6 P.M. Warmly lit and housed in two former apartments, Massolit Books & Café (4/2 Ul. Felicjanek; 48-12/432-4150; massolit.com) is the epicenter of Kraków's creative culture— and one of the city's best-kept secrets. Owners David Miller and Karen Underhill, two American transplants, draw the who's who of Polish and expat artists to their wood-paneled haven. Start with a shot of espresso, then browse the out-of-print book collection before experiencing the city's rich nightlife. It's so rich, in fact, that Underhill—a six-year veteran of the city—admits to knowing a mere third of the town's venues.
7 P.M. Stroll past the Planty gardens, where medieval fortifications once stood, and the 15th-century Collegium Maius of Jagiellonian University—the second oldest college in Central Europe— to Stare Miasto, Kraków's Old Town. By day, tourist battalions patrol the area. At dusk, Krakowians take over the grand Rynek Glówny, Europe's largest medieval square.
8 P.M. Kraków is chockablock with Polish restaurants that dish up the classics: kielbasa and sauerkraut and doughy knedle (potato dumplings stuffed with plums). But dinner at Copernicus (16 Ul. Kanonicza; 48-12/424-3421; hotel.com.pl; dinner for two $60), a restored medieval manor turned hotel, tops our list. The intimate 16-table dining room, reminiscent of a hunting lodge, serves buttery sweetbreads in wild mushroom sauce and braised rabbit–filled pierogi. Top off the meal with a glass of Wyborowa vodka.
10 P.M. Don't be deterred by the shabby 19th-century tenement-house exterior—Pauza (18/3 Ul. Florianska; 48-60/263-7833; pauza.pl) is the spot preferred by Kraków's cognoscenti. You could spend an entire evening wandering from the Modern art and photo gallery to the basement nightclub to the lounge, which overlooks the onetime route for royal processions and the city's skyline. If you're daring, order a Wsciekly Pies (vodka, raspberry juice, and Tabasco).
11 P.M. Before your next stop (be it bed or bar), take in the view of the hilltop Wawel Castle, lit up at night. It was the seat of Polish royalty from the 11th century to the 16th.
11:30 P.M. This is the hour when night owls head to one of the city's signature cellar bars. Our favorite: Klub Kulturalny (25 Ul. Szewska; 48-12/429-6739), down a short cobblestoned alleyway. Here, Krakowians gather to sip flavored vodkas—cherry, honey, or herb. With bare stone walls and candlelit tables, the place is like an underground grotto, albeit one that has undergone a minimalist renovation.
12 A.M. Kosher bakeries, delicatessens, and butchers once lined the narrow streets of Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter. Today it's the site of the city's most distinctive bars and cafés. (Be warned—it's also a partying hot spot for British lads on bachelor getaways.) Three venues that manage to evade the stag parties: Zblizenia (7½ Pl. Nowy; 48-12/430-0138), a brightly lit lounge decorated with potted plants and low-slung couches that draws a sophisticated crowd; the funky Singer Café (20 Ul. Estery; 48-12/292-0622), where candles sit on top of old-fashioned sewing-machine tables; and the Moment Café (34 Ul. Józefa; 48-66/803-4000), with a collection of 19th-century clocks covering the walls. Grab a Polish Zywiec beer and settle in. As one jet-setting local explains, your night may just be beginning: "In Kraków we have young souls."
How to get Around
Kraków is a walker's city. Most bars and restaurants are clustered around the Stare Miasto (Old Town), or in Kazimierz, just a 10-minute walk away. Taxis are relatively inexpensive and efficient.
When to go
The best times to visit are fall and spring. Avoid the summer months, when throngs of tourists and partying Europeans invade the city.