a tiny drink bar famous for offering incredible choice of whiskey. The outdoor seating area is spacious, surrounded by a stone wall, full of flowers, shade from the trees, colorful hammocks, and bright lanterns illuminating the dark at night-time. Be prepared for a drink only, for even though the name of the place bears the promise of food, there is none ;)
Re, ul. Świętego Krzyża 4
Back in the day, this used to be a center of alternative music, a mecca for electronica enthusiasts and the source of plentiful weird sounds. Over the years the club’s music scene has become legendary. So has its garden. Located close to the Krakow’s Main Market Square (Rynek) at Świętego Krzyża, the garden–with its unusual size–looks like a park with massive old trees, green ivy, and stony steps. It’s worth sitting here around noon to immerse yourself in the sounds of the trumpet signal–Hejnał Mariacki–played from the highest tower of St. Mary’s Basilica, or have a pint of cold beer from Tokaj barrels and simply listen to the sounds of the city.
Kolanko No 6., ul. Józefa 17
We all know places with inconspicuous and uninviting entrances. This one is one of them–a simple food joint with a sign. This isn’t surprising, for the Kazimierz district has quite a few of them. For those who decide to come in, however, a surprise is waiting. A surprise for the palate–one of the best breakfasts in Krakow–and for the eye–a beautiful interior design. Go across the place to get to a garden overflowing with greenness and trees under which a watchful eye will see growing tomatoes, strawberries and herbs. The outdoor seating area has one key asset–its large part transforms into a heated patio during winter.
La Campana, ul. Kanonicza 7
Restaurant gardens with outdoor seating tend to deter visitors with its run-of-the-mill furniture, custom napkins, and beer patio umbrellas. But not this one! La Campana has a wonderful natural garden, where carefully tended plants remind of exotic glasshouses in botanic gardens rather than a boring restaurant patio. Located close to Planty park, La Campana is blissfully peaceful, a perfect place to relax and try exquisite Italian cuisine. Importantly, the restaurant is one of the very few places in Krakow to be selected by the Michelin Guide.
2 Okna Cafe, ul. Józefa 40
Here comes another secret garden hidden in a touristy area. A large „garden” sign in front of its entrance is tempting, but such signs pop up everywhere in Krakow these days. What’s secret about it if it reveals its existence via signboard? You just have to see for yourself. It’s worth it! Trees, flowers, climbing plants, and wooden furniture are nothing out of the ordinary, but everything seems wilder–you can feel secrets and the history of the Kazimierz district pervading the atmosphere. The menu offers breakfasts, cakes, coffee, lemonade, and sandwiches.
Eszeweria, ul. Józefa 9
Unarguably, Jozefa street is the “street of secret gardens”. The one in Eszeweria is believed to be the oldest, but, in fact, few of the place’s faithful visitors know about its existence. All you need to do is turn left at the bar to find yourself in a beautiful, green world with an eclectic collection of tables. Everything in this world is telling unique stories of faraway places. At night, the warmth of candlelight creates an extraordinary, magical atmosphere. Choose from a variety of drinks and enjoy this place as old as the world and Krakow itself.
TAO Thai & Sushi, ul. Józefińska 4
The Podgórze district, home to Asian restaurant TAO, is famous for the beautiful Bednarski Park. Hundred-year-old trees, narrow walkways and limestone rocks endow it with an irresistible English charm. TAO’s garden, however, looks a bit different. Go to the other end of the restaurant to reach a hidden green nook in which everything has been diligently planned. A perfectly mown lawn, wooden swings and rabbits hopping happily around the place strengthen the feeling of the Alice-in-Wonderland unreality. Perfect for lovers of fairytale details. The menu offers sushi, fried pasta, curry, and spring rolls.
Zielona Kuchnia, ul. Grabowskiego 8
Karmelicka street does not encourage happy walks. If you’re there, you’re probably riding a bike or sitting in a car or tram. So it comes as a surprise that, nearby, a relatively unknown street hides a secret garden astonishing with its atmosphere and flora. Lanterns flickering among trees and lush greenery make the place particularly charming. Lovely nooks with stylish tables and chairs–camouflaged in the green labyrinth–allure and promise relaxation. Soothing sounds come from invisible speakers while aromatic dishes are brought to you by discreet waiters. The time has stopped here–it’s calm and leisurely. Main dishes consist of meat mostly, with seasonal extras and sophisticated desserts. Artistic custom plates ideally correspond to the overall uniqueness of the atmosphere. It’s a perfect spot for celebrating a special occasion.
text: Kasia Pilitowska
photos: courtesy of restaurants' owners