What to do in Nowa Huta?
In the spirit of Socialist realism – how Nowa Huta came to be…
You may not believe it, but Nowa Huta is almost one of a kind. Why? It is one of only two cities in the world that were specifically designed and built from scratch in the style of socialist realism. Its construction was a crucial plan for the Polish People’s Republic during the first years under the communist regime. The authorities were willing to spend a lot of money in order to build a showcase of soviet power and superiority. Nowa Huta was meant to be an ideal socialist city inhabited mostly by industrial workers. Functionality and urbanization were at the forefront of its design. The architecture is characterised by symmetry, wide streets, enormous buildings, green spaces, and groups of apartment blocks (osiedla).
Apart from serving as propaganda – a representative city for the Soviet model of living, it was also chosen as the home of a large steel plant. This is actually where the city took its name from – Nowa Huta means New Steel Mill. Its location near Krakow was not only dictated by geographical and demographic reasons but also political. Many believe the main purpose was to change the perception of nearby Krakow which was strongly influenced by religion, traditions and intelligentsia. It was also one of the most antisocialist places in the country which strongly opposed the communist regime. Nowa Huta thus was supposed to be the total opposite of what Krakow is known for.
Despite being brought to life as the ideal socialist city, Nowa Huta was later a place where many protests took place and which ultimately contributed to the fall of communism in Poland. Needless to say, the notion of the ideal socialist city was never fully realized. These days Nowa Huta is becoming one of the most visited destinations in Kraków. We’ll be completely honest: some people hate it and others absolutely love it. Decide for yourself! Tours to Nowa Huta are especially interesting for visitors from abroad who want to see what living in communist Poland was like. If you’re one of them, read on to find out what to see in this neighbourhood.
Discover attractions of Nowa Huta
Now that you know a bit about the idea behind Nowa Huta, let’s have a look at what you can see and do in this district. Just a short tram ride from the centre of Krakow, you will find yourself travelling back in time to the Polish People’s Republic (PRL).
Stand in the middle of Central Square (Plac Centralny)
We will start from the most central point of Nowa Huta – Central Square (although it’s actually in the south of the district). This enormous square is situated just around 7 km from Krakow’s famous main market square and there are 5 main arteries spreading from it. The initial plans included a town hall at the northern end, but they were changed after 1956 since Nowa Huta was incorporated into Krakow. The southern part of Plac Centralny was never completed either as it was supposed to house a large theatre.
Enjoy a bit of culture at NCK (Nowohuckie Centrum Kultury)
Nowa Huta Cultural Centre emerged south of Central Square where a theatre was supposed to stand. It has one of the largest stages in Krakow and welcomes a variety of amazing performances, festivals and events year-round. It is home to two galleries with artworks of Zdzisław Beksiński and Jerzy Duda Gracz, 20th-century Polish artists. And if you are looking for a place to eat, the food trucks in front of it make NCK a favourite for foodies. In winter, NCK is also famous for its ice rink.
Learn about PRL (Polish People’s Republic) at Nowa Huta Museum
To really experience and appreciate Nowa Huta, it is important to know a bit about the history and realities of life in that era. There’s no better way to learn about it than a stop at Nowa Huta Museum. It operates in the former Kino Światowid and there are exhibitions on 3 levels that will keep you occupied for hours. When you leave, you’ll be well-versed in the PRL.
Walk along the Rose Avenue
Although you may not find roses here, they used to grow along this avenue between 1960 and 1970. Back in the day, a huge and heavy monument of Vladimir Lenin stood here. In fact, it was the biggest monument of Lenin in Poland and some people used to refer to it as ‘King Kong’. As you can imagine, it was not very popular among the residents and there were frequent attempts to destroy it or at least partially hurt it. One of the most repeated stories is about the attempt to blow it up in 1979, but the explosives hurt only the foot. The monument was finally quietly dismantled after the fall of communism in 1989. Today, Rose Avenue is a promenade where locals like to go for walks. According to the design, Rose Avenue was supposed to lead to the town hall which was never erected.
Eat at the Stylowa Restaurant
Take a break from all the walking and sightseeing to have a snack in the oldest restaurant in Nowa Huta. Opened in 1956 on Rose Avenue, Stylowa has been there ever since. Believe it or not, back in the day this was one of the most elegant venues in the whole of Nowa Huta. We won’t promise you the most delicious food, but then, the main reason to stop by this place is its atmosphere and the possibility to experience it as it used to be in communist times. When you step inside, you will get to feel just like the most elegant people used to feel back in the PRL years.
Go back in time at Tadeusz Sendzimir Steelworks
The second-largest steel plant in Poland is what Nowa Huta is most famous for. Located at the end of Solidarity Avenue, it covers around 600 ha. During the times of the Polish People’s Republic, it used to be called Vladimir Lenin Steelworks (of course). In the 1970s the factory used to produce almost 7 million tons of steel and employ around 40,000 people. The entrance to the Steelworks is centred between two concrete buildings which used to function as the Administrative Buildings. We recommend stepping inside if you’re a fan of alternative tourism or like to visit abandoned places where time stands still. It’s worth noting that these buildings are the only part of the steelworks accessible to tourists. The plant is still working on a smaller scale, having been purchased by Mittal Steel Company in 2005.
Hide in Nowa Huta Underground
Nowa Huta is supposed to have an extensive network of underground shelters (more than 250). Assembled in the 1950s, they were meant to shelter the whole population of Nowa Huta in case of an armed conflict like an air raid or nuclear war (although it’s been argued that the shelters would not be sufficient in case of the latter). You now have the chance to see some of those shelters with your own eyes. The first of them, located beneath the Mechanical School Complex No. 3 at the Szkolny 37 estate, was opened to visitors in 2019 and it includes an interesting exhibition about threats and the innate human desire to hide from danger.
See the neighbourhood’s first church – The Ark of Lord
Since the socialist idea of a utopian society included atheism, churches were excluded from this rapidly-built city. Nowa Huta was supposed to be a city without God. However, its religious residents, who came primarily from villages, were not ready to give up on their faith. They made their position known on many occasions, but protests in 1960 were among the most significant. They ended with numerous people imprisoned. After a lot of pressure and support from future pope John Paul II, the first church (The Ark of Lord) was finally erected in Nowa Huta between 1967-1977. Since there was no support from the authorities, the church was built by volunteer workers. The Lord’s Ark church is shaped like a boat, meant to resemble Noah’s Ark, and it has a special place on the map of Nowa Huta.
Enjoy nature at Nowa Huta Reservoir
If you’re on a trip to Krakow in spring or summer, it would be a shame to miss Zalew Nowohucki which is an artificial lake and together with the surrounding green area covers some 40 acres. Although when thinking about Stalinist architecture, the first thought is usually a lot of concrete and grey buildings. Nowa Huta is actually a very green district. You can experience its natural side at Nowa Huta Reservoir where you can take a stroll, breathe in the salty air produced by the graduation towers, rest on a small beach, hop in a kayak or do some sports, such as playing basketball.
These are just the basic things to know about Nowa Huta. Trust us, there are more places in the area that are worth a visit, especially if you are a nature lover. If you’d like to do some sightseeing in Nowa Huta, but don’t know where to start, check out our Nowa Huta tour. You’ll see many of the places we mentioned above and learn a lot of thanks to a local guide. And if you’ve just started planning your trip to Krakow, we invite you to have a look at all the tours we have on offer.