Nowa Huta is probably one of the most unusual places to visit in Krakow: a huge neighborhood made up of austere concrete blocks arranged in geometric rows, wide boulevards and a huge steel mill.
This neighborhood, built in the years of Communism by Stalin’s will, has remained practically unchanged over time. It was once supposed to be the icon of a workers’ paradise, one of only two magnificent examples of planned socialist realist settlements ever built. Today it is a real time machine: you can visit old nuclear bunkers, Soviet-era apartments and restaurants with old charm. Absolutely unmissable for lovers of unusual and authentic places.
What you will find in this guide to Nowa Huta:
- Nowa Huta: why you should visit it
- What to see and what to do in Nowa Huta
- Authentic Old Style Tour to Nowa Huta from Krakow
- How to get to Nowa Huta from Krakow
Nowa Huta: why you should visit it
At first glance Nowa Huta may seem like a huge suburban neighborhood, made up of gray Soviet-style apartment blocks and wide boulevards once dominated by towering statues and monuments of Communist heroes. But Nowa Huta is much more: it is a true legend of history and modern architecture.
Nowa Huta was founded in 1949 as an autonomous city, built on the site of the 3 small villages of Mogiła, Pleszów and Krzesławice and on a vast agricultural land that the socialist government decided to transform into a colossal center of heavy industry.
The socialist government had great ideas about Nowa Huta: it would be an ideal utopian city, a model of a planned city built to enhance the power of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and functional to socialist propaganda.
A real city built to measure to be inhabited exclusively by workers and, in general, by industrial employee.
Nowa Huta as an icon of realism and socialist classicism
To design this utopian city, Soviet architects drew inspiration from Renaissance architecture. And that is why the heart of Nowa Huta has a monumental aspect, similar to that of the great western cities, The particular architectural style makes it a real icon of realism and socialist classicism.
Nowa Huta was designed for workers and families, as well as to ensure a certain order and discipline. It featured broad tree-lined boulevards, lakes, parks and thousands of good quality accommodation by the standards of the time.
Bunkers and tunnels against a possible nuclear apocalypse
Everything had been carefully considered: wide boulevards would prevent the spread of fires, trees would absorb a nuclear blast, and a vast network of underground tunnels and bunkers enabled the city to be ready to face the threat of a nuclear apocalypse.
Why was it decided to build Nowa Huta?
Officially Nowa Huta was born as an industrial district. The Soviet Union had requested the Polish socialist government to equip itself with a strong metallurgical industry.
For this it was decided to build a huge steel mill here. Nowa Huta means in fact New Steelworks.
The huge “Vladimir Lenin” steelworks complex was inaugurated in 1954, and became one of the largest in the world: they boasted the largest blast furnace in Europe, employed over 40.000 workers and produced over 7 million tons of steel a year.
So massive that it became a real attraction: it is said that when Fidel Castro visited Krakow he wanted to see Nowa Huta instead of the Main Market Square.
But the strange thing is that there was actually no reason to build such a large steel mill in Krakow.
The demand for steel was not that great and especially the position of Nowa Huta was not optimal, because the coal had to be transported from Silesia and the iron ore had to be transported from the Soviet Union.
So… what were the reasons for building Nowa Huta?
In reality Nowa Huta was truly strategic, if not for industry, it was for ideological reasons and for the stability of the regime. In fact, Krakow was a city that created embarrassment to the socialist government, because it was inhabited by intellectuals, bourgeois, clericals and people hostile to communist ideologies.
With its rich history, its excellent universities and its thriving intellectual community, Krakow represented a real cultural epicenter, which was not good for the ideologies of the USSR.
For this reason it was decided to build Nowa Huta, a city that would host hundreds of thousands of workers. The project involved the transfer of workers and their families from all over Poland to populate the suburbs of Krakow, so as to “correct the class imbalance” and prevent intellectuals from exercising political influence.
But it was from Nowa Huta that the disintegration of the Iron Curtain began
Something went wrong in the plans of the socialist government, in fact Nowa Huta became one of the strongholds of the “Solidarnosc” movement, the trade union that clandestinely undermined the compactness of the socialist working class from within, to the point of leading to the outbreak of revolts and accelerating the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the time, 8 out of 10 workers in Nowa Huta were members of “Solidarnosc”.
What to see and what to do in Nowa Huta
Nowa Huta is now a district on the far eastern outskirts of Krakow. Until the 1990s it was considered a dangerous area, but recently a lot has changed.
Today it is an area inhabited mainly by elderly and young families, also attracted by the cost of apartments, which is lower than in the center. Walking through the center of Nowa Huta, what the locals call Old Nowa Huta, is like stepping back to the years of socialism.
But in order to fully appreciate the visit to Nowa Huta it is recommended to go with a local guide by participating in one of the interesting Communism Tours. This is because going alone you would see only empty streets and gray buildings, and you would hardly be able to appreciate the magical spirit of the time.
The heart of Nowa Huta is Plac Centralny, which is a true icon of socialist realism and is one of the places where much has remained unchanged over time.
You can take a look at some of the shops that overlook the square and the adjacent boulevards, you will find that time seems to be frozen in the 1950s.
While many of these shops are recently closing or undergoing renovations (for example the beautiful and famous Nowa Huta bookstore has recently become a trendy restaurant), others remain fairly unchanged. For example, you might check out Cepelix, a very old-fashioned souvenir and handicraft shop.
You could also stop for a bite to eat at Bar Mleczny Centrum, an authentic milk bar that has been serving simple and delicious food at cheap prices since the early 1950s. Or pop into Restauracja Stylowa, an old and boring Soviet-style restaurant, which it was once one of the most exclusive restaurants in the city. Today for little money you can eat simple dishes that seem to come straight from a socialist menu.
The Steelworks and Nowa Huta Underground
The Steelworks are definitely Nowa Huta’s raison d’être, even if they are not accessible to visitors, also because they are still an active industrial complex.
The only building that can be visited is the complex of the former Administrative Buildings, which were the administrative center of the socialist steel mills.
These two huge socialist realism buildings are connected by underground passages, a veritable labyrinth that includes a secret control room and nuclear bunkers. The Administrative Buildings have long been abandoned, and have remained incredibly perfectly preserved in their original appearance. They can only be visited by joining a guided tour.
There are also other interesting bunkers in the Nowa Huta underground, including emergency rooms, communications centers and dormitories. The most interesting are found under the Mechanical School and under the Nowa Huta Museum, located in what used to be a cinema, the Kino Światowid. Both can be visited on a guided tour.
Authentic Old Style Tour to Nowa Huta from Krakow
One of the most unusual and fun experiences to do in Krakow is to join one of the Nowa Huta tours, often also called Communism Tours.
These interesting tours organized by friendly and knowledgeable local guides depart from the center of Krakow and take you to Nowa Huta in an authentic socialist era car.
Once you arrive in Nowa Huta you will be able to explore the neighborhood with your guide, who will show you the most hidden corners of Nowa Huta and will tell you a lot of real life stories, which will allow you to understand what it was like to live there in the times of communism.
You will also be able to visit the underground fallout bunkers and the most authentic places in Nowa Huta, as well as get a glimpse of an apartment that has remained like old times.
The tours are organized by local associations that deal with the promotion and protection of the historical and cultural heritage of the Nowa Huta district, they take place every day and last about 3 hours and can be booked online.
How to get to Nowa Huta from Krakow
The best way to visit Nowa Huta is to join a guided tour, but if you want to visit it on your own then you can go there by tram 4, which departs from the Dworzec Główny stop, which is located in a tunnel under the main train station and is a little hard to find for non-locals. It is accessed from the Galeria Krakowska shopping center by going down the escalators located near the McCafé.
Things to see and do around Nowa Huta
Nowa Huta is located on the outskirts of Krakow and there isn’t much to see around it aside from the district itself and its Soviet-era attractions. But a half-day guided tour is definitely worth it!
Planning your trip to Krakow? Then these will come in handy: